Million Launches to New Record
OFF THE BAJA CALIFORNIA COAST
Yesterday, Saturday, March 13, 2004, the ms Ryndam embarked
from San Diego breaking records of all sorts. Some of the
more interesting and relevant records include:
1. It offers the largest prize pool in the World Poker Tour's
admittedly short history: $3,822,000. That's what happens
when you set records like...
2. It's the first time a major poker cruise has taken up an
entire cruise ship. That's right: with 546 players (463 online
qualifiers and 83 direct buy-ins) each contributing $7,000
to the prize pool (less 3% for dealer and floor staff tokes),
the PPM.com III has completely taken over the ship. Originally,
PartyPoker.com reserved 175 cabins. Six weeks later, with
online qualifying going through the roof (deck?), they upped
the request to 325 cabins, and a month after that, they just
said "Give us the whole ship."
It turns out they might well have taken an even larger ship,
because PartyPoker.com offered to buy back almost 100 cruise
packages from online qualifiers. Although increasing the buy-in
to $10,000 next year may help PartyPoker.com avoid the need
to charter a fleet of ships, the always dry-witted Steve Zolotow
noted that much as the goal at the World Series of Poker has
recently become to "make the final room," PartyPoker.com
players may soon embark "hoping to make the final ship."
Many players who won cruise packages for as little as a $25
investment already feel like winners, of course...while others,
like direct buy-in Phil Hellmuth, Jr., who was the second
player to bust out of the tournament, are down a few bucks
before half the field has even begun play.
Although Hellmuth didn't blame his early exit on his draw,
he could have been luckier. This tournament is dominated by
amateur players, and yet when he made his customary late entrance
(only 45 minutes after the tournament began), he found Erik
Seidel two seats to his right and two-time WSOP Championship
runner-up Dewey Tomko three seats to his left.
Because of the relatively large number of players, Tournament
Director Matt Savage is splitting Day One into two days. 270
of the 546 players began today, and 91 of those remain. Those
91 will get a day off before resuming action on Tuesday, when
two day's worth of Day One survivors will play down to the
Those final 27 will play down to a six player final table
on Wednesday night, and on Thursday night, the World Poker
Tour's highly mobile set sets up at sea for the finale, which
will be (as has the entire tournament) a limit hold'em event.
Probably the most famous player to attend is award-winning
actor/director James Woods, who has developed a huge poker
fascination over the past seven months.
Players were for the most part very well comported and happy
to be on the cruise, although I overheard a number complaining
about having to "get beat on the river and on the ocean
OFF THE CABO SAN LUCAS COAST
There are 177 folks at sea who don't mind being among the
leaders. The PartyPoker.com Million III's 546 starting players
have now, after the second of two "starting days,"
been reduced by almost exactly two-thirds.
A look at the combined leaderboard tells some interesting
tales. Everyone started with $7,000 in no-cash value tournament
chips. The top 15 players and their chip totals are:
1. Adkins, Jason $68,000
2. Brodie, Richard $64,500
3. Benyamine, David $56,000
4. Shulman, Barry $53,500
5. Bray, Dennis $52,000
6. Oliver, Ray $50,500
7. Quass, Kevin $50,500
8. Franklin, Tom $47,000
9. Shkolnik, Steven $45,500
10. Eddings, David $45,000
11. Salem, Samuel $45,000
12. Totera, Frank $44,000
13. Hernandez, Martin $41,000
14. Corrado, Ed $39,500
15. Colberg, Dave $39,500
Although they are underrepresented among the early leaders,
the direct buy-ins are still alive and well. A total of 30
remain from the starting 83 (a survival rate of 36%, slightly
better than that of the online qualifiers, of whom 32% are
still kicking), including the Champions from the first two
PartyPoker.com Million Events, Kathy Liebert and Howard Lederer
(who have $35,000 and $33,500, respectively).
After two days of morning starts, the survivors get a day
in Cabo San Lucas tomorrow, and then resume play at 8 p.m,
when they will play at the $500-1,000 blind level (the hundred
dollar chips have just been removed from the tables), and
compete until either 4 a.m. or 27 players remain, whichever
Those final 27 will play down to a six player final table
on Wednesday night, and on Thursday night, the World Poker
Tour's highly mobile set sets up at sea for the finale, which
will be (as has the entire tournament) a limit hold'em event.
One of the more interesting aspects of the PartyPoker.com
Million III is that it is bringing together players from the
online world and the brick and mortar world. Until Chris Moneymaker
won the 2003 WSOP, many people thought that online players
would initially face considerable difficulty when needing
to employ a true "poker face.
ON BOARD THE ms RYNDAM
Wednesday. March 17 2004 was a day for winners. After the
PartyPoker.com Million III's first two split days, we had
completed a day's play, with 177 still alive. Although all
but 30 of these were already winners, with a cruise package
and a shot at glory in the bank, we were halfway through the
real Day 2 before people started winning actual money, and
when the dust had settled, players 28-90 had some cash to
go with their cruise, as follows:
73-90, $2,000 each
64-72, $2,500 each
55-63, $3,000 each
46-54, $7,791 each
45-37, $10,387 each
28-36, $12,984 each
Today, the money started getting much more serious. The 27
starters knew that only six of them could "go Hollywood"
and make the big World Poker Tour TV show, as well as have
a shot at the really big money that would come along with
Although there were some interesting moments in the early
and middle going, not the least of which was a run by Scotty
Nguyen from $20,000 up to about $300,000 in just a few minutes,
I decided that the battle from 10th down to the final six
would be about the right length, and the set-up looked like
Even though some players looked to be in excellent shape
and others in deep trouble, the limits were already so high
that just one or two hands played to the river could dramatically
change the picture. The blinds were $10,000-20,000, playing
1998 World Champ Nguyen lost almost all of his chips on the
second final table hand, playing two black aces hard into
a red, connected high board. Hinchcliffe had flopped an open-ended
straight draw with his 10c-Jc, and connected on the turn.
