WPT Championship missing some champions

Updated: May 4, 2006, 5:20 PM ET
By Steve Rosenbloom | ESPN Poker Club

Gavin Smith got knocked out of the World Poker Tour Championship on the first day, and that's when the winner of the WPT's Mirage Poker Showdown made some of his best moves.

The gregarious character from Canada scoured the Fontana Room and the Bellagio poker room, hitting up fellow pros for items to be auctioned off to help a little girl from Smith's native province of Ontario.

Peyton Novoa, a 2-year-old from the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, Ontario, lost her mother to small cell ovarian cancer. Natasha Novoa, 29, was a single mother who was diagnosed with the aggressive form of cancer in December. She died in March, leaving Peyton in the care of her grandparents.

"We're getting a bunch of stuff from the poker community to auction off and try to raise some money for her in the next month,'' Smith said. "People will be able to bid online. Go to the Web site www.forpeyton.com to get the whole story.''

Some of the items that Smith had gathered were a Phil Ivey FullTiltPoker jersey, a Bellagio room/show package, a Mark Seif Absolute Poker jersey, a Phil "The Unabomber'' Laak hoodie, a Daniel Negreanu Full Contact Poker jersey and a jersey from Michael "The Grinder'' Mizrachi.

"If you don't want to bid on an item, you can still make a contribution,'' Smith said.

Nice to see that poker has a conscience, and a heart.

*******************************************

"I don't know who that guy is, but he's wearing a FullTilt shirt, so he must be very smart,'' says David Grey, the smart, funny and respected pro who won a WSOP bracelet last year and made the final table of the main event in 2003 -- oh yeah, and who was wearing a FullTiltPoker shirt himself.

Turns out, the player was Roland De Wolfe, who finished third and won more than $1 million.

*******************************************

One of the newest big names showing up at the Bellagio poker room is ESPN baseball analyst and former major league pitcher Orel Hershiser. He's been dropping in once a month or so to play. Best part is, Chip Reese, a regular in the "Big Game'' in Bobby's Room at the Bellagio and the youngest player to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame, has a son, Casey, who is a highly regarded high school pitcher. So Reese cut a deal to give poker lessons to Hershiser and the former Cy Young Award winner will give pitching lessons to Casey.

Hershiser follows Alex Rodriguez in the baseball-poker parade. In fact, when A-Rod was playing at the Bellagio while learning the game a couple Novembers ago, he borrowed the office of Bellagio poker director Doug Dalton to negotiate his trade out of Texas to Boston. The players' union blocked the move by A-Rod to take less money, so the deal died. He later got moved to the rival Yankees, and of course, A-Rod got slapped around for playing in some underground card rooms in Manhattan.

*******************************************

A camera crew from Holland was following around classy Danish pro Marcel Luske. As if the guy needs a reason to perform. Good call by the production company, seeing as how Luske won the $3,000 buy-in no-limit hold 'em event leading up to the WPT Championship.

*******************************************

David Plastik showed up for Day 1 wearing a khaki T-shirt and camouflage pants. He said something about trying to remain incognito. The next thing you know, Plastik was shouting down Lee Watkinson after a hand in which Plastik took a while to decide whether to call or fold to Watkinson's bet. Plastik folded, after which Watkinson made a comment about calling a clock the next time. Plastik, true to his military ensemble, went ballistic, telling Watkinson to go ahead and call the clock and not just threaten to do it. "I've never seen a guy win a pot and then whine about it,'' Plastik said.

*******************************************

John Juanda put his tournament life at risk early on in Day 1 against Matt Matros, shoving in preflop with aces against A-K. The aces held up. Shortly after that, Juanda played 3-4 from late position against Matros, and the flop came A-2-5, giving Juanda the joint straight against Matros' A-Q. But Matros caught runner-runner to beat Juanda. "He was drawing dead on the flop,'' Juanda said with a smirk, "and he came back to life.''

*******************************************

Jennifer Tilly, who was beaten by Antonio Esfandiari in the first episode of the utterly unwatchable "Poker Superstars III," got some payback by raking a big pot off "The Magician'' on Day 1 of the WPT Championship. Connecting the dots: Tilly is living with Phil "The Unabomber'' Laak, who is best friends with Esfandiari. Laak was playing in the Fontana Room, while Tilly and Esfandiari were playing in the Bellagio's poker room, halfway across the casino from each other. When told of the best friend/girlfriend showdown, Laak exclaimed, "I hope she busts him -- whacks him.''

