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WPT at Bay 101
CEO "Rocket Boy" 03.14.2008

I rolled to Bay 101 again for their WPT taping, and things hadn't changed much since the previous year. Same thing, different players. This time I got there only about an hour before the doors were scheduled to open, was one of the first in line, and I still ended up in the back row of the bleachers.

Random Observations
I made a few poker celebrity sightings before getting in: Michael Binger, Layla Kayleigh, Kimberly Lansing, and Ali Nejad were all either hanging around or getting ready for the gig. Layla looked incredibly hot, but I fear she might become yet another one-season hostess. She's a great presenter but she's nearly poker-illiterate. And I'm not entirely sure that the U.S. audience will like her European-ness all that much. I'm crazy about her, but if the WPT can axe Shana Hiatt, nobody is safe.

I'm also crazy about Kimberly Lansing. She seems to understand some of the concepts of tournament poker, she knows the players since she covers the action leading up to the TV table, and she's equally hot. I get the feeling that she might replace Layla for season 7 as the official hostess. At least the two seem to get along pretty well. I was right about Sabina getting replaced, so good luck Layla...

As for the production, not much has changed. The horrid dome-cams are finally gone from the WPT table. There's only one hand-held camera guy now, with his own cable wrangler. I believe there used to be two. And there's still one guy with a battery powered hand-held to get audience reaction shots. Everything else seems to be pretty much like it's been since last year.

The Players
They're the reason I went down to Bay 101 again this year. If it was just a bunch of local heroes looking to become "poker-made millionaires" I just might have skipped it. But with Jennifer Harman, John Phan, and Steve Sung, there was plenty enough star power to get me out of the house.

Sung and Harman waiting for their introductions

6th Place
You'd think people playing for a million greenbacks would play as well as they could. Four of the players did, two didn't. Surprisingly, John Phan was one of those two. He was first out, and without seeing his cards, it's impossible to know if he was making great laydowns or throwing away chips by chasing / missing / folding. At the start of play he was low man, with about 1/10th the stack of chip leader Brandon Cantu.

He'd call a raise preflop, call a bet on the flop, then fold to a bet on the turn. Then he'd raise preflop, get called, bet the flop, get raised, and fold. Then he'd raise preflop, get called, bet the flop, get called, check down the turn, and fold to a river bet. Over and over again. That might be OK if you're really deep stacked. Not so much if you're short stacked and the blinds are eating you alive. Phan was forced to make a stand with queen high and busted vs. 66.

Jennifer's first all-in

Jennifer's first double up

5th Place
Michael Baker, the token Canadian, made one of the worst plays I've ever seen in WPT play. He had the second largest stack and got into a preflop raising war with Brandon Cantu. Yes, that Brandon Cantu. The guy with the superstack. By the time the dealer burned and turned the flop, the pot was already 1 million with blinds somewhere in the range of 5K/10K. Baker had put about a quarter of his stack in the pot preflop.

Big pair vs. big pair, right? All that money in preflop, between the two chip leaders, with multiple raises and calls, and very high M values. When you're as deep stacked as these guys were, all that preflop action indicates AA vs. KK. Ya think?

Think again. On the Qs Td 2d flop, Baker checked, Cantu moved in covering, and Baker went into the tank. He eventually said those famous last words: "Let's gamble. I call."

So yeah, Cantu rolls the aces. No surprise. Baker then flips Kd 3d. WTF? No pair and the 2nd nut flush draw? He had put roughly 2 million in chips at risk, with the blinds at roughly 5K/10K, as a roughly 2:1 dog. Which is more than just roughly ridiculous. You're playing for a full bean here. That's a million bucks, Sparky. You're supposed to bring your best game.

The board bricks out, Baker busts in 5th, and Cantu is an even bigger superstack with the blinds still very small. Normally it's a great feeling for everyone else when one of the final few players busts. But for three of the final four, the warm fuzzies were alloyed with dread: Cantu now had about 60% of all chips in play.

Brandon Cantu and Jennifer "Jennicide" Leigh

4th Place
There was a long blind-trading period thanks to the micro-blinds. The WPT TV table blind structure has been changed to simply be a continuation of normal tournament play. Before, the TV table blinds started high and quickly ramped up. The fast structure helped the WPT save on production costs. In TV production, time equals money.

But players just hated the resulting slidefest, so the WPT made the change in order to put a little more actual poker back into the show. Yes, all-ins are exciting. But if you want action on every hand, hit up GSN's World Series of Blackjack, ya sickos.

It must have been about 2 hours, since more than 100 hands were played before the next bustout. The remaining amateur, Noah Jefferson, busted in 4th. He'd played a solid game, didn't make any glaringly obvious mistakes, and lost a race with Ad Kd vs. Steve Sung's 77.

3th Place
Throughout the event, the clear crowd favorite was Jennifer Harman. Even her opponents toasted her when she doubled up early in the session. Layne Flack was sweating her and at one point yelled out "Jennifer, you light up my life!" Unfortunately for Layne, Jennifer, and us, she was next out.

She managed to double through Cantu with the best hand: her A8 held up against Cantu's JT. This put her in 2nd chip position, with Steve Sung trailing in 3rd. But the curse of Big Slick struck again. She got it all in with AK vs. Cantu's 99, and although she flopped a king, Cantu flopped a set of 9s. There was no way out for her, really. Even if she wasn't all-in preflop, after that flop it's going in.

Steve Sung acts cool during lion dance

Kimberly in her little black dress

Heads-up Play
It was Cantu (6.1 mil) vs. Sung (1.4 mil) heads-up. The good news for Sung: the blinds still weren't high enough to force him to make desperate all-ins. The bad news: Cantu was the massive chip leader, he was a very solid player, and he had also been running extremely well throughout the tournament. The huge stack, mistake-free play, and good luck all made Cantu a bigger favorite than his chip advantage would indicate. Sung was also a very solid, thoughtful player, so I was afraid we'd be in for another marathon like Forrest vs. Liu the year before.

Didn't happen. The beginning of the end came when Cantu rivered a set of jacks on a 578/AJ board. (See Sung's final table recap blog for his actual hand.) That loss was big enough to hurt Sung, so as the blinds got higher he was forced to make moves. Later, he managed to double up with J9 vs. Cantu's K5 by spiking a pair.

But that was his last win. On the next hand he moved in with 33 and Cantu called with 44. The 4s held up and Cantu was the champion. He had climbed up into the bleacher with his buddies to sweat the final cards.

Brandon's photo op

I'm glad I went down to Bay 101 again this year. Without the star power of Harman, Phan, and Sung, I would have just followed the action online.

I can't wait to see what cards John Phan was folding away his chips with. We'll see.

In the meantime, here are Steve Sung's Bay 101 WPT blogs:
Day 3
Final table preview
Final table recap

Next stop: World Series of Poker $50K H.O.R.S.E. tournament...

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