Nguyen had only 50k left after the hand, and declined to engage
on his next trip through the blinds, leaving him with only
20k left-exactly the sum of one big blind.
A NOVEL "DOWN TO THE FELT" STRATEGM
Nguyen played his button, but then promptly got up from the
table and, with only eight hands to go before the last of
his chips were going to be forced into action, left the room
for four of them. He had eight chances left to find a hand,
and he let four of them drift into the ether.
Nguyen finally returned, but didn't play until it was his
big blind, when Negreanu brought the hand in for a raise and
Lindgren made it three bets. Nguyen could only look on helplessly
as Negreanu called.
The flop came A-J-6, and most observers expected Negreanu
and Lindgren to check it down, to maximize the chances of
eliminating a player, but after Negreanu checked Lindgren
fired, and Negreanu immediately threw his hand (8-8) away.
Lindgren turned over pocket nines, and Nguyen squeezed for
a while and found Jd-3d-top pair.
The "eliminate a player" folks raised their eyebrows
when an eight hit the turn. Although Lindgren had indeed grabbed
a reasonable side pot, and had indeed protected his hand from
a Negreanu catch-up, it looked like he'd cost the table a
Nguyen knock-out-until a third diamond hit on the river, giving
Nguyen a flush and new life, his 20k having turned into 70k.
Two hands later, Lindgren raised a hand, only to see Nguyen
three-bet it. Two sixes were no match for Nguyen's K-K, and
in the blink of an eye the players who had been counting Nguyen
out were now counting his $150,000.
Although interrupted by a brief moment of comic relief when
Zolotow bet his A-K very aggressively and almost got a short-stacked
Juanda to lay down the very same hand (you really have to
see the mild-mannered Juanda make a mock strangling motion
to get the full comic effect), Nguyen rampage continued just
a couple of hands late when he got dealt an A-K of his own,
but caught a flop of A-K-K. Nguyen had raised pre-flop and
been called by both blinds, but checked the hand twice afterwards,
hoping someone would bet for him. Finally, after two more
checks on the river, Nguyen finally bet, and got Leap to call
him with A-Q.
No sir, at $40,000 a pop, no one was getting very cute with
two kings on board unless he owned one himself.
WHY WERE THEY BOTH SO ANXIOUS TO RAISE?
The short stacked Zolotow and Juanda got into it again a
few hands later, in a raise-reraise-reraise-reraise sequence
that had Tournament Director Matt Savage telling the eager
lads they'd each put in one bet too many. They agreed that
the last two bets were dark bets and calls for the flop, and
as this put Juanda all-in, they turned their hands over. AK
vs. AK had been comical; AA vs. AA was more of a "Can't
I beat this guy?" hand for each of the two desperately
short players. Juanda got the briefest of freerolls when two
diamonds hit the flop, but a club on the turn split the pot.
Leap had to post 40k as his big blind. Zolotow raised him,
and the action got back around to Leap, who tossed his last
10k in, turning over pocket queens. Zolotow could produce
only pocket tens, but a ten hit the flop, and Kevin had to
be the first to leap from the final table, albeit the honorable
way: getting his money in when he had the best of it. The
blinds moved up to $15,000-30,000, playing $30,000-60,000.
Figure it out: the table's chip leader didn't have a dozen
big bets in front of him.
Have two hands go well or badly, and you could go from worst
to first, or first to worst, without making a single mistake,
or even without anything particularly unlucky or unlikely
A MODEL PLAYER SETS A MODEL EXAMPLE
Shortly into the new round, Greenstein, a fabulous player
who is so successful in both business and poker that he donates
all his poker tournament winnings (and there are a lot of
them) to charity (which I suppose you'd have to say makes
him a fabulous human being as well: nice example for the rest
of the successful, Barry) opened for a raise, and the still
short-stacked Juanda thought for a while before calling in
the big blind.
The flop came 5-8-Q, Juanda checked, Greenstein bet (as was
fairly predictable: he didn't let too many people look at
free cards throughout the day), and Juanda check-raised, which
for some reason was exactly the sequence I had anticipated
before a flop had been dealt. Greenstein didn't hesitate very
long before making it three bets, though, and neither I nor
Juanda had seen that one coming, because Juanda looked at
his pitifully small collection of chips, trying to decide
if he should get out, or call the six $5,000 chips now and
the inevitable three more chips on the turn.
Juanda finally decided to call, checked, and as Greenstein
bet Juanda's last three chips, Juanda looked at them or a
moment, as if trying to decide if there were any point to
saving them. He finally tossed them into the pot, and eight
chairs more or less fell over simultaneously when the players
exposed their hands. Greenstein had been pushing a real hand
throughout, pocket tens, but Juanda had K-Q for top pair,
good kicker, and took the pot when no ten hit the river.
The always good for a line Daniel Negreanu recovered first
and started laughing hysterically. "Top pair, very good
kicker, and you're sitting there like you think you might
have three outs?" Negreanu laughed. "You must not
play much limit hold'em."
"I just wanted it on the record that I thought I was
going to lose, somehow," Juanda replied with a laugh
of his own. Only Greenstein wasn't laughing, but he wasn't
angry, either, just probably feeling what the rest of us were-confused
by Juanda's hesitance.Meanwhile, amateur Dave Rogers had been
seeing his own chips leak away, and decided he had to defend
his big blind with A-6 when the aggressive Negreanu attacked
from the button. The flop came 3-2-2, and Rogers quite correctly
called with his last couple of chips when Negreanu bet: there
was too much money in the pot to fold a flop that had likely
missed both of them. Unfortunately for Rogers, it hadn't:
Negreanu had attacked with Q-3 and in so doing had flopped
top pair. He hit a queen on the turn for good measure, leaving
Rogers outs only to an ace, but no silver bullet saved him,
and we were eight.
