From wednesdaynitepoker-owner@lst-01.newsletterserver.net Thu May 08 18:28:41 2003 Return-Path: Delivered-To: okamoto@seiyuu.com Received: (qmail 54961 invoked by uid 19068); 8 May 2003 18:28:38 -0000 Received: from unknown (HELO lst-01.newsletterserver.net) ([212.247.84.110]) (envelope-sender ) by 192.220.74.124 (qmail-ldap-1.03) with SMTP for ; 8 May 2003 18:28:38 -0000 Received: from lst-01.newsletterserver.net [193.12.46.192] by lst-01.newsletterserver.net with ESMTP (SMTPD32-7.15) id AD361050086; Thu, 08 May 2003 15:44:06 +0100 From: "Wednesday Nite Poker" To: wednesdaynitepoker@lst-01.newsletterserver.net Subject: WSOP 2003 News Bulletin 18 Date: 08 May 2003 16:54:06 +0200 Message-ID: <2003.05.08.16.54.06.12C634E235FC3C1B@lst-01.newsletterserver.net> MIME-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: multipart/alternative; boundary="----=_YLgdsqGC_xIr8a8ek_MA" Precedence: bulk Sender: wednesdaynitepoker-owner@lst-01.newsletterserver.net X-Spam-Status: No, hits=-4.3 required=4.0 tests=BAYES_10,HTML_10_20,HTML_WITH_BGCOLOR,SMTPD_IN_RCVD, UNSUB_PAGE version=2.53 X-Spam-Level: X-Spam-Checker-Version: SpamAssassin 2.53 (1.174.2.15-2003-03-30-exp) Status: OR ------=_YLgdsqGC_xIr8a8ek_MA Content-Type: text/plain Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit If this newsletter does not read properly, your current e-mail program does not support HTML-based newsletters. Instead, you can access the complete newsletter through your web browser on this URL: http://casino.com/go/redirect.asp?resource=newsletter_poker_latest Regards, Wednesday Nite Poker ------=_YLgdsqGC_xIr8a8ek_MA Content-Type: text/html Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
 
The Fight of the Phoenix
By Andrew N.S. Glazer, "The Poker Pundit"

"Phoenix" isn't just a city in Arizona. It's also the name of a legendary bird that rose from its ashes to fly again. "Flight of the Phoenix" is a great Jimmy Stewart movie about an unlikely attempted return of a rebuilt crashed airplane.

Put that all together, toss in a little conflict and controversy, and by the time we're done here, you'll well understand why I've entitled the tale of the 2003 WSOP $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event "The Fight of the Phoenix."

Five hundred and thirty one players started this event, a sign of a developing expected trend. While attendance was off during the first couple weeks of the longest-ever World Series of Poker, the number of competitors in each event has started rising and will probably continue to do so. Six weeks was just too long for most people and I think quite a few decided to come in halfway through the WSOP.

WSOP ATTENDANCE TREND IS ON THE UPTICK

Between that general trend and all the entrants being generated through cardroom promotions, Internet promotions, one-table satellites, supersatellites, and the new and popular "two-step" satellites (where you buy in to a one-table for $50, and two players win entry into a supersatellite - Binion's has already had two people win entry into the Big One just off that $50: they never had to rebuy in the Super), I think we're heading for another record in the Championship.

Because I was correct in my guess on the Pay-Per-View Internet broadcast about who was going to win today (when seven remained), I'll go ahead and put my guess up for the Big One: 684 players. That guess isn't entirely unrelated to tonight's action. The big crowd was REALLY into this tournament. As it got late, "standing room only" turned into "you could only see if you were standing," because almost every spectator was for the last hour or so.

We didn't start right at 2:00 p.m. With such a large field, twenty players still had to work their way down to the final ten, and that took about two and a half hours. Tournament Co-Director Matt Savage guestimated that we'd finish at 1:15 a.m.

"I'll take the under," I said (I was running well on my guesses today). "I have a feeling they're going to gamble.

Gamble they did, right out of the box. The starting "box" was:

Seat Player Chips

1 Amir Vahedi $162,500
2 Ruston Eleogram $41,500
3 Cleve Haley $117,000
4 T.J. Cloutier $78,500
5 Brad Daugherty $30,000
6 Kirill Gerasinov $27,000
7 Jeff Rothstein $90,000
8 Mike Cox $55,500
9 Tony Ma $25,000
10 Brian Strahl $169,500

This put a total of $796,500 in action, with 41 minutes left on the clock at the $500 ante, $1,500-3,000 blind level. This meant that a par stack was $79,500, and that the ten-way dead money was $9,500.

