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WPT Bicycle Legends of Poker 2009
CEO "Rocket Boy" 08.27.2009

The Bicycle and the WPT
My first impression of the Bike is that it looks like a bowling alley with a super-sized parking lot. It's what many casinos would look like without attached hotels. The main poker room looks somewhat like a scaled down Commerce with simpler décor. But the brand spanking new Event Center, where the WPT set was built, is Bellagio-esque. Marble floors, gigantic chandeliers, and tasteful carpeting are all part of a significant upgrade package.

You'd hardly know it sitting in the WPT grandstands though. The stage and set are exactly the same, and there may be one or two new people on the production crew, but the core group is still together. Even Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten were there, commenting on the hands actually shown down and miscellaneous intros and outros. And although the World Poker Tour apparently has yet another prospective owner, things appear to remain exactly as they were.

Except for one thing. The total number of players dropped by over 25% year-over-year. (Last year: 373, this year: 279.) This is due partly to the economy, with fewer well-heeled amateurs taking a shot at WPT glory. But another factor is the rise of competing poker series in Europe and Asia. The EPT Kiev and APPT Macau drew players away from the WPT Legends of Poker event, and it's unlikely that European and Asian players would ever choose a U.S.-based WPT event over a concurrent and closer EPT or APPT event.

Your Legends-in-Waiting
This particular final table had 3 relatively well-known players and 3 unknowns. Of the two amateurs, Kevin Schaffel and Sam Stein, Schaffel has a far higher profile. He's already locked in $1.2 million by making the WSOP Main Event November Nine, while Stein seems to be the token random guy.

Toto Leonidas has the most TV time, on various WSOP events and the 2003 U.S. Poker Championship which he won, defeating none other than Erik Seidel heads-up. Prahlad Friedman is perhaps the second best known of the final six, and although he's been featured on ESPN's WSOP coverage (and has won a WSOP bracelet) he was still looking for a big high-profile win.

Play at the TV table ranged from rocky tightness to reckless calling, and it should be pretty good poker TV when it's aired. Here are the final six players and the chips they had at the start of TV table play:

Seat Player Stack
1 Sam Stein    743k
2 Todd Terry  2.22m
3 Kevin Schaffel  2.23m
4 Prahlad Friedman  1.48m
5 Mike Krescanko  1.21m
6 Toto Leonidas    580k

Mike! We hardly knew ya!

Mike Krescanko Lasts 5 Hands
Who was that masked man? Mike and Sam both went a little crazy on hand #1 and Mike got his legs chopped out to show for it. Mike doubled up Sam with his Q-10. Mike made top pair when a queen came on the flop, called Sam's covering all-in, and spiked running diamonds for the queen-high flush. But those same running diamonds gave Sam the nut flush with his A-K. This was the first of two diamond flush hands involved in critical all-ins.

Now he was the short stack, so Mike needed to make something happen. A-Q offsuit could have been that something, but Prahlad's K-K said otherwise. Mike played for more than 4 days, outlasted 273 other players, and won just 9 buy-ins. This is another effect of smaller fields: to guarantee $1 million for first, the prize money for all other places is reduced.

Sam Stein prepares to accept his fate: 5th place

Sam Stein played well, but it really looks like he has one of those eye movement tells. He seems to move his eyes up and down a lot when he's bluffing, but he stares at a single spot on the felt when he has a hand. I'll need to watch the episode when it's aired to confirm this. He raced his K-Q offsuit against Kevin Schaffel's 7-7, a 7 flopped and Sam was drawing dead.

The start of 4-handed play

I finally noticed that Toto isn't just a "deliberate" player. He's got a routine that varies in length, but it's clear that he's trying to get the other guy to flinch. It's not just a staredown like Howard Lederer's or Phil Ivey's. Toto will alternately look at his hole cards, stack and re-stack chips, and look at his opponent. Over and over again. And all this action (or inaction) is puncutated by the occasional pump fake with chips.

The crowd actually started heckling him. "Look five times Toto!" "Call the clock!" If Matt Savage were the Tournament Director, he would have threatened the audience with ejection for commenting on the play of hands ("You will get the escort".) But the Bicycle TDs didn't seem to care. None of the players at the table ever called the clock on Toto, and come to think of it, he probably never took more than 90 seconds or 2 minutes. But he went through the process on almost every hand he played, and many that he didn't play.

Once when Toto was in the big blind, he took an unusually long time to fold. I noticed that he was facing the official tournament timer display. And sure enough, he didn't muck until the blinds had gone up, ensuring that the new higher big blind would hit Sam, who was even shorter stacked than Toto at the time. It's one thing to take a long time to try to get information from your opponent and get a read. It's another thing to deliberately stall to try to tilt the table and get an advantage.

