Championship Day Four

The Poker Mi#ion Championship Day Four: "Darling, If You Are Listening, I Did Win!"

THE ISLE OF MAN - John Duthie, winner of the inaugural Poker Mi#ion, is now a hero to millions of married men around the world, but not because he played brilliant poker en route to winning 000,000.

As Duthie stood on the victory stand, accepting his trophy in front of a live television audience, a member of the press asked if his wife was watching the event.

"Probably not," the London native said, "She hates that I play poker. Some friends are watching, and I was trying to encourage her to go watch with them, but she didn't want to go, said she didn't want to pollute the children with it."

Duthie paused for a moment, smiled, and then said, "Darling, if you are listening, I DID win."

Every man in the world who has difficulty getting out of the house for his weekly poker game will now be able to point to Duthie, an amateur player who holds down a full time job as a television director, and say, "Darling, think what this could mean!"

It won't work, of course, but Duthie has at least given we lads who fancy a friendly little game now and then some more ammunition.

WHO NEEDS CARDS WHEN YOU HAVE HEART?

As for his time at the final table itself, Duthie didn't need much in the way of ammunition. He played flawless poker, completely outplaying every opponent, and winning almost every chip he had with heart, nerve, correct moves, and accurate reads instead of cards.

Because we were all watching using the under the table camera technology (there were no press or spectators in the room; indeed, I needed, I kid you not, a VIP pass and to pass both a pat down search and an electronic scan just to be allowed in to see the facility an hour before the event started), we were all able to see how well he played.

1994 World Champion Russ Hamilton came up to me after the event and said, "Did you believe that? He played so well it was scary. I'm not sure anyone has ever played a final table at a major event that well."

Enough accolades. Let's go ahead and explain just what Duthie did that got him his 000,000 (and at least a few more quid on top of that: the folks at UltimateBet have already sponsored him into next year's Poker Mi#ion, and I doubt seriously that his sponsorship opportunities will end there).

When we started play, the seats and chip positions were:

Seat       Player   Chips     Nationality

1              Tony "the Lizard" Bloom               270,000 London, England

2              Gary Lent            302,000 Los Angles, CA, USA

3              Barney Boatman              89,000   Hendon, England

4              John Duthie        204,000 London, England

5              Ian Dobson         231,000 Lapworth, England

6              Teddy Tuil           464,000 Tel Aviv, Israel

The finalists played in an elaborately constructed temporary building set up exclusively for the event, and on a table that resembled a large blackjack table more than a conventional poker table. Unlike the WSOP, where the $1,500,000 cash gets brought out in "the traditional cardboard box" when play gets down to two finalists, here the 000,000 was already sitting in an elaborate gilded cage that looked like something Long John Silver would use to keep treasure in before he buried it.

With the blinds at 000-10,000, and 000 antes, it would cost the participants ,000 a round to sit on the sidelines, and with the button coming around every six hands, that didn't leave the short stacked Barney Boatman much time to make a move.

BOATMAN SINKS EARLY

Unfortunately for Boatman, his fellow competitors knew this, and were liable to take stands against him and his short stack. Ten minutes into the competition, Boatman made a move with A-4, and Ian Dobson didn't have a tough time playing along with A-Q (although due to an early technical glitch, the television audience wasn't able to learn Dobson's hand until Boatman stood up to leave).

The board came A-J-7-K-5, and because we knew Boatman had an ace, we thought he might be winning, but we then learned Dobson had him outkicked. It took the TV people a little while to get the hang of how to handle the broadcast-although the introduction was elegant and classy-but within a half hour or so, everything was running smoothly.

Gary Lent, the lone American to make the final, started in second chip position, and came out playing aggressively, but after one initial success (The Lizard raised to 25k from the button, Lent re-raised to 75k, and the Lizard passed) every aggressive move backfired. Several times he made the initial raise, and every time someone played back at him. He never had a hand he could call with, and never tried a re-steal. His chip total dropped steadily.

Meanwhile, the local lads were showing everyone that no-limit poker has a lot less to do with cards than most people think. Dobson, holding K-5, bet out at a J-7-2 flop, and Duthie, who had no reason to be optimistic holding A-4, moved all-in. Even though it turned out to be the best hand, Duthie had no way to know this, and Dobson naturally folded in the first of numerous steal-re-steal confrontations.

GO JOHNNY GO

Duthie really started getting the crowd's attention (we were all crammed into the Hilton's bar, which had been converted into a combination "TV stadium," bar, and interview booth) when the Lizard raised from late position holding K-2. Duthie called with Q-J, and we got to look at a flop of A-2-3.