Steve Zolotow is one of my favorite poker players, not merely
because he's always been helpful with advice to those who
seek it, but because his sense of humor is so good and so
arid that I thought we might have a matter/anti-matter explosion
should he leap into the sea. He saw that he had exactly enough
to make a full raise, and did so. Nguyen considered calling
from the small blind with what he later claimed was K-J, but
we've all seen that 2003 WSOP video that proves you can't
believe Scotty about what he's folded unless you see the cards
(which is probably as it should be). Juanda, now finally supplied
with some ammunition, played Sheriff with the second-worst
heads-up hand, 2-4.
A FAST CALCULATION FROM NEGREANU
Juanda's 2h-4c hit a deuce on the Kh-10c-4c flop, and Daniel
Negreanu demonstrated he understands poker math pretty well
by instantly proclaiming that Zolotow's Kc-6c was a small
favorite (and it is, too, thanks to the two overcards and
the flush draw, but I wasn't positive about this one until
I crunched it, because Juanda had a club in his hand, too.
Danny boy, you got some new respect here: Zolotow was indeed
a 51-49 favorite, although he lost that status when a blank,
the 10s, hit the turn. The 8c gave Z a flush on the river,
though, and Zolotow lived on with 135k.
Hinchcliffe raised from his button, and Negreanu, as he
quite often did, defended his big blind. The flop came Kh-10c-4c.
Negreanu checked, Hinchcliffe bet, and Negreanu raised. Hinchcliffe
tried to re-raise, but put the wrong amount in at first and
had to go back for the rest of his bet.
It was a clear a string raise as I'd ever seen, but Negreanu
never protested, and I knew that meant a minimum of two pair,
probably a set. The As hit the turn, and Negreanu check-called,
and both players checked the river. Negreanu bet each time
and got called each time, and turned over the 10h-4h that
had flopped two pair. Hinchcliffe had been unlucky to hit
his ace on the turn, or he might have given up the power play,
but it was too easy to believe the ace might have put him
back in front.
Zolotow got low again-back down to the 60k mark-but we all
knew he wasn't making a move with K-6 suited when Greenstein
opened the hand for a raise to 60k, Negreanu flat called,
and Zolotow called all-in. Adkins later claimed, believably,
that he'd considered coming in from the small blind with pocket
fours, a matter that became relevant when the flop came 8-4-10.
Greenstein again demonstrated a complete lack of desire to
check-down an all-in player when he fired out at this flop,
this time without a side pot even to be won. Negreanu folded,
and Greenstein turned over Q-J, which left Zolotow feeling
pretty good about his A-A. Z got a brief scare when another
eight hit the turn, because the number of pips on an eight
look a lot like the number on a nine (which would have given
Greenstein a straight), but he survived and was back in the
hunt with 225k.
Greenstein and Negreanu, who never showed any fear of each
other all day long, played a big pot with a 10d-As-4c-5c-Qs
board, and Negreanu took a long time calling the final bet,
even though he showed an ace after Greenstein turned up A-Q.
"I was pretty sure I was beat there," he said, a
line not so special for that particular moment as it was for
what it foretold on an encounter just a few moments later.
Negreanu raised up front and Hinchcliffe defended his blind.
The flop came 7s-5s-3d, Hinchcliffe bet 30k and Negreanu called.
The Kd hit the turn, and it went check-check. The Kh hit the
river, Negreanu checked, and one of the most amazing poker
sequences I've yet seen ensued.
REALLY, NOW, COULD YOU MAKE THIS READ and CALL?
Hinchcliffe reached for his chips and his cards lifted part
of the way off the table. I thought I saw one of them, and
thought it was a seven, but I wasn't sure, and I made sure
I was looking straight into my notebook in case Negreanu tried
to read me. He didn't, though. He started talking.
"Boy, now that just has to mean nothing," Negreanu
said. "I keep trying to figure this one, I figure it
one way, you have nothing, another way, you have nothing,
and a third way, you have nothing. A, B, or C, it's nothing
either way, the only problem is, I don't know if I can beat
Negreanu finally decided to call with Q-6: that's right,
he called $60,000 with queen-high. "You win," said
Hinchcliffe, who turned over not the seven I thought I'd seen
(I guess Zolotow and I have the same problem with counting
pips in a flash) but 8-6. Hinchcliffe had flopped an open-ended
straight draw, but the bet on the river didn't add up to Negreanu.
Neither of the draws had gotten there, and you'd have expected
Hinchcliffe to raise on the turn if he had a king. So it was
understandable to think that Hinchcliffe had nothing...but
thinking it, and making a $60,000 call with a hand that could
lose to a lot of nothings (ace-anything, or maybe something
like 4-3), well, that's what separates the men from the boys.
With his second big loss to Negreanu in a round, it looked
like Hinchcliffe was in trouble.
We had a little while to recover from this stunning hand
when the hand of the night came down. Let's track the pot
size as it moves along. Adkins raised, and both Greenstein
and Negreanu called from the blinds. That left us with 180k
in the middle.
THE POT GROWS LARGER THAN SOME POKER BELLIES
The flop came Jc-8s-2h, both blinds checked, Adkins bet,
and both blinds called. That's another 90k for a total of
270k. The 9c hit the turn, the blinds checked again, Adkins
bet 60k, and Greenstein made it 120k. I almost dropped my
pen when Negreanu flat called the 120k and Adkins called also.
