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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 Two
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.
There’s a classic scene from the movie “The Cincinnati Kid.” It might be the best scene, but then every scene in that movie is the best scene and if you haven’t yet watched it twenty-seven times I wholly advise you to get on it. The scene is when the players are preparing for the big game. First you see Steve Mcqueen, the Kid, packing his valise. He’s got his odds book and his mouthwash and a change of clothes. Then you see Edward Robinson, who’s playing the part of Lancey Howard, the Man. Lancey’s got a special suitcase just for poker games, and in it there are special compartments and pockets and the whole kitchen sink packed into that suitcase, in preparation for what he knows will be a marathon poker game to end all poker games. And as The Man, he will be prepared.

It was three minutes before the fifth level of Day 2 at the World Poker Tour Championships yesterday, and Daniel Negreanu strode to his table looking for all the world like he was setting out on a backpacking tour of Europe. He was wearing a high tech knapsack that bulged off his back, a black sweatshirt and a black baseball cap, and he was carrying a plastic bag. Negreanu’s not a bum, and while you might have thought that Daniel was for some reason carrying all his possessions on his person, it was just him going to work and you better believe he was prepared. Daniel had his special bottles of water and a bag of energy food and lord knows what else, he was calm and cool and comfortable as all can be, and if you could have seen the raggedy looking countenances of his nine opponents, all of whom had played eight straight hours of poker on the day plus nine the day before, you would have started shoving money towards the betting window and said Daniel Negreanu, buy, buy, buy. And even though they’ve been calling Negreanu the kid for quite some time, I don’t think it’ll be long and I’m starting right now, to call him The Man.

Level Five on Day 2 of this Championship was the most significant level of the tournament so far. Late night is when the wolves come out, and with six thousand in every pot before the cards were even dealt, money was not only on offer but up for grabs. Fatigue makes you do strange things. Half of the field had shut down, thinking about sleep and a drink and calling their wives, thinking about being able to say they made it to Day 3 when they’d get a new table draw and have a new plan and anything could happen. Half of the field would fold anything just to stay in the tournament. The other half of the field was near blown out tilt. It had been a long day and they didn’t like their chip position and they figured let’s get doubled up here or there’s no sense coming back. And then there were guys like Daniel Negreanu. Late night is when the wolves come out. Last level of the day is when you play your ass off.

And what a table. In seat number one was Jeff Schulman, who had definitely switched off. Schulman had had a great day, increasing his stack from twenty thousand to nearly two hundred, and his pink Polo shirt was now untucked, his mop of hair had sagged, and he squinted his tired eyes from behind his glasses while getting up from the table every other hand to kibbitz with his dad. He was already thinking about tomorrow. The two seat was David Pham, one of the most dangerous players in poker, and he was on top of his game late into the night, laying down an ace-queen two pair on the river when a third diamond hit the board, and it was the right move as your man on his left proudly showed the nut flush after Pham folded. The flush was a satellite winner from Hollywood Park named John Ubia, a two and four dollar player who was in the biggest spot of his life and had an army of friends and family watching his every move and with plenty of advice to sit tight and make it until tomorrow. Daniel Negreanu was towards the middle of the table, with an Internet player wearing full Poker Stars paraphernalia to the left of him, who had a mountain of chips and moves to boot. The table was rounded out by two talented Asians in Hon Lee and Young Phan, an older man who was seemed to present no threat nor factor, and then on his own at the end of the table, one “Johnny World” Hennigan.

Most people know very little about John Hennigan, and as a modest man he probably prefers to keep it that way. You’ll never hear about Hennigan unless you talk to the best. The best all know who he is, and they’re wouldn’t be one of them who wouldn’t say he has so much talent it’s terrifying. Yosh Nakano says World is the closest you can come to a modern Stuey Ungar, and he’s mostly talking ability. Many who have played with “Johnny World” in tournaments call him madman, and to a man the few who’ve played with Hennigan in a cash game call him so good it’s scary. If a head-up match had to be played with the fate of the free world as a stake, you’d be very comfortable putting the call in to one Johnny World.

That said, the night was late. Hennigan had been on a great run early in the day, reaching two hundred thousand, but now he was wild as to maybe be steaming, and just maybe you couldn’t be sure. He’d played a lot of pots lately, and had had to lay down a pair to The Dragon Pham when it went raise-raise-reraise-all-in on a jack-nine-seven board. Hennigan had had his sunglasses wired across his big bald head and his earphones locked in all day, but halfway through the last level his headphones were off, his sunglasses were folded, and you just didn’t know.

I was fortunate enough to witness what, for me, was nothing short of a great poker hand. Maybe I’m crazy, maybe there’s someone who can figure this one out, but I saw the hand as a beautiful mystery, the greatness of No Limit Hold’em that I’ll never unravel. Here it was.

Antes are 300 with the blinds at one and two thousand. Ubia limps in from early position, and this is not a huge sign of strength. He loves the action hands and had won a pot earlier raising the king-ten of diamonds under the gun, but now his man behind him was plastering Ubia with the shut down shut down talk and to not put too much money in without being sure. Negreanu raises the pot to ten thousand, two blue chips, and the World calls from the small blind. The big blind calls as does Ubia, and the pot is now large and four way for the Ace-three-four flop, rainbow. Checked around to Daniel, who bets ten thousand more, quickly called by Hennigan and, after a twelve second dwell up, also by Ubia. The big blind is out. The turn comes the five of spades, putting a four straight on board and also two spades. The other spade on board is the ace.

Now it gets interesting. “Johnny World” Hennigan fires a grey chip into the pot, twenty-five thousand, and Ubia goes into a worried tank. I mention to another railbird, who has been watching the table all day, that the World may be the only player at the table nutty enough to have a deuce in this spot and he tells me that Hennigan has already busted two players on the day with a deuce in his hand, once flopping three ducks with the 2-4 of spades and another time flopping two pair with a Montana banana. Hennigan is sitting on about 150,000 in chips before the start of this hand, and the more Ubia thinks the more he doesn’t want any more part of it. Ubia’s on 90,000 and folds after a three minute dwell up. Negreanu has about 240,000, however, and he quickly calls, flipping a grey chip into the pot that he is holding in his right hand. .

When the ten of spades hits the river, putting the back door flush on board, I am thinking beware but what happened next was fast as lightning and no less shocking. In the space of ten seconds, here’s what happened. Hennigan throws two grey chips in the pot, fifty thousand bet. Negreanu puts both hands to his chest open behind his stacks, and makes a pushing motion while saying all-in. And Hennigan flips his cards in the muck. All that happened in ten seconds. Now you tell me what they had.

I tell you it was awesome. Ubia watched the proceedings in absolute bewilderment, and as Daniel was raking the monster pot Ubia asked, “What did you have?” and Daniel just laughed, put his arm around Ubia and said, “Hey, now. I can’t tell you that…” Three minutes later he told Schulman he had ace-jack. Five minutes later he told Hennigan he had a flush. All it was was awesome, because it could have been a bluff and a rebluff as easy as it could have been a straight making an unmakeable laydown. All I know is it was two world class players and I love No Limit Hold’em.

Oh yeah. And Daniel Negreanu might not win this tournament, but you’d be a very sick man to want him at your table.