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WPT Championship VII Final Table
CEO "Rocket Boy" 04.27.2009

We at FlopTech were shocked and saddened to hear of Justin Shronk's passing. He was a driving force behind Poker Road's radio shows and had contributed hugely to the poker media community in general. Rest in peace, Shronkles. We'll miss you.

View from the Fontana Lounge balcony

Where Is Everybody?
There's no way to avoid it. Attendance at this year's World Poker Tour Championship event was down. Way down. The 338 entrants in this year's Championship event represent a 38% decline from 2008's 545 entrants. And a 47% decline since the peak year of 2007. Is it because of the worldwide economic crisis? Is it because poker in general is losing popularity? I think those are both contributing factors.

But I also think the major problem for the WPT, as a poker tournament series, is that it is finally facing heavy competition. The European Poker Tour and other newcomers have some advantages that the WPT simply can't match. The EPT event at San Remo drew nearly 1200 players, its top prize ($1.9 million) was nearly as much as the WPT World Championship's ($2.1 million) and its buyin was only $7k as opposed to the WPT World Championship's $25.5k. And right after the San Remo event, the EPT Championship will be played just next door in Monaco.

Larger fields with lower buyins means more dead money, and the convenience factor of back-to-back events so near each other can't be overlooked. So, if you're a pro looking for the best EV, and you have to decide between the EPT or WPT events, you might go with the EPT. Especially if you're European.

But the real reason for the EPT San Remo's huge field is Poker Stars. Poker Stars satellited many players into the event. A large portion of the field got in for a small fraction of the straight buyin. This is an advantage that the WPT simply can't match. ClubWPT hasn't really caught on, and it doesn't satellite players into the WPT live events anyway. Bad news for the WPT, but I think simply re-scheduling the WPT events to allow at least a week before or after any EPT events could significantly boost attendance.

The Final Table
The inhumanely long sessions at Bay 101 and Commerce seem like exceptions to the rule now. This year's WPT World Championship event was spread out over 8 days, guaranteeing short sessions with the relatively small field.

An extremely tough final table

This final table had just one random guy, Ran Azor of Israel. The rest were either well-known, very well-known, or legendary live and / or online pros who have collectively won millions and dominated many final tables:

Seat Player
1 Justin Young
2 Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier
3 Bruno Fitoussi
4 Scotty Nguyen
5 Brian Rast
6 Eugene Katchalov
7 Shannon Shorr
8 Yevgeniy Timoshenko
9 Christian Harder
10 Ran Azor

Ran Azor must have known that he was the weak spot at the table. He played very cautiously and didn't ever get too far out of line. In fact, I heard that he had folded KK face up earlier in the tournament instead of calling all-in. This created quite a buzz in the Fontana lounge. After that, when he did make an occasional open raise or re-raise, people usually believed him.

And since Ran knew that everyone else knew he was rock solid, when they re-raised him, he usually folded. Probably figuring that if he was playing so tight, they'd put him on a good pair. So a re-raise would mean that they must have a better pair. Right? Maybe, maybe not. One of the problems with playing tight and folding big hands face up is that people will take shots at you. "Hey, if he folds kings, how can he call my shove?"

On one particular hand, I saw him sit there and go through all kinds of motions for 2 or 3 minutes after Scotty re-raised him preflop. At first I thought he was just posturing after getting snapped off, but he verged on angle-shooting several times. He'd do a backhanded wave as though moving all-in, but he said nothing. Then he'd rub his head, mutter something, then do the fake-all-in-wave again. It was as though he were trying to make Scotty flinch.

Of course it didn't work. Ran folded his pocket tens face up. Scotty showed AJ offsuit, perhaps to try to get Ran to loosen up a bit. The nine other players were probably thinking "The sooner we bust the amateur, the sooner we all move up the pay ladder."

Scotty Nguyen on a break

Although it's only an 11% difference in player count, 10-handed play tends to be tigher than 9-handed play. Such was the case at this final table. There was action, to be sure, but the deeper-stacked players were clearly in no hurry to whip up the action.

And what a bunch of stone-faces! There was precious little talk and even fewer smiles. Even the two 21 year olds (Yevgeniy and Christian) acted like local old school rocks building frequent-player bonuses at a $2/$4 game. Granted, there wasn't much of an audience to play to, since most of the top big-name players had already been eliminated. But this looked to be one of the quietest TV tables in WPT history, along the lines of the LAPC at Commerce earlier in the year.

First out was Bruno Fitoussi with the ace magnets: pocket kings. Yevgeniy Timoshenko called with AJ, and, as you might have guessed, flopped an ace. Bruno was out in 10th place. This hand set the stage for remainder of the tournament, really. It wouldn't be Yevgeniy's only lucky hand...

Ninth place went to the 2007 Five Diamond Classic winner Eugene Katchalov. He was the short stack at the start of play and eventually was forced to reraise all-in with J7. Ran Azor reraised all-in with AK and turned broadway to bust Eugene. Broadway would come back to haunt Ran at the TV table.

Eighth place went to Justin Young in a suck-resuck hand. His 99 flopped a set, but Brian Rast's QQ rivered a bigger set. Lots of drama there, but in the end the best hand held up.

The Final Six
TV bubble time. Bubble boy this year was Brian Rast. He had a decent hand, AK, but he ran into Yevgeniy's KK. This time the ace magnets failed to pull an ace out of the deck and Brian didn't improve. We had our final six. The players quietly congratulated each other and had that "Wow, we're going to be on TV tomorrow" gleam in their eyes. Yevgeniy would go into the TV table as the chip leader with over 13 million.

Playing from ten down to six took only about five hours. They could have easily played down to the TV six on the previous day, instead of stopping with ten players left in the late afternoon. Bellagio and the WPT were clearly expecting more players this year.

Jack McClelland doing an interview

So we were done early for once! It was still sunny, the Bellagio fountains were doing their dance, and I actually had time to enjoy a cigar on the Fontana balcony.

Tomorrow: the TV table...

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