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WSOP 2004
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 World Poker Tour
The World Poker Tour, now in its second season, is a weekly televised ( USA only ) series of thirteen poker tournaments that are united under one banner for television. What makes the WPT different is that it will film the most prestigious tournaments in an arena specifically designed for television and air them during a regularly scheduled season.
Day Five
WPT Championship, APRIL 19-23 2004 Bellagio Las Vegas, NV
Jesse May, our venerable raconteur and columnist, writes from Vegas on this years championship event, the $25,000 buy-in No-Limit Holdem event.

The Final
It was time to bring the money out to the table, $2.7 million in cash. Ringside announcer Linda Johnson says, “Show us the money, Bellagio style!” and then, when the audience is silent, “I think that was your cue, audience.” The applause placards are held up. The audience goes wild.

I never thought of myself as a poker purist. But when they reached the final two of the WPT Championship at the Bellagio and the “O” circus troupe was brought in, I’d had enough. They are still playing for a first prize of $2.7 million dollars and there’s a lady in skintight pants with her ass on the table picking up bundles of hundred dollar bills with her toes and dangling them in Martin Deknijff’s face.

Martin Deknijff has so far put on a final table performance of rare dominance – in about fifty hands he’s knocked out four players and amassed nearly every one of the chips, he’s played brilliant poker for five days straight with nary a break, he’s a step away from winning a life changing sum of money, and they’ve forced him and Hasan Habib to sit at the table while women in cat suits wave streamers and do backbends over the table.

Deknijff never froze up; he was calm and cool and played every hand aggressive without a care for the cameras or his cards. And he was slagged off left and right. Jack McClelland tells the crowd and players that, “All the good guys are on the rail so we’re gonna have to give one of these guys two point seven million.” Linda Johnson gets Martin’s name wrong six times in two hours. She calls him Paul, she calls him Richard, and after he wins a big pot she walks over and rubs Martin’s bald head as if to say, “Good going, honey bunny!”

Poor Matt Matros has just gotten knocked out third, he’s slaughtered off his last million chips and has to be feeling absolutely shattered. Linda Johnson accosts him as soon as the river card is down and wants to know how much he paid to get in the tournament. As in you’re not a famous poker player so be happy with what you got and get off my stage? So there wasn’t much table talk, but is that essential to poker? Jack McClelland announces, “For those of you who like chatty poker players, most of them are already broke!”

“Yeah, yeah,” smiles Deknijff.
“Apparently we’re too boring.” “I’m not bored,” says Hasan Habib.
“Are you guys bored?”
“No,” says Matt Matros, “I’m not bored!”

That exchange had in me in peals. The players provided the examples all evening, each one a gentleman to the extreme. They played with respect, and lost with good graces. Richard Grijalva shook hands and smiled after his heart was ripped out by a club on the river. Matt Matros was his equal. At some point these players had been told that playing poker wasn’t enough, that they had a responsibility to be showmen, too. It was odd. It looked a bit like the players couldn’t wait to have it over and done with, and I can’t say that I blame them. I headed for the Horseshoe. I guess I am a poker purist.

We get into the Horseshoe after midnight, and just before the break. Fifty-five players left from 839 runners paying eighty-one spots – deep in the money already. The event is the first of the 2004 World Series of Poker, the $2000 no-limit Hold’em, and there’s a buzz in the air for the beginning of the greatest month in the history of poker. O’Neill Longston comes staggering from a tournament table on the way to a break, wearing a sports coat and hitching his pants. One of the classic characters in poker, old timer O’Neill, many is the time I’ve seen him at a pot limit Omaha table, head bent over and pretending to be asleep, or actually asleep, he can play forever. Ivey’s still in. He’s jawing, “I know man, I know, I lost fifteen thousand that hand!”

Back from the break and a guy who looks like Chip Reese is at a table in the one seat. He looks so much like Chip Reese that it is Chip Reese, and he’s got over fifty grand. What’s he doing here? Aren’t these stakes too small? But Doyle Brunson made a million dollar proposition bet last year about winning a bracelet and I don’t think I’m too far out of line to imagine that Chip’s got a similar deal on tap. I guess everyone wants the bracelets now, and it’s only a question of making them pay. Chip has slow lidded eyelids and thinning blond hair. He should have been a piano player, the long thin fingers shuffling chips. He’s quiet, focused, deep in the game, but with eyes for everyone.

It’s been a long day here at the Horseshoe but it’s absolutely full. There’s a tournament, a super satellite, one tables, and cash games, and upstairs and down the place is humming with that WSOP feel. How can you not like it? Matt Savage is still in the room, heading his capable late night team of Jesse Rodgers and Karl. As always, the smoothest tournaments in the world.

Phil Ivey’s chewing away on a pack of Twizzlers, dangling one in his mouth and then stuffing three of them in. He looks ten times better than he did on Day one of the WPT Championship. Now he’s happy, alert, bottled water and watching the table, shelling pistachio nuts into a cup. Someone here will win $400,000 and it might be David Chiu, who’s bumming nuts off Ivey before sitting back down. Fifteen minutes into the new level and fifteen more players are gone, falling like flies as the money payouts increase still slowly.

Londoner James Vogel has a whole load of chips. We were at the bar in the Bellagio two days before and James has walked from a no-limit cash game to give us a blow by blow of some massive pot where he folded on the river. We’re getting bet sizes, percentages, and every set of mathematical analyses six ways to Sunday. The man I’m drinking with, who has just been knocked out of the WPT tournament not fifteen minutes before, takes this all in with mouth hanging open and when James walks away, back to his game, he says, “That boy has just done my head in!” James is a backgammon player, they’re always thinking numbers. James says that all the backgammon players in the world, they accept, that Gus Hansen is the best. Just the best.

Downstairs at the Horseshoe there’s an argument breaking out in the 200-400 triple draw, where Paul Phillips has a claim against the pot, the pot is not right, and there are $100 bills and black chips spread out all over the table. Mohammed Ibrahim and Robert Williamson haven’t said one word, they’re at the other end of the table silent while tempers are flaring. Paul stacks his chips and racks his bills. He’s got a red t-shirt, a black hat, and he’s pissed off.

I love the Horseshoe, and I love the World Series of Poker. Congratulations to the new WPT Champion Martin Deknijff, but it’s almost May and now poker gets serious. Just like old times.

Our usual coverage of the World Series starts Monday.

Pos. Player Origin Prize
1 Martin Deknijff $2,728,356
2 Hasan Habib $1,372,223
3 Matt Matros $706,903
4 Richard Grijalva $457,408
5 Russell Rosenblum $322,660
6 Steve Brecher $232,862
7 Tom Jacobs $166,330
8 TJ Cloutier $133,064
9 Lee Salem $116,431
10 Patrick Bruel $99,798