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World Series Of Poker
 Jesse May Reports
April 16th - May 23rd, 2003

Other Reports : T-4 - T-3 - T-2 - Sunday - Day One/I - Day One/II - Day Two - Day Three - Day Four - Final - Pictures - Championship - Jesse May Montage
Jesse May in
Las Vegas
T-2 (fantasy line-up)

You can’t overestimate the positive effect of the structure changes at this year’s World Series of Poker. Tournaments have been accelerated at the beginning and slowed down at the end, a seemingly simple move, but I see it as both a major force in ensuring that the World Series of Poker remains the most prestigious poker tournament in the world, and the move that proves that tournament poker has the right to be considered as viable a competitive sport as any in the world, perhaps even more so. Why? Well, now the cream is really rising.

Anybody who suspects that the supremacy of the brand names in this year’s WSOP is a statistical anomaly is paying no attention at all. Better players are dominating for one reason only, because now you have to play better to win. A whole lot better. While it used to be common for final tables to be described as crapshoots galore, this year they have been long, drawn, and grueling. Anybody who took a bracelet in 2003 should be considered nothing but world champion, and judging by the crowds who are showing up to watch, I’m not alone in this feeling. It’s tournament poker.

Take the final table for yesterday’s $3000 no limit Hold’em event, which read like a poker fan’s fantasy of who he’d like to see tangle it up. Phil Hellmuth, Erik Seidel, and Daniel Negreanu were chip leaders 1-2-3. Jay Heimowitz, Tony Ma, Mark Seif, and the low profile Al Stonum all fighting like dogs. And three other players who could become heroes or goats. Anyone who’s ever picked up Cardplayer would want to see this one play out, and if they had had cameras under the table they could have charged your right arm and left leg to watch. I’d have lopped mine off in a second. What was played out yesterday was at the highest level of tournament poker, and two hands I watched during the first hour of play for me made the whole thing worthwhile.

It was chip leader Phil, the small blind in an unraised pot with Mark Seif and Curt Kohlberg. After the flop came down rainbow, k-7-3, Phil cold called 17,000, a 14,000 Kohlberg raise of Seif’s 3000 tester. Seif folded up shop and an ace hit the turn. Phil checked again and went into pose one, out of his chair, towering over the table in his gold rimmed sunglasses, and staring right down at Kohlberg, who was suddenly moving in slow motion and looking very small. After an eternity of shuffles and chip counts, Kohlberg sticks 25,000 more into the pot and Phil calls immediately, sitting back down and splashing five brown chips. When the river card paired the three Phil got out of his seat while checking again. Kohlberg is shrinking, small and weak in that bad dream slow motion where you watch your hands move and are powerless to stop them. Kohlberg thinks for an eternity before finally announcing check in a clear voice, the first decisive move he’s made the whole hand. Like he was scared to tap the table check, scared if he moved his hands he would push them all in. Phil turned over a king-jack, and it was plenty good, and I just loved the hand. Kohlberg had sunk in over half his stack, 42,000 trying to win a fourteen thousand dollar pot with what had to have been no hand at all. Hellmuth was simple and perfect, it was so strong it was scary. That’s a Hellmuth hand.

Exactly one round later, Hellmuth is in the small blind again. Folded around to Seidel who raises to twelve, the first raise he’s made since he flipped up pocket kings on the very first hand. Phil re-raises Erik to 40 grand straight. And Hellmuth stands up, staring down on the top of Seidel’s head, the chip leader taking on the second big stack. Erik Seidel waits in his dark purple shirt, so mild mannered that he hid behind the rail when the players were introduced. Seidel waits, staring into Hellmuth’s stomach, staring at the dealer and scratching his chin before fingering down a large stack of blue and announcing call with his hands in the pot. The flop came down 9-8-4, and Phil Hellmuth fires 40,000 more before going into pose two, hunkered over the table with hand over mouth. After an eternity, a sigh, some resignation and a scratch of the chin, I can’t imagine there was anybody who knew what Erik would do. He put two hands in the pot and looked like a call before announcing, “Raise. The minimum. 40,000 more.” And within seven seconds after that moment Hellmuth’s cards were in the muck. Phil went into his shell, head in his hands and looking straight down. Seidel was mild like milquetoast and his questions were polite, but it felt every bit as strong. That’s a Seidel hand.

Maybe the two hands were dry as crackers, maybe. I was thinking they were hands that could have been played with one million nuances and a thousand variations. But only one path was perfect. And these are two players who draw perfection out of the mud. Strange brands of perfection, but there all the same. And I love it when I feel I have a whole lot to learn.

$3,000 No Limit Holdem Details

Other Reports : T-4 - T-3 - T-2 - Sunday - Day One/I - Day One/II - Day Two - Day Three - Day Four - Final - Pictures - Championship - Jesse May Montage
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