Rothstein, a New York CPA, drew the button, and his profession became relevant and amusing on the very first hand because Haley opened for 17k and Rothstein moved all-in. When Haley asked for a count, Rothstein quickly said "$85,500," because he'd counted his chips at $86,000 and he'd invested one $500 ante.

A VARIATION ON THE COBBLER'S KID'S SHOES

The only problem was that his stack looked a bit bigger, and when they counted it, it turned out that the CPA actually had started with $90,000. To answer the question you're no doubt pondering, no, Rothstein did not work for Enron.

Haley let the hand go, and the immediate all-in move set the tone for a ramblin', gamblin' start. Two hands later, Tony Ma moved his short stack all-in from the button, and the chip-heavy Vahedi gave him action. Ma could produce only A-3 offsuit, while Vahedi had Ac-10c.

That's your basic dominated hand, with Ma a 2.6-1 underdog. When the flop came 2-7-5, Savage noted that Ma had picked up a straight draw (the gutshot variety), and while the queen on the turn changed nothing, the four on the river gave Ma his straight and an immediate more than double-up against a momentarily annoyed Vahedi.

Hand #4 was just plain weird. Cloutier opened from early position for 9k, and Cox flat called from late position. The flop came 9c-Ad-4d, and Cloutier instantly announced that he was all-in. Cox took very little time to announce that he was calling, and Cloutier's shoulders slumped visibly as he said "You got me." He turned over pocket threes.

NOW "YOU GOT ME," AND NOW YOU DON'T

It was pretty reasonable for Cloutier to expect that Cox "had him", with three overcards to his tiny pair on the board, but Cox turned over Kd-10d, the nut flush draw. It turned out that Cox had not only eight flush cards (Cloutier held the 3d), but two overcards. He certainly couldn't have counted on the overcards in a situation where Cloutier rated to have an ace, a high pair, two pair, or even a set, so Cox had called a $43,000 bet for all of his chips where he had to figure he was drawing only to a flush.

Even though Cox's situation turned out to be better than that (the addition of the overcards made him a 54-46 favorite, instead of the nearly 2-1 underdog he rated to be), he whiffed on both swings, with Cloutier catching an unnecessary third trey on the river. Cox was gone in four hands, and I think the only ways his play can be justified would be if he'd actually seen Cloutier's hand (easy to rule out) or if he knew himself to be a poor short stack player. Some players can play effectively short-chipped, and others can't.

Even though the long-term solution to that problem is working on it to gain experience, when you're at a big final table, you need to play the way that gives you the best chance to win. Only Cox knows if that was his line of thinking, or if he just called too quickly, in the excitement of the moment.

Normally other players welcome the ladder climb that accompanies an opponent's exit, but this exit had given T.J. Cloutier a lot of ammunition, and there probably wasn't ANYONE who was happy about that.

Keeping in the spirit of things, former World Champ Daugherty moved all-in on the next hand, but wasn't called, and not wanting to change the pace, Ma moved all-in again on the next one. With all-in fever firmly entrenched, Strahl moved his huge stack all-in right after Ma, which cleared everyone else out of the way.

A POSSIBLE TRAP LOST, BUT MAYBE IT'S JUST BETTER TO ISOLATE AND WIN

I might have been tempted to just flat call Ma, maybe catching another hitchhiker, because Strahl turned over two red aces after everyone else folded. Ma resignedly showed his As-Kh, and it was over on the turn as the board came 2-4-6-8, who do we appreciate, aces, aces!

We'd lost two players in six hands. I was starting to like my "under" bet with Savage.

It took three more hands before anyone else moved in, but that bet wasn't called. Three hands after that, an all-in bet WAS called. Daugherty opened for 9k from middle position, Vahedi moved all-in from the small blind (SB), and the short-stacked Daugherty decided to stick with his A-Q.

Daugherty was pleased with his decision when Vahedi turned over A-J, but not so pleased when the first card off the deck was a jack. Dominated hands had been working out rather well thus far, and Daugherty was out eighth.

Twelve hands, three players gone. In and of itself that didn't mean we'd have a short final, because quite often when a few small stacks get knocked out quickly, everyone else has a lot of chips relative to the blinds and antes and can play slowly.

