Championship Day Three

The Poker Mi££ion Championship Day Three: "Give It Up for Lent"

THE ISLE OF MAN -- When the remaining 20 players began the action on Day Three of the Poker Mi₤₤ion, Los Angeles resident Gary Lent was very nearly last and least among the contenders, if you rank players by chip stacks. He had only ₤44,900 at a time when the average stack was ₤76,000, and only four players had fewer, none of them by very much.

Instead of preparing to use his built-in excuse for failure, Lent prepared to combine luck, skill and tenaciousness to fight his way back into the action, and early on, he used all three to jump into the hunt.

London’s Robin Keston, who had started the day as one of the few shorter stacks at ₤28,900 but who had moved up to over ₤50,000, opened a hand with a raise to ₤10,000. Lent, who had also increased his starting position and moved up to over ₤60,000, looked down, found two sixes, and deciding that faint heart ne’er won fair maid, moved all-in.

A big raise or a pass were Lent’s only reasonable options here. You don’t want to call and play two sixes against two or more opponents in a spot like this.

Another Londoner, Ali Sarkeshik, instantly moved his big stack (in excess of ₤100,000) in behind Lent. Keston decided that a re-raise and a re-re-raise of his opening move meant too much trouble, and decided to fold the second best starting hand in hold’em, pocket kings.

A BIG LAYDOWN THAT WAS TOO BIG

With the action complete, a stunned and relieved Lent turned over his pocket sixes, and Sarkeshik turned over A-K. No ace or king hit the board, and Lent had almost tripled up on the hand Keston yielded, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “giving it up for Lent” and putting Gary back into the title chase.

Keston later explained he had read Sarkeshik as having been in a very tight “no moves” mode, and that this read on Sarkshik’s current playing style, combined with the speed of his re-raise in a situation where Sarkeshik knew his hand would have to face Lent’s and might also have to face Keston’s, convinced him Sarkeshik had aces.

“My tactics,” Keston said in an RGP post entitled “I am Not David Chiu” (Chiu made the famous and correct laydown of pocket kings against Louis Asmo at the 1999 Tournament of Champions final table), “were that I had to get to the final table to win, and that no hold’em hands come with any guarantees.”

Keston held on to his remaining chips for a brief while, but in another of life’s little ironies, he exited not that long thereafter when Lent later raised ₤10,000 from one off the button, Keston moved all-in from the small blind with A-K, and Lent called with pocket kings.

If you’re relatively new to no-limit tournament tactics, you might be baffled by Keston’s willingness to commit all his chips with A-K (a hand vastly inferior to K-K) but not K-K. There were extremely significant differences in the two hands, the key one being that when he played A-K, Keston was raising one player who could well have been stealing in late position, not calling two who had already committed their whole stacks.

Keston’s 15th place finish earned him ₤2,000, the same amount “won” by all finishers 11 through 20. Spots 16-20 went to Henry Nowakowski, Brendan Elliott, Kevin Spillane, Vic Rooney, and Joanne Bortner.

A ₤2,000 win in an event that costs ₤6,000 to enter isn’t really a win, not even if you’re calculating figures in Florida, but it is better than losing ₤6,000. With the benefit of this year’s experience behind them, the Ladbroke folks will next year employ a more conventional prize structure where everyone reaching the money makes a profit.

Lent continued to build his stack when Man Ip bet ₤15,000 of his remaining ₤35,000 at a Q-J-9 flop, Lent moved in, and Ip called. J-10 for Ip, middle pair and an open-end straight draw, but A-J for Lent, middle pair with a better kicker. Ip didn’t improve and exited 14th.

(By the way, today’s article is a bit more technical than my earlier reports have been, as we’ve reached the stage where there are a lot more important hands to observe and report. But even if you’re not a fan of the technical stuff, hang with me, because I ran into one of the funniest gambling stories ever on one of the breaks.)

KEVIN’S SONG: “WE’RE FLIPPING OUT”

Kevin Song, the only American among the chip leaders when the day began, and whose coin flip call of a Phil Hellmuth bluff yesterday had been the talk of the tournament, got to flip his coin again today. With only the blinds and antes in the pot and the board showing J-9-4-7, Song checked, and chip leader Tony “The Lizard” Bloom bet overbet the pot with a ₤50,000 wager. Song called.

The river brought a Five, Song checked again, and Bloom fired ₤68,000 at the pot. Song brought out the magic coin, flipped it skyward, got “tails” this time, and folded.

Song later confided that he had held K-9, and let the hand go because with the pot so large and no obvious realistic draws out there to miss, Song thought the Lizard had to figure Song would call again if he had called the turn. So much for the coin deciding Kevin’s action. He was just giving the crowd a bit of showmanship while engaging in that classic poker game, “I know that you know that I know that you know.”

