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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 One
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.

Welcome to the World Poker Tour Championship.
Nice day for poker at the Bellagio yesterday. Great day for poker. The throng of spectators surrounding the roped off tournament area was two deep at all times, four deep for a view of Ben Affleck, and six deep for Phil Ivey. One guy says to his wife on the rail, “You know who that is!” He’s pointing to a fellow standing in the middle of the room with dark shades and an Ultimate Bet shirt on.
“Steve Buscemi?”
“No!” It’s the Devilfish…

For most players, Day One was a long day at the office. The blinds were such that playing big pots was neither easy nor recommended, and doubling your stack was a major achievement in itself. Most players sat at the same table all day long, plenty of time to get to know your opponents and be busy accumulating, or just praying for the redraw.

There were only fifty fallouts on the first day of this championship; the most significant by the wayside was undoubtedly Phil Ivey, who was a pre-tournament favorite. It’s not like nothing much happened, but the bloodbath that will ensue on Day Two will make the first day seem like a walk in the park. The limits will be serious enough to put short stacks under pressure, running antes plus blinds now make every pot worth winning. It’s early for predictions, but nevertheless I like the players who were fresh and focused at the end of the day. Among the big stacks, Hasan Habib, John Juanda, and Paul Darden were particularly impressive. Chris Ferguson still had bright eyes and wore a mischievous smile come the end of the day. And Phil Hellmuth, though a tad short stacked, had spring in his step.

Former world champion Dan Harrington is one of the smartest players in poker. When he opens his mouth, you’d be well advised to just listen. He’s waiting for his car at the end of the day and says, “Poker is a funny sport. Right now the game is strangely weighted. You win a small buy-in tournament and nobody says anything, and then you get bad cards in a big tournament and you look like an idiot.” There’s a load of players left with a whole lot of talent, and every single one of the 286 that remain has no choice but to say their prayers to the lords of lady luck before their head hits the pillow. And then they’ll have to hope that they can just get to sleep.

Day 1 Notes:
One pm and a nice looking table with Jeff Schulman in the one seat, Paul Darden in the three, and Seidel three seats to the left of him. Schulman looks like the Grateful Dead never left town, a big mop of curly brown hair settled on him every which way. Darden is locked up in a big early pot with an Asian on his left, the river card is down, and Darden fiddles with his chips for a full thirty seconds before separating a blue chip from the bottom of his stack and flipping it in. Bet 5000. Called. Darden rolls over two queens and takes a chunky pot. Seidel has watched the whole hand with his eagle eyes, drinking it in. Dan Harrington saunters over from the next table to wish Erik good luck. Dan looks like the Miami tourist from hell, in a plaid flowered Hawaiian shirt, if this is even possible, with a bright orange baseball cap. Ye gads.

Darden gave them fits all day long. He sits low in his chair with a pair of glasses that everybody needs to have, clear plastic with curlicue sides. Too cool. There were sixty minutes left in level five and I actually saw Paul Darden speak. I have no idea what he said but I swear I saw Darden’s lips move and a man on the left nod. I’m bringing it to your attention because it is the first time that I’ve ever seen him speak while sitting in a poker tourney. The man is focused.

Huck Seed showed up for the second level. Two o’clock and we’re in the North Valet on the break when Huck pops out of a car long and lanky with a bag of food. I follow him to his seat, where he plops down in the eight spot, a terror on the table. He eats a banana before the cards are dealt, sits ramrod up, and starts to play. Fast. The other nine can’t be happy. It’s an action table, with two players going bust during the first two levels. 4:30 pm and Paul Wolfe has moved into the seat on Huck Seed’s right with about thirty thousand. Huck’s been chopping and weaving and he has nearly all the small denomination chips on the table. Wolfey is hating life, because in addition to Huck on his left and French all rounder Jan Boubli to the left of him, the suddenly svelte former world champion Russ Hamilton is in the ten seat with well over 120,000. Paul Wolfe looks at the table, looks at the rail, shrugs and says, “What a bargain I got here.”

Later on and Chris Bigler moves into the one seat. Huck Seed never says nothing to no one, but Chris Bigler has raised him all-in with a bit of the yaw-yaw-yaw and Huck sharply mentions he doesn’t appreciate it after he folds his hand. The two have a bit of history. It was Bigler fifth when Huck was sixth in the 1999 World Series of Poker.