TODAY'S SONG WAS DEFINITELY NOT "SLOW RIDE, TAKE IT EASY"

It just didn't seem like too many people were in the mood to play slowly, a point made again on the next hand, when Gerasinov, the Moscow resident who probably wasn't feeling any money pressure after winning half a million bucks via finishing second at the World Poker Tour's Championship a couple weeks ago, shoved his stack all-in.

Haley, a relatively wealthy car dealer from Texas who probably wasn't feeling any money pressure regardless of his results the last few weeks, decided to play along with A-K. Gerasinov turned over pocket jacks, and they held up as the board came 5-4-7-2-2.

The hits Haley had taken on hands #1 and #13 had his stack moving south (maybe southeast in honor of his native state; he had as good a Texas drawl as I've heard in a while), but he looked unperturbed.

I promise I'm not going to describe every hand in this tournament, but as you've seen, we didn't have very many near the start that weren't significant. All these all-in moves had me thinking a potential story title might be "A.I.," but the sad little android who just wanted to find his mommy was too depressing an image. Another movie would suggest itself, surely.

LIMPING? SOUNDS UN-AMERICAN!

Finally, almost everyone settled down, although Eleogram did move all-in three times in the next eight hands, uncalled each time. Given his stack size, he really didn't have many other options open to him. He was going to be pot-committed on almost any other raise, and he didn't have enough chips to do any limping. Besides, limping would probably have been considered treasonous in this all-in crowd.

The round ended after hand #23 and the players left for their hour-long dinner break - quite early for a final table, but not for one that had started as late as this one had. That hour off usually gives players a chance to do some extended evaluating of their chip positions and the strategies that should accompany them, and the calculations were made on the following counts:

Vahedi, $159,500
Eleogram, $40,000
Haley, $98,500
Cloutier, $142,500
Gerasinov, $47,500
Rothstein, $100,000 (audited by Price Waterhouse Glazer Coopers Lybrand)
Strahl, $208,500

The two big moves had been made in two big hands, Cloutier's pocket threes takedown of Cox and Strahl's pocket aces takedown of Ma. Everyone else was more or less in shouting distance of where he'd started, although Gerasinov had to be feeling more comfortable with an almost doubled stack and three opponents already gone.

When the players returned, the antes remained at $500, and the blinds moved to $2,000-4,000, making the seven-way dead money $9,500.

AT LEAST THEY WEREN'T THE SEVEN STOOGES

The first four hands were the "bet and take it" variety more common in no-limit, and I was starting to wonder if The Seven Samurai had been replaced by The Seven Slowpokes, but conventional lunacy returned with all-in moves on three of the next four.

None of those hands caused any major damage, but the next one, #32, did. Strahl held the button, and Cloutier opened for 12k, with Vahedi calling out of the small blind. Each checked the As-5h-3h flop, but when the 3d hit the turn, Vahedi led out for 20k and Cloutier practically beat him into the pot with…a call.

Hold on, this was actual strategy and tactics, not push and pray! The 7d hit the river, both checked, and Vahedi's A-J beat Cloutier's A-9.

The last pattern repeated almost exactly, with uncalled all-ins on three of the next four pots, followed by a major confrontation. Eleogram made his fifth all-in move in 38 hands, and this time Rothstein moved in behind him.

Eleogram turned over K-Q and Rothstein A-K. Uh-oh, another dominated hand, Rothstein was obviously in trouble, but the board came down A-Q-9-J-5. If a ten had hit the river Eleogram could have escaped with a split, but the five sent Eleogram out in seventh place.

THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME

I started wondering if the lyrics to "Cat Scratch Fever" could be successfully changed to "All-In Fever" (I know I'm dating myself musically with this one, but if you aren't from the video game generation and remember this one, try it, it kind of works), because on the NEXT hand, Cloutier opened for 15k, Haley went all-in for about 115k, and Cloutier, his own Texas drawl still loud and clear, announced "I'm callin.'"

Haley turned over A-J offsuit, a deceptively weak hand but at least played for a raise, where he should have been able to get a player of T.J. Cloutier's ability to lay down Ah-Jh…but he hadn't. Cloutier had called for most of his stack with the hand while not heavily invested, and I was really surprised.

