The World Poker Championship was held in Dublin, Ireland, recently. This was a new pot-limit hold’em event that was created by Brian Johnson, from London, sponsored by Richard De Waal and The Gaming Club online poker room, and held at the intimate Merrion Club. Mel Judah, a longtime poker professional, was the tournament director, and he was assisted by Liam Flood, a local favorite.
The format consisted of eight heats of 16 players, with two heats played each day for the first four days. Basically, it was a two-table shootout, with the winner of each heat advancing to the final table and each second-place finisher playing a single-table semifinal heat, with that winner taking the ninth spot at the final table. The buy-in was €6,000 (approximately $7,200). The number of entrants was limited to 128, and it was a sold-out event, which resulted in first-place prize money of €250,000 (a little more than $300,000). The event was taped by Sky Sports for a 10-part television series to air in August throughout Europe (U.S. TV rights are not yet secured), and players were allowed to wear shirts with logos. The final six players of each heat showed their cards to lipstick cameras, and every heat will be getting a television segment.
For a first-time event, it attracted many top U.S. players. Phil Hellmuth, Chris Ferguson, Carlos Mortensen, Chris Moneymaker, and Greg Raymer were the world champions in attendance. Others included Matt Dean, John Juanda, Erick Lindgren, “Miami” John Cernuto, Melissa Hayden, Barry Shulman, Allyn Jaffrey, Jeff Shulman, Blair Rodman, Clonie Gowen, Robert Williamson, Paul Phillips, and Andy Bloch. Mimi Rogers was the sole Hollywood celebrity present.
What follows is a synopsis of my experience and some key hands. It was heat No. 3 on day two, which was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. The actual start time was 9:30 a.m. Due to the television production, tournament action was stopped several times throughout the heat, and as a result, the second heat for each day, which was scheduled to start at 3 p.m., actually started at between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., and went until 4 a.m.-5 a.m. I had Miami John to my right and Barry Shulman to my left. Also at my table were Liam Flood and “Badgirl” Pham, a London pro. We started with $100,000 in chips and blinds of $500-$1,000. The first three rounds lasted 30 minutes and the rest 40 minutes. My initial strategy was to get to know the players for a few rounds before mixing it up. The first round changed all that! The dealer dealt me my second card a little too forcefully and it flipped up; it was the 9diamonds. A replacement card was dealt, as is customary. I looked down and saw J-J. I was first to act and raised the pot maximum to $3,500. Everyone passed to Flood, who reraised the pot to $8,000. I called, and the flop came J-9-5 rainbow! I checked, Flood bet the pot, I raised all in, and he immediately called and flipped up A-A. Two blanks came, and I’d doubled up in the first half-hour, all because of a dealer mistake. This gave me enough chips with which to mix it up pretty good. I’ll jump ahead now to the final pairing, which was Badgirl Pham and I.
When we got heads up, I had $320,000 and she had $1,280,000, a 4-to-1 lead. Since she had been at my table from the start, I was able to observe that she always called a bet with the best hand, and if she led out at a pot, she always showed the best hand. It seemed the other players didn’t believe she had a hand or simply tried to bet her out of a pot. This often occurs when a female player is at the table. In this case, they were making a big mistake, because she is a player! I believe the blinds were $5,000-$10,000 as heads-up play began. Even though she had a large chip advantage, I thought I had enough chips relative to the blinds to be able to be aggressive and mix it up. I steadily hacked away at smaller pots and slowly increased my stack. On one key hand, I had J-10 offsuit on the button and raised. She called with the Qclubs 5clubs. The flop was J-7-4 with two clubs. She bet the pot, I raise all in, and she called. I had top pair and she needed a queen or a club. Two blanks came and I doubled up to about $750,000. I continued to build momentum and eventually took the chip lead at $950,000 to $650,000. I sensed her getting frustrated at having lost the chip lead, and I believed I could take advantage of that.
