$1,500 Razz: "If You Can't Break With the Ones You Want, Break the Ones You're With"

by Andy Glazer - poker.casino.com

We have some action guys at this World Series, I want to tell you.

Yesterday, John Bonetti was too busy sweating some basketball bets to notice that it was time to post his big blind. Today, Huck Seed, who knew when he awoke that he’d have to be at the final table of the $1,500 entry Razz tournament at 4:00 p.m., decided to enter the $3,000 entry Pot-Limit Hold’em tournament that started at noon.

Huck figured he might be able to amass enough chips to survive being blinded off, and that he could run over and play fast on the final table breaks, or possibly in the middle of what looked like long-developing hands. And of course, if he busted out of the final table (the money can go in a hurry in a non-split game like Razz), he’d still be in the middle of another big tournament.

When the buzzer ended the first betting limit 47 minutes into today’s Razz action, Tournament Director Bob Thompson asked the players if they wanted a break. “Nah, we just got here,” was the general response, even including Huck, who figured it would be better to have his break when the blinds were bigger in the pot-limit tournament.

A little while later, after getting a report from pal Mike Matusow on how far down his pot-limit chips had been blinded, Huck asked if the players would mind taking a break. As soon as his opponents heard the reason, they unanimously agreed to take a break and let their respected opponent go play his other event for a few minutes.

Only one problem: As the other players left the table, Thompson told Huck he couldn’t go play in the other game, not even on the breaks. I couldn’t hear Thompson’s reason, at first, and it seemed an unreasonable restriction to me, so when Huck said, “Well that stinks, the only reason we took a break was that so I could go play, and now it’s just going to add ten more minutes until the time I can get back over there,” I said, sympathetically, “Nice little whipsaw.”

“Yeah, they’re not real accommodating around here,” Seed said, and he went off to watch his chips being blinded off.

I asked Thompson why he wouldn’t let Huck play in the other event on the break, and his answer made complete sense.

“Huck Seed’s reputation is completely above reproach,” Thompson said. “I know Huck would never do anything wrong. But we have the same kind of chips here in play as we have in play at the other tournament, and there are other players in poker who would, if they were in that situation, not be above taking chips from one tournament and slipping them into the other one. So even though Huck has a rock solid reputation, I can’t let him do it. What if someone else whose reputation is not so strong, or a relatively unknown player, asks me the same thing? What am I going to tell him, ‘I trust Huck Seed but I don’t trust you?’ The rules have to be the same for everyone.”

Later, when Huck got another report on his dwindling stack, he asked Thompson if he could ask someone else just to move his chips all-in a few hands in a row, to see if he could get lucky with them, but Thompson said “the only problem with that is, the rule is you have to be there to turn your own hand over.” So Huck gave up on his pot-limit chances, and focused on his Razz game.

We then found out why the other players were so willing to let Huck Seed go get distracted by the pot-limit tournament, his friendly nature and good reputation aside. Huck Seed, when he concentrates on Razz, is one scary player. He completely controlled and outplayed the final table, from start to finish, and that was tough to do with three other bracelet winners among the eight players.

All that said, let’s see how Seed, once he started focusing on his Razz, destroyed everyone.

When we started play, the seats and chip counts, playing with $1,500-3,000 blinds, a $200 ante, and a $500 high card bring-in, were:

Seat 1, Men “the Master” Nguyen, $64,100.
Seat 2, Huck Seed, $35,000.
Seat 3, Tommy Polk, $3,700.
Seat 4, Mickey Sisskind, $38,200.
Seat 5, John Spadavecchia, $16,500.
Seat 6, Larry Colt, $6,100.
Seat 7, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, $11,300.
Seat 8, Roger Aielli, $18,600.

Polk’s miniscule stack made him the heavy favorite to exit early, but Chris Ferguson wasn’t playing just to move up the ladder. He already had one bracelet at this Series and wanted another, and so when he got a chance to get involved with Huck Seed on a hand, he took it. Ferguson had already made a rough eight going to the river, while Huck was showing two tens on the board and drawing to A-2-3-4. Huck hit a seven at the wire, Ferguson a blank, and we were seven-handed.

Huck had picked up some chips, but the colorful Men “the Master” Nguyen was still the chip leader. Men was quite literally colorful today, as he arrived at the final table with a box full of variously colored baseball caps that said MEN The Master on the front, “Nice Hand Sir” on one side and “Stupid Side Game” on the other. He freely distributed them to members of the crowd to get his own version of Arnie’s Army going for him.

The cards were not kind to the Master today. He lost a few big early confrontations, including one with an all-in Colt, who as soon as the money went in on fifth street immediately hit an ace and a four to run down Men from behind.

Not long thereafter, Colt got all-in again, this time against Seed, and when the river card saved Colt, he leapt from his seat and with a yell probably twice as loud as anything we’ve heard in two weeks of action here, screamed “I BEAT HUCK SEED, HO, BABY, NOW LET’S PLAY, NOW WE GOT A GAME!”