Another wild table had Ram Vaswani, Humberto Brenes, Gary Lent, Johnny Chan, and a rough looking Phil Gordon to boot. When Pinnacle posted their prices and Vaswani was one of the shortest in the field, a lot of Americans may have said, who? But in Europe they just call him the talent, or sometimes Crazy Horse, as in the boys call him crazy and the girls call him, often. Hendon Mobster Ram Vaswani has long been known as a European with loads of potential, and when he gets going you could liken him to Layne Flack with sunglasses and a mouth gag. Because Ram never talks, he never says boo, but his chips can fly and he played action poker all day long. Ram doesn’t know how to hold onto chips, he only knows how to make more. Vaswani had eighty thousand after level two, twenty thousand after level three, and was back to sixty thousand by level four. He had his jacket collar pulled up around his neck and lost a fifty thousand dollar pot to Johnny Chan. A rotation of gaggling girls stood behind Ram with oohs and aahs.

Humberto Brenes got hit hard. He jumps out of his seat, his grey sweatsuit and yellow t-shirt flapping, with his discman in one hand and an empty green water bottle in the other. Brenes briefly considers the discman and then turns his attention to the water bottle. “Aaaigh!” he shouted, while squeezing the water bottle to a pulp in his hand. You have to imagine he thought it was his opponent’s head, some luckless two outer who had just taken Humberto’s chips. It was all in good fun, sort of, but Brenes had been reduced to less than 30,000.

Phil Ivey. Phil’s walking back to the table from the bathroom when a fan asks, “Can I get a picture with you?” “One second,” says Phil. He darts into the tournament area, folds his hand, and then comes back outside, to the sheer delight of the tan shorts and yellow crew shirt who stands grinning like a wide eyed lunatic as Phil poses with his arm around him. Ivey doesn’t smile; he stares straight into the camera with his killer countenance. Phil’s wearing a red, white, and blue basketball jersey that says Full Tilt Poker on front. On the back, it just says Ivey, number 11.

Midway through the second level and Phil Ivey is having trouble with his plundering. A big stack of low denomination chips is a sign that he’s been doing well stealing blinds, but a dearth of the blues and reds and I think he’s lost the big pots. Ivey yawns one time, uh-oh. He orders apple juice with ice.

It’s 4:05 pm. With wet hair and shoulders back, in walks a pair of black shades, a black jacket, and a smirk the size of Texas. It’s Phil Hellmuth, making his entrance for the start of the third level, and every TV camera in the room is swiveling around to catch the bad boy of poker putting in his trademark fashionably late appearance.

Some of the best tables on the day were unfortunately the most difficult to see, as they were stuck in the main poker room with no space for viewers. “Johnny World” Hennigan ran over a table that featured Chip Reese, Doyle Brunson, and Sam Grizzle, among others. Chris Ferguson was hidden from view all day long. And Layne Flack at a corner table with John Juanda, Hasan Habib, and Cyndi Violette.

Deep into the fifth level and JJ has gotten busy. It’s been a tough day for Juanda, sitting at the end of a virtual murderer’s row. With Hasan Habib and Layne Flack on his right, Juanda had very few opportunities for entering pots. Layne was bashing from the off, but come 8 o’clock and he finally slowed down. JJ picked up the pace and came from very low chips to end the first day on his watermark high.

Cruelest beat I witnessed was David Singer’s knockout. Singer had a great table draw and was playing his toes off, punching and chopping at a table full of no namers. He’d built his stack nicely while playing lots of pots. David is an under the radar man, but a deep finish in the 2003 WSOP plus a few other results has people taking notice. He’s a small guy, no more than 65 inches nor 130 pounds in his sweats. They’re in the fourth level and a man raises early, repumped by Singer to seventeen grand, which was a clear and strong message. When the man tapped all-in for some seventy thousand, Singer called instantly and of course showed two aces. Ace-king of diamonds was a bit out of line, but when two diamonds hit the flop plus one on the river, Singer was walking. Jacket slung, chair pushed back, he never said a word, just went where the hobos go when it snows.