Maybe Cloutier had read Haley for a weak hand, and if so he was practically correct, because A-J off is indeed fairly weak. Assuming Haley plays well enough to know A-J is fairly weak, and to get this far you have to assume he does, maybe it's a great read. It sure isn't justifiable on the raw math.

They chopped up the pot when no flush draws hit, but Cloutier was starting to seem more impatient than normal: he'd moved all-in with 3-3 (winning), lost a significant number of chips with A-9, and now had slipped a noose when calling with A-J. Rothstein had frustrated Cloutier with a number of over the top re-raises, and maybe that's what led to this slightly uncharacteristic play from one of poker's finest.

CLOUTIER GROWS FRUSTRATED

Sixteen hands later, a Cloutier announcement made this theory a little more believable: Rothstein came over the top of an opening Cloutier raise, and Cloutier announced "I'm getting' tired of this" as he showed his A-10.

"Give me a damn ace and this time with a king," he said to the dealer, "and let him re-raise me again."

Two hands later, on #57, an unraised pot led (as it so often does) to trouble. Vahedi called from the small blind and Haley rapped the table from the big. The flop came J-9-6, Vahedi led out for 20k, Haley (come on, you can say it first) moved all-in FAST, and Vahedi called equally fast.

It was just the kind of confrontation you might expect from two limping blinds. Vahedi turned over 9-6 for bottom two pair, but Haley turned over J-6 for top and bottom two. Vahedi needed a nine, but none arrived, and he had to ship $71,000 to Haley…the first time today that these two had played a big pot, but most definitely not the last.

After another all-in and called chop pot (this one much more plausible with A-K facing A-K), I estimated the chips at:

Vahedi, $147,500
Haley, $145,000
Cloutier, $125,000
Gerasinov, $34,000
Rothstein, $155,000
Strahl, $190,000

We had, in other words, what amounted to almost a five-way tie for first, with the Rich Russian trailing. Gerasinov had done a remarkable job of hanging in the game with a stack that never seemed to drop below 25k or rise above 50k. Clearly, he was one of those players who can nurse a short stack, even though like all good short stack players he'd prefer a big one.

THE PHOENIX WE DID NOT YET KNOW, BUT THE FIGHT WAS NOW UPON US

Hand #78 will be discussed for quite a while, in part because the poker was dramatic and aggressive, but even more so because of the controversy surrounding what I can only describe as "an easy difficult ruling" that I think Savage got exactly right.

Vahedi opened with a raise to 10k, and his old pal Haley (I mean, you gotta be old pals with a guy you've had to pay off $71,000 to when you flop two pair, right?) flat called. That made this hand start a bit differently than an unraised pot, but not much.

The flop came 4s-Kc-2c, Vahedi checked, Haley bet 20k, and Vahedi called. The Js hit the turn, Vahedi checked again, and acting like a good milkman, Haley delivered a 40k bet. Once again, Vahedi called. They now had (with the antes included) $70,500 each invested in this pot, eerily similar to the earlier $71,000 pot.

The Jc hit the river, creating all kinds of possibilities. If anyone had been on a flush draw, he'd gotten there; if anyone had held a set, he now had a full house, and if anyone had been in there with a jack, he now had trips.

Vahedi (chorus, jump in now, "All-In Fever, All-In Fever, yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah") moved, well, you know where, and Haley, frustrated by both the bet and the scary river card, lifted his cards up off the table a good twelve inches (and believe me, I know how long twelve inches is, it's exactly three times the size of, um, let's change the subject) and a good 45 degrees.

I THINK SOMEONE OVER AT THE GOLDEN NUGGET SAW IT, TOO

I got a very clear look at the king he exposed, as did Matt Savage, Dennis Waterman (standing six feet behind me), and, it's quite safe to say given that he was 24 inches away from Haley, so did Vahedi.

Haley started counting out his chips, seeing how much he'd have left if he let the hand go. It was about 75k. Meanwhile, although everyone who saw it, me included, was sure Haley had picked up his cards in frustration, it's even more clear that exposing a card in mid-hand calls for a penalty.

Even though Vahedi's action was completed, Haley's wasn't, and certainly there have been many players who have shown cards like a king in such situations to try to get a read off their opponents. I repeat it was clear that this wasn't some kind of intentional angle shot, but the effect had the potential to be the same.

I wondered why Vahedi didn't immediately complain to tournament officials, but after the tournament, he explained what should have been obvious to me.

