I've barely gotten to watch poker at this year's WSOP, but nothing was going to keep me from watching the final table of the $50,000. I mean, I've got this swanky press pass, and this is the final table of the biggest skill tournament of the year. Think standing on the 50-yard line for the Super Bowl or the home dugout for Game 7 of the World Series (baseball's version). I feel like Spike Lee right about now, aside from my being a dopey white guy with my laptop busted open for the big day and watching competitors who are capable of victory.
I love the HORSE event. It's what the main event used to be: a gathering of the biggest and best with the eventual winner taking a title that really meant something as the hierarchy of poker excellence went. Don't get me wrong, the big one is still special, and you need to know what you're doing to sort your way through that many bodies, but it doesn't have the same feel as this one. In a deep-stacked, limit poker field, the donks can't shove all-in and hope to get lucky. This is an event in which the strong survive.
Since I was going to watch regardless, I thought it'd be a good idea to jot my thoughts down as the night proceeded. I eventually came to understand the error of my ways for reasons that will become evident in the second half of this story.
Seat 1: Kenny Tran
Seat 2: David Singer
Seat 3: Bruno Fitoussi
Seat 4: John Hanson
Seat 5: Freddy Deeb
Seat 6: Thor Hansen
Seat 7: Amnon Filippi
Seat 8: Barry Greenstein
2:30 p.m.: We're off to a good start. Tournament director Sammy Minutello started off the proceedings by introducing the players. A moment of nervousness produced this little gem: "Seat 2 is David Singer. David is an environmental lawyer and has had plenty of sex er, success sorry David."
2:34 p.m.: Sam introduces Hansen and his $40,000 stack. Hansen is confident enough in his chances that he's also playing in the $5,000 no-limit (six max) event.
2:37 p.m.: The play gets under way with a little seven-card stud. In the first hand, Amnon is pushing the action, which I expect we'll see most of the day. Filippi is the big stack and makes his living from playing in the big mixed cash games. Want to know how good he is? He and JC Tran have swapped pieces permanently, JC getting a small piece of Filippi's cash winnings, Amnon a small piece of JC's tournament monies. Hanson won the first hand, taking out Hansen in the process. It's all good: Hansen's got another tournament to play anyway.
2:54 p.m.: Freddy Deeb is starting to take over the table. Deeb is a personal favorite, a 5-foot-tall package of living dynamite. He's also your basic American success story. He came here for school, lost touch with his parents when Lebanon was thrown into civil war, lost his student visa, couldn't work, was basically broke, took his last $200 on a gambling trip, spent half on the hotel and turned the other half into a poker fortune. Beautiful stuff. He's even wearing the lucky shirt that led him to victory against Phil Ivey in that hand in the 2003 ESPN episodes.
3:02 p.m.: Brian Wilson and the always-knowledgeable Jeremiah Smith just joined me to watch. Smith jumped right into the conversation we were having about Erick Lindgren's golf bet (mentioned in my last column). Just as Wilson joined us, 'Miah mentioned that Erick is here, playing in the $5,000 short-handed.
Wise: "Can you imagine playing poker the day after doing that?"
Wilson: "I can't imagine doing anything the day after doing that."
Seventy-two holes in 105-plus degree heat out in the desert. Pretty remarkable feat. They're calling it one of the better prop bets of the last 50 years.
3:06 p.m.: A couple of Deeb fans actually made signs to show their support. Can you imagine the possibilities? John 3:16 and ESPN anagrams everywhere? It would be glorious. A few anagram possibilities:
I can't believe I've spent 10 minutes thinking about this. I can't believe no one else is helping me. Actually, yes yes I can.
3:21 p.m.: I was commenting on how much I like Fitoussi for his warmth. Cue Brian; "Who Bruno? I hate France, I hate the French, I hate Paris. Bruno's a nice guy, though." Brian is a delicate sparrow in a field of daisies.