I think if I’d been subjected to this,"I would have been tempted to use the old Steve Martin reply to audience hecklers, “Yeah, I remember when I had my first beer, too,” but you don’t become a champion like Huck Seed without having run into a few guys who scream when they draw out on you, and Huck seemed as imperturbable as ever, although he and Nguyen exchanged whispers about the display.

Men continued to bleed off chips by drawing the high card that forced him into play for $500 an unusually high percentage of the time, and when that forced bring-in was raised, Men kept getting stuck: when he folded, the $500 was gone, and when he called for the pot odds, the next card was a brick, and he was out $1,500. Pretty soon the Master’s stack was down to about $46,000, and he decided his lucky hat wasn’t so lucky. He took it off and never put it on again.

Huck next showed us a bit of what champions are made of. Showing a board of 5-A-5, he bet into Spadavecchia, who showed 9-10-J. Huck could not possibly have the best hand at the moment he bet (barring some kind of tell he had on Spadavecchia), but he was announcing a good draw, and using his big stack to tell Spadavecchia, “You want to try to bring that rough jack home, you’re going to have to commit a lot of the chips you have left.” Spadavecchia declined.

I wish I knew how to make people fold when it’s obvious they have the lead and I’ll have to draw to beat them. It’s not like Spadavecchia was some sort of random opponent, either: he has a gold bracelet, and has also made the final table of the Big One.

Possibly thinking that Spadavecchia was in a mood to push too hard after the fold to Seed, Sisskind (also a bracelet winner) bled off $9,000 calling Spadavecchia down as his board got better and better. Spadavecchia showed A-3-4-5, kept leading, and Sisskind kept calling, even with an eight and a jack on his board. He didn’t show his hole cards when Spadavecchia flipped the deuce he’d started with over at the end.

Men showed us some sizzle in his own game when, holding a much prettier board than the now quieter Colt, he checked twice in situations where Colt simply could not have called. He had too big a lead and simply waited for Colt to catch something to give him an excuse to call, and despite three face cards showing, Colt called $3,000 when Men finally bet on the river. Men turned over a big hand and Colt quietly folded what couldn’t possibly have been any better than a jack low.

“I worked hard for that $3,000,” Men said. “I need $3,000, the way I keep catching all these big cards!”

The limits went up to $2,000-4,000, $300 ante, still $500 bring-in, and we immediately brought out Roger Aielli, who had been short stacked in the big blind, got the last of his chips in on 4th street, and who never caught anything lower than a nine the rest of the way. He was drawing dead before the river, and the improbably ladder climb of Tommy Polk continued.

Polk almost exited on the next hand, when Nguyen had a rough eight made on sixth street, but Polk caught a baby on the end to stay alive and drop Men down to about $34,000. Polk immediately climbed another ladder rung, because Sisskind finished off Colt.

Sisskind had the lead going to the river, and as Colt squeezed his final card, Sisskind warned everyone at the final table to “Watch your ears in case he catches.” But the loud man had to walk quietly (and, I’ll admit, very graciously) off, and Polk, who had started the finale with less than 2% of the chips, had outlasted three players while running on fumes. But the fumes ran out right after the “let’s give Huck a break so he can play except whoops he can’t play” break ended, and now we had ourselves an all-star final four, all of whom already had World Series wins and ammunition:

Mickey Sisskind, $65,000
Huck Seed, $54,000
John Spadavecchia, $40,000
Men Nguyen, $35,000

That’s one of those things about games like Razz. In hold’em, so many solid amateurs play the game that you almost always wind up with some relatively unknown player late in the tournament who is good enough to accumulate chips if he catches cards. In the lesser-played games like Razz, you tend to wind up with smaller, but stronger fields, and catching cards isn’t enough.

Faced with a line-up of tough opponents, you still have to catch a few cards yourself, and Men just wasn’t holding. “I like to put on a show for the crowd, laugh, joke, have fun at the final table,” Men said, “but today, very hard to put on a show, every hand, K-K-J.”

Almost immediately after telling me he held K-K-J every hand, Men started out with a dream hand, 3-4-A, only to muck it in disgust two rounds later after catching A-4 for two pair. “Not my day,” said a dejected Nguyen.

It almost wasn’t not John Spadavecchia’s day even faster. Down to his last $10,000, he went all-in against Seed, who had an 8-7 made on sixth street. Spadavecchia was drawing at an 8-5, hit a four, and when Seed paired his deuce, Spadavecchia had doubled to $20,000.

We moved up to $3,000-6,000 with a $500 ante and $1,000 bring-in, and Men decided to move up a little higher in his chair. He brought three hard plastic chip racks over to his seat and sat down on them, hoping, we can only assume, that the uncomfortable empty racks would draw some chips towards him. It seemed to work, momentarily, as he won a nice pot from Sisskind, but lucky talismans don’t seem to affect Huck Seed.

