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WPT at Bay 101, March 2010
CEO "Rocket Boy" 04.05.2010


Bay 101 appears to be booming, and if the uptick in the economy isn't just a head fake, even better times are ahead. The poker floor was full of WPT hopefuls and cash game players, of course. But there was some serious gambling action happening on the pit game floor too. I have absolutely no idea what Super Pan 9 or 21st Century Baccarat version 4.0 are, and frankly I don't care. But there were dozens of people who do care, intensely, and they were degenning it up with a vengeance. On a Tuesday afternoon even!

Bay 101 is the closest WPT venue for me, but we were all extremely busy and I could only make it to three of the five days. And we've been so busy since then that I haven't had time to blog. Better late than never.

Day 1B
The place was packed. I had only been to the TV table tapings of the Bay 101 WPT events, so the crowds were kind of a shock. People were camped out on the rail with chairs and drinks, rooting for their buddies still in the event.

One thing that struck me was that only about half the poker floor was being used for the WPT main event. The other part of the room was packed with the usual limit and "spread limit" cash games. I have no clue about the economics of it all, but it seems to me that the WPT should be able to use the whole Bay 101 poker floor for their main event. This might eliminate the need to split day 1 into two seatings.

I watched Mike Sexton and Todd Brunson play for a while, and both played the short stack well. Sexton started shoving, won several pots uncontested, then managed to triple up to gain new tournament life.

Mike Sexton sweats an all-in, Todd Brunson watches. No call this time, but Sexton tripled up later.

I also watched two players at Sexton's table, specifically because they had radically different styles. One guy, who looked like a smaller Jim McManus with a black hat, played very aggressively. He played many pots, was capable of aggressive play on any street, was rarely called when he bet out or raised, watched his opponents through his shades as each board card came out, kept quiet, and built up a tough image. He also took a long time to make decisions, especially when another player had shoved. But nobody called the clock on him. He was one of the chip leaders at Mike Sexton's table, and seemed unbeatable.

The other player whom I observed was the same guy I noticed last year, named Frank. He got run over by Chau Vu at the '09 Bay 101 WPT event, and he got run over this year too. But this time Frank was getting pushed around by two opponents, on his right. They took turns raising him off his big blind. And when he did stand up to the pre-flop pressure, he played the flop extremely cautiously and rarely won a pot.

For example, I saw Frank call a raise pre-flop, then bet-fold the flop when the pre-flop raiser popped him. If there is such a thing as a "continuation steal," this was it, and Frank was its victim. He walked over to his buddy next to me on the rail and said "I just know he had a set." I could see the frustration in his eyes and body language, and certainly everyone else at the table could too.

This kept happening, so naturally he got short stacked. He had to shove while he still had enough chips to actually hurt people if he doubled through them. He did manage to chip up slightly, but the blinds went up and he busted after only a few more all-ins. I didn't even notice, since he left without a peep and I was tweeting.

Phil Hellmuth in a relatively serene mood

Phil Hellmuth was playing at the table next to Sexton's, and there was quite a crowd along the rail there. Most of the time Hellmuth just sat there quietly, iPod earbuds in, shades on, happy to be the center of attention. But then the inevitable happened. One of the "amateurs" at the table put a beat on him and Hellmuth launched into one of his signature hissy fits.

This proved to me that it's not an act. There were no cameras on him, it was only day 1B, and yet he swore a blue streak and berated the player who sucked out on him. Much to the amusement of everyone at and around the table.

Day 3
Play continued down to 30 players on day 2, and on day 3 the plan was to play down to 7, redraw and combine the players into a final table, then eliminate the TV bubble player. The poker floor was closed as the WPT crew built up the set, so play had moved to the far corner of the pit game floor.

I watched two specific players at one table, again with vastly different playing styles. Hasan Habib played what seemed like 70 to 80 percent of all hands dealt at his table. He would call small raises or make small raises himself preflop, then continue with mild aggression and reasonably sized bets or calls from the flop onward. During one stretch it seemed like he played every hand for nearly two 5-handed orbits.

This worked fine for him, and it helped to establish him as an aggressor at the table without risking too much of his stack on any one hand. He did, of course, have some swings, but he never lost enough chips to be in danger. In fact, he made the TV table playing this way.

In contrast to Habib's loose and mildly aggressive style, local player Matt Keikoan played almost no hands. And when he did, he usually won without a showdown. He took a long time to act, and when he bet out or raised, most of his opponents, including Habib, would snap-fold. He had created such a tight image that any action from him was a red flag.

This style worked for Keikoan, as he too made the TV table. His tightness might have been a way of dealing with the aggressive Habib on his immediate left. Keikoan 3-bet Habib several times to take the pot down uncontested.

The start of 3-handed play. The players all seemed to genuinely like each other.