3:23 p.m.: Greenstein just moved all-in, stood up and got out a pen in expectation of signing a copy of his book, as has become his habit upon getting eliminated. Deeb made him put the pen away and sit down before the final card got dealt. It finally did, Greenstein was out and had to go through the process all over again. This time, Sam announced, "Barry Greenstein, Joey Sebok's dad, is eliminated in seventh place." It was a moment of vindication for Joe, who's gotten very used to being called "Barry Greenstein's son."
3:37 p.m.: Singer just won a couple of pots and deserves some love here. Singer is one of those quiet types who despises the fact that louder is often seen as better in televised poker. Can't blame, him, since he'd get a lot more hype if poker media were purely accomplishment-driven.
Singer's done something pretty remarkable here, being the first player to score back-to-back final tables at the $50,000 HORSE, which makes him a more frightening presence at the table than most probably realize. In the two deepest-stacked tournaments ever played, he's survived 95 percent of the best in the business. It's a damn impressive feat, made more impressive by the fact that he spent most of the Series away from the action, tending to a loved one. This was his first event at the series.
3:46 p.m.: We're over an hour in now and Deeb still hasn't said a single word that will get bleeped out for television. Things must be going well. I can't believe he still has that shirt. Ivey made fun of him for it four years ago, but there it is, larger, brighter and bigger than life.
3:47 p.m.: I wonder how many people watching the event realize Fitoussi won one of the most important tournaments ever played. The first World Heads-Up Poker Championship, held at Isle of Man in Britain back in 2001, was the first event to feature use of the hole card cam. Fitoussi beat Amarillo Slim in four hands in the final to take the title, making him the second-biggest winner of that event after Steve Lipscomb, who found the footage inspiring enough to create the WPT.
3:53 p.m.: We're going on break. We need some concessionaires here could definitely use some nachos. Kudos to Wilson for pointing out there's only one bracelet left at this table, won by Deeb in 1996.
4:24 p.m.: I got myself a salad and just finished it in time to watch Singer bust out in sixth place. It's unfortunate Singer couldn't make more of a splash here. His feat probably won't get the attention it deserves. Still a remarkable thing, though.
4:28 p.m.: This is anyone's game. Hanson, Deeb and Filippi are all close in chips.
4:37 p.m.: Deeb just took the lead and a big chunk out of Tran. If Freddy wins this thing, we may just get one moderately sized guy to put him on his shoulders and parade him around the room. As part of the ceremony, Deeb will drop bleeped-out F-bombs throughout.
4:41 p.m.: Filippi hasn't won a hand in a long time. He's not losing much, but it's been an awfully quiet table for a not-so-quiet guy.
4:45 p.m.: Gavin Smith just arrived, fresh off losing $60,000 to Lindgren. I have to think he's here to sweat Amnon. Other name players in attendance? Tran (who has a piece of Amnon), Andy Bloch (who is providing radio color commentary for Bluff), Cyndy Violette and Steve Sung. Definitely not the same atmosphere as last year, likely because everyone else is playing in the $5,000 no-limit hold 'em (six max) event that started today.
4:47 p.m.: Tomorrow is Amnon's birthday.
4:53 p.m.: Just made a dash over to the other final table today, the $2,000 limit hold 'em, to see that Bill Jensen is in the lead there. Like Alex Borteh and Eric Froehlich, who are in attendance cheering him on, "Huey" (so named for his massive, 6-foot-6 frame) is a "Magic: The Gathering" player turned poker pro. It's amazing how many of them are lurking here.
5:02 p.m.: OK, I have to say it: I really don't want Hanson to win this thing. Don't get me wrong, the whole Moneymaker effect redux would be nice, with every donk in the world thinking they can play horse now, but this tournament needs a name champion. If I had my druthers, ignoring personal affection, here's the order in which I'd want the boys to win:
Tran is a true pro who's just chosen to stay out of the spotlight. He's here because it's a positive expected value, not for the glory or the beauty of the game. That's great for other events, but don't be tarnishing my HORSE with anything but delusions of grandeur.