Speaking of the Lizard, everyone over here seems to have a cool nickname—Aces, Devilfish, and the Lizard are just the tip of the iceberg—and all we poor Yanks can counter with is Ken “Skyhawk” Flaton and Men “the Master” Nguyen. Perhaps Kevin Song can become Kevin “Flipper” Song, although I’m not sure what porpoise would be served by that.

With his stack shortened, Song saw an opportunity to gain ground when Israel’s Teddy Tuil opened for a small raise to ₤7,000. Song found pocket queens and raised it up to ₤25,000. Tuil made an odd re-raise of just ₤25,000, and Song moved in. Tuil called instantly, flipped up pocket aces, and Kevin Song exited 13th.

BOATMAN READS THE BLUFF PERFECTLY

We lost another Kevin, England’s O’Connell, when he put in a small raise from the small blind, called by countryman Barney Boatman in the big blind. The flop came Q-7-4, O’Connell moved in, and Boatman called the ₤40,000 instantly, flipping up 7-9 of diamonds. All O’Connell could show was A-9, and neither the turn nor river saved him. Boatman turned to several of those watching and said, “It (O’Connell’s bet) was an obvious bluff.”

Barney Boatman had only ₤80,000 left when he called half of it with his read on the “obvious bluff,” sending a strong message to the rest of the table that he wasn’t a fellow to be messed with. Boatman is one of England’s finest, and this call showed one of the reasons why.

John Duthie took out Peter Roche when his 9-9 held up against Roche’s A-K, and Sarkeshik took out a short stacked David Welch when Welch moved his stack in with A-Q and Sarkeshik looked down to find A-A, setting a final table that looked as follows:

Seat       Player   Chip Count

1              Tony "Lizard" Bloom       155,000

2              Gary Lent            285,500

3              Barney Boatman              115,500

4              Simon "Aces" Trumper  55,000

5              John Duthie        253,000

6              Mohammed Barkatul     122,000

7              Ali Sarkeshik       135,000

8              Ian Dobson         158,500

9              Teddy Tuil           274,000

Despite high pre-tournament hopes for the Americans, and despite a very strong first day showing by Ireland, the final table consisted of seven English players, one Yank, and one Israeli. Despite a very star-studded field, only two big name players had made the final, Trumper and Boatman, although Sarkeshik wasn’t far behind in reputation. The blinds were ₤1,500-3,000, with ₤500 antes.

SIMON SAYS DON’T COUNT ME OUT TOO FAST

The colorful Trumper, a star here from his success both in regular games and on Late Night Poker, was short-stacked, but still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Trumper opened under the gun for ₤24,000, a not unreasonable raise with ₤9,000 in dead money sitting in the pot and a short stack clearly trying to inch up, but it was one of those tricky “even though I’m short stacked I’m making it look like I’m not committing myself to the pot” bets, and Dobson went for it, re-raising to ₤45,000.

Trumper called the raise and added his final ₤10,000, Dobson of course called and then saw Trumper flip over his trademark A-A. Dobson’s 10-10 didn’t improve, and not only were we still nine-handed, but one of the more dangerous players in the field now had some ammo.

Trumper accumulated some more chips in a dustup with Tuil, and with ₤160,000, looked ready to make a major move when he ran into trouble. Staring at a board of 6s-8h-3h-10h, he called when Bloom bet ₤30,000. The Qc hit the river, and Bloom hurriedly and haphazardly grabbed a couple of stacks of chips and eagerly fired them into the pot. Was it an effort to appear eager, or a trap?

Trumper asked for the jumbled bet to be counted, and it turned out to be ₤67,500, just a bit less than Trumper had left. Trumper considered, I told Jim McManus “small flush for Trumper, big flush for Bloom,” and Trumper decided to call.

Bloom turned over the A-7 of hearts, the nut flush, and Trumper dejectedly showed his 4-6 of hearts, leaving him gutted with only ₤13,500 as the clock went off for the break.

AND YOU THOUGHT YOU’VE MADE SOME BAD BETS…

At this point, one of the railbirds, obviously fooled into thinking my close access to the table made me some kind of expert (the experts, as Amarillo Slim has said on any number of occasions, are the ones sitting at the final table, not the ones talking about it), asked for my opinion about the betting prices listed for the remaining contenders.

“We’ve got some quite good action going in the press room,” he said. “What do you think of this 2-1 price on Lent?”