That's right, 360k went in on the turn, and we now had 630k
in the middle.
The 3h hit the river, and Greenstein led out for 60k. Negreanu
called...and so did Adkins, making this an $810,000 pot. Greenstein
turned over Q-10 for the nut straight, Negreanu showed 10-7
for the second-nut straight, and Adkins didn't show (I have
a feeling it was something like K-K or A-A, though it could
have been a set). Barry Greenstein was now the unquestioned
chip leader, and he wasn't satisfied. I ran into him on the
next break and mentioned the hand.
"I think I win at least one more bet if I check there,"
Greenstein said. "If I check, Negreanu probably bets,
gets called, and then I can raise. But I was too concerned
with check-check-check on the end, so I decided to fire."
An $810,000 pot, and he was concerned on the break about
not making more with it. Maybe this tells you something about
what makes a championship-level poker player.
A hand later, I saw Adler toss J-J away heads-up on a board
that showed Q-6-2-Q, which I took to be a sign he was worried
he might be on tilt from overplaying the other hand. It could
have been good poker, too. Zolotow showed him one six, leaving
him Adler to wonder if he had escaped a full house, or if
he'd thrown away jacks to someone who had sixes.
The good ship Hinchcliffe, which had been sailing along so
nicely for so long, was foundering, and he soon raised a pot.
Greenstein, perhaps suspecting a tilt factor, made it three
bets, and Hinchcliffe called. The flop came 2d-Js-Qc, and
Hinchcliffe led out, with Greenstein calling. The 8c hit the
turn, and Hinchcliffe led out again, but this time Greenstein
made it $120,000. Hinchcliffe didn't look happy and called.
The 3d hit the river, and Hinchcliffe checked. Greenstein
bet $60,000, and Hinchcliffe assessed his situation. He had
$80,000 left in front of him, and he'd need to commit 3/4
of it to call. If he tossed the hand away, he'd be low man
on the totem pole, but we'd seen plenty of comebacks already,
and both Juanda and Nguyen were one good hand away.
OH, $20,000, $500,000, WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
Hinchcliffe took another look at his 10-J, and decided to
call. It was good (probably by a lot, as Greenstein's "good
call" announcement seemed to indicate the moment the
chips went in), and instead of a 20k stack, he was a half
We'd hit the break, and it was a good thing, because more
than a few players probably needed oxygen. They were going
to need more of it at the new level, because the blinds were
moving to $20,000-40,000, playing $40,000-80,000. There wasn't
a player in the room with ten big bets in front of him.
Just in case anyone had gotten relaxed, the second hand after
the break took care of that. Juanda had the button, and Adkins
raised from late position. Hinchcliffe defended his big blind,
and the flop came 9c-7d-4h. Hinchcliffe check-called a flop
that was likely to have missed the raiser. The Kh hit the
turn though, certainly a raiser's card, but Hinchcliffe fired
right out, only to see Adkins make it $160,000.
Hinchcliffe called, and check-called when the 2s hit the
river. "If you have a king, you win," said Adkins,
and Hinchcliffe turned over K-10. Two hands previously, Chris
Hinchcliffe had been in deep danger of sitting there with
$20,000, and now he was the unquestioned chip leader, while
Adkins had only 30k left.
WHERE'S A TALL BUILDING WHEN YOU NEED ONE?
Adkins survived a rough all-in where he took Q-4 against
K-Q and flopped a four, but Superman, the Man of Steel, who
had already shown that he could change the course of mighty
rivers (well, escape them, anyway) and bend steel in his bare
hands (the steely hearts of some of his competitors), yes
Superman, Chris Hinchcliffe, strange visitor from another
planet with powers beyond those of mortal men, just buried
Barry Greenstein in a Q-Q vs. J-J confrontation that got heavily
bet throughout, and why not, with a lowly board like 5-3-3-8-6.
He had to be Superman, because this construction worker was
still worth only a quarter of what Steve Austin, The Six Million
Dollar Man, cost, but all 1.5 million appeared to have been
invested in his heart, brain, and eyes.
Adkins, whose chances had seemed so good a couple of hours
earlier, finally fell to Negreanu in a Q-J vs. A-Q confrontation,
with most of the drama gone immediately on the 2-A-9 flop.
There was one player left to go. Who would be the "bubble
boy" for the show?
A few hands later, we had what in wrestling they'd call "a
reversal." Nguyen made it 80k from late position, and
Juanda, realizing that Nguyen had very little time to wait
for a hand, decided to make Nguyen commit, re-raising and
putting Nguyen all-in. Nguyen had a real hand, though, Ad-Js,
and better still a dominating one, because Juanda held Ah-9h.
Nguyen had leapt past Juanda. "Welcome home, chips,"
A little while later, Juanda found a hand he was willing to
go with. He made it 80k, and Negreanu put the rest of Juanda's
95k all-in with a raise to 120k. Ac-Kd for Negreanu, and Qh-Qc
for Juanda. Curiously, although Juanda is the 13-10 favorite
in this confrontation, Negreanu looked and sounded confident.
"I got a good feeling about this one, Johnny," he
said, not unkindly.
You have to be careful with someone whose feelings can be
"nothing, nothing, and nothing." The flop brought
not one king, but two: K-K-3. A ten on the turn left Juanda
dead to one of the remaining two queens, but a five arrived,
and the final table was set:
I got a chance to speak with a few of the players before the
night was over, and in covering literally hundreds of big
money tournaments, rarely have I encountered a group that
was as generally happy with everything that had transpired
as this one was. Eighth place finisher Adkins, who could easily
have been bitterly disappointed, was thrilled.
"Hey, the big thing for me was winning the cruise and
having a great time with my wife here," Adkins said.