5:05 p.m.: Huge pot building between Deeb and Hanson. Hanson's on the offensive, as usual.
5:08 p.m.: Miah just pointed out that Deeb lost that pot because the shirt he's wearing is not, in fact, the magic shirt. It's just a mediocre facsimile with Full Tilt patches all over the place. There's no replacing the authentic magic of a lucky shirt. To pretend you can is to invite the wrath of the poker gods. Deeb's crops will be subject to swarms of locusts this year. Then he'll have to sacrifice a goat.
5:11 p.m.: Freddy just sacrificed a goat at the table. Disgusting.
5:12 p.m.: Hanson just dragged his third straight pot. Deeb is cursing the now-dead goat.
5:19 p.m.: Lukasz Dumansky just dropped by. He won the bracelet yesterday and is another one of those "Magic: The Gathering" kids I've known since they were in their mid-teens. Between him, Jenson, Alex Borteh, EFro, Williams, et al, I'm starting to wonder where I went wrong with this whole "getting a job" thing.
5:24 p.m.: Hanson has a lot of chips. That Hanson, he's so hot right now.
5:25 p.m.: Starting to wonder if Hanson knows what a eugoogily is.
5:26 p.m.: Hanson and Deeb are about to have a walk-off.
5:27 p.m.: If Hanson tries to kill the president of Micronesia, I'm going to flip.
5:28 p.m.: Getting a little punch drunk.
5:30 p.m.: Among those in attendance cheering Tran on is Nick Cassavetes, director of "The Notebook" and avid player of the poker cards. I never actually saw "The Notebook," so there won't be any lame references to it in the next three to five minutes.
5:39 p.m.: The pace is slowing down enough that I'm starting to check out the NBA draft goings-on. Bill Simmons must be excited at the prospect of having Ray Allen injured for his team this year.
Still love the guy for the whole running diary idea though. Thanks, Sports Guy.
5:44 p.m. Pretty sure Deeb just got censored.
5:49 p.m. Just reached the second break. Hanson has the lead over Filippi, with Deeb, Fitoussi and Tran all in the two million plus area. It's interesting to see how these guys use their break time.
I saw Tran make a beeline to a buddy in the stands and start talking hands, while Filippi conferenced with JC Tran, Paul Darden and Kirk Morrison. Meanwhile, Deeb headed straight for the bathroom with Farzad Bonyadi, talking hands the whole way. I was headed in the same direction and overheard them talking about the table throughout their assorted business. These are some serious card players. Didn't get a chance to sweat Fitoussi or Hanson, but I have to think they were doing a lot of the same.
Chip counts heading to the third level of play:
Tran 2.3 million
6:40 p.m. Tran just made a massive call, taking down a pot against Fitoussi's missed straight draw with jack-high. His celebration afterwards was completely indiscernible, but he and Nick Cassavettes seemed pretty happy with the whole thing. If he ends up making the comeback, that call is going to be legendary.
6:45 p.m. The grind is really starting to set in now. The chips keep moving around the table in no discernable pattern. Hanson has definitely slowed down and no one really seems to be pushing the action at this point. Considering how much this event means, should I be worried that I'm looking around the room to see what else is going on?
7:05 p.m. There's a lot else going on. Bill Jensen is down to the final two, while the six-max no-limit field is packed, with pros all over the place and even a couple of celebrities who try to stay anonymous. I refuse to confirm that anyone who's played Spiderman three times in the last half-decade was playing in the room today.
7:09 p.m. Excuse the joke, but Deeb is way short-stacked. Oh, he just moved all-in for $80,000 on a board of Qc-Jd-5s-5h. Tran called and Deeb turned over pocket fives to survive the Omaha hand.
7:15 p.m. Jensen just got knocked out by a cold run of cards in the final. I'm back here for good.