Day 4: the TV Table
Phil Hellmuth is arguably a local hero, since he and his family reside in Palo Alto, just a 20 minute drive up highway 101 with light traffic. So this is Hellmuth's home event, if there ever was one. All the more reason for him to want to win it. Despite all his WSOP bracelets and commercial success, a WPT win has so far eluded him. He's made four WPT final tables and played a few WPT invitational TV special events but hasn't quite gone all the way yet.

We all had visions of Hellmuth buying us a round of Dom Perignon like he did when he won the 2005 National Heads-Up Poker Championship. But, as we have seen innumerable times, he is not immune to being 3-outed on the river and was the first TV bustout. He called all-in with the best of it, holding QQ vs. Andy Seth's AJ and yes, an ace came out on the river.

Hellmuth sat there stunned for a moment, shook some hands, then stepped off the stage and collapsed into the fetal position. Further proof, as if we needed any more, that he desperately craves a WPT title. He eventually stood up, walked out, then returned to sign his bounty t-shirt for Seth. Fortunately he managed to restrain his comments and made a relatively graceful exit from the stage. (His exit interview, however, will probably not be so magnanimous.)

Matt Keikoan was next to bust, in 5th, and I fear that his TV image will not be good. He sat there like a rock, folding for hours, and when put to the test he would make a silly grin, look around, then fold. His tightness continued from previous days' play, and perhaps he was uncomfortable with the lights and TV cameras. Keikoan just never got the card rush he seemed to be waiting for. Vince Van Patten is most likely going to make fun of him in his voiceover, and Mike Sexton is sure to point out his rockiness.

Hasan Habib is very different in real life than we have seen in his TV appearances. I thought he'd be quiet, reserved, withdrawn. Instead he was actually friendly and outgoing when I talked to him on breaks. I asked him if he had been bluffing on some of the hands he won without a call, and he said he would tell me after the tournament was over. He made good-natured wisecracks during TV table taping and actually got up and did a victory lap after getting a walk in the big blind. He busted in fourth (and I never got another chance to ask him if he was bluffing.)

At one point, McLean Karr bought drinks for his cheering section and everyone else in that grandstand. Feeling sorry for us in the other grandstand, O'Brien bought us all drinks as well. Immediately after busting Hellmuth, Seth effectively gave all of Hellmuths' chips to O'Brien by doubling him up. So O'Brien had reason to celebrate. (I ordered a gin Martini. Thanks Dan!)

Dan O'Brien tries to project confidence after shoving with J2. It was his last hand.

Unfortnately for O'Brien, he was next out. He rode a hot streak on the previous day to make the TV table. But he recklessly shoved with J2, got called by Karr with 77, and O'Brien was out. He had gotten close to several TV tables at previous events, so this was his TV debut after getting close so many times.

I should mention that there were more all-ins at this TV table than in the combined two or three previous WPT events I railed. I'm writing this weeks after the fact, but looking back at my tweets there were all kinds of double-ups, chopped all-in pots and just major chip movement overall. This is going to be an exciting WPT episode for sure.

But one thing that will be missing in this year's show is the lion dance. For whatever reason, the lion dancers weren't around. Last year the poor guys had to wait around from 4pm until early morning to do the money presentation show, so maybe they simply didn't want to do it any more.

Karr consoles O'Brien after his bustout. Maria Ho in the house!

Andy Seth does his pre-heads-up interview

Bigger Bets Heads-up
Bay 101 WPT events have a history of being grueling marathons when play gets to heads-up. Due to Matt Savage's relatively slow blind structure at the Bay 101 events, previous years' heads-up battles have been endurance tests of patience, reading skill, and sheer will power. Even the shorter-stacked player could still be deep enough to be able to play post-flop.

Karr and Seth instantly removed any fears of another marathon when Karr moved in on the first heads-up hand. We all suddenly realized it could all be over just like that. Seth stood up, tanked, then sat down and quietly folded. They shoved far more than any other heads-up players at any WPT that I've ever seen. (I've heard that Vivek Rajkumar's WPT victory was quite the slidefest.)

Despite all the swingy lead changes and all-in action, by 2am McLean Karr and Andy Seth were roughly even again. They seemed to slow down, as if catching their breath before the final battle. The spectre of hours and hours of more heads-up play loomed briefly as play slowed way down. Karr and Seth traded blinds for many hands in a row, and I started to get a little worried.

We Have a Winner!
The Karr vs. Seth battle royale ended just 45 minutes later with a knockout for Karr, but the two were evenly matched and it could have easily gone either way. Karr's 88 held up against Seth's 44. It was a wild, swingy, aggressive match, and it's guaranteed to be great poker TV when it airs.

More words of consolation, this time for Seth after he busted in second.

Karr hamming it up for the press. Congratulations McLean!

Next: WPT Championship at Bellagio

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