RAISING THE COMPLAINT HIMSELF WOULD HAVE PUT VAHEDI AT RISK

"If I make a complaint about the exposed card," Vahedi began, "it makes it much more obvious that I'm worried about a call, that I have doubts about the strength of my hand, and it can make it more likely that my opponent does call. He's a nice man, a gentleman, I'm sure he didn't do it intentionally, but this was a huge pot, and I had wished that tournament officials had just stepped in and done something themselves."

No one said anything, though, and after about two minutes, Haley decided to call (the clock gonged to announce the end of this level about one minute into Haley's long self-debate). He turned over K-Q, and Vahedi briefly flashed Kh-10h before mucking it.

"Good try, Amir," said Cloutier. "That was a hell of a bet."

Haley now owned almost exactly $300,000, and Vahedi was left with only $15,000 in his own stack. Haley and the other players left for the scheduled ten minute break, and after talking briefly with a friend, Vahedi started complaining bitterly about the exposed card. He felt that Haley's hand should be declared dead.

I called this an "easy difficult ruling" because the WSOP and TDA (Tournament Directors Association) rules are pretty clear about this situation. The hand is NOT dead, certainly not on a first violation, and it's not dead even if the Director clearly considers exposing the card to be an intentional act designed to garner information, and no one who saw this could have called it that.

AN EXPOSED CARD IS A PENALTY, NOT A DEAD HAND

At the same time, the offense does indeed carry a penalty, and Vahedi was informed that Haley would get a ten minute penalty (for newcomers, this means he would have to be blinded and anted off for ten minutes once the new round began).

Vahedi, staring at a huge pile of chips he would rather have seen in his own stack, and looking at his own meager collection, didn't find much consolation in this, and grew agitated enough that Savage finally had to tell him he needed to calm down or he would get ten minutes, too.

Again jumping into the Internet broadcast, I speculated that Haley wouldn't be upset by ten minutes. Depending on how fast play went, he figured to lose between ten and twenty thousand dollars in tournament chips, nothing you'd want to fling into the crowd, but not really significant given the huge lead he'd just taken.

"It might even be good for him," I said. "It will give him more time to decide what strategy he wants to take with that big stack."

This would turn out to be my worst guess of the day, but we'll get to that in a moment. First, Cloutier returned, and when he learned that Haley had received a penalty, he grew quite agitated himself. This was really turning into a first-rate brouhaha.

Play did resume, with Haley away from the table. The antes remained at $500, with the blinds increasing to $2,500-5,000, and the chip count now

Vahedi, $15,000
Haley, $310,000
Cloutier, $125,000
Gerasinov, $33,000
Rothstein, $125,000
Strahl, $188,500

I kept a running count of how much money Haley lost to the blind-off, and it wound up being only $11,500, as he got back in just in time to take his big blind.

Before that happened, though, with Vahedi benefiting from Haley's unused button, Strahl opened for 10k, and Vahedi called all-in for $8,500. If you think you haven't been hearing Strahl's name called much, you're right: he played pretty passively for most of this final table. Miami John Cernuto, another guest broadcaster, informed us that the Atlantic City player was a very strong poker player but was very new to no-limit hold'em.

Vahedi had decided to go for the more-than-triple-up possibility ("more than" because of the antes and blinds). Cloutier let it go from the small blind, but Gerasinov did call the other 5k from the big blind, creating a $3,000 side pot.

SAVED BY THE TURN

Gerasinov announced that he was checking even before the flop hit the table, and Strahl cooperated, rapidly checking behind Gerasinov on both the turn and river as the board came down As-Qc-10d-2c-9s.

Strahl turned over top pair with A-3, but Vahedi flipped up the pocket deuces that had connected for a set on the turn. Strahl collected the tiny side pot, but Vahedi had his triple.

Now Haley had return to the area, although he wasn't yet eligible to sit down in the game, which was probably good for him, because he was steaming badly: it wasn't quite coming out of his ears, but it was coming out of his mouth.

"I've never taken a shot at anyone in my life," he said, a mere overture to words we would hear in a moment.

On the very next hand, Vahedi shoved his still tiny but at least strengthened stack all-in, and Cloutier called from the button, showing Ac-Js. Vahedi produced Kh-10s, and the board came 3s-7h-9h-Ks-5h.

IT'S NBA PLAYOFF TIME, SO WHY NOT PULL A TRIPLE-DOUBLE?

