Monday, November 10, 2008

The November Nine

Unlike most professionals, I didn't have a strong opinion one way or another when it was announced that the 2008 WSOP final table would be played out in November, four months after playing down to the final nine. There were obvious logistical and ethical problems with suspending play for four months, but there were obvious advantages as well. I wanted to see how it shook out before formulating an opinion. One thing I knew was that I wanted to make this final table more than any before. Relishing the exhilaration of making a major final table for four months would be such a blissful experience. I imagined waking up every day of the Fall thinking about sitting down at that final table and playing for all that money and the world championship with all my family and friends in the house.

When word first broke that the final table would be played in November, most people I talked to assumed it would then be broadcast live with all the holecards shown. Otherwise what was the point of the layoff? I was pretty disenchanted when I found out the final table would be shown edited down to one of ESPN’s standard two hour Tuesday night programs. Frankly, I don’t see the point of the layoff if they aren’t going to do anything special for the broadcast. Hopefully they will return to a more standard format in the future.

Watching the WSOP on ESPN this year has stirred the embers of the once-crackling fire I had for tournament poker. I have never cashed in the WSOP main event in four tries. The kid that knocked me out, Allen Kennedy, received substantial coverage as he battled Phil Hellmuth and I kept thinking about what I'd be capable of if I could ever get something going in the main event. It's sickening to watch some of these n00bs go so deep but the coverage also shows how much equity there is at the World Series. Almost every hand they showed I thought could have been played better in some form or fashion. The WSOP main event is not only the largest and richest poker tournament in the world each year, but also the juiciest. I hope to play the main event every year the rest of my life. It’s possible I won’t play another live tournament until the ’09 WSOP, but I may decide to go all-out and play another thirty events at the Rio next summer.

I studied the results of the main event carefully, the tournament as it progressed and then the ESPN coverage. As we’ve seen before, many different chip leaders emerged as the tournament wore on. Most of these chip leaders were loose, aggressive, wild players. This is how you become chip leader in a tournament of thousands of players. But as the days passed, most of the nuts dropped and we were left with a final table consisting mostly of fairly conservative small-pot oriented unknown professionals.

I’ll try to avoid revealing too much about what happened at the final table, as many readers are waiting to watch it Tuesday night on ESPN. I will say that I thought the level of play exhibited by the final combatants was becoming of their skill levels, which I believe to be much greater than that displayed in the debacle that was the ’07 final table. The 2008 World Champion is worthy of the title.

The one true maniac left standing was Scott Montgomery. Russian Ivan Demidov seemed to get people to do crazy things against him while maintaining generally solid strategy. I played with Demidov in a couple of the preliminary events and thought he played a lot like me. He seems to value position pretty strongly and gets involved a fair amount without bluffing much. Peter Eastgate was the obligatory aggressive Scandinavian. I thought he did a great job of maintaining that aggression without going off the deep end like so many of the former chip leaders. Kelly Kim didn’t play enough hands on the short stack to give himself a chance to get out of the basement.

Chino Rheem is the only player at the final table that I know, having joined him and Shane for a meal at Rosemary’s about a year ago. Chino was quiet and detached that night, which is the opposite of his playing persona. He is a constant nuisance nipping and poking at a lot of pots but knows how to manage a stack of all sizes.

Dennis Phillips entered the final table as chip leader and would likely be the most beneficial to the industry if he were to take the title. Phillips represents the “Home Game Hero” sect of the population who cherished Chris Moneymaker’s victory five years ago. But don’t throw him in the Joe Six Pack crowd just yet. It was obvious watching Phillips on tv that he has an innate talent for the game, surprising aplomb not usually found in a player of his age and notoriety, a tremendous sense of his image and the cunning to use that image to steal pot after pot. He appeared to fare especially well against the weaker players who typecast him and didn’t capitalize on the tells he emitted. I thought Phillips might struggle at the final table against a strong group who’s had months to diagnose his game and plan an assault on his comparatively weak fundamentals.

Darus Suharto is the most unknown quantity at the final table – just as Jerry Yang was a year ago.

Craig Marquis emerged as the villain for me because of his association with Evil Cardrunners and a questionable uninvested four-bet shove with AQ which cost 10th place finisher Dean Hamrick a spot at the final table. Dean was one of the first friends I ever made on the circuit, meeting him at Foxwoods in 2005. He’s a strong player and a nice guy, like so many of the 25-35 year-old pros. I haven’t seen him in a couple years, but I rooted hard for him and it broke my heart to see him exit before the final table after such an exasperating bad beat.

In the end I found myself rooting for Ylon Schwartz, who has been pecking away on the tournament circuit for years. Before this tournament, he had thirty live cashes without a score of more than $50k. It was great to see a longtime grinder hit the jackpot after four years on the circuit. If a guy like Ylon can find The Holy Grail, I might have it in me too.


Blogger Eugene said...

Great post.

8:16 AM  
Blogger miah said...

I was all for the delay as I thought it would be good for the game, etc, etc. but I don't know what it really accomplished for "mainstreaming" the event.

That being said, the atmosphere was incredible for a poker tournament--exponentially better than any of the other final tables I've been to. The theater seating and

I don't think the delay hurt anything, but it definitely helped the players with endorsements (all 3 FT players became red pros, Ylon sold patch space on Ebay, etc).

I don't think I'll have a final opinion until I watch the broadcasts.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

Finally a poker post.....

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Truman said...

Great post.

By the way, I was at the ME for a short time and I thought Phillips was very easy to read.

11:21 PM  

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