The Lizard (by the way, I'm not obsessed with his nickname-he told me he prefers to be addressed by it) bet out ,000, and Duthie, holding absolutely nothing, and staring straight into a scare card and a second consecutive bet from the Lizard, moved all-in. The Lizard had to let his small pair go, and the crowd, many of whom were keeping the barmen busy pulling pints, started chanting "Go Johnny, Go Johnny, Go Johnny."

I felt like I was watching a Michigan-Ohio State football game in a bar with a bipartisan crowd, instead of a sedate poker tournament. Being able to see the players' hole cards turns poker from a participant sport into a great spectator sport.

In just about every poker movie ever made, someone holding four Jacks beats someone holding a full house. Today, the big confrontations were won by someone with an iron pair of cojones beating someone who couldn't take the heat.

I'm not sure what kind of cojones reptiles have, but the Lizard showed he had a bit of iron when he raised pre-flop with 4d-5d, only to get called by Dobson and his K-Q. The players checked the J-9-6 flop, but the Lizard led out on the turn, when another Jack hit the board, and Dobson called. The river brought a 2, leaving the Lizard with about as bad a hand as could be imagined, he bet again, and Dobson released his hand.

OUTPLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

Nope, this wasn't a poker movie. The worst hand kept outplaying the best hand.

Meanwhile, Lent was trying to get back into the game, and holding A-6, raised a pot to 25k, only to get played back at yet again, this time by Dobson and his A-9. Lent was no doubt tired of getting played back at, but his decision to call the 60k raise seemed a bit shaky. This was probably one of those hands he either needed to release (tough because he had already released so many when played back at) or to move in with, but it's a lot easier to say that knowing Dobson had only A-9.

The flop came J-8-8, Lent checked, Dobson moved in with his absolute nothing, and Lent had no choice but to fold, leaving him down near 100k and in big trouble, especially since the blinds then moved up to 000-16,000 (the antes remaining at 000).

"Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie," came a spirited if not very musical cheer from one corner of the room. We Yanks were just as heavily outnumbered in the stands as we were at the final table.

The best hand actually won some money when Dobson took 7-7 against the Lizard's A-6, and Dobson flopped a set. It looked like Dobson might break the Lizard with the hand, but after getting called twice, the Lizard decided it was time to stop pushing, and although wounded by the hand, he wasn't quite ready to be skinned and turned into luggage.

We got back to the worst hand having its way when Duthie raised pre-flop with Q-5, got called by "Sugar" Teddy Tuil (he keeps sugar cubes on top of his chips) and his big blind K-9, and we saw a flop of A-9-5. Tuil bet out, Duthie played back at him with bottom pair (figuring, probably, that if Tuil had had an ace, he would have played back pre-flop), and Tuil had to lay the best hand down.

"Go Johnny, Go Johnny, Go Johnny"

Johnny kept going when the Lizard, holding A-5, bet out at a K-8-2 flop, and Duthie played back at him with his favorite worthless hand, J-Q. The Lizard again had no choice but to fold.

A-10 BEATS SUPERSTITION

The inferior hand struck again soon, in an odd way. The short-chipped Lent, obviously in desperate shape, pushed all-in with A-10. Sugar Tuil made a not very sweet fold of J-J, stunning the crowd, until a friend explained that Tuil is extremely superstitious about pocket jacks, feeling that he always loses with them.

I'm not sure I blame him for the superstition-Jacks are a very tough no-limit hand in any situation where you might face a re-raise or have to play on after a flop-but not calling here seemed like taking a reasonable idea too far.

Lent continued trying to push his way back into contention, and picked up one uncalled pot by moving in with 5-6 and another with 6-6, but made one move too many by shoving his stack in with J-6, and Duthie had a pretty easy call with 10-10. Dobson quite correctly tossed 7-7 into the muck; that's not a hand you want to take against two opponents. The flop came K-J-9, sending Lent into the lead, but an 8 on the turn left Duthie live to a Q, 10, or 7 on the river, and he spiked the 10 to send the final American out in 5th place.

Duthie then decided to show he could beat two superior hands at once when he took Q-9 against Dobson's A-7 and Tuil's Q-10. The flop came J-5-2, Duthie checked, Dobson bet, Tuil folded, Duthie raised with nothing but nerve, and Dobson had no choice but to fold.

SENATOR, YOU'RE NO JOHN DUTHIE

People who whine about never holding any cards are forever going to be silenced by replies of "I guess you're just no John Duthie" after today.