Once again, the turn card had saved Vahedi, and as is appropriate during while the NBA playoffs are proceeding, Vahedi had in two hands produced a triple-double. He had about $70,000, and Gerasinov was laughing so as to avoid crying (not that the GQ rugged and intense-looking Gerasinov would ever do such a thing at a poker table).

Vahedi pushed all-in again on the next hand, and collected an uncontested $10,500.

Haley got his seat back, and expressed his displeasure with the ten minute, $11,500 penalty. "Take those rules and stick them up your ass," he said, his target not quite clear. "Let's play poker, this is chickenshit."

Savage would have been within his rights to give him 20 minutes for this outburst, but wanting the game to be determined by poker and not a few angry words, he let it go, and Haley stopped yapping before he got into more trouble.

Gerasinov had danced with that short stack for 99 hands, but on #100, he finally got into trouble. He'd been playing very conservatively, and so when he made one of his infrequent all-in moves, I expected that he wouldn't get called by anything mediocre. Haley decided to call with pocket deuces. Gerasinov turned over Ah-10h.

I didn't like Haley's call - calling with tiny pocket pairs is usually dangerous because you can never be a big favorite but you can be a big underdog - but Gerasinov missed, and exited in sixth place.

A few hands later, I estimated the chips at

Vahedi, $115,000
Haley, $330,000
Cloutier, $54,000
Rothstein, $127,500
Strahl, $170,000

Cloutier's fall had snuck up on me. He'd gotten hit for $32,500 when Vahedi was completing the triple-double, but the rest of his chips had just eroded slowly, from what I assumed to be a card-dead stretch, and sure enough, Cloutier almost immediately thereafter told the dealer "Let's see if you can give me a card higher than a four."

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR…

He got his wish: on the very next hand, he got a walk in the big blind and showed J-10. He got his wish on the hand after that, but he wound up regretting it. Cloutier moved all-in from the small blind and his daylong nemesis, Rothstein, called quickly from the big blind, turning over J-J. Cloutier had a bit of life with one overcard in his Kc-5s hand, but the board came 4-3-4-3-Q, and on hand #111 Cloutier was gone in fifth place.

As Cloutier left the tournament area, he was on the opposite side of the arena from me, a good ten feet behind the grandstand and probably 35 feet from me, but his voice was clearly audible as he complained to a friend. "He (Vahedi) cried like a little baby and then he caught all the cards," said Cloutier. If I could hear this from my seat, everyone watching the event could hear it, to say nothing of those playing in it.

It's tough to take beats and to take penalties and to get knocked out, but ever since the hand #78 brouhaha, tempers had been running high.

The chips ebbed and flowed a bit, but for about 30 hands the positions stayed relatively equal, with Vahedi hovering just above the 100k mark, Haley staying near 300k, Rothstein hanging around 160k, and Strahl near 190k.

Hand #141 changed all that.

THE PHOENIX BEGINS TO TAKE WING

Strahl held the button, and he limped in for 5k. Vahedi raised 20k from the small blind, and Strahl, who had remained on of the tables more passive players even as the game grew shorthanded, finally decided to make a move. He moved all-in, and while the song says "You know you got it when you going insane," his play wasn't insane, just ill-timed. Vahedi called in a heartbeat, and flipped up pocket queens.

The crowd turned its attention to Strahl, who could produce only Jd-9d. Any residual fears Vahedi might have about a bad beat pretty much vanished on the 3c-Ad-Qc flop; he had a set of queens, and only a runner-runner flush or straight could catch him.

The turned 6s ended that hope, and as impossible as it had seemed when Vahedi sat steaming with $15,000, he now received a $118,500 shipment from Strahl, who had started the day as the chip leader and who now trailed the Final Four.

We hit the next scheduled break shortly thereafter, at hand #146, with the $500 chips taken out of play, many of the $1,000 chips replaced by the orange $5,000 chips, and a chip count of

Vahedi, $249,000
Haley, $358,000
Rothstein, $109,000
Strahl, $81,000

The new antes were $1,000, and the blinds $3,000-$6,000. That meant it cost $13,000 to sit out a round, and four-handed, the button comes flying around pretty fast.

THE BIG STACK ATTACK

The hand specifics aren't too important, because the general pattern and flow were consistent from this point forward. Haley and Vahedi used their big stacks to take aggressive stances and Rothstein and Strahl couldn't find the hands or the right moments to play back. The rich grew richer and the poor grew poorer.