Seed, showing 10-3-5, bet into Men, showing 7-8-Q, on fifth street, and Men, sensing a power play, decided to raise. Huck called. Huck caught a six and Men a five on 6th street, and both checked. Huck checked on the river, Men bet, and Huck raised $6,000 more. Men mucked his hand, and was now the trailer. Huck had about 75k, Sisskind about 65k, Spadavecchia about 43k, and Men about 20k.

Next up, the hand of the tournament.

With action on every round, things got exciting in a Sisskind-Seed confrontation on 5th street. Sisskind, showing 5-4-3, bet out, and Huck, showing 8-A-3, raised. Sisskind tried to re-raise but released his chips without saying “raise” and the attempt was disallowed. “As soon as I did it, I realized I was wrong, Sisskind said.

Sixth street brought Sisskind an ace, and a very scary 5-4-3-A board, and Huck caught a six for 8-A-3-6. Sisskind bet, and Huck raised again. At $6,000 a pop, this was getting expensive. Sisskind called. Sisskind bet out again on the river, and again Huck raised with Sisskind calling.

Huck turned over the 2-4 he’d started with in the hole, showing he’d been popping Mickey with a 6-4 on sixth street, and then added invulnerability to injury by turning over the five he caught for a wheel on the river. Sisskind mucked, and in one gigantic hand, Huck owned the table. 108k for Huck, 55k for Spadavecchia, 16k for Nguyen, and 15k for the devastated Sisskind, who had almost certainly held a 6-5.

It was hard to imagine things getting worse for Sisskind, but they did. He and Men, the two short stacks, got involved in a hand, and Sisskind led out on fifth street. Men started to call, pushing his chips forward, but then realized the nice looking four he’d caught had paired him, and tried to take the bet back and fold. Thompson told him he’d made far too much of a forward motion, and there had already been forward motion warnings at this table, so Men was forced to leave the bet in. Mickey had a clear lead, and got his and Men’s last few chips in on sixth street, but Men caught a seven on the end while Mickey bricked, to eliminate Susskind on a hand he had really and truly wanted to fold to him.

“Very lucky, very lucky, very lucky!” Men exclaimed. “I really wanted to fold and got stuck with a winning hand!”

Lady Luck gives, Lady Luck takes back. Men immediately ran off a long string of hands where he was forced to bring the pot in for $1,000, and could never call the re-raise. Bleeding off chips at $1,500 a hand, the short stacked Nguyen went out when Huck’s 8-7 became a 7-6 on sixth street and Men had no outs.

Seed and Spadavecchia talked deal only very briefly. “I’ll do a deal if you really want one,” Huck said, “but it isn’t really that big a tournament to start with, and I’d just as soon play for it.” Spadavecchia, who isn’t broke, didn’t object, and they took a short break as the limits went up to $5,000-10,000.

Huck started the new round up $130,000-63,000, and with the pot-limit dinner break drawing to a close, there was some small chance he could polish off Spadavecchia in time to get back to the table on the other side of the room with a pitiful few chips left. But as much as Huck wanted to do an Ernie Banks and play two today, he wasn’t silly enough to play foolishly at these high levels, just to preserve a miniscule chance in the other tournament. “I’d have liked to been able to play both, but I tried not to let it affect my play here,” Seed said afterwards.

Ironically, the end did come quickly, but still not quickly enough to save Huck’s last pot-limit chips. Huck made another of his “I know I’m trailing, but I have a bigger draw than you” raises, when showing 2-2-7 against Spadevecchia’s 9-Q-3, he re-raised John’s $10,000 bet on fifth street. Huck caught a four on 6th street to John’s queen, bet out, and Spadavecchia was practically forced to call for the size of the pot, despite the apparently hopeless situation. Huck bet the river before receiving his last card, and with only $7,000 left in front of him, Spadavecchia looked at his final card, and mucked his hand.

The formality of Huck’s win took only two more hands, as his 7-6 low overpowered Spadavecchia’s J-7-A-K-2-J-K, and the man universally believed to be one of the two or three best tournament players in poker had his third gold bracelet. Huck Seed wasn’t able to be in two places at one time today, but in every other way that mattered, he played the magician’s role perfectly.

By the Numbers

Total Entries: 129

Total Prizes: $193,500

  1. Huck Seed, $77,400.
  2. John Spadavecchia, $38,700.
  3. Men “the Master” Nguyen, $19,350.
  4. Mickey Sisskind, $11,610.
  5. Tommy Polk, $9,675.
  6. Larry Colt, $7,740.
  7. Roger Aielli, $5,810.
  8. Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, $3,875.

9th-12th, $2,900: George Bofysil, Michael Wattel, Bonnie Damiano, Carl Yeller.
13th-16th, $1,935: Barbara Gold, Howard Mann, Brain Nadell, Brent Carter.

/Andy Glazer