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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 4

WSOP tournament director Matt Savage maybe gets smarter by the day. I don’t know. But he continues to amaze with his skills as a tournament director. It’s not just that his tournaments run smooth, they do, but everyone looks good when things are going like clockwork. Where Matt Savage really shines is in the eye of the storm, like one of those big game quarterbacks, when everybody has lost their head and chaos threatens to reign. Savage makes the pressure decisions that later on, when everyone’s calmed the hell down, they’ll look back and say, oh yeah. Of course. The crazier things get, the calmer he is. It’s wild to watch.

It’s 2:30 in the morning after fourteen hours of the $5000 limit Hold’em event, they’re down to fourteen players, and it’s fair to say all hell has broken loose. The official tournament rules say that play will continue until 12 rounds have been completed or the final table of nine is reached, whichever comes first, but there’s always an option open for continuing beyond that if all players agree. And there’s been a general acceptance all night that they’ll keep going until nine players because for one, the final will be a TV table and everybody knows that if they have to come back tomorrow and play until the final table is reached and then break for the ESPN interviews then it’s going to add like an extra four hours to the day and two, because everybody really wants to play the $3000 no limit Hold’em event in the morning, especially if they’re short stacked and will be out in twenty minutes of resumption. But it’s not like the event they’re playing right now is small potatoes, there’s over a million dollars in the prize pool and $325,000 for first and the payoff scale is steep all the way down, with fourteenth through tenth receiving only minimal profit off their investment and then the final table shooting way up place by place up the board. To make matters more interesting, out of the fourteen players left only one can be considered a comfortable stack because Johnny World has left the other thirteen in his wake while terrorizing the tables to amass 280,000 in tournament chips and the rest are all considered perilous, with most on about fifty or sixty thousand in chips, bunched in a crapshoot and nobody except the World rightly able to say whether or not they’ll be the next one out when the limits go to four and eight thousand. Even the short stack, Austrian Martin Pollack, who’s on 14,000, has to think that if he wins his very next hand, his equity has suddenly skyrocketed from ten thousand guaranteed to a possible three hundred grand. So the tournament has reached a perilous, very perilous place indeed, and when the question goes out at 2:30 am whether or not the players should continue, it’s fair to say bedlam breaks loose, because not only is everyone too tired to make up their mind, but half the players can’t decide what’s in their best interests.

At first everyone wants to continue except shortstacked Martin Pollack and the chip leader John Hennigan. Then Hennigan says he’ll play one more hour only he’s voting no until he votes differently and can smoke one cigarette, and now Jim McManus says he’s not sure. Jim’s seeing through a big fog of fourteen hours and he’s got TJ in his ear telling him that they have to play the no limit event tomorrow, and David Chiu is shouting for another hour, and TJ’s telling Pollack that they’ll ship him and his short stack back to Austria and half the table is joining in, and over the course of ten minutes everyone is yelling and screaming and then finally when it looks like everyone’s caved to peer pressure and is ready to play then Ellix Powers stands up and takes off his earphones and says loud and firm, “Fourteen hours is too long – I object!” and, “Deal around me if you want to!” and for five minutes more it’s a three ring circus and it stays that way until Matt makes his decision.

And Matt Savage was calm and cool and sounded out all opinions. He let them rant and rave for a good fifteen minutes and even though he knew how much easier it would be on himself and his staff if they played until the final, he went back and forth between the two tables and then made his decision, clear and firm. “We’re stopping,” he said, silencing TJ. “It’s a big prize pool and it’s the player’s money, and if someone goes bonkers in the next hour blowing off chips they’ll be all hotted up and it won’t be fair.” And now it seems like, of course, that was definitely the right decision, but he had to overrule ESPN and four players and eight bleating sheep, and you can believe that out of everyone in that room, they were all too tired to count to ten much less make a good decision regarding their money except for the big game quarterback, and so Matt Savage made the decision himself, with no turning back. It was nice to see.

And even after the chip bags are sealed, Jim McManus can’t figure out if he’s supposed to buy-in tomorrow anyway and try and play both tournaments, and he’s sounding out opinions and having trouble with the fog, and Matt Savage says soothingly, “Jim. Forget tomorrow. You’ve got a great shot in this. Believe me.” And you can say oh, yeah, of course he’s right, but at the time in the bedlam it really wasn’t sure. I was there. Things get strange after fourteen hours of grueling concentration. Things get real strange.

Things were strange because tomorrow is a new day, and people will wake up and realize that the result isn’t set in stone yet. Because anybody who had the misfortune of playing with Johnny World Hennigan for an extended period of time had to feel like they were playing for second, because from about ten pm on, he just thrashed them. Clocked them with no mercy, with no hands, and with no regard. At about one thirty am, he summed it up with a wry smile after taking a big pot. “I wasted all my good cards earlier,” he said. “Now it’s time to run over you with nothing.”

Last night was a night to watch Hennigan in his full form, at his most terrifying. He’s baldheaded and likes to throw up his hands in a wry gesture of, how sick is that, which he’ll usually do with a slight smile and slow laugh while raking a pot with some of the most bizarre cards to grace a limit Hold’em game. And he’s capable of doing it for hours. During the hands, the World sits immobile, he stares straight ahead and down at the flop while the chips come out of his hand in a mess sideways, like he didn’t mean to bet but did it instantly anyway. The longest he ever takes with his decisions are a second and a half, and you can never tell whether it’s bet, raise, call, or fold, it’s all done in silence and quick as a lash. Unreadable, unpredictable, and wild to watch.

Australian Jeff Lissandro comes up when it’s all over and bemoans the hand when World raided his chips. “I’ve got jacks,” he laments, “and Hennigan’s three bet and reraised and I’ve got him right where I want him until some god awful straight hits the river and he turns over seven-eight. Ugly!” he says. “Pitiful!”

The ones left in are survivors, to be sure. They’ve survived the onslaught and can wake up tomorrow and hope a new dealer’s in the box. Like Jim McManus, who held on for dear life, and TJ Cloutier, who knew how to avoid the noose. David Chiu looks now to be a threat, he was down to the cloth, only had a few chips, but comes up on eighty thousand with only minutes to go and then walks over to the World and points to his stack as if to say, look what you’ll have to deal with tomorrow. John Hennigan just laughs. McManus says to Chiu, “Didn’t I knock you out?” “Nearly,” says Chiu. “But now I’m back.”

The story of the tournament, the buzz of downtown Las Vegas, however, is dreadlocked Ellix Powers. A Brit on the rail said, that guy looks familiar, and then after a few minutes, “I’ve got it! I was playing 4-8 with him last year and he had his bankroll on the table, some thirty buck tank with worn clothes to match.” It seems Ellix has come up the hard way, he’s been a fixture in Vegas for years, living on the streets and grinding in the smallest games while just trying to stay alive. He caught a touch some months ago and never looked back, and now he’s buying into all the big tournaments with three WSOP payouts already, has new clothes and a Walkman and is grooving in tune to the rhythms of the big money. No one can say he doesn’t deserve it.

Four days only until the Big Dance begins. Zombies are walking around downtown Las Vegas, and the next two days are the biggest mirage of them all. There’s two big events left in the $3000 No Limit Hold’em and the $5000 Pot Limit Omaha, but the price you have to pay for playing them both could be far more than the buy-in fees. It’s time to rest up, to focus on the dance, and the wise ones will be saving their energy for the $3.5 million. It’s an obstacle course to get through seven days and two thousand players, and there’s a minefield to be evaded before you even hear the starting gun

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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