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WPT at Bay 101 2009 TV Table
CEO "Rocket Boy" 03.20.2009

Oops. I spent too long posting the day 3 blog and I didn't get to Bay 101 until about 2:45. And I got chip #122! I thought I'd never get in. This year, the WPT crew handed out the numbered chips to people all week long instead of a few hours before taping began. And since Bay 101 is a relatively small casino, there are only two grandstands instead of three on the TV table set. Even fewer seats left for non-VIP audience members.

Fortunately, a buddy of mine was also there and knew some gals who had already gotten in. I was able to get in with them on the first break. Until then, I was able to watch the live feed on the closed-circuit monitors in the casino lobby. Just remember that if you plan to rail this event next year, you might want to get here earlier in the week to snag a numbered chip. Not sure if this is the new standard procedure for the WPT, but they waited until just before the doors opened on the final table day before handing the chips out at Commerce last month.

This was the third year in a row that a female player had made the Bay 101 Shooting Stars main even final table. J.J. Liu was the first, back in 2007, in a record-setting session. She finished second to Ted Forrest. In 2008 it was Jennifer Harman, who finished third. And this year's top lady was Kathy Liebert, 39th in the all-time tournament money list, and a veteran WPT and WSOP player. She doesn't get the buzz that poker hotties like Vanessa Rousso and Erica Schoenberg get. But she gets the money and plenty of respect. She had already won nearly $5 million in tournaments before this event, the leading money winner among women players.

The First Casualties
First out was Chau Vu, who I had seen play the short stack brilliantly on day 3. He was able to move in preflop and steal one player's blind repeatedly until he had more than doubled up. But at the final table he couldn't find a spot. He open-shoved on the 8th hand of final table play for 202K (with blinds and antes at 2K/6K/12K) and ran into Tony Behari's pocket 8s. Any ace is fairly likely to be best 6-handed and good enough to attack with, and his M was barely 6 so what else could he do?

Chau Vu, a prop player at Bay 101, was the short stack going in and was the first knockout

The next bustout hand, just three hands later, was a cooler. It just kind of played itself. Kathy raised and Thao Le called. He looked pretty excited so I suspected he might have a big pair. The flop was small rags, check-bet-call 40K. Turn was another small card, Thao bet 80K, with that same fight-or-flight vibe I sensed preflop. Kathy thought for a while and raised. At this point I thought she might be acting, but she's so good that it's hard to tell. On day 3, I saw some obvious acting from some of the remaining players, but for the most part the final six were unreadable.

Thao moved in after thinking (or perhaps just pretending to think) for a while, and Kathy snap-called. It was Thao's QQ vs. Kathy's AA and the aces held up. We were down to four players, all of them were relatively deep-stacked, and it was time for the first tape change break. I managed to get in with a friend, since quite a few seats opened up after Chau and Thao, local heroes, had been eliminated.

Local player Thao Le, apparently quite the babe magnet, busted out 5th

Kathy Liebert signs an autograph for one of her many fans on the first break

The Final Four: Kathy Buys Me a Beer!
It didn't hit me right away, but after a few hands of four-handed play, I noticed it. Mike and Vince and their brushed metal podium were nowhere to be seen. There were black curtains over some kind of waiting room or staff lounge, so I thought that might be where they were. But why would they want to hide? Just a few weeks earlier, Mike and Vince were clearly visible and even occasionally audible during the entire final table taping. Not so at Bay 101. I decided that if Mike didn't materialize for the closing interviews and toast, that he and Vince really weren't there...

The players exchanged the lead several times, until all four had led at one point or another. Tony Behari, the remaining local, was clearly the crowd favorite. He played the most pots and took a really big pot off Kathy, over 1 million, when he made a flush. But you simply can't have a real hand on every deal, and eventually Tony picked the wrong time to bluff. He tried to move Kathy off a 9954 board by putting her all-in after she re-raised him on the turn. She snap-called with pocket 5s for a 9s full, and he rolled KJ for a stone cold bluff and drawing stone dead. This gave Kathy the lead (over 4 million) and Tony the short stack (about 600K).

Right after that, feeling good after doubling and feeing the love from the San Jose crowd, Kathy bought us all a drink! Matt announced it, and I thought he was just messing around. Until cocktail waitresses fanned out into the stands and started taking orders. I got a Heineken (since my fave, Anchor Steam, wasn't available). Thanks Kathy!

