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World Series Of Poker
 Jesse May Reports
April 23rd - May 28th, 2004

Jesse May Reports : Champ D6 - Champ D5 - Champ D3 - Champ D2 - Champ D1 - T - 1 - T - 2 - T - 3 (II) - T - 3 (I) - T - 4 - T - 7 - Day 13 - D 12 - D 11 - D 10 - Return (9) - D 4 - D 3 - D 2 - Carborundum
Championship : The First 6 Days - The Final - Places & Prizes
Picture Series : Winners - Ted Forest - $5000 Holdem - John Hennigan - 2 to 7 Draw - A-Z Player List - The Final
Jesse May in
Las Vegas
Day Nine - The Return

Back at the World Series of Poker. Four days and twenty hours in a plane took me to England and back, but Europe seemed empty. I wanted to be back in Vegas, back to the center of the gambling world. A little time away, however, is good for perspective, and I’m amazed by how many poker players have decided to play the WSOP in two installments this year. Amazed, because it has to be the smart thing to do, and that’s not like gamblers. Brits like “The Camel” Keith Hawkins, who although he had some good results during the first two weeks, still decided to return home for some rest before the biggest event of the year. As Keith would tell it, however, he only went back to England to cheer on his football team. “Poker is my profession,” he said to me, “But the Queens Park Rangers are my addiction…”Many players this year have the plan to come early and win their seat, and then return rested for a shot at $3.5 million. I like it, because with the possible exception of Robert Varkonyi, I just don’t see the winner of a seven day poker marathon coming from the pool of guys stressed out during the penultimate week of May by still having to find $10,000 to just get in.

So I returned to the Horseshoe to find the room just slightly dipping in energy, oh ever so slightly. The World Series of Poker is a six week festival or a lifetime slog, depending on your fortunes, and now that the third week has begun many players have an idea of how it’s going to go. The winners are laughing, they’re bright eyed and smiley, they sleep deep every night when their head hits the pillow. Negreanu’s a winner. The thirty-something Canadian is wearing a red hockey suit so immaculate it might have been bought this morning, he’s got his I-Pod headphones and hellos for all as he comes off the break during the limit Hold’em. It’s down to thirty players and Negreanu says, “I’ve been chip leader for like five hours, man!” with fifty thousand. Daniel’s talking to John Juanda, and JJ’s a nice guy. He’s just watching tonight, sweating friends, and the one thing he’s missing is the glazed eyes and shifty countenance of someone who’s been gambling too long. It’s 11pm but he’s alert and relaxed, joking about the Hold’em rebuy tourney last week where he and Daniel came second and third. Modest guy. A grey hair and bushy moustache accosts JJ, “I’ve got to ask your opinion about this hand! Ive got…Raise, raise… the flop comes… bet, raise…” The man is leaning over Juanda and emphatically spitting. John’s leaning the other way, a neutral smile plastered on his face and now his eyes do get glazed. Rescue me, they say, and when the story is over your man looks expectantly, what would you have done? Being a poker superstar is starting to mean you need a bodyguard.

This stage of the month you’ve got a good idea of the players in form. Negreanu, clearly. Lederer absolutely. Howard is deep nearly event he tries at and though he walks slowly like a tired man, he’s one of those guys who manages to conserve his strength at the table and never has a cross word for anyone. Howard’s unshaven and wearing his logo, a black long sleeve Full Tilt t-shirt. He’s good with a short stack and that’s where the edge comes in, surviving on those days where near nothing goes right. Form is deadly important, and some players have built that reserve of hang on staming, that knack for, as Paul Phillips said, “Avoiding traps when I used to let myself go broke, and I imagine, that’s what is happening to others, too.” Talk about deadly form would have to include Paul Phillips, second in the Omaha Hi-Lo event last week. Though it’s two years since he placed second in another WSOP event, the 2002 Triple Draw, in World Series terms that was only three events ago for him, as Paul had left the building for a while, and during that time he hasn’t exactly been absent from big buy-in leaderboards. Paul plays with gusto, he chats during hands, his hat pulled down low like it’s raining, ever present flip flops like a day at the beach. Incongrous, but that’s Paul Phillips, and though he’s one of those guys that wants a WSOP bracelet so bad he can taste it, he took his loss to Curtis Bibb with very good graces. “He had an edge on me,” Paul said, “I knew he had an edge. I’ve played short handed Omaha just about never, and Curtis plays that game like, every day.” Figuring out hand values for head up Omaha Hi-lo on the fly, nearly impossible. And when you’re doing it while going for a bracelet, you better just pray.

