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WSOP08 $50K HORSE Championship
CEO "Rocket Boy" 06.30.2008

This was my first WSOP experience and it will be the first of many, I'm sure. This report is full of spoilers, so if you want to be surprised when the event airs on ESPN on August 19, 2008, stop reading now. No gruesome card-by-card details this time. Just observations, anecdotes, and the occasional game-changing pot.

The Rio
I'm not sure whether the Rio or Caesar's is a bigger property. But the Rio seems to be a single gigantic structure whereas Caesar's is a mash-up of towers, malls, casinos, theaters, and statues. (In fact, the original Caesar's building from 1966 is still there, re-skinned to match the more modern buildings.)

If you're driving to the Rio to spectate during the WSOP, get there early or else valet parking will be full. (If you're playing in a WSOP event, there's a separate players' valet lot.) Self-parking won't be full because summertime is the off-season in Vegas. But the self-parking lot is a quarter mile from the lobby, which seems to be about half a mile again from the Amazon room.

From the lobby, head straight for a few yards then veer right. Just keep heading along Convention Way and follow the WSOP signs. Wear comfortable walking shoes no matter how you get to the Rio.

The Venue
There are smaller ballrooms for VIP lounges and satellite tourneys, but all the main action happens in the Amazon room. There are separate player and spectator entrances and the tables are roped off with tensa-barriers.

Amazingly, photography is unrestricted except for the use of flash. Tripods and monopods aren't allowed either, but I used my monopod for most of the shots I took until Nolan Dalla himself told me to put it away. I was able to use it during the final table taping by putting it up on my seat instead of on the floor.

The final tables of all events ESPN tapes are staged in an enclosed area in the corner of the Amazon room. I had to get in line early to make sure I got a seat. Friends and family, just like for the WPT, are let in first and positioned behind their player. Better for TV I suppose. More on the final table taping setup later.

Friday 27 June
The $50K HORSE event was in its third day of play. About 50 of the 148 starters were still left when I got there. One particularly tough table had, in order from seat 1, Minh Ly, "Miami" John Cernuto, Barry Greenstein, Bill Chen, Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Layne Flack, and Patrick Bueno.

Phil Hellmuth made an appearance, and he seemed pretty humble. Only 7 players busted on day 1 and he was number 3 of those 7.

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Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, Scotty Nguyen


At one point Scotty Nguyen wandered over to the rail to greet his fans. I shook his hand and said "You're the MAN, Scotty!" He just muttered "Yeah, baby." He almost seemed depressed. Didn't have that flair, that rock star energy.

After the dinner break I got a decent spot by the ropes right near Doyle's table. Players at his table included Katja Thater, Ralph Perry, Bill Chen, Brandon Adams, and Raymond Davis.

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Katja Thater


Doyle was getting a little short stacked until one massive stud hand. He nearly tripled up by busting Bill Chen and crippling Katja down to her last four 1K chips. Doyle had gotten half of Bill's chips a few hands earlier, and he got the rest on that hand. Katja busted out on the next hand, clearly stunned. She just walked off in shock.

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Doyle Brunson


I overheard Andy Bloch telling the players at his table how the movie "21" wasn't very accurate. He said that none of the actual MIT blackjack team members were ever beaten up. And the movie made it look like they won their millions in just a few months. In reality it had taken several teams 10 years.

A few tables over, I saw Scotty Nguyen having a weirdly intense private moment during a break in play. He sat looking down at his chips, not talking to anyone in particular. For a few seconds he looked as though he were ready to bite someone's head off, like a snarling tiger. He clenched his fists and seemed to mutter something to himself under his breath. Then, just seconds later, he was calm and ready. I can only guess that he was reminding himself to stay strong and focused, and not to blow up like he had done in the 2007 main event.

Play stopped when there were 24 players left. I walked around a bit and saw Chau Giang playing another event.

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Chau Giang


Saturday 28 June: Down to the Final Table
They were going to play down to the final eight no matter how long it took. This time I got to the Amazon a little after 3pm and didn't get a very good spot on the rail. No big deal. The final table taping is what I was really focused on.

I walked around and took some shots of the other events in the room. There was a $1.5K HORSE event that lots of pros were playing.

