$5,000 No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven "A Princess Emerges from Poker's Aristocracy"

by Andy Glazer - poker.casino.com

You might think that a bracelet from World Series event that drew only 30 entrants doesn’t belong in the same class as a bracelet from one of the events that draws hundreds. You also might think that as a recreational player, if you wanted to try to sneak in and grab one of the coveted bracelets, this same 30-player event would be a great opportunity. And if your brain were really working clearly, you might think that a woman who had never before played Deuce-to-Seven couldn’t win a World Series tournament the first time she ever played the game.

Those very logical sounding thoughts not only would have made a lousy parlay, they’d have gone 0 for 3. Sometimes quality matters a lot more than quantity, and sometimes talent can overcome experience.

The first table I wandered over to featured Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Annie Duke, Howard Lederer, Jennifer Harman, and Erik Seidel, a sextet that if found at the final table of the Big One would quickly be labeled the strongest final table ever seen in the Championship event. I mentioned to Mike Paulle that this had to be one of the strongest tables ever at the start of any tournament, and he said, with the wisdom of experience, “About average for this field. Take a look at the other three tables.”

And sure enough, I looked across at the other three tables, and scattered among them were (in alphabetical order) Mickey Appleman, Billy Baxter, Jim Bechtel, Lyle Berman, Chris Bjorn, Allen Cunningham, Tony Dean Davis, Freddie Deebs, Sam Grizzle, O’Neal Longson, Huck Seed, An Tran, Simon Zhang, and Steve Zolotow. I mean, all we needed to round out the field was Bret Maverick, and he’d have been a big underdog, even with his own guys writing the script.

“Obviously everyone’s dream is to win the Big One,” said Melissa Hayden, no poker slouch herself, “but after that, I think the bracelet the top players want most is the $5,000 No-Limit Deuce. There aren’t any satellites, and there aren’t any broke people trying to get put in. This is the tournament where poker’s best players come out, put down serious money, and have at it. It’s a little like the early World Series championship events, in that you have a small field of the absolute best players.”

The Deuce is a one-day event, and this battle of Titans produced the following final table:

Seat One, Lamar Wilkinson, $28,300.
Seat Two, Simon Zhang, $30,200.
Seat Three, O’Neil Longson, $21,600.
Seat Four, Bruce Corman, $25,400.
Seat Five, Lyle Berman, $139,200.
Seat Six, Jennifer Harman, $49,100.
Seat Seven, Steve Zolotow, $35,700.

Harman, a stunningly beautiful woman (and please spare me the emails accusing me of sexism, I called Randy Holland “ruggedly handsome” three stories ago) who for ten years has made a very good living as a professional player in very high stakes games, got in jeopardy early, and that wasn’t much of a surprise, because she had never, repeat never, played Deuce to Seven before today. She’d played Ace-to-Five lowball draw, which helped, but Deuce is a very different game, as anyone who draws to a 2-3-4-5 and catches an ace or a six can attest.

Just before the tournament began, she and close friend/fellow professional Annie Duke (who had also never played no-limit Deuce before) asked Duke’s brother, Howard Lederer, for a five minute lesson on how to play no-limit Deuce. If a five-minute Lederer lesson can result in a World Series bracelet, I wonder what Howard’s hourly rate for lessons ought to be. Of course, very few students possess the poker talent that either of this day’s pupils do.

Having already lost almost half her starting stack, Jennifer raised a pot $10,000, and chip leader Berman popped her back for her last $14,000. Lyle rapped pat on his ten low, Jennifer rapped pat on her nine, and she was back in business. I smiled a bit at this confrontation, because much earlier in the tournament, when Berman was exchanging friendly banter with Hayden, Melissa mentioned that he’d have to deal with her friend Jennifer later.

“I’ll squash her like a bug,” he said in a completely malice-free, joking manner. Well, I thought, here was his chance, and she’d emerged unsquashed. I figured that was the end of the anecdote, but this duo had only begun to battle.