"All this money in the tournament, that's just gravy,
and pretty nice gravy, since I only bought in once for one
$25 tournament and made it right through qualifying with that."
Curiously, "Superman" Hinchcliffe's story was similar.
The Olympia, Washington construction worker had only signed
up at PartyPoker.com a few days before qualifying ended, and
also invested just one $25 buy-in. Now, of course, he gets
to go for a lot more, and it isn't just gravy for him.
"This is life-changing money for me," Hinchcliffe
said. "I owed my Mom $8,000 she'd advanced me, and I've
been paying her back a little at a time, but now she's getting
the rest of it all at once, and she's getting a new car, too.
I'm going to take the rest of the year off (remember, it's
March) and reassess a lot of things in my life.
Is he intimidated by the field he'll face? After all, even
online qualifier Erick Lindgren is a rather famous player.
"I'm thrilled to be playing against players like this,
it's the thrill of a lifetime," he said. "I was
intimidated by one player in the field, (defending champ)
Howard Lederer, and once he went out, I felt like it was more
What about "bubble boy" Juanda, who nursed a short
stack for most of the evening. Was he bitterly disappointed
about missing the TV appearance. "No, not at all,"
Juanda replied. "Sometimes, I'd rather not make the TV
show, not if I don't have any chips. I wasn't thinking about
that at all. I was trying to make the best plays I could to
have a chance to get chips and do well tomorrow." Lederer,
who happened to be standing next to Juanda as we exchanged
there remarks, agreed vehemently. "There's not a lot
of point in just sitting there, anteing yourself off so you
can get to a final table so low that you get knocked out immediately.
That's not going to do much for your reputation. You want
to make the plays that give you a chance to contend to win."
With more than three times as many chips as his closest rival,
Hinchcliffe figures those plays will be "to stay aggressive,
and show them the nuts a few times. I know a lot of people
aren't big on showing cards, but I really think that if you
show your opponents a big hand a few times, they might not
be so anxious to call sometime later when you don't want to...and
it can work the other way too, when you want a call, if they
start thinking 'he can't have it again.'"
Whether Hinchcliffe decides to stick with his immediate plan,
or decides that he can essentially ante himself into no worse
than third, is something we won't know until this time tomorrow.
It should make for quite a show, though. If anyone can lug
some Kryptonite to a final table, it's a fivesome of Zolotow,
Nguyen, Greenstein, Lindgren, and Negreanu.
In closing, I have to add one more observation. While they
certainly wouldn't qualify for one of those "separated
at birth" photo comparisons, Mr. Hinchcliffe bears more
than a little resemblance to another online poker player who
did pretty well for himself recently, a fellow named Chris
Moneymaker. If Hinchcliffe wins, we may have a whole new definition
of "poker face" on our hands.
"Ricky, I Want to be In the Show!"
It was fitting that as PartyPoker.com put on what Mike Sexton
called "the world's greatest poker party" the final
day's heads-up battle would ultimately be introduced by a
florid, colorful show that evoked images of what Ricky Ricardo
used put on at his club, a show just like the type that Lucy
always wanted to be in.
Lucy would have wanted to have been in this show not just
for the color and pageantry, but for the money: the final
duo, one direct buy-in and one online qualifier, were fighting
for the difference between the PartyPoker.com Million III's
guaranteed million dollar first prize and the "mere"
$675,000 awaiting the runner-up.
The gala tournament at sea set two poker records: it was,
to date, the largest prize pool ever assembled for the World
Poker Tour, and it was also the largest limit hold'em tournament
ever held. That made it hard to imagine anyone not wanting
to be in the show.
In order to leave some play at the final table, tournament
officials first rolled the blinds back a level, with play
beginning at the $10,000-20,000 blinds, playing $20,000-40,000
level. We had finished the final scramble the night before
at the $40,000-80,000 level as the competitors played cautiously,
in some cases no doubt trying to ensure they made "the
show." At that level, even one hand played aggressively
to conclusion could turn a leader into a trailer, or vice
Indeed, of the final six, only Internet star Erick "Edawg"
Lindgren didn't experience a major roller coaster ride in
the final 90 minutes the previous night. Daniel Negreanu and
Barry Greenstein each had moments when their stacks had exceeded
a million, and eighth place finisher Jason Adkins-an Internet
qualifier who had just been happy to win the cruise and have
a fun trip with his wife, never mind the $77,905 he won-had
been over $800,000 at one point.
When we started back today, though, the seats and chip counts
Although Lindgren was an online qualifier, he was certainly
no amateur; he had already notched one World Poker Tour win
this year and another final table.
Although some had speculated that Hinchcliffe might have
done well to sit on his chips for a while until some of the
shorter stacks busted out, he decided to remain aggressive,
and started running into trouble fairly early in the tournament,
especially in a series of run-ins with Negreanu, who had position
on him and who seemed willing to take flops with Hinchcliffe
in an effort to outplay him after the flop.
SCOTTY NGUYEN STRANGELY PASSIVE
Greenstein survived one all-in, and soon pulled ahead of
Nguyen, who was rarely aggressive at any point in the match.
Of course, short stack status and no cards can do that to
a fellow in no limit hold'em. At one point, as the 1998 World
Champion pondered a call with some of his last few chips,
one enthusiastic audience member shouted "the sooner
you loose, you sooner you booze, Scotty," and drew laughs
from everyone, Nguyen included.
On hand #23, Greenstein survived his second all-in.
It looked like we might lose Nguyen three hands later when
he took As-Js up against Hinchcliff's pocket jacks, but a
board that started Kh-8s-Qs-4s doubled Nguyen through, and
Hinchcliffe saw a few more chips escape.