Two to one seemed like a bad price with seven players left, even though Lent was playing marvelously and held the chip lead, so I asked to see his betting sheet. He produced the chip position sheet that the Ladbrokes people had so efficiently handed to the press at each break, and I observed the “prices” being offered:

Name    Chip Position

Gary Lent 1-2     325,500

Tony Bloom 1-1 265,500

John Duthie 1-5                250,000

Mohammed Barkatul 1-6              207,000

Teddy Tuil 1-9    189,500

Ali Sarkeshik 1-7               163,500

Barney Boatman 1-3       114,500

Ian Dobson 1-8  44,500

Simon Trumper 1-4         13,500

“Um, how much action are the punters putting down on these numbers?” I asked, trying to keep a straight face.

“Quite a lot,” he said proudly, “we’re quite a sporting nation, ye know, even if we aren’t so familiar with the form on these poker players.”

“Well, I think I’d be careful,” I replied. “These aren’t betting odds, they’re seat numbers.”

“Seat numbers?” he asked, not quite believing me, which was fair enough, because I wasn’t quite believing him.

“Yes, definitely,” I said. “Did you really think Trumper should be only 4-1 against eight players when he has almost no chips?”

“We thought he must be a very, very good player,” my friend replied, a true enough statement, but Stu Ungar on the best day of his life wouldn’t have been 40-1 in that chip position, much less 4-1.

I was still half convinced my chain was getting yanked, but my friend hurriedly called several beverage-toting friends over and they produced an appropriate enough mixture of horror and embarrassment to convince me they had indeed been wagering using seat numbers as odds.

Just when I think I’ve seen everything at a poker tournament… well, I guess it’s nice to know there are still a few surprises left.

SIMON SAYS, “I’M HERE TO WIN, NOT SURVIVE”

I spoke with Trumper about the call during the break, asking him if the eager looking, haphazardly-stacked wager had enticed him in. “No,” he said. “I felt my flat call on the turn sent a message that I was drawing at a heart flush, and when the river brought a black queen, I thought the queen might have hit him and he probably thought I had missed.

“If I make the laydown, it’s a fantastic laydown,” Trumper continued, “but you need chips to win this tournament, and if I win that pot, I’m favored to win the tournament.”

A good attitude—wanting to accumulate chips, rather than survival mode, and to play with confidence—but a bad result, and a few hands into the next round, Trumper was forced all-in for his final ₤3,000 (₤1,000 as an ante and ₤2,000 as an incomplete small blind). He found another unfortunate 4-6, and Sarkeshik’s A-6 ended Trumper’s run in 9th place.

BOATMAN AND DOBSON DODGE A FEW SILVER BULLETS

With the blinds now ₤3,000-6,000 and the antes ₤1,000, we were looking to eliminate just two players to set the Sunday televised final table, and at various moments it looked like the two to go would be Boatman and Dobson, who each grew short stacked, but both moved back into contention, Boatman by aggressively moving his remaining chips and Dobson by surviving an A-10 vs. J-J confrontation when he spiked an ace on the river.

The next two hours produced a fair amount of action, but eliminated no one, and when play resumed with blinds up to ₤5,000-10,000 and antes of ₤2,000, I was pretty sure, surprises or no surprises, that the heavy cost of staying on the sidelines (₤31,000 a round) would speed up the action. I wasn’t disappointed.

The chip positions now had shifted to the following, although not all that surprisingly the “prices” hadn’t shifted, including the 1-4 on Trumper, whose chip position was not offering a favorable price even at 40,000,000-1:

Gary Lent 1-2     385,500

John Duthie 1-5                278,000

Teddy Tuil 1-9    266,000

Ian Dobson 1-8  199,000

Tony Bloom 1-1 168,000

Ali Sarkeshik 1-7               107,000

Barney Boatman 1-3       86,000

Mohammed Barkatul 1-6              73,000

Simon Trumper 1-4         0

Boatman moved in under the gun on the very first hand and got no callers, instantly grabbing a useful ₤31,000. Roars of approval came from the cheering crowd, most of whom were probably just pulling for the well known local boy rather than hoping he could come through for them at 3-1.

A few hands later, Lent, seeing a survival mode table that hadn’t been playing back much, opened in early position for ₤25,000, and the now even shorter-stacked Barkatul moved in for his remaining ₤31,000. Sarkeshik instantly moved in for his remaining ₤82,000, a raise of ₤51,000.

THIS PRICE WAS A LITTLE CLOSER TO RIGHT

Lent considered for about a minute, and called.

Ac-2c for Lent, Qc-Jc for Barkatul, and Ah-Jh for Sarkeshik. Suddenly, most of the plays in the hand looked a little shaky.

1) Lent’s leadoff bet was fine; he was just playing poker and moving chips at players who hadn’t been re-popping much.

2) Barkatul’s decision to commit after a raise with a weak hand and plenty more players yet to act seemed questionable, even as short as he was. There was still time to find a better spot and be the bettor rather than effectively being the caller.