Soon thereafter we lost Zhang, who was at his second final table this week. Simon raised, Harman raised him back for his last $9,000, and after he called, each drew one card. Simon turned over the ace he caught, a nice catch in most other forms of low poker but a brick in Deuce to Seven, and when Jennifer turned over a 10-6 low, Simon departed without showing the rest of his hand.

Longson was next out. Zolotow raised the pot $5,000, Longson came over the top to put him all-in, and Zee called. Longson drew one while Zee stayed pat, and when Zee turned over a 9-8-5-3-2, Longson mucked his hand.

We moved up to a $300 ante, with $1,000-2,000 blinds, and Berman, still the big chip leader, started to examine the bracelet, and said if he won it he wanted to buff the word “Binion’s” off the front so he could have his name or some diamonds on the front. While this sort of kidding is a Berman trademark, my superstitious side wondered if he was engaging in some premature buffing.

Wilkinson, who owns the California Grand Casino, in Pacheco, CA, went out next. The Zee man hit an ace on the draw, but when Wilkinson squeezed his draw, he found his six paired, and left with 5th place money.

We then lost Nottingham, England’s Bruce Corman, ruining all sorts of weak puns I was working up about Corman playing table sheriff, when in a three-way pot with Harman and Berman, Corman found himself holding a queen, while Harman’s J-9 edged out Berman’s J-10 for the money. Little did I know that Harman was about to rob from the rich and keep it for herself.

Harman, who looks ten years younger than her advertised age of 36, kept right up with Berman’s running line of patter and humor, suggesting that from that point forward, anyone who won a pot should have to do a shot of tequila. Most of the players were already delirious enough from the late hour, though (the tournament began at 4:00 p.m.), and we played on with coffee and cigarettes as the strongest abused substances.

Three-handed, no one in this elite group even bothered to talk deal, and we lost Steve Z. in a hand that accidentally featured some comic relief. Steve and Lyle got Steve’s last few chips into the pot before the draw, and Tournament Director Bob Thompson, working his second final table of the day, said, as he always does when one player is all-in- “Turn ‘em up so everyone can see ‘em,” only to be halted by 37 simultaneous cries of “NO THEY HAVEN’T DRAWN YET!”

The cards stayed down until after the draw, Steve drew two and picked up a J-9, only to see Lyle’s pat 10. We were now down to the veteran wisecracking Berman and the Deuce novice..

Jennifer faced an uphill battle: experience aside, Berman had her 3-1 in chips, $245,000-$80,000. But I learned something about the trust and respect these two have for one another when after a draw, Berman announced that he had a jack low, and Jennifer mucked her hand BEFORE Berman actually showed it. Show it he did; Lyle is the last guy in the world who needs to shoot angles at a poker table, but I was impressed that Jennifer would take his word at such a critical moment.

Lyle then called the press over and returned the trust acknowledgement in a different way, saying that the real story of the tournament was how Jennifer was heads-up at the final table the first time she’d ever played Deuce, and that she had accomplished this because she had such great card sense. For all his joking around, Lyle was showing a lot of class.

He still had a lot of chips to go with the class, and soon raised Jennifer all-in, where she stood pat on a ten. Lyle drew, paired a six, and suddenly the chips weren’t so imbalanced, $125,000 for Jennifer and $200,000 for Lyle. The duo mixed it up again big time on the next hand, and again Harman came out on top. Berman, who only moments before had been a paired six away from winning the tournament, was now trailing $175,000-$150,000.

The duel shifted to lots of smaller pots for a while, and the hour grew late. The blinds were about to move to $3,000-6,000, and Berman suggested they skip a level, with so many chips on the table, and move directly to $4,000-8,000. “Want to do it just like god intended, eh?” he joked.

Suspecting I knew her reasons for declining, I asked Harman about this after the tournament ended. “I wasn’t in any rush,” she said. “He has a lot more experience than me, and I figured higher blinds would work to his advantage. And while he’s in good shape, he’s a lot older than me, and I figured he was likely to get tired before I would.” Tough to slip one over on Jennifer “I was born in the morning, but it wasn’t yesterday morning” Harman.