One of the themes that developed during short-handed play was getting no action with pocket aces. And it became a portent of doom. Tony got a walk and showed AA. It was as though the poker gods had sent him an omen, because on the next hand Kathy broke him. He shoved with K8, she called with pocket tens, and nobody improved. We were down to 3-handed play and Kathy had become the chip leader.

Kathy celebrating after knocking out Tony Behari. Drinks are on me!

Three-Handed: One Huge Suckout
I overheard people in the media saying "We're in it for the long haul tonight." They weren't kidding. I figured it would take some freezing cold decks or horrendous suckouts to end this thing anywhere near midnight. There was a big suckout alright, but we blew past midnight and just kept on going. The beat would involve broadway, which showed up on three key hands in 3-handed play.

The first broadway hand invovled Chris and Kathy, with broadway and a possible flush on the board. Chris bet big on the river, Kathy looked very puzzled, and must have seen something in Chris that told her to fold. She did, but only after giving him a good long staredown. People are terrified by Ivey's look-straight-through-you glare, and Kathy's ranks right near his in fear factor. I suspect Chris had the flush (with three spades on board) and that Kathy made a good laydown.

And I really must say that I thought Chris Moore's play was pretty weird at times. In many dozens of hands, he'd limp, then call a raise, then fold on the flop. Or he'd call preflop, call the flop, then fold to a turn bet. Over and over again he'd put money in the pot and just give up later. It was almost like he was playing a super-deep cash game when you almost always have the right implied odds to see a relatively cheap flop and give yourself the chance to bust people. But you need to balance right on the knife edge of building chips vs. protecting chips in a tournament and he didn't seem to be doing either.

At first, the audience started laughing and jeering him whenever he'd limp in. His stack gradually eroded over time, as you'd expect, until he was forced to move in and try to steal a big pot or double up. We won't know whether he made good laydowns until these episodes air, but it seems to me like you need to be far more aggressive than that short-handed. Whatever the case, he doubled his 870K stack with 66 against Steve's AK. Steve picked up a broadway draw in addition to his two overs but missed.

But the second time broadway actually appeared at the final table was on The Massive Cooler. Kathy and Steve got into a preflop raising war on hand 178 and they were all-in with Steve's AQ up against Kathy's AK. Kathy paired her king on the flop of KJ5, but Steve had flopped a broadway gutshot draw. And yeah, you guessed it. He got there on the turn when a ten came out. Kathy needed a queen to chop, she didn't get it, and Steve doubled through her. She was now the short stack with about 1.3 milion versus Chris' 2.3 million and Steve's 4.1 million. Still anyone's game, but that one HURT.

The third and final broadway hand again involved broadway on the board. This time Kathy and Steve chopped it. Pretty much like you'd expect.

I'm going to fast-forward to hand 234: Kathy vs. Chris in another key pot that hurt Kathy. She raised, Chris called. She bet on the flop of K83 rainbow, and Chris moved in. Kathy tanked for what must have been about 5 minutes. She looked like she was going to call, said something I didn't hear, then snapped her cards on the felt like she does when she's about to fold. She finally did fold, losing about a million chips to Chris. Her stack had dropped below a million, but she relentlessly chopped out, making a set of kings a few hands later and winning despite several possible straights and a possible flush on the board.

And her relentlessness paid off. She and Steve took turns taking chips from Chris, either by betting him off hands or by out-carding him at showdown. His stack dropped below 900K, giving him an M of less than 10, and he was dealt AK. So what does he do? He calls a preflop raise, then open-shoves on the 954 flop with two diamonds. Moving in would probably fold Steve if Chris had done it preflop, or if he had more chips, or if Steve had no pair or draw. But Steve had the king-high flush draw, he called, and rivered the flush to knock out Chris in 3rd.

Chris Moore sweating the turn and river of his final hand. Dude: muted colors next time, K?

After a brief rehearsal, the lion dancers did their number and the lovely ladies poured all those benjamins out on the table. (Along with a pointy crystal trophy and a swanky WPT bracelet resting in a shockingly cheesy white cardboard box.) The poor lion dancers and their percussion ensemble had been waiting in the hallway since the sun was still shining. I hope, for their sake, that they were paid by the hour. Because it was well after 2:30 AM!

Kathy and Steve enjoying the lion dance. (Can you spot Dan Heimiller in the crowd?)