Duthie made another weaker hand stand up the old fashioned way, by sucking out, when the short stacked Lizard moved in pre-flop with K-6 and Duthie and his rising mountain of chips decided to play sheriff (or perhaps I should say Bobbie or Constable) with Qc-9c. The board came J-Q-J-8-10, and the Lizard headed to the lounge to collect his fourth place trophy.

As we went to commercial (boy, is it ever fun to type that about a poker tournament), the chip counts stood at:

John "Who Needs Cards?" Duthie            9,000

"Sugar" Teddy Tuil           8,000

Ian "Reindeer" Dobson 3,000

OK, I admit to making up "Who Needs Cards" but "Reindeer" is another one of those nicknames they have over here. It must make life fun. "Where are you going, dear?" "Oh, just out for a quick one with Aces, Devilfish, Sugar, Reindeer and the Lizard."

When we returned from the break, Sugar stole the blinds with 6s-8s, and in one of the more comical moments we've had in a week full of comical moments, accidentally left the two cards on top of the glass camera window, right out in plain sight, as the next deal began, and no one-not the players, dealer, or Jack McClelland-noticed until action on the hand had commenced.

THIS WAS A HOLD'EM GAME, RIGHT?

The audience was howling, because we could see the cards clearly on the TV. Finally someone noticed that Sugar appeared to be playing Omaha while the others were playing hold'em, and all three players burst into laughter. I'm not sure if this was a very relaxed group, or the unintentional blunder was just a good way to break the tension when the next three places pay 000,000, 0,000, and ,000.

Now relaxed and probably feeling bulletproof, Duthie raised from the button with A-2, and Reindeer popped him back with his pocket threes. Duthie took a long time to think, and finally moved in. As Reindeer considered his options, spirited wagering started up in the bar as to whether he would call or not.

At first, we thought Reindeer would let the hand go-pocket threes are a good betting hand but not all that good a calling hand-but Mike Sexton and Phil Hellmuth pointed out that Duthie had taken so long to move in that Reindeer was probably convinced he didn't have a big pair, just two overcards, and with the money already in the pot, Reindeer was getting at least 3-2 pot odds on a hand where he would be a favorite, if indeed he was up against overcards.

He called, and facing only one overcard, was indeed a nice favorite, but this was Duthie's day. The board came 5-A-10-5-2, and the Reindeer left to pick up his 50,000 quid.

The blinds moved up to ,000-20,000, and the antes to 000, but even with the button coming around every two hands and a round costing ,000, the stacks were big enough that we thought we might be in for a long match. Duthie led 139,000 to 0,000.

THE HEADS-UP DUEL COMMENCES

Tuil had been playing such a cagey waiting game, stealing small pots and not getting involved in big ones, that he might well have earned another nickname, "Steady Teddy," but you don't beat someone playing like Stu Ungar on form with steady play, and everyone sensed Tuil was in trouble.

That sensation grew stronger when Duthie, his small blind on the button, raised with Qc-6h, and Tuil just flat called with Ah-2h. Phil Hellmuth had more than a sensation. "It's over," he said. "If he's just calling with that hand heads-up, it's over."

The flop came Kc-Jc-8c, Tuil checked, Duthie bet his flush draw, and Tuil folded. It wasn't over yet, but Hellmuth was closer to being right than he could have imagined.

THE TRAPPER BECOMES THE TRAPPED

The end came quickly. Tuil had the small blind on the button, and looked down to find A-Q. He made a small raise to ,000, and Duthie, finding A-8, decided to see if Tuil was stealing by raising another 0,000. Tuil flat called, trying to trap Duthie, but as I learned the hard way when I got heads-up in a final at the Peppermill, hands like A-K and A-Q are lousy heads-up trapping hands. If you do hit an ace, you're not likely to get much action, and if you don't hit one, you're vulnerable to your opponent flopping some random card.

The flop came 8-8-2, and the room roared. We knew who was going to win the hand; the only question was whether or not Duthie could trap the trapper. Silly question. There wasn't much John Duthie couldn't do this day.

Duthie checked. "I absolutely froze," he said later, "I didn't want to give anything away." Tuil checked behind him, and a Five hit the turn. With a sizeable pot already sitting there, Duthie made a perfect bet, about ,000-just enough to make it look like a steal (and possibly entice a raise) after a checked flop, just enough to get Tuil to call and get still more pot-committed. On the river, the perfect catch-up card hit, an Ace. Duthie, knowing it would be hard to get Tuil to call if he didn't have an ace, checked, Tuil happily bet, Duthie moved in, and Tuil, who would have been very short stacked if he folded, called quickly. We had our champion.

A HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT

This was such a hot tournament that about an hour after it was over, the fire alarm went off, and everyone had to clear outside for about half an hour. Turned out to be nothing. I can only assume Duthie walked near a smoke detector. It was a useful exercise, though. I have often speculated about what I would grab if my house was on fire. Not having most of my possessions with me, the selection was more limited, but I settled on my laptop, passport, plane ticket, wallet, and car keys.

SOMETIMES DREAMS COME TRUE

John Duthie is a club player at "the Vic" (Victoria) in London, and got here because he invested 0 in a no-limit tournament at the Vic in October, came third, and won ,000 for his efforts. He decided to invest part of his winnings in the Mi#ion.

He's a dark-haired, ruggedly handsome chap, and was really overcome with emotion for a while. "It feels like a dream. I don't know how to describe it," he said.

For a dreamer, he has his feet on the ground. Asked if he was going to leave his job, he replied quickly, "No, I love my job." Asked if he thought his wife would now change her attitude about poker, he said, "No, she thinks I'm mad now, tomorrow she'll just think I'm rich and mad."

Because he had made so many successful bluffing re-raises at people trying to steal pots, we wanted to know if he had reads or tells on his opponents. "Not really," he said. "I knew that I had established an image as a very tight, solid, conservative player the last three days, and I thought I would take advantage of that today."

Nice plan.

"I knew I was taking some tremendous gambles with some of the re-raises," he continued, "but I wanted to win the event, and to win a tournament like this, you have to be willing to take tremendous gambles. You can't just wait for good cards."

He was sounding less and less like an "amateur" every minute.

Another reporter asked if he had taken poker lessons. "No, you only learn lessons by losing money," he said. Forget this amateur stuff. John Duthie had the right game plan, the right execution, thinks very clearly about how poker works, and blew the field away without holding much in the way of cards until the very last hand. Even on that hand, with his full house, he won because he played the hand much better than his opponent did.

SUGAR PLAYED A PRETTY SWEET GAME HIMSELF

Don't get me wrong when I criticize how Tuil played the final hand; he ain't chopped sugar himself. His game plan throughout the final was to play aggressively but carefully until he got heads up, and he made one mistake once he got heads up. He played a fine final table.

Duthie and Tuil have something else in common. If you've ever read British author Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," (a wonderful science fiction comic farce) you know that "42" is supposed to be "the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything."

The only problem they have in the book, once the Ultimate Computer has finished spending seven and half million years working out the solution to this Ultimate Question, is that the programmers realize that while they have The Answer, they never got around to being specific about what The Question really is.

Apparently today we learned The Question is "how old do you have to be to win lots of money as the two finalists in an event that is forever going to change the face of poker," because John Duthie and Teddy Tuil are both 42.

THE WINDS OF CHANGE ARE BLOWING

Why will the Poker Mi#ion forever change the face of poker? Ladbrokes Casinos is certainly a lot better known than it was a few days ago, and most of the prize money-even with the extra money Ladbrokes threw in at the last moment-still came from the players.

We had a live television event, with a crowd roaring and cheering, and the world got to see in very dramatic fashion that poker isn't about crossing your fingers and hoping you catch good cards, it's about outmaneuvering your opponents. This live television event not only got Ladbrokes a lot of attention, but also provided numerous opportunities for companies to get various logos displayed (you think the UltimateBet people might have been happy about seeing two the two finalists both wearing logo clothing?)

We had two family men (Tuil has four children) who are respectable businesspeople emerge as stars in ways lottery winners never could, and just as Kevin McBride in the 1998 WSOP and Jim McManus in the 2000 WSOP, this success by non-professionals is bound to attract more players to big poker tournaments.

John Duthie is now a rich man, but perhaps not as rich as the poker community in general emerges from the Isle of Man. As you walk outside this Hilton, you see a magnificent white castle looming above it. If corporate sponsorship, public recognition of tournament players, and added prize money are treasures that were formerly locked behind castle walls, I think the Poker Mi#ion just lowered the drawbridge.

I think all the excitement will draw many more players, both European and American, to the event next year, and I think the Americans will like what they find. The casino and live game rooms close at 4:00 a.m. While Americans are accustomed to round the clock gaming, I think they'll be in for a pleasant surprise at what the closing time means.

When the games close, the players aren't ready to hit the pillow, and the geniality and socializing in the bars or lounges is really a fun way to relax with poker friends, in a way that could never happen in a town where the games never close and the stuck players never want to quit.

Let's see money, publicity, excitement, action, adventure, camaraderie, class, and style. Nice job, gents. Thanks a Milion.