7:18 p.m. Cue the comeback? Deeb just won a big one, tripling up through sixth street. I don't have the numbers yet, but he's right back in this thing. Maybe it's because Lyle Berman showed up. Talk about a guy who knows good fortune. Berman's the man whose money helped Lipscomb build the WPT. I think that venture worked out ok for him. Nice guy too, even if I did give up on his biography after falling asleep five nights straight without making it out of chapter two.
7:28 p.m. They killed Kenny! Deeb just left Tran with $30,000 chips on a big pot heading into dinner. If I'm Tran, I'm not sure I'm even coming back if the desert menu is looking good.
9:20 p.m. Just got back from a fun meal with an eclectic crew of Justin Bonomo, Lon McEachern, Kirk Morrison, Danny Wong, Steve Sung and Daniel, a friend of Danny and Steve's. We spent most of the meal enjoying some fine food and wine courtesy of Kirk before the younger guys headed out, leaving Lon, Kirk and me waiting on the crippled Sung, whose ankle had been taken out by JC Tran in a pickup basketball game a few weeks ago.
Sitting there, nursing our wine, Steve finally gathered up his courage and bluntly said "So I hear you do commentary" to Lon, at which point Lon and I realized neither Steve or Kirk had any clue what Lon does for a living. Perhaps if he had sixteen ex-wives, he'd be more identifiable. Funny stuff.
9:24 p.m. Filippi just doubled through Deeb. At this point, it feels like anyone's ballgame. I'm starting to get to that point in the night where I'm always cheering for the guy who's all-in to lose.
A few revelations from dinner:
• Bonomo has been destroying Phil Hellmuth today, furthering a rivalry that started at the WPT Championship, where Phil said of Bonomo "They've brought me five internet legends and they all went bust. Why should this one be any different?"
• Morrison, who has been on a sick run since his return to active duty in 2007, is talking about heading back to New Zealand and retirement after WSOP.
• Top poker players don't watch much televised poker.
• Lon was actually working as a loan officer off and on until last year. When I asked him if he originally thought the poker gig would work out, he told me "I was unemployed and broke. I didn't care if it worked out or not. My reaction was 'Yes!!'
• The guys at dinner seemed more surprised at Bruno's survival than Hanson's.
• Hanson's play was referred to as 'crazy with lots of money'.
9:54 p.m. Man, there's a lot of folding in HORSE.
9:58 p.m. Finally a little action. After a solid half-hour of table-wide folding, Filippi just got put all-in and doubled up, getting a little rise out of the crowd. "Bluff" magazine editor Matt Parvis was especially vocal. "Amnon is the only player I've ever taken out of a tournament. It was at Irv Gotti's birthday party." This is, of course, the most ludicrous story ever told. He then adds. "He's representing the New York underground. I'm cheering for him because he's from the hood." Parvis, you're the whitest man I know.
10:05 p.m. Filippi's all-in again, with a thousand outs. Despite my earlier statement about the all-in rule, I'm cheering for him to hit it. This is a guy who's wanted this badly for a long time, and who's watched those around him thrive. Be there!
10:06 p.m. It wasn't there. Filippi is gone. I apparently suck at rooting.
10:12 p.m. Fitoussi is the huge favorite at this point. Having taken over as table captain and taken all of Filippi's chips, he's got twice as many chips as Hanson and Deeb combined. If he doesn't win, France will change its name to 'Freedom.' God, did I actually just resort to that? Fitoussi better win this thing soon.
10:21 p.m. The show's producer, David Swartz, just stopped by to watch me play online Chinese poker for play money. The action might be a little lacking.
10:26 p.m. A couple of fun pieces of French poker player info from Benjamin Gallen of www.poker.fr:
• A win here for Fitoussi would be the first bracelet for a Frenchman since 1998, when actor Patrick Bruel won the $5,000-limit event.
