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WPT Championship at Bellagio, Part 1
CEO "Rocket Boy" 04.24.2010


Vegas in the Spring - the perfect place and time for the World Poker Tour Championship. It's the season-ending big buy-in finale, and it happens at just the right time to avoid the searing heat of the desert summer and, believe it or not, the rainy chill of the desert winter. Things will be different next year, as the WPT Championship will be moved a few weeks later to slot in between the EPT Grand Final in Monaco and the beginning of the WSOP.

As usual for this event, an amazingly diverse and extremely strong group of players made it to the final few tables. 195 players entered by the deadline on day 2, and there are differing opinions on whether to buy in early or late. You get the same chips on day 2 as you would on day 1.

Day 1 theorists argue that the more hands you play, the better. Especially when the blinds are low and you're deep stacked with your 100K tournament chips. Day 2 theorists say that it's best to buy in later to avoid the inevitable beats, and unlike lower buy-in events, there won't be more weak players on day 1 anyway. Of course, you're going to be well below average with your brand new 100K stack on day 2, but you'll still have more chips than some players. YMMV.

Day 6
I missed several key bustouts, having got there 2 hours after play started for the day. On day 5, play ended when the final 18 players had reached the money. Day 6 play continued at two tables until the field was reduced to the final table of 10.

Phil Hellmuth, David Benyamine, Shawn Buchanan, Olivier Busquets at the "outer" table

Nguyen, Baxter, O'Shea, Evdakov, and Williams at the featured table

Shawn Buchanan talks with his Canadian buddies

David Williams explains a hand to his friends. He looks different with hair!

Scotty Nguyen sweating an all-in. He doubled up with a flopped set of 9s vs. David W's 10-10 with flopped straight draw.

David Williams interviewed by the adorable Jacque Williams (no relation). Blue Diamond Almonds player of the day!

Day 7
Final table play moved to the high-limit area of Bellagio's actual poker room. And, surprisingly, the WPT TV set was being built in the Fontana Lounge, just like the old days. It's far smaller than the ballrooms in the Spa tower, but it's a spectacular venue with its view of the Fountains of Bellagio and the Strip.

Amarillo Slim and a fan

The high-limit room is just barely big enough to hold the WPT final table, plus online media and their equipment, plus video camera and sound crew, plus 360 degree camera operators. Yup. That odd camera-studded ball over the table provides a 360-degree view of the table and surroundings with its special image-stitching software. It was being used experimentally at this event to record video but is apparently capable of live streaming.

All this activity crammed into a small area made for inconvenient spectating. But hey, I wouldn't otherwise be able to set foot in the high-limit area. Several players walked in, carrying racks of chips, only to be turned away. I did hear the brush announcing some pretty big games on the main floor, like 10/20 NLH, 80/160 LHE, and 40/80 O8, for example.

The final table. Note the avant-garde All 360 Poker "camera ball" above the table.

Some WPT final table play is full of relatively ordinary hands. Top pair top kicker vs. underpair, set vs. missed straight draw, etc. This final table was like "Clash of the Titans" on occasion. There were gruesome river beats and stone nuts vs. second nuts hands that played themselves.

For example, Cliff Josephy busted in 10th place when his full house was crushed by David Williams' straight flush. Josephy had flopped a set, Williams had flopped a straight. The turn gave Josephy a full house, but Williams had redrawn to a straight flush draw. And he hit it on the river. Ouch. An auto-bust hand. You can't live in fear of straight flushes.

And, I almost hate to say it, but Phil Hellmuth didn't exactly cover himself in glory. He seems to forget the fact that he's rivered many people when he rants about being rivered himself. Phil got nearly all of Nikolay Evdakov's chips on two river suckouts.

The first beat he put on Evdakov was your classic 2-outer suckout. Evdakov held KK, Hellmuth held JJ, and the river was a jack. The second was slightly less brutal but it ended Evdakov's tournament. He rivered the nut flush to take the rest of Evdakov's stack, which was critically short at this point. Evdakov was the 9th place finisher.

Now, some players would just STFU at this point after being blessed by the Poker Gods like that. But not Phil. He humbly accepted the chips but still was rather short-stacked against some truly tough opponents. This isn't the scenario that Phil likes. If I were to guess, I'd say that Phil prefers being up against 2,000 amateurs rather than 7 hardened pros. So the seeds of tilt had been sown and they only needed a little warmth, water, and sunshine to blossom.

Those seeds bloomed in all their glory as players took turns swiping Phil's blinds. It's been well-documented that Phil is willing to sit there and rope-a-dope until his stack has dwindled to just a few big blinds. So, David Benyamine raised Phil off a hand and pop: the tilt bud blossomed into the tilt flower and just kept on blooming. Phil showed Ace-10, Benyamine showed Kings.

Phil: "I almost shipped with Ace-10... I'm suspicious of you and David Williams." Benyamine responded, with his disaming smile: "I might call you anyway." [Update: here is the All 360 Poker video of the hand and the start of Phil's lengthy tirade.]

Meanwhile, 8-handed play continued amidst all this drama. Until Scotty busted. This is another auto-bust hand, with Scotty's set of 8s up against David Benyamine's set of 10s. One spectator argued that Scotty could have tried to keep the pot small, and gotten off the gas due to the scary board texture on the latter streets. But no, that's just not Scotty's thing. No small ball grinding here. Three 8s is good enough for Scotty to go broke with, and he did exactly that.

Scotty Nguyen and Phil Hellmuth

OK, so now we're on the TV bubble, and Phil Hellmuth is the short stack. It doesn't really matter who is the short stack. The bigger stacks are all on one blind-steal tag team and the short stack is on the other team. Bad news for Phil.

I regret having to report this, but this is not my opinion. It's objective fact, many observers witnessed it, and for completeness it needs to be said. Phil got so steamed at one point that he knocked his chip stack over. He went on a 20-minute-plus tantrum, saying things like "I'm the weak blind. I'll check-call then fold to you."

Then Billy Baxter pushed Phil off a hand. Hours before that, Phil had told Shawn (and the entire table) "I'd call you with ace ten but not Billy." So, naturally, Billy used that against Phil.

Phil yelled at Shawn again: "All I need is Queen Jack against you!" And Shawn probably had that statement in mind when he called Phil's all-in. Phil showed King Ten, Shawn rolled Ace Jack, and Phil was the TV bubble boy in 7th place.

Phil's wife had been sitting quietly just a few feet away, but after his elimination she was nowhere to be seen. Phil shook the other players' hands, but then sat at a nearby table, head on the table, hands over his head, for at least five minutes. He's gotten so close to winning a WPT event at least three times, but just couldn't quite get there.

Some Scotty Anecdotes
Booze wasn't allowed at the actual final table so Scotty's friend ordered beers for him at a nearby table. Scotty had been drinking Michelob Ultra (a light beer) until his friend switched him to O'Doul's with no alcohol. Tournament Director Jack McLelland walked by, noticed the change and jokingly said "After the first ten they all taste the same anyway."

Scotty missed a hand when play resumed without him after a break. He apparently goes to the same slot machine on every break, puts in $100, and plays. This time he hit a $3K jackpot, and the floor manager had to bring over a form for him to sign as he played the final table.

Next: WPT Championship part 2: TV show taping...

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