Heads-Up: No Action on Big Hands

We all knew it was going to be a grueling fight to the finish. This was Steve Brecher's second WPT final table and Kathy Liebert's sixth. There would be no rookie mistakes, no cracking under the pressure of the million dollar first place prize or the glare of the lights. These are two of the toughest players in the world and everyone knew it.

Still, the grandstands stayed about 3/4 full overall because history could be made. Kathy could become the first woman to win a truly open WPT event. (Van Nguyen, wife of Men "The Master" Nguyen, was the first woman to win a mixed WPT event, but it was an invitational.) And she could also become the first woman to win any $10K buy-in event in the U.S. And she could win her own $5K bounty and "I busted Kathy Liebert" t-shirt!

The WPT stage director told us to move down to make sure the front few rows of the grandstands were full. Then we settled in for a long morning of tough play. Matt asked BJ Nemeth, star reporter of the World Poker Tour web site, what the record hand count was. It was 303, and it looked like we were going break that record. Heads-up play started at hand #266.

There were quite a few hands with no showdowns, including Kathy getting a walk on the BB and showing AA. Uh oh. That's the bad omen that the poker gods delivered to Tony just before he busted. So what happened on the very next hand? Kathy raises, Steve calls. Flop is king-high, Kathy bets, and Steve folds. Kathy shows AA again! Back to back pocket rockets with no payoff. Matt joked "A good dealer would have given him kings..."

Kathy lost about 1/3 of her stack on a bluff, when Steve called with a 5 on a K5499 board with three spades. Sick call, Steve! Kathy doubled up a few hands later. She shoved after Steve open-raised, he called with QT and Kathy showed 44. Steve hit is queen on the flop, but Kathy flopped a set of 4s that held up. She was back up to 1.4 million vs. Steve's 6.4 million. Still way behind but with enough chips to hurt Steve if she doubled again.

And just after 4 AM we broke the WPT final table hand record at 304. There had been a series of raise-fold, raise-call-fold hands, most of which went Steve's way. Kathy's stack was dwindling again. Matt reminded us that first call would be in one hour and 54 minutes. Hey, maybe Kathy would buy us all bloody marys for breakfast!

Our dreams of savory tomato juice cocktails were crushed on hand 319, along with Kathy's record attempts. Her stack had dropped below 900K, the blinds were at 25K/50K with a 5K ante, and she really needed to get busy to have any hope of winning. She raised, Steve put her all-in, and she called with QT. Steve rolled A9, and it was looking pretty grim for Kathy. The board came 66224, Steve's ace played, and at 4:25 AM it was all over. Kathy signed her bounty t-shirt, Steve received the $5K bounty. And $1 million plus a bracelet, trophy, and a $25.5K entry into the WPT Championship at Bellagio next month.

Steve does his own interpretation of the lion dance as the final card is dealt

And yes, my suspicions were confirmed. Mike Sexton never appeared, and the traditional toast to the winner never happened. (And it would have been apple juice again anyway, since it was still about 90 minutes before first call.) So, for whatever reason, he and Vince were definitely not there. Instead, the sweet, petite, and very poker-savvy Amanda Leatherman interviewed Steve sitting behind all his brand new swag.

Steve Brecher guest-starring on the early morning Amanda Leatherman show

So I had attended back-to-back record-setting sessions. And they could hardly have been more different. Commerce: 303 hands, and the loose-weak amateur player at the table somehow managed to out-draw everyone else. Bay 101: 319 hands, two incredibly tough pros playing nearly mistake-free and fighting to the bitter end. Kathy and Steve almost always got their chips in with the best of it during the entire tournament. I don't know how you can play much better than that. And it was gratifying to see the best players get the deepest.

But I'm mystified by Mike and Vince's absence. It could simply be a cost-cutting measure by the WPT. Mike and Vince don't fly coach. And most of their commentary is studio voice-over anyway. Or maybe Mike and Vince don't like the long hours with the revised player-friendly final table blind structures. (They were visibly exhausted at 2:30 AM at Commerce, and I can't fault them for that.) I suppose it'll all come out later. I'm not going to sweat it.

Next year, if there is a WPT event at Bay 101 at all, I'll be sure to get there earlier in the week and score a chip numbered in the low two-digits. Meanwhile I might be able to get out to Bellagio for the WPT Championship next month...

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