Finally at hand #164, the poor decided to get tough with the poor. Rothstein moved all-in for his 78k from the button, and Strahl decided to call all-in from the small blind.

Strahl had to like his position when the hands came over, because he showed pocket sevens and Rothstein had Ac-7s: one overcard. One is all it takes when the ace is the first card off the deck, and Brian Strahl was finally out in fourth place.

The players immediately stopped the clock to discuss a deal, with Rothstein the one to first suggest the idea. Shortly after he suggested it he withdrew his motion, though. He told me afterwards that while the money wasn't irrelevant to him, he had thought for a long time that if ever he got to a WSOP final table, he didn't want to make a deal.

WE CAN'T ALL AFFORD IT, BUT I LIKED ROTHSTEIN'S PHILOSOPHY

He wanted purity. "We're here to play poker, not to make deals," he told me afterwards. He was really very positive about the event and excited to be at a WSOP final table, and cutting your way through 528 opponents (at least) isn't easy.

Because of the deal talk, we had an accurate chip count:

Vahedi, $286,000
Haley, $379,000
Rothstein, $131,000

Three hands later, Haley opened for 40k from the button, Vahedi raised back 85k more (a total of 125k), and after a brief thought, Haley said "Okay, let's gamble, I'm all-in." Vahedi called faster than you want this long story to end, and turned over two black kings.

Haley had decided to gamble it up, risking another $240,000 on a hand in which he only had $40,000 invested, with Ad-Jh. At least he had made a raise that Vahedi conceivably could have released to, if he'd been messing around: Vahedi did have to put another 115k into the pot, but with so much already in there, he would have had to have been pretty weak not to give it a try.

THE PHOENIX STRIKES BACK

Vahedi's only scare was the possibility of a chop when the first four community cards came 4-5-6-7, but a deuce hit the river, and Vahedi had doubled through the same opponent who had nearly knocked him out of the tournament on the infamous hand 78.

"Yes!" Vahedi cried out as the deuce hit. Marv Albert couldn't have done it better.

On the very next hand, Rothstein moved his stack in from the button, and Haley was consistent. "Let's gamble!" he drawled, calling all-in and turning over Qc-9c. He found himself up against just the sort of hand you might expect to overbet from the button, pocket sixes. His only scare was similar to Vahedi's on the previous hand, as the board came 9-Q-J-8: again a chop was possible, although a six would have let Rothstein knock out Haley.

A five looks a lot like a six when you're praying for one, but it still doesn't count as one, and suddenly Rothstein had only 30k left.

Two hands later, Haley pushed what he later confessed to have thought a stack of $1,000 chips forward; he'd intended to bet 20k. He moved a stack of $5,000s forward though, making it a 100k bet. Rothstein decided to call all-in with his little stack, and Vahedi indicated he was moving all-in.

There was a roar of confusion, because the crowd was so close and so loud; some people yelled out that everyone was all-in, but Haley hadn't said a word about his hand. Finally he did. "I fold," he said, "I fold."

THE WRONG COLORED STACK LEAVES HALEY SHORT ON AMMO

Vahedi turned over two aces, and Rothstein was practically dead with A-4; once the first four cards off were 3-8-K-5, it was done. Rothstein was out, and Haley only had about 100k left instead of the 180k he'd have had if he'd pushed the right stack forward.

The duo tried to talk deal, but Vahedi wasn't offering enough for Haley's liking, and they played on. Haley got back into it when Vahedi moved all-in with Ks-8s on a 2d-Qs-6s flop, but Haley wasn't going anywhere with As-Kc, and the ace-high held up.

The regained chips fell right back into Vahedi's hands on another of those troublesome unraised pots. The flop on #179 came 4s-Ad-3d. Haley checked, Vahedi bet 10k, Haley made it 30k, and Vahedi called after a bit of thought.

A very scary (for an unraised pot) 2d hit the turn, and Haley bet right out for 75k. Vahedi got the Fever, and an unhappy Haley decided to let the hand go.

HALEY ENJOYED THE MOMENT, POSSIBILY AT THE COST OF ENJOYING A VICTORY

Haley seemed to lose his resolve at this point. He didn't mope or sulk: far from it, actually, because he suddenly started playing to the crowd, talking it up, making jokes, and giving the appearance of someone who realized he'd come pretty far and given a pretty good effort, and so he was going to enjoy the moment before the moment ran out.