Speaking of wanting a bracelet so bad, the look on Cyndi Violette’s face when she won her first bracelet last night is what the World Series of Poker is all about. Bracelets are won by three kinds of people. There’s the people who have won so many before that one more’s a chalk mark, and there are people who win it from their first event ever and have no idea what it means. And then there are those who have been around for years, grinding it out and getting ever so close but never closing out the frame. Violette’s youthful good looks belie her reality, because Cyndi has been a steady in high limit poker since when it was only Las Vegas. She’s tough, she’s one of the best cash seven stud players over the last twenty years, she started in Vegas before moving to the greener pastures of Atlantic City, she learned the game the hard way, and she wanted a bracelet so bad it hurt. She clapped her hands, she jumped with glee, it’ll take a week to get the smile off her face, and for a woman who’s not prone to outbursts of emotion, you hardly could be and have survived as long as her on the poker scene. She cried the Vegas equivalent of a river of tears, which was to tip the floor people generously, and then she headed off to try on her bracelet. I imagine it will look nice.

Tuna Lund’s in town. Ever present toothpick and misshapen body, the hulk of the man who everybody says deserved to win the WSOP is back for more. His belly’s spilling everywhere, his pants are flopping down, and he’s one of the most revered men in all of poker. I was sitting next to a Californian while sweating the stud final and he’s talking about Men the Master. Yeah, Men’s good, he says, “But he’s not the best. He’s not even close to the best. The best of all time is definitely Tuna.” I know a little about Lund and your man was happy to commiserate with me about 1990, when a ten on the river cost Tuna the title. I’d caught up with Lund last year, back to the WSOP after more than five years out of poker, and Tuna told me he was back because his mother wanted to see him win the Championship of the world. “That’s hogwash,” your man says, “There ain’t no one in this world that wants win that bracelet as bad as Tuna himself.”.

Phil Hellmuth watchers take note. He’s trying hard, and just not satisfied. With several money finishes already, including one last night, many people would be pleased as punch with the way they’re playing. But not Phil Hellmuth. He wants the bracelet for the record books, and I imagine as long as it’s not first place he’ll come off the table the same way he did last night, muttering and talking to himself, and then for a full hour at a back table after, his face clouded, his arms swinging, chattering away to no one at all that twenty-sixth place is twenty-five places too small. I don’t figure he’s out of form, I just figure the cards haven’t turned his way. That said, I do believe that so many people have now seen him play on television that they’re beginning to catch on. He gives them stick and they give it right back. He makes a raise and they raise him right back. Erik Seidel predicted that if poker players were going to show their hands on TV then they had to be prepared to change their game and I think he’s right. There’s a lot of smart guys out there now, and smart guys learn fast. Champs have to stay one step ahead.

Jesse May Reports : Champ D6 - Champ D5 - Champ D3 - Champ D2 - Champ D1 - T - 1 - T - 2 - T - 3 (II) - T - 3 (I) - T - 4 - T - 7 - Day 13 - D 12 - D 11 - D 10 - Return (9) - D 4 - D 3 - D 2 - Carborundum
Championship : The First 6 Days - The Final - Places & Prizes
Picture Series : Winners - Ted Forest - $5000 Holdem - John Hennigan - 2 to 7 Draw - A-Z Player List - The Final
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