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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
T minus 3

Even though the World Series of Poker has been going on for one month already, it hasn’t really started. Because the Big Dance has yet to begin. And there’ll be a bunch of players who will wipe away a frustrating month with a result in the only event that really matters. With the prize pool slated to top $17 million without sweating, anyone at the $10,000 final table will garner a result worth, in prestige and money, the equal of any bracelet yet to be given away.

It was at dinner last night when the subject of John Juanda came up. “I really fancy this guy,” one top player said. “There’s nobody in the room as focused and relaxed as him this month. He’s just awesome.” So it was really no surprise when we showed up at Binion’s at 11pm to see Juanda on top of a whole load of chips in the $3000 NL Hold’em. In the category of if you just keep playing well then good things will happen to you, Juanda is top of the poker world. It doesn’t matter how late it is nor what the event, if John Juanda is still in then he’s the most focused guy at the table and playing good poker. And at a time of night when most of the players have turned to beer, coffee, or Red Bull to keep their wits about them, Juanda is always sitting there tall in his chair with eyes darting every which way, sipping water, wearing a red and black bowling shirt, and playing great poker. He looks, right now, like the best player in the world.

At 1:30 am they’d reached 35 players from 651 starting and Johnny Chan has his hand to his forehead and his fan full blast in his face. He leans back in his chair, spreads his arm over a vacant seat and closes his eyes. Annie Duke from the next table leans over and says, “Shouldn’t we all be cashing out four hundred thousand or something? Last thirty-five out of six hundred fifty, I mean!” Annie’s wearing a pink Ultimate Bet shirt and tight jeans. She’s doing leg stretches on her chair with bare feet painted in glittered nail polish. The rest of the players at her table look like they’ve run a marathon. And they have. And it’s only been the first day of a two day event. It’s nights like this that make you realize just how much energy you’ll need to come through 2000 players over seven full days. I’d rather back an athlete than a poker player. I really would.

It was 11am, one hour before this event started, and some guy at the sign-up desk asks how many have registered before him. 280 is the answer. “Oh?” your man says, “That’s much less than last year…” Yeah right. At 12:25 pm two lines stretched forever with about half of the world queuing for a late entry. They hit six hundred at 12:30, and with alternates finally topped out at another record for another event.

Quite a few Europeans still in the frame in the last no limit test before the madness of the biggest poker tournament in the world begins. Londoner John Kabaj, just into town and playing in his first event, for example. Irishman Desi Higgins. And Hendon Mobster Ram Vaswani. A slew of unknowns spread out over four tables along with some names who we’ll likely be hearing from next week, like Amir Vahedi. And Paul Phillips. Paul’s black hat, red t-shirt, and short stack have become synonymous with the bubble at Binion’s as far as I’m concerned this month. The man has probably played seven years worth of poker this month already, making the dinner break in 70% of the events and yet cashing in almost none. But he’s got effort, and had a whole lot of practice in playing a short stack of chips, guarding his fifteen thousand with his life, and still finding time to smile while the big chipped wolves circle around him. If he gets any sleep before Saturday, I like his chances. If you keep knocking on the door, sooner or later someone will be home.

John Hennigan won the Limit Hold’em event at 1am yesterday and $300,000. He started the day and the final table as chip leader, but that doesn’t really tell the story. The story is that Hennigan displayed a limit poker skill that was classes above the rest of the table, and the heart of a champion to go with it. During the first three rounds at the final table Hennigan was dealt two queens twice, ace-king, ace-queen, pocket jacks and pocket nines. He lost with all of them. It was three pm and his minder took one look at the situation and dashed across the room to mug a waitress for a Miller Lite, which was hustled back across the room and delivered to Hennigan from under the roving cameras with all the solemnity and pomp of a can of Popeye’s spinach. Hennigan received the beer and drained half in one gulp, then he looked at your man with a wry smile. “Good read,” he said. And laughed.

When they reached the final three, Hennigan was the shortest stack. His eyes were a bit watery, his stare a bit vacant, and his countenance tightened when An “The Boss” Tran turned over the four five for a river straight to set him back to barely 100,000, one tenth of the chips on the table. And then he came alive. He raided the able Patsy Gallagher for all her chips and reached the final two just a smidgen behind An Tran. And ten minutes into the head-up final you felt it was all over. Hennigan found Tran’s number and punched it like a time clock. Tran had been fond of the slow play and the check raise all day, but when you’re playing head up limit Hold’em the check raise is way overrated. It’s the raise and the reraise that’s in fashion, and Johnny World had plenty of that. Although Tran won quite a few pots when Hennigan was bluffing with the nine high and lower, the uncontested ones were all the World’s and he sealed the deal in less than an hour.

Matt Savage announced that this was Johnny World’s second bracelet, but it was really his first. When Hennigan won the HORSE tournament three years ago, he was told that they would monogram his bracelet for him and he could pick it up in a week. He never got the bracelet, making Hennigan the first man in the history of the World Series of Poker to win the bracelet and not take it. And when Matt Savage strapped the bracelet last night onto Johnny World’s wrist, he again asked if he wanted to leave it here to be monogrammed. “No way!” said the World. “I’m leaving it on!” And hours later that’s just where it was.

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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