Doyle got knocked out of the $50K HORSE in 16th, and Andy Bloch in 15th. By this time my feet were getting really sore. I can literally walk for miles with no problem, but there's no way to avoid it: standing still for hours is painful. I gave up and left after Doyle and Andy were knocked out.

Sunday 29 June: Final Table Taping
I got to the Amazon room about an hour before taping started and ended up in a seat directly behind Huck Seed. The eight final table players were, in order from seat 1, Matt Glantz, Huck Seed, Patrick Bueno, Lyle Berman, Barry Greenstein, Scotty Nguyen, Mike DeMichele, and Erick Lindgren.

Just before filming, Scotty came over to the crowd to schmooze, and I shook his hand again. I said the same thing: "You're the MAN, Scotty!" and this time he said "Dass' RIGHT, baby!" with the usual energy. He was back to being the Prince of Poker, from wherever else he'd been the previous day. As he turned away I saw two WSOP bracelets on his wrist. You can't buy that kind of bling.

0008
Johnny Chan


HORSE Observations
The $50K HORSE event consists of five limit games, so there are only all-ins when someone's stack gets really short. And two of the games are high-low games so split pots are common. It's grueling. Several players got down to the felt, didn't bust, and started coming back. Erick got it all-in and started chopping out. Scotty got it all-in and started chopping out. The chip lead went from one player to another, especially in some of the high-low games where a player scooped the pot.

Sometimes it's pretty obvious that one player is going for the high and the other is going for the low. In fact, the players and dealer won't even put the chips into the middle when it's looking to be a split pot. They'll just keep their late-street bets in front of them so the dealer only has to chop a small number of chips.

The Cheering Sections
Across the stage, directly behind Erick, was his (very loud) cheering section. About 12 well-known players were sweating Erick. Time for some name dropping. Erick's boosters consisted of, at various times, Daniel Negreanu, Gavin Smith, Chris Bell, Boston Rob, Shannon Elizabeth, Jean-Robert Bellande, Layne Flack, Mike Matusow, Jennifer Harman, Bill Edler, Haralabos Voulgaris, Joe Sebok, Amanda Leatherman, and many others.

Layne Flack made numerous beer runs, and Gavin Smith threw a Milwaukee's Best to a guy in the crowd. He didn't drop it, therefore no giant beer can smashed him.

On my side we had Scotty's fans and wife. Not quite as many and definitely much quieter. And between us, behind Mike DeMichele in seat 7, we had the internet whiz kid contingent. They were pretty loud and mocked Scotty pretty frequently in heads-up play. They got Alan "Chainsaw" Kessler to sit next to the most famous guy in their group because he resembles a younger Chainsaw. Chainsaw asked them to send him the photo on Facebook.

0005
Barry Greenstein finished 6th in the event


Todd Brunson
At the dinner break we all had to clear out and get new seats when we re-entered. I took a seat behind Scotty in seat 6. Todd Brunson, Freddy Deeb, and Scotty's relatively youthful wife were sitting in front of me. Todd doesn't seem to get along with Erick. He was wearing a t-shirt that read "Go, Scotty Baby!"

At one point, an elderly man tripped and fell when he was walking down the bleacher steps. On the next break, Todd complained to the stage manager. I though the was disputing a ruling or something, because he was really agitated. It turned out that he wanted the stairs to be marked. They were painted black and hard to see in the dim lighting. Within minutes, a stage hand put yellow tape on the edges of all the steps.

Matt Glantz
He lost a huge pot to someone, I think it was Lyle Berman, and just straight steamed. He played the next 3 or 4 hands, snap-calling preflop raises and folding on later streets. The other players all saw that and took turns taking chips from him until he regained his composure.

Erick Lindgren
At the other end of the spectrum is Erick Lindgren. He's completely unreadable. The nuts? Total air? He looks and acts exactly the same no matter what. And he's nearly un-tiltable too.

I only saw one tiny bit of steam from him, after he'd lost a pretty big pot to Mike DeMichele. Instead of just tossing his cards to the dealer, he held them in a half-fist about 8 inches off the table. He then sort of punched the dealer's arm out of the way so he could drop the cards directly in front of him.