Toto keeping it light

All of this is perfectly legal of course. But if he was trying to get Kevin or Prahlad to crack, or to tilt them by acting slowly, it was a lost cause. Kevin has so much WSOP money locked up already that he's un-tiltable. Prahlad is so confident and mentally tough that apparently only Jeff Lisandro can tilt him. And anyway, intentionally stalling when you're the short stack hurts you more than anyone else. Time is not on your side.

Toto celebrating with his railbirds after doubling up on a suckout

Toto's actual betting was like light switch: on or off. He either folded or moved all-in. This allowed him to survive by stealing the blinds and antes. And it helped him outlast two players even thought he started play as low man. You need to be in to win it, and I doubt Toto was simply trying to move up the pay scale. Fifth place money was $89k, fourth place $145k, but that $1 million for first would make you forget any amount of short stack torture.

Then Kevin Schaffel started doubling up Toto. First with Toto's K-K holding up against Kevin's 10-10, and again when Toto's Ad-5d turned a flush against Kevin's A-J offsuit. (There's that diamond flush again!) Toto had successfully navigated the short stack minefield and now was nearly even with the chip leaders.

And he would have become chip leader if he'd drawn out against Prahlad. On his last hand, Toto moved in with Ac-9c after flopping the nut flush draw. Prahlad snap-called with A-K offsuit after flopping top pair top kicker. No more clubs came, Toto busted, and Prahlad became the dominant chip leader.

Todd Terry busted out in 3rd place

A professional player with over $1 million in winnings, Todd Terry played a very tough game. He's a talker, asking questions and carefully observing the responses with an unnervingly creepy stare. And after Toto's double-ups, he had become the new short stack. It's one thing for a single big stack to bully three others. But when there are three big stacks and you're low man, there's just nowhere to hide.

Todd needed to make a move. He got his chance when he shoved with 4-4, but ended up losing a race to Prahlad's Ac-Qc when a queen flopped.

Heads-up Play
Now it was time for the heads-up interviews, the money presentation, and what could be a long drawn-out fight to the finish. Although Prahlad out-chipped Kevin by roughly 3.5:1, Kevin wasn't anywhere near panic mode. His M was just under 10, so he had a fair amount of play.

Until he doubled up. All-in on the flop, Kevin had flopped two pair with his Q-3, and Prahlad had flopped a flush draw with his Jc-4c. Prahlad din't get there, and now they were nearly even: Kevin with 3.9 million, Prahlad with 4.5 million. The spectre of a grueling all-night grind-fest made me cringe. Been there, seen that.

Could you handle all this attention as calmly as Prahlad?

Ahhhh, the money presenters...

Both Prahlad and Kevin are talkers, but in different ways. Prahlad asks pointed questions, analyzes hands out loud, and makes scary good reads no matter what his opponent says. Kind of like Negreanu but without all that Mr. Nice Guy schtick. Kevin will talk about his hand when asked, and more or less honestly tells his opponent how he feels, which actually can be confusing. Kind of like Jamie Gold except that Kevin won't give away his hole cards. "Either way is good." These guys were made for each other: the talker-prober and the talker-deceiver.

It was all over after only 20 hands of heads-up play. Hey, that's Jonathan Little and Brian Devonshire!

Prahlad poses with father, wife, friends, family, and winning hole cards

Amanda Leatherman interviews the champ ("You look tired.")

They got it all in the middle on just the 20th hand of heads-up play. Kevin shoved with K-Q offsuit and Prahlad called with the dominating A-Q offsuit. (There's that A-Q again.) Neither player improved, Kevin busted, and Prahlad had become the newest Legend of Poker. He had taken it down in a time-efficient 7.5 hours, with the calm confidence of a winner. He made very few mistakes, and frankly, got lucky on a few big pots. But overall, he played like a champion should. Congratulations to the newest Legend of Poker!

So the WPT could potentially have a bright future with Party Gaming if and when the deal actually goes through. Looking down the road, if the UIGEA is repealed and it becomes easier to play poker for real money in the U.S., Party and the WPT could benefit hugely. They could vastly increase their player counts with online satellites, the way PokerStars does for the EPT.

I think a major reason for the EPT's growing player fields is the large number of non-U.S. players who get in cheaply by winning events online. A side effect of this is weaker fields overall. And large, weak fields attract players from all around the world. So if and when playing poker for real money in the U.S. becomes easier, the WPT and Party Gaming will be ready.

In the meantime, we'll see if the WPT can adapt to the competition. I think they should adjust their schedule to avoid conflicts with the major competing poker tours around the world. Re-scheduling is cheap and relatively easy.

Another step they seem to be taking is to lower the buy-ins in some events. You can play next month's Borgata WPT main event for just $3500. We expect the WPT to thrive in its 8th season, and we'll probably rail the December event at Bellagio.

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