Very soon, though, it looked like the battle wouldn’t be the long, drawn out affair Harman wanted. Lyle raised $12,000, Jennifer popped him back for $20,000 more, and Berman re-raised all-in. Harman immediately got up from the table, walked around a bit, studied Berman, and after about 30 seconds of deliberation, called. They both stood pat. Berman turned over 9-8-6-5-3, and Harman turned over 9-8-7-6-4. Pipped on the third card, Harman had to hand $133,000 over to Berman, and had only $59,000 left.

Jennifer instantly went into a more aggressive mode. “I had to pick it up,” she said afterwards, “or he would have killed me.” She regained some chips with the raises, and about 10 minutes later, we had Berman-Harman II, “The One Pip Disaster He Asked Fer.” Jennifer raised $11,000, Berman re-raised her all-in, and Jennifer called. Berman paused for a while and decided to stay pat. Harman drew a card, and as the dealer passed it to her, Berman turned over his J-9. Jennifer flipped her hand up. She’d hit a J-8, and the $75,000 Berman handed over put us almost even again.

“Sorry to keep you all up,” Jennifer apologized to the assembled crowd, none of whom (save perhaps Berman) minded a bit.

Jennifer didn’t keep us up much longer. She raised $20,000, and Berman again came over the top for everything he had. “If you win it’s over,” he encouraged her. Jennifer has been in enough coffee houses to recognize coffeehousing when she hears it, though, and instead of dreaming about a quick end, asked Berman for a count on how much he had. $130,500 was the answer. “I call,” she said, and drew one card. Berman turned over a 10-8-7-5-4. Jennifer spread her hand face up: 8-5-4-3-2. The crowd erupted with applause, until one spectator said, “I’m not sure she has him covered.”

The dealer counted it down, and sure enough, with the money in the center, it turned out that Berman had exactly one $1,000 chip left. Jennifer’s pat J-9-5-3-2 withstood Berman’s draw, and for the second time in a week, a woman had taken down a gold bracelet, and under conditions that even Bret Maverick’s scriptwriters would have balked at.

Harman leapt into the air, hugged Annie Duke, hugged mentor Howard Lederer, hugged Bob Thompson, and hugged Melissa Hayden. She was glowing, and it was hard to blame her. Pal Duke was almost as excited.

“I knew if I sweated her, she’d win,” Annie said. “She was in a big game at the Bellagio last week, breaking even, I sat down behind her and she won 70 bets in no time. Neither of us had played this game before, but we were encouraging each other. Jen told me I should get in because I was the better no-limit player, and I told her she should get in because she’s spookier. So we partnered up with Ted Forrest, got our lesson from Howard, and here we are.”

Here we were indeed, in a nerves of steel game against the best in the world. I’d stay up until four in the morning to watch magnificent poker like his any day. Sleep I can always get. Watching a brilliant card player stand toe to toe with a dazzling field and come out on top in her first outing was a once-in-a-lifetime pleasure. Jennifer Harman was already a member of poker’s aristocracy, but now everyone knows it, and the second-most coveted bracelet at the World Series will remind them of it forever.

By the Numbers

Entries: 30 (35 Rebuys)

Total Prize Pool $325,000

  1. Jennifer Harman, $146,250
  2. Lyle Berman, $81,250.
  3. Steve Zolotow, $48,750.
  4. Bruce Corman, $32,500.
  5. Wil Wilkinson, $16,250.


Want a fun little side game? How about this little affair that was going on behind the rail as Jennifer Harman was taking her bracelet. T.J. Cloutier, O’Neil Longson, Huck Seed, Johnny Chan, Hector (the fellow who ran $4,000 into $750,000 a few days ago), Tony D., and Sam Grizzle, playing a friendly little rotation game of 200-400 blinds for no-limit hold-em, no-limit deuce to seven, and pot-limit hold’em. Fun, fun, fun ‘til daddy takes the T-Bird away.

/Andy Glazer