3) Sarkeshik, pushing all-in after TWO raises with A-J, and still more players who could wake up with something behind him… well, it had been a long three days, and I could see how it could be tempting to try to grab some chips if you were thinking about winning and not just surviving.

4) Lent’s call for ₤51,000… well, Barkatul wasn’t likely to be a big threat; with a ₤10,000 big blind due shortly and only ₤31,000 in front of him, he could have been moving with almost anything. On the other hand, Lent knew that Sarkeshik knew Lent was getting pretty good pot odds and couldn’t be pushed out of the pot by any future bets, so Sarkeshik figured to have a real hand; it only turned out after the fact to have been a medium ace. But it had been a long day, the price was reasonable (and a hell of a lot more right than the press room “prices”), and the chance to smite two with one blow must have been very hard to resist. Sitting here now, I can think it wasn’t the greatest call in the history of poker, but if I’d been sitting in Lent’s chair at the time, I probably would have done exactly the same thing.

The flop came down K-7-2, sending Lent into the lead, but a Queen hit on the turn and a Four on the river. This gave Barkatul new life with the main pot, but gave Lent the ₤92,000 side pot and sent Sarkeshik out 8th.

MAYBE THEY SHOULD CALL HIM “SHOWBOATMAN”

A while later, Boatman, still short, opened for ₤25,000 under the gun, and Bloom raised it to ₤50,000. Boatman considered the call for a while, and then asked Jack McClelland if he could call for a clock on himself.

(If you’re not familiar with the clock rule, in tournaments a player who feels an opponent has been taking too long to make up his mind can call for a clock, and once the clock starts, the indecisive player has a set period—in the US, usually a minute, but here, 30 seconds—to make up his mind. Once the 30 seconds elapses, a countdown from 10 to zero begins, and if the player has not acted on his hand by the time the count hits zero, his hand is dead.)

“You want a clock on yourself?” McClelland asked.

“I play better under pressure,” Boatman joked. McClelland said he’d never seen it in 20 years of tournaments, but had no objection, and started the count. Boatman folded with a couple of seconds to go. It had clearly been a piece of clever and funny showmanship. I give the lad a lot of style points, and it was starting to see why he was so popular with the crowd.

We got our final televised six a few minutes later. Tuil opened for ₤25,000, and Barkatul called from the small blind. The flop came 3-4-9, Barkatul instantly moved his remaining ₤45,000 in, and without much hesitation, the chip heavy Tuil called. Barkatul turned over 4-5, middle pair, but Tuil showed 10-10, and the concluding A-K finish sent Barkatul out 7th.

Trumper earned ₤6,000 for 9th, Sarkeshik ₤8,000 for 8th, and Barkatul ₤10,000 for 7th. Tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., the following players make a run for the real money:

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 prize money they will be chasing is:

1. £1,000,000

2. £100,000

3. £50,000

4. £25,000

5. £15,000

6. £14,000

With this radical spread, there is of course a chance that these rational gents just might gather to have a cocktail this evening to discuss the weather, the elections, and, if there is a lengthy lull in the conversation, a more conventional split of the prize money, although the word on the street (actually, the word in the bar) is that one player doesn’t want to deal and just wants to gamble the way the tournament is officially structured. One holdout means no deal.

If there is a deal made, there won’t be any official mention of it, and because of the live TV, if no deal happens tonight, there won’t be any significant time to do any dealing during bathroom breaks. The winner will receive a check for ₤1,000,000 on live TV, and there is a chance—form being somewhat hard to estimate—that it will be the real thing, a ₤1,000,000 payoff for four days work.

In case I get too caught up in tomorrow’s action to mention this then, the shift in the winds here this week has been remarkable, and I’m not talking about a rainy nor’easter.

Due to the newness of the event, and the illness of Director Kevin O’Brian, the Poker Mi₤₤ion started off in a very confused and disorganized state. The fast learning curve and professionalism on the part of the Ladbrokes people has been nothing short of astonishing.

Assuming they want to keep at it, and they’ve said they do, the Poker Mi₤₤ion will become a shiny jewel in an increasingly bedazzling collection of poker tournaments, promotions, and industry growth. My scientific journalistic WAATOMASOTR method (“Walking Around And Talking To Movers And Shakers Off The Record,” although I think I may need a better acronym) produced some very interesting rumors about other big poker news to be announced with the next few weeks.

It’s a great time to be alive and part of all of this. It would be more fun to be sitting next to Barney Boatman tomorrow, instead of watching the show on TV, but the long term vision of Ladbroke, Barry Hearn, Sky Sports TV and a few other visionaries will mean poker is going to be a lot more fun for all of us very soon, whether we’re seated at the final table or not.