Hand #32 really smacked Hinchcliffe hard. Greenstein opened
for a raise under the gun, and Hinchcliffe, the Olympia, Washington
construction worker who had already indicated that the money
he had won had changed his life, defended his blind, as he
did so often throughout the day. The flop came 10d-8c-7c,
and Hinchcliffe check-called. The turn brought a third club,
the Jc, and Hinchcliffe checked again. Greenstein bet, Hinchcliffe
check-raised, and when Greenstein re-raised all-in, it was
pretty clear what had happened. Ac-2c, the nut flush, for
Greenstein; 9c-4c, a decidedly non-nut flush for Hinchcliffe,
who never should have defended his blind with a hand of that
sort to begin with.
As so often happens, a questionable defense led to a very
unlucky piece of "good" luck, and Greenstein was
back in the game. We lost Nguyen a couple of hands later,
when he decided to toss his last 30k in, and got protection
when Greenstein raised and Negreanu played along, with the
two firing bets at each other back and forth through the hand.
With the final board 9h-Kd-Jc-Qd-7d, Negreanu turned over
10d-9d, a flush, and Nguyen was out, never showing his hand
to the crowd.
Nguyen's exit marked the end of the first round, and the
blinds moved up to $15,000-30,000, playing $30,000-60,000.
Eight hands into the new round, Hinchcliffe and Negreanu hooked
up in another of the duels that Negreanu had been looking
NEGREANU PICKS ON THE AMATEUR
Hinchcliffe made it 60k from mid position, but Negreanu made
it 90k from the button, and Hinchcliffe called. The flop came
3h-2h-2c, and Hinchcliffe led out, with Negreanu calling.
The 6d hit the turn, and once again it went bet-call, this
time for 60k. On the river, the 9d hit, and Hinchcliffe checked.
Negreanu went through a series of facial gestures that entertained
the closed circuit TV crowd throughout the day, and decided
to bet. Hinchcliffe thought a long time and finally tossed
60k more into the pot. Negreanu showed J-J, and Hinchcliffe
showed Kh-9h, a flush draw that had missed, but had provided
Hinchcliffe with just enough reason to lose another 60k on
the end. $240,000 shifted stacks on the hand, and the out-of-sight
lead was no longer out-of-sight.
A couple of hands later, the relatively quiet (literally
and figuratively) Zolotow raised it to 60k from his button,
and Hinchcliffe decided to deposit the required 45k to call
from the small blind. Hinchcliffe led out at the 2s-8c-7h
flop and got called. He led out again when the 2h hit the
turn, but this time Zolotow made it 120k (the figurative equivalent
of the more active Negreanu making it 1.2 million, if such
could be allowed in a limit hold'em game). Hinchcliffe called,
and check-called another 60k on the river when the Jc hit.
Zolotow turned over his pocket kings, and Hinchcliffe was
another 255k poorer. He'd lost half a million in half four
blinks of an eye, and his chip lead was so far gone, it wasn't
even history; it was more like mythology:
This had taken 44 hands. Hinchcliffe could have borrowed
a lifeboat and rowed around the ship a couple of times while
letting himself get blinded off and still had considerably
more chips than he had now. Inexperience was telling. Seven
hands later he got involved in another big pot and won; had
that one gotten away, the impossible would probably have happened:
the man who had started the evening owning nearly half the
chips would probably have finished fifth.
THE ONLY GUY I DON'T KNOW, AND I'M ROOTING FOR HIM
I didn't want to see it happen. He'd seemed such a friendly,
regular guy the night before, and the money meant so much
more to him than it did to any of his millionaire opponents,
it wasn't funny. This was the only player of those left I
didn't know and like, and so much did I want him to come away
with a few more bucks, he was the one I was rooting for.
I'd no longer figured that out then it looked like the impossible
was going to happen. Hinchcliffe raised a pot to 60k, and
Lindgren called from the small blind, with Zolotow also calling
from the big. The flop came Jh-5d-6d. It was checked to Hinchcliffe,
and "old faithful" bet the predictable 30k. Lindgren
made it 60k, and Hinchcliffe called. The Ah hit the turn,
and both players checked. The Kd hit the river. Lindgren bet
60k, Hinchcliffe made it 120k, and after some hesitation,
Hinchcliffe turned over K-8, a hand no one was quite sure
what he had been doing with at any point, save possibly the
river, when it looked like his bold play almost got Lindgren
to lay down K-J. As it was, his stack was a shambles, with
another quarter million gone.
Fortunately for Hinchcliffe, another weak play worked out.
He limped in with 3c-5c, and flopped a flush when the board
came Qc-Jc-Kc. No one else caught a fourth club as the board
finished 7s-6s, and the bleeding had stopped...for three hands,
when he even announced "I'm going to chase" as Negreanu
bet into him time and again. He lost 300k when Negreanu showed
him trip sevens with an ace kicker on the 7d-2d-4d-3c-7s board.
This latest disaster struck just as the blinds moved up to
$25,000-50,000, playing $50,000-100,000.
WPT FINAL TABLES A PARTICULARLY TOUGH EXPERIENCE
Before you decide whose personality is more unstable-I've
already said I was rooting for the guy, although I've been
pummeling his decisions-walk a mile in a man's shoes before
criticizing too harshly. These WPT final tables are very different
experiences from conventional final tables, and those are
pressure-packed enough as it is. There's a huge audience watching,
and you know everyone is going to be watching your hole cards,
and if you don't think that doesn't bring out the macho desire
to prove you're no wimp, you haven't experienced it. That
doesn't mean a good player can't control it, but there are
X Factors that go beyond most folks' experience.
