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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 Three
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.

Day 3 Notes:
Fifty-two players left, paying fifty, and it’s been a bloodbath all day long. Some players dropping like flies while trying to move, others hanging on while dragging their fingernails on the chalkboard. Corner table of eight and Jeff Schulman is the weary short stack at his table with a single column of blue, about 65,000 worth. Antes are 1,000 now, with blinds of five and ten thousand more, and Lyle Berman snakes it up for thirty thousand in mid position. They all fold up shop A few hands later Lyle makes up the small blind and Irishman Paul Leckey raises thirty thousand more. Berman looks at Leckey’s stack. He has him well covered. All in, says Berman, and Leckey folds. Berman has opened the guns wide – he’s raising or reraising three out of four pots.

A whoop goes up among the players, they’re all in the money, and a three minute break is taken while there are handshakes among the players and the rail. John Ubia’s team is ecstatic. He was in for $100, has never played higher than 2-4 Hold’em and has been shortstacked forever, down to 19,000 early in the day. A tall Nigerian fellow with a black skullcap is yelling tears of joy into his cellphone. He hangs up and says to no one in particular, “I’m going to bed. I haven’t eaten all day, I need some soup, my stomach is terrible, call me if anything happens.” Sometimes being a sweater is the most stressful job of all, but don’t worry, your man was back at the rail fifteen minutes later. Ubia is the most unruffled of them all, he just says, “When’s dinner? I’m hungry.”

A redraw at 45 players, and the most interesting table is in the center of the room, with Hasan Habib poisitoned midway between Ted Forrest and Mike Matusow. Mohammed Ibrahim is at the table as well, and four of the biggest stacks of the tournament look to square off. Habib has seen tough draws every day, and it doesn’t seem to bother him. Ted Forrest looks like he looked in the old days, lost in his own world, unruffled, wearing a bemused smile and eyes that always pay attention but get wide rather than slitted when he’s put to a decision. It’s deceiving. Forrest tries to take Ace-king through two kings and ends up losing 250,000. He shakes his head slowly. He’s down to half a million, which is only slightly above average chips.

Next table over and a man makes it 50,000 from third position. Dan Harrington reraises all-in. The player calls nearly 150,000 more to be all-in himself and flips over an incredible queen-jack offsuit. Harrington turns over two sevens and doesn’t betray a flicker of emotion when the dealer burns and flops a lady. Dan just stacks his remaining fifty thousand. No sigh, no nothing. Two hands later and Harrington raises all-in. He’s not wasting time. And he’s not going to let the blinds go by. Everyone folds and Harrington has increased his stack by 50%. Two hands later and he raises all-in again. Wins uncontested. And now he’s up to 100,000. The best can play stacks of all sizes. Jeff Schulman on his right hasn’t played a hand in over thirty minutes and is desperately short. Two hands later and Harrington is all-in again with a reraise from the big blind, his pocket tens double through ace-seven, and he’s back where he started. From hero to zero to hero in one round of the table. Dan Harrington is wearing the same plaid collared shirt and orange hat that he wore on Day 1. It’s definitely the ugliest shirt left in the tournament, quite possibly the most garish in the whole casino. Up close it’s worse, bright yellow pineapples with large green frond leaves that rest on a black and yellow large plaid print. I’d give anything to own it.

It’s the last level of the night. Bewitching hour and Harrington has gotten another double through with the queen-king, betting all-in when a queen hits the river. That puts him up to over half a million. Thirty-three players left, I don’t know how he does it. Only four tables now and Harrington is sitting next to Jason Lester. Third and fourth in the second biggest poker tournament in history and here they are again. They’re chatting amicably between hands but now it’s Lester who’s gone short, down to 230,000 or so and he’s got no small chips at all. Definitely hasn’t picked up any antes in a while and it gets serious when the cards come out, Lester sitting back in his chair with arms folded and a tight lipped expression. A huge hand develops at the corner table and loads of players stand up and go over to watch. Harrington and Lester never move a muscle. They’re the only ones left seated at their table, Lester raising the pot as soon as the hubbub starts and winning uncontested.

Next table over and David Pham is bounding up and down from his chair every hand to catch words of encouragement from his lady on the rail. Pham’s on the right of red jacketed Russell Rosenblum, the most mild mannered tiger you’d ever meet. Sixth place in the WSOP in 2002, he sits low in his chair with a permanent sad sack expression. But poker’s illusion and there’s a fiery energy inside the quiet round man. It was Day 2 when I saw Russell play what must have been his most crucial hand of the tournament. Rosenblum and a big guy are the only ones in the tournament still playing. It’s break time, but they’re locked up in the last hand, and Russell calls fifteen thousand on the turn and then goes into the tank when your man goes all in on the river. I tell you what, Rosenblum’s a good watcher, eyes sunk into his little round face. There’s three diamonds and a pair on the board, but Russell calls about seventy thousand, all his chips with a straight, and his emotion comes out when his hand is called good. He walks away from the table and brandishes a Tiger Woods fist pump on his way to the break.

Hasan Habib is sitting high up on two chairs stacked together with the expensive tinted shades, and when the cards are dealt Hasan’s head looks out from the two seat a full foot above the level of the others. If he’s not the chip leader he’s not far away, and he slowly contemplates a Rosenblum button reraise all-in to his sixty thousand under the gun bet. Habib gives it up and briefly steps away from the table. Russell doesn’t show. He’s now got 600,000.

Day 4 will be a day for the cream to rise to the top. All the players who haven’t been there before will have been lying in their beds all night and staring at the ceiling. Turn the light back on, look at the draw sheet, look at the payout sheet, and stare at the ceiling. Day 4 will have slow rising levels and a whole lot of play. It could conceivably take seven levels (or even eight) to get to the final, and many hearts will just give out.

Who will sleep the sleep of the sound? TJ Cloutier. You can say what you want about TJ, but he proves again and again that his consistency in the big field multi-day tournaments is rather unmatched in the history of poker. I would be surprised not to see him go deep in this one. Mohammed Ibrahim, who I’ve never seen before, was cool and impressive. I’ve watched very little of Tom Jacobs in this tournament but he’s an old timer, second in the WSOP more than ten years ago and a steady handed mountain of a man. Chau Giang looks like he could play for eleven days straight. He conserves his energy at the table, patient so patient, and then flips over pocket aces with an excited burst of Mandarin pitter patter after he’s craftily let an ace-king walk into all his chips before the flop. He’s meant to be one of the top cash players in the world and Day 4 may be the day when he struts his stuff.

But the man I like best to win the tournament right now is Hasan Habib. It was Sunday before the big one started and Hasan was sitting by himself at the bar drinking a grapefruit juice from a cocktail glass. He was focused on that alone. He sipped his juice and studied a bowl of nuts, giving the task his undivided attention. He’s been calm and deliberate every time I’ve looked during this tournament. Hasan could very easily have been WSOP champion in 2000, when a few sour breaks might have cost him his title. The report was that he disappeared from the poker altogether for nearly two years, but he’s been back now for a while and racking up placings.

Day 3 was all about survival and making the money. Day 4 is about putting yourself in a position to win the 2.7 million dollars. I think we’ll have a clear idea who the champion will be when the curtain falls at around two am. I think I’ll be watching.