After a lot of back and forth action that didn't ever move any chips, they finally decided to make a deal. First place was supposed to pay $270,000, and second $138,000. Haley accepted $155,000 cash, Vahedi $253,000 cash, and they played on for the bracelet.

Almost instantly thereafter Haley doubled his 72k to 144k, and his deal didn't look that great. Actually, I was wondering why Haley was interested in dealing, because it was pretty clear that Vahedi was facing more money pressure.

Five hands later, though (it's amazing how easy these decisions become when no money is involved), Haley opened for 43k from the small blind on the button, Vahedi got the Fever one last time, and Haley called. Ac-4d for Vahedi, while Haley had decided to let his chances for a WSOP bracelet ride upon Kd-3d.

HOUSTON, THE PHOENIX HAS LANDED

The board came down 7d-2h-Qs-Qh-Ah, and a thrilled Amir Vahedi leapt into the air, high-fiving several members of the crowd.

In the aftermath, we wanted to know if Vahedi felt any kind of destiny once his comeback began. He had, it turned out, but not for the karmic reasons we had expected - and for a reason that thrilled me. If you've been reading regularly, you'll know why.

"I was in pain in my room for five days," Vahedi said. "I had the liver surgery, and I thought when I was finally well enough to play, 'I better win this one.'"

A first bracelet is always special, but Vahedi had some specific reasons for being thankful.

"The best way to take pressure off yourself is to manage your money well," Vahedi said. "You can't play well with scared money, with rent money. That's why I like to play with a sponsor, and winning a bracelet is good for the poker resume, makes it easier to get a sponsor."

PUT THIS ADVICE ON A SIGN AND HANG IT ON YOUR BATHROOM MIRROR

"There is a lot of up and down in gambling," Vahedi continued. "I think when someone is up, like me now, I should help people who are down, and when I am down, those people who are up, they help me. The most important thing I can tell people about gambling is DON'T EVER BORROW MONEY FOR GAMBLING. That's a road that leads to lots of trouble. A sponsor (backer) is much better."

Believe it or not, the Iranian-born Vahedi, who came to America in 1983 and didn't start playing serious poker until 1996, didn't think this was his biggest ever comeback, although it was the most profitable and important.

"In Tunica, we were playing an event, the blinds were $300-600, and I only had $50 left in front of me," he said. "I wound up coming back to win that tournament. I don't give up when I get low. We are working here. Fun is being home with the kids, playing poker is work, and to succeed you have to squeeze every drop of equity out of your chips."

"I want to say one more thing about the big controversy," Vahedi said. "It's a difficult position for everyone. It's hard for me, because I can't say anything without making my hand seem weak, but it's hard for the tournament officials too. It was just an uncomfortable position for me to be in, but he (Haley) is such a gentleman, I know it wasn't on purpose."

Like most people, I can never keep that old line about whether you starve a cold and feed a fever or the other way around straight (actually, I think to stay on the safe side I feed for both of them). One thing was pretty clear today during the Fight of the Phoenix. The cure for All-In Fever is feeding yourself a heaping stacking helping of your opponents' chips…and if they happen to come from the one who took them away from you, so much the better…even if he is a gentleman!

Final Official Results
$1,500 No-Limit Hold'em
531 Entrants, Prize Pool $740,745

1. Amir Vahedi, $270,000 (and autographed copy of Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever")
2. Cleve Haley, $138,000
3. Jeff Rothstein, $70,000
4. Brian Strahl, $42,000
5. T.J. Cloutier, $32,000
6 Kirill Gerasinov, $24,000
7. Ruston Eleogram, $18,000
8. Brad Daugherty, $14,000
9. Tony Ma, $11,245
10. Mike Cox, $8,500

11th-12th, $8,500 each: Robert Redman, Noam Freedman.
13th-15th, $7,000 each: Jim Miller, Vin Luu, Dennis Eichhorn.
16th-18th, $5,500 each: Dan Stone, John Robertson, David Kim.
19th-27th, $4,000 each: Maurice Atlani, John Biebel, Bob Hommel, Hans "Tuna" Lund, Phi Nguyen, Rebekah Emmons, Andrew Moss, Howard Lederer, Jan Sjavik.
28th-36th, $2,500 each: David Shu, M.D. Wernick, David Vailloncourt, Robert Mizrachi, David Silverberg, Kip Williams, Lonnie Heimowitz, Greg "FBT", Tom McEvoy.

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