• The first French bracelet came in 1988, thanks to Gilbert Gross, who still comes to WSOP despite being in his seventies.
• It would be just the fourth bracelet ever won by a Frenchman.
• A Fitoussi third-place finish means he becomes the leading French tournament money winner. That distinction belonged to Pascal Perrault. Fitoussi entered this tournament sixth on that list.
While noting that, I have to say I really like how the other countries have embraced the bracelet as a symbol of excellence. Listening to the Dutch at a dinner last week, it was all they could talk about. Who would be the first Dutchman to win a bracelet? That conversation is happening in restaurants all over Vegas with 'Dutchman' substituted for by 'German', 'Italian', 'Spaniard' and so on. With poker exploding throughout Europe now, it would have been easy for each community to create its own traditions, but instead they've embraced those that have been put in place. Makes the idea of a worldwide poker community a lot more feasible.
11:02 p.m. The action is back on, and I can't tell you how much I'm cheering for Bruno to win this now. Thing is, I love Deeb, but a victory for him would take around nine more hours.
During the break, I saw Pascal Perrault walking around unidentified. He finally approached me for info on goings on since I was wearing a badge and inside the ropes. I informed him that he'd lost the record and he seemed happy to have given it up for the cause of a French bracelet.
11:23 p.m. I'm reminded of the eighth Anniversary Late Night With David Letterman. Tom Hanks came on the stage and boasted he would eat 1,000 cocktail weenies in a minute to celebrate Dave's eighth anniversary on the air. Just as he dove in, there was a breaking news bulletin, with Bob Jamieson coming on the screen and announcing "Nothing is happening. Absolutely nothing is going on. Everything is unchanged." Kept it going too, until they'd managed to cart all but two weenies off the stage so they could count "999 1,000!" I feel like Jamieson right about now. It's been twenty-one minutes, so I felt obligated to write something. That's all I have left.
11:33 p.m. I found it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlt2qciyJig)!. That's the last ten minutes of my life. Start watching at the 5:40 mark for the Hanks sketch.
11:38 p.m. Deeb raised, Fitoussi reraised and the entire room woke up.
11:54 p.m. Jean-Paul Sartre was a French philosopher who dabbled in playwriting. His play, No Exit, is amongst my favorites ever written.
In No Exit, three people -- a young prostitute, an older lesbian and a middle-aged man are thrust into a shared room for eternity. The man loves the lesbian, the lesbian loves the prostitute and the prostitute loves the man, with none of the three loves unrequited.
The point is that Sartre believed that hell is unrequited love. It took me until this minute to realize he was wrong. Hell is three men playing unrequited limit poker, with preflop folds aplenty and the all-in winning every pot for eternity.
I hung on for another half-hour, but fatigue set in. I started walking into people and losing consciousness while standing up, so at 12:30 a.m., with Deeb having just rebuilt his stack to the point of playability and Hanson doing the same, I decided to call it a night. Thank god I did.
The match would continue for another six hours. Remember earlier, when I wrote a Deeb win would take another nine hours? Well, it was only seven, my bad. Regardless, I still had three hours of non-HORSE work to do and a 9 a.m. script meeting for worldseriesofpoker.com, so I gave up at half-past midnight.
I'm glad I gave up the fight, but it meant missing one of the better comebacks in poker history, and by one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet in the game. I wrote this article late last year and everything I've seen since screams that all the praise held within was on the money. Deeb is a player of the people. Being a man of small physical stature makes him relatable from afar, but having as big a heart as I've ever encountered makes him relatable from a handshake's distance. On top of that, he brings name recognition and credibility. I couldn't have hand-picked a finer champion.
Congratulations on the win Freddy. To fight back from the deficits you did shows us what a true champion is. I can't wait to watch those first ten hours all over again on TV, and then see the six I missed for the first time.
Gary Wise is currently catching up on sleep after his long night at the HORSE final table. He is at the WSOP producing video content at www.worldseriesofpoker.com.