Erick was in seat 8, so he was on the dealer's immediate right. It might have been a physical hint to the dealer not to crowd him. Or it could have been a tiny loss of composure, the release of fight or flight adrenaline. Whatever it was, he did it while talking amicably with Scotty.

Erick made a huge call against Mike DeMichele in a hold'em round to win a really big pot. On a 10-7-2-K-2 board, he called Mike's bluff with just an ace high. Mike had been betting throughout the hand and Erick just kept calling. Amazing. It's like Erick had been hoping to shut down Mike's aggressiveness by making a hero call just one time. He did, and it worked.

Erick later won an enormous pot against Mike, making a full house in a stud round. When it got down to 3-handed, Scotty and Erick seemed to be taking turns stealing Mike's blinds. The two big stacks were picking on the short stack, like they're supposed to in a tournament.

Erick lost some big pots to Scotty and Mike, and he had a particularly bad round of hold'em, where the most he could do was split a pot. He would have been in decent shape had he won it, but it wasn't to be. He was knocked out in 3rd. This was the good news for Mike DeMichele. The bad news was the he was facing a 5:1 chip deficit against a battle-hardened veteran.

0006
E-Dog rakes a huge pot


Scotty Nguyen
Scotty was getting almost abusive at some points during heads-up against Mike. He was facing away from me so I couldn't hear much, but apparently he was throwing f-bombs around pretty liberally. I thought there was an anti-profanity rule, but he was never penalized for it.

Scotty must have had about 16 beers over the duration. Play lasted from 3pm to 5am, or 14 hours total, so 16 beers may be a conservative estimate. At one point during short-handed play there were two half-empty beers on his drink table. He asked for a fresh one and the waiter brought him a cold one and removed the other two.

On one hand, Scotty scooped a huge pot in Omaha and yelled "See what happens when you try to FUCK with ME?" He apparently was calling everyone a MF too, players and dealer alike. Easy there, fella.

Mike DeMichele
Mike seemed genuinely disturbed by all this, but he kept his calm. At one point when Erick and Matt were still in, there was a lot of chatting. It seemed almost like a home game.

But by the time it was heads-up, the players were tired and grimly determined. Scotty simply couldn't let this one slip through his fingers like the main event had in 2007. Mike wanted desperately to prove that the next generation deserves the respect of the old guard. And oh yeah, the $2 million first prize is a pretty strong motivator too.

Once in a while I'll just sense a vibe from a player. On one particular stud high hand back when the mood at the table was happier, Mike DeMichele looked at his hole cards, thought for a second, and tossed chips in to call. He had an odd grin on his face and just seemed way too happy. I told the lady next to me "He's got nothing."

He called a bet on 4th street and led out on 5th street even though Huck had paired his board. Huck raised. I muttered "Just fold. You have nothing." Mike paused for a few seconds just for show, then folded. If it was that obvious to me, an amateur, from 30 feet away, it must have been clear as a bell to Huck.

0007
Mike DeMichele


Victory
Mike DeMichele never gave up for an instant. The guy is as tough as a 99 cent steak. But in the end, he was outplayed and outcarded. On the last hand Mike got it all-in with A-3 vs. Scotty's A-10. Scotty started his celebration even before the flop was dealt. I couldn't help thinking "He's still got 3 outs... Uh oh, he flopped a straight draw..."

But Scotty wasn't to be denied. He blew kisses to the crowd, looked up and thanked the poker gods or some other dieties, and just kept on celebrating after the board bricked out. He gave a rambling speech when he accepted the bracelet (his fifth) and prize money, gave rambling answers to an interviewer, and gave a rambling and at one point tearful speech when he received the Chip Reese Trophy.

Mike was clearly crushed, but I heard him say "I got almost as much air time as Scotty did." This kid is the real deal. He's extremely smart, very well-spoken, fearless, determined, likeable, and now he's going to be famous.

Scotty is already famous, and now he's going to be immortal. His name will go on the perpetual base of the Chip Reese Trophy. It's only fitting. The motto engraved on the trophy reads "Standing the Test of Time."

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Scotty just moments before victory


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