The new level started with a bang and a statement. We had
reached handed #67, and Greenstein opened from mid position
for a raise to 100k, only to get immediately 3-bet by Negreanu
to 150k. Greenstein called, took a look at an As-Kd-6d flop,
and checked and immediately surrendered to Negreanu's bet.
Negreanu's crowd image had been a well-earned mover of chips,
and he flipped up pocket kings, as if to remind everyone that
an aggressive player is allowed to have a real hand too. This
one had more than two million dollars in front of him, and
all the momentum in the world. The position that had allowed
him to tangle with the bold but inexperienced Hinchcliffe
had him on top of the world and unstoppable, it seemed.
We lost the now-short Greenstein four hands later, when he
moved the last of his 60k all-in and Lindgren completed the
raise. The hand made for great poker theatre ("ooohhh...aahhh...")
because Greenstein turned over Kd-9s against Ah-Qc, and the
flop came 3h-9c-3c. Greenstein lived...for a moment, because
the Qh hit the turn.
GREENSTEIN'S LOSS ALSO CHARITY'S LOSS
It's always sad to see Greenstein leave a final table, because
in a grand gesture that some of pokers other millionaires
could learn from, he donates all his tournament winnings to
charity-every dollar. He's wealthy enough from business and
from poker side action to afford it, but that makes the gesture
no less important. I asked him if he thought this put less
pressure on him when playing. "No," he said, "I
don't really feel pressure playing whether it's a tournament
or a live game. It's just poker, and I just try to make good
decisions." Ah, sometimes being rich and intelligent
sounds better than others.
The battle now stood
Like a President with a high popularity rating, Negreanu
decided to take his big lead out for a spin to see what it
could do. He three-bet the next hand and bet 50k in the dark
before the flop, only to have Zolotow yield when the flop
came 8d-2s-3d, but on the next hand, Negreanu raised it from
the small blind, and Lindgren played along.
Negreanu tried the dark bet again, but this time the flop
came 7s-10h-As, and Lindgren called. When the 9h hit the turn,
Negreanu led out, but Lindgren doubled it to 200k. Negreanu
called, and check-called another 100k on the river, although
he didn't look happy about it. He turned over A-Q, but Lindgren
showed 9-10 for a full house. $450,000 had just flowed from
one stack to the other, and even though Negreanu still had
a very healthy lead, I got the oddest feeling.
LET'S SEE...THE HEAD TURNS SLOWLY FROM RIGHT TO LEFT...
Seven hands later (#81 overall), Lindgren whammed Negreanu
again, A-Q again failing to come through for Negreanu when
they could never improve and Lindgren's pocket sevens held
Two hands later, the increasingly aggressive Lindgren raised
it from the small blind, and Zolotow decided to call all-in
from the big blind, and no one in the house was rooting harder
for Lindgren than Hinchcliffe, I assure you-even Lindgren.
Lindgren's Kh-2h held up against Zolotow's Jh-4c, we were
three-handed, and with one of the broadest grins you've ever
seen, Hinchcliffe asked rhetorically "Do you know what
I can do with $450,000?"
The grin stayed even when Hinchcliff's tiny stack went away
four hands later, when Negreanu made it 100k from the button,
Lindgren called from the small blind, and Hinchcliffe called
all-in from the big blind. Negreanu and Lindgren each checked
rather rapidly as the board came down J-3-2-2-4, and with
small wonder: Negreanu had K-6, and Lindgren Q-9. Hinchcliffe
offered a rue smile and flipped up his Q-8, and left to a
standing ovation slightly more thunderous than the other players
had received. Big chip lead lost or not, he had been in troubled
waters and regained control just in time to make enough money
to change more than his own life.
A YOUNG MAN'S LIFE CHANGES FOR THE BETTER
He had been in debt before he came on the cruise: he owed
his mother $8,000. He had joined PartyPoker.com only a few
days before online qualifying ended, and had won his seat
and cruise on his first $25 try. Now Mom was not only going
to get repaid all at once, but she was going to get a new
car, and Hinchcliffe was going to take the rest of the year
off to reevaluate a lot of things in his life.
Evil game, this poker is.
Now after 87 hands, the game was up to Harriet Bird's two
favorite boys, and the chips were almost exactly even: Lindgren
held a meaningless 20k lead. It was at this point that the
"Ricky I want to be in the show" commenced, and
I'd need to be able to write in Technicolor to really tell
you what happened. Women in gowns that left little to the
imagination, women dressed as playing cards, women dressed
like playing cards on acid, a clapping chorus of white-gloved
waiters...I was looking for the jugglers and dancing bears,
but I didn't look long, as my attention stayed mainly with
the Queen of Hearts. A couple of trays of money came in, as
did a trophy that weighed about 40 pounds. There was no sawdust
or spittoons in sight. Poker has grown up.
I started renumbering the hands at #1. Heads-up, the small
blind goes on the button (SBB) and acts first before the flop
but second after the flop.
Negreanu won two quick small pots, but then Lindgren won
a big one that went to the river (at this betting level, any
hand that went to the river was big) holding 8-6 against Negreanu's
10-6 as the board came 6-5-2-3-8. Lindgren had both rivered
and oceaned Negreanu, and I wouldn't have been surprised if
the river eight had wanted to cause Negreanu to spit in the
ocean, because it cost him a 600k pot (Lindgren either tried
to trap Negreanu on the end or was concerned about a straight,
but Negreanu was content to turn his hand over), and for the
first time since Negreanu had overhauled Hinchcliffe, someone
else had a significant lead on Negreanu, about 2.2 million
to 1.6 million.