*******************************************

More Bomber news: Laak said his impression from the public is that fans absolutely love GSN's High Stakes Poker, but thinks fans could do without all the prop bet stuff. Laak said he doesn't think the public understands all of it. I'm thinking the props are perfect for that show because it's a cash game and props are part of big-money cash games and props play right into the idea that big-money cash game players still need other ways to satisfy their sick, degenerate big-money gambling jones.

*******************************************

John D'Agostino shaved that moustache-goatee thing that you're used to seeing him wear. What gives? "I messed it up trying to trim it and had to shave it off. I'm keeping it this way.''

*******************************************

Chip Jett came to the WPT Championship with a froggy voice that sounded painful. When asked how things were going at home with wife Karina's second pregnancy, Chip offered, "I don't know how she does all the complaining, and I'm the one who gets the raspy throat.''

*******************************************

The 605-player field was down to 473 by Day 2, meaning 132 players were eliminated after the two Day 1s, then half that many people go out in the first level of Day 2 alone.

*******************************************

Day 2, Table 47: Mike "The Mouth'' Matusow and Phil "The Poker Brat'' Hellmuth. Bring kevlar.

*******************************************

Kenna James got raised out of a big pot and proceeded to raise the next 10 hands, taking almost all of them. "That was annoying,'' James said of getting pushed out of a pot. "I had to go to work.''

*******************************************

Day 2, Table 19: Seif, Mizrachi, Men "The Master'' Nguyen, Kristi Gazes and Patrik Antonius. In other words, Dante's fourth circle of hell.

*******************************************

The Intercontinental Poker Championship was staged at The Palms before the WPT Championship for broadcast on CBS in June. Prepare to see a lot of the loud, aggressive and entertaining Tony Guoga. "Tony G,'' as he's known, finished second to Japan's Yosh Nakano, which was a spectacular finish for a third-stringer. Tony G, you see, is from Australia, and that country's first choice was Joe Hachem, the $7.5 million man who won the World Series of Poker main event last year. But his sponsor, Poker Stars, refused to let him participate because the tournament's main sponsor was Party Poker. The Aussies' second choice was Mel Judah, but he was in Europe. So Tony G came off the bench.

*******************************************

T.J. Cloutier makes it $150,000 preflop. Mizrachi thinks and thinks and thinks.

"I don't know how I'm letting this happen,'' Mizrachi says as he shows the K-Q suited that he's folding.

"Because of this,'' Cloutier says of the A-Q he was holding.

*******************************************

Simon "Aces'' Trumper showed up at the WPT Championship, but not to play. He was there to watch over Rob Yong and guide him around Vegas poker rooms because Yong is putting up about $7 million to build what might be the biggest poker room in Europe. If not the biggest -- who can keep track these days? -- then certainly the Dusk Till Dawn poker room to be built in the United Kingdom will rank in size and luxury. "We'll have 66 tables,'' said Trumper, who has taken the title of live poker director. "There's nothing like this in the U.K. It will have a TV studio, a high-roller room, and 50 Internet terminals because it will be online as well. Rob's idea is to create a brand with the live card room that will bring in Internet players. Players will qualify for tournaments around the world.'' The opening is scheduled for late this year, Trumper said.

*******************************************

As has become custom, Chris Ferguson, Annie Duke, Howard Lederer and Greg Raymer skipped the event because of what they consider onerous language about the WPT's right to use their images in video games and other merchandise, which might breach contracts the players have signed with other companies.

*******************************************

A lot of players show up late intentionally for whatever reasons, but one player, Davidson Matthew, showed up about three or four hours into Day 1-A because he thought he was playing on Day 1-B. Legit mistake. Not a tired, overblown act the way some very tall and egomaniacal players work it.

And then, first hand, the guy gets aces and doubles up. That's some wake-up call.

But wait. There's more. Matthew made the final table and even had the chip lead heads-up before finishing second to Joe Bartholdi. Matthew took home more than $1.9 million.

That's some wake-up call.

Steve Rosenbloom's book "The Best Hand I Ever Played" is available at bookstores everywhere. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he is also author of a syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. To leave Steve some feedback or ask him a question for his column, check out his mailbag.

Steve Rosenbloom has been contributing to the ESPN Poker Club since March 2005. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Rosenbloom writes for the Chicago Tribune and is the author of "The Best Hand I Ever Played."

ALSO SEE