THE NEW LEADER TAKES CHARGE
I thought announcer Linda Johnson had left the room and was
just playing a tape that said "Erick wins again"
for a while, because Lindgren quickly kept his snowball rolling
downhill, and in just a few hands had extended his lead to
2.6-1.2 million. Finally on heads-up hand #11, the boys went
at it on a Kd-4d-Kc flop, with Lindgren check-raising the
flop and Negreanu calling. Lindgren check-called the turn
and river, and Negreanu turned over Broderick Crawford, 10-4,
for tens full, while Lindgren showed he'd temporarily had
Negreanu in big trouble with Q-4-same flopped pair, better
Heads-up #13 got the crowd into it as Negreanu raised from
the SBB and Lindgren called. The flop came Jc-10s-8h, and
the betting went 50-100-150-200. Unless you had Q-9, you couldn't
be too comfortable with that kind of action, but when the
3d hit the turn, Lindgren led out for 100k and Negreanu made
it 200k. Lindgren finally pulled in the reigns and just called.
Both players checked when the Ah hit the river, but Lindgren
was happy enough to grab the million dollar pot with his J-10.
We never saw Negreanu's hand. I'm going to give him some credit
and guess J-8, but we'll know when this airs.
With Lindgren now at the 2.7 million mark, we hit the new
limits: 40-80 blinds, playing $80,000-160,000. The very first
hand was practically big enough to even the match or end it.
Lindgren opened for a raise to 160k from the SBB, but Negreanu
made it 240k. The flop came 3d-10h-10c, and Lindgren called
Negreanu's 80k bet. He called again when the 8s hit the turn,
but when the 4c hit the river, Negreanu finally checked, and
looked uncomfortable when Lindgren bet out. After significant
hesitation he called, and Lindgren grabbed 640k from Negreanu
(a $1,280,000 pot) by flopping trip tens with 10-7. Negreanu
was in big trouble, with just under 400k left.
Negreanu's star kept waning, and on heads-up hand #23, Lindgren
decided to try to get things over and done with. Negreanu
brought the hand in for a raise from the SBB to 160k, and
Lindgren-inexplicably, I think-put Negreanu all-in with a
raise. 5h-2h for Lindgren, Ks-5d for Negreanu. I understand
why one would be tempted to get it all-in before the flop
and finish a troubled foe, but with five-high? Why not just
fold to the initial raise and put Negreanu in next hand?
If Negreanu were to win this pot, he'd have nearly half a
million, and strange things can happen with a stack that big
in a very short time. The board came 8-5-3-10-3, and Negreanu
had doubled up. Harriet Bird hadn't yet looked back at The
Whammer (a role for which the muscular 27-year old Lindgren
is better suited than his bantamweight Canadian opponent),
but this looked like a sign of impatience. Lindgren is too
good a player to make a play like that more than once, but
now if Negreanu could catch cards, he could catch Lindgren.
Most of the wayward chips came home four hands later, when
Lindgren's A-J flopped an ace that held up, and Negreanu was
all-in again two hands later, this time with 7c-10c against
Ah-6c. The flop brought a roar with 5c-Js-2c, but Negreanu
won the old fashioned way by spiking a ten on the turn. Negreanu
was still alive with his half million again, and seven hands
later, from little acorns had a mighty oak of a million grown.
The lead wasn't even 3-1 anymore. It looked like the game
was afoot, and two hands later, the gambling got bigger as
the blinds went to 60-120, playing $120,000-240,000 (that's
just fun to say..."We were playing $120,000-240,000,
see, and he....").
SAY "ONE UNDERCARD" THREE TIMES FAST
Lindgren won a couple of small hands, and then the 43rd heads-up
hand proved decisive. Negreanu opened from the SBB for $24,000,
and Lindgren called. The flop came 5h-7h-3c, Lindgren bet
out for 120k, and Negreanu moved his last few chips in. He'd
started better, A-4 to A-3, but Lindgren had flopped a pair.
The Jc hit the turn, and Negreanu needed a four, six, or two
to stay alive. The 5d, teasingly just in the right pip vicinity,
hit instead, and we had a champion who'd just collected his
second WPT title of the year.
Negreanu was generous in defeat, even more so than friendly
pros often are. "I couldn't have lost to a nicer guy
or a better player," he told the crowd.
A DIFFERENT ROUTE TO THE TOP
Had Lindgren entered the final table with a particular strategy?
"I wasn't thrilled with the seating positions, because
I knew Daniel would do the dirty work with position on Hinchcliffe.
I just had to let Daniel do his thing and stay focused on
the other players until I could get heads-up with him. From
there, well, by then the limits were so high, anything could
During the many TV breaks for changing tapes and the like,
Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher kept the crowd entertained, and
they also warmed them up by getting some establishing shots.
"OK, you group on this side, act like your favorite player
just won a hand, and I'll give a book to the best actor."
James Woods, seated in the front row, immediately strode to
the front of the room and accepted the book to thunderous
laughter, and took the microphone.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," said the fast-talking MIT grad,
"I know why you've all been so gracious this week. Here's
a rich sucker, let's be nice until he's broke, well, you can
stop clapping, you've got all the money already." Woods
was actually soft-selling himself a bit-he'd just had a nice
winning session-but it wouldn't surprise me if people had
been nice to him this week, because I can rarely remember
a week when everyone was nicer to everyone. I guess that's
what happens when a boatful of people who've already won take
to the high seas. For Erick "Edawg" Lindgren, the
seas were just a little higher. Maybe it was the greatest
party in poker after all.
PartyPoker.com Million III Final Results
Winner - Erick Lindgren
Amount won - $1,000,000
2nd Place - Daniel Negreanu
Amount won - $675,178
3rd Place - Chris Hinchcliffe
Amount won - $441,463
4th Place - Steve Zolotow
Amount won - $259,684
5th Place - Barry Greenstein
Amount won - $194,763
6th Place - Scotty Nguyen
Amount won - $129,842