The only problem was, it was taking all of my energy to stay focused and concentrate on my play. I have lung problems, and we were playing in a small daftar poker online room filled with bright lights and no air-conditioning. The air was stifling, and I was having trouble breathing. I’m surprised I got as far as I did! Some of us play with handicaps, and that’s the way it is. You cope the best you can. On another key hand, I had A-8 offsuit on the button and raised the pot, and Badgirl called. The flop came A-K-9, she check-raised me, and we got it all in. She turned up A-10, and I was drawing slim. A king came on the turn. Now, I needed a jack or higher to tie. A queen came on the river for a split pot. Phew, that was a close one!
On the final hand, I had $700,000 and she had $900,000. The blinds were $30,000-$60,000. It had taken two hours to eliminate the other players, and we’d been playing heads up for two hours. I was on the button and woke up with Q-Q. (Sometimes I will slow-play a big hand when heads up, as I did at the Aussie Millions 10,000 AUD event against Tony Bloom. There, again, I was on the button, woke up with K-K, just called, and the flop came 9-3-3. We both checked, and a 10 came on the turn. Tony made a small bet, I raised to $100,000, he went all in, and I called. He flipped up K-3!) This time, I was not going to slow-play, and decided to raise. I picked up $30,000 in chips to visually count what the pot raise would be, and proceeded to drop the chips on the table while saying raise. There was one small problem, though: My brain instructed my mouth to say raise, but before my mouth got the message and began to speak, the $30,000 in chips had already hit the table. As most of us know, this is a string bet, and it’s not allowed. We’re talking a split second in terms of time. Nevertheless, it was just a call, as it had been challenged by Badgirl, and rightly so. I’d have challenged it too if I had the 6clubs 5clubs. The flop came J-10-7, all clubs! She checked, I bet the pot, and she raised. I looked at my hand again, and I did have the Qclubs, so I went all in. Two blanks came, and Badgirl went on to the final and I went to the semifinal.
Up to this point, I had felt like the odd man out without a logo shirt. As it turned out, Richard De Waal, general manager of The Gaming Club, graciously offered to sponsor me for wearing their logo shirt at the semifinals (and finals, if I got lucky).
All second-place finishers played a semifinal table of eight players, with seven players receiving €12,000 ($14,500) each and the winner moving on to the finals for a minimum payday of €24,000 ($29,000). The semifinals and finals were both played on the same day. No Americans were in the final eight. There were three Americans in the semifinals — Erick Lindgren (two-time World Poker Tour winner), Matt Dean (seventh place in the 2004 World Series), and myself. I drew seat No. 1 and had Carlos Mortensen on my right and Erick Lindgren on my left. We started with $100,000 and the blinds at $1,000-$2,000. My first key hand came in the first round. Mortensen raised the pot, and I found Q-Q and reraised the pot. He thought about it, and called. The flop was A-Q-10! He bet the pot, and I raised all in. He thought for a long while, called, and turned up A-K. His outs to beat three queens were runner-runner A-A, K-K, A-K, or a jack for a straight. A jack came right off on the turn! I couldn’t believe it. I stood up and was smiling to myself about how often I get it in with premium hands and the odds go against me. I had my back turned to the table because I figured I was through and I was prepared to depart. I heard a gasp and turned around to see that another jack had come on the river to give me a full house! Let the fireworks begin. That left Carlos very short (he busted out a few hands later) and me with $175,000.
My next key hand took place when I was in the small blind with A-K and there was a pot raise by Cy Jassinowsky (from South Africa). I reraised all in and had him out-chipped 2-1. He thought for a very long time and decided to call with 7-7. Blanks came on the flop and turn, and he hit a 7 on the river for an unneeded set. I had about $85,000, which was still a decent chip count.
On my next key hand, I raised with 10-10, Erick Lindgren reraised the pot, I reraised all in, and he called with A-Q offsuit. The flop came Q-8-8! I was drawing slim again. The turn was a jack. I needed a 9 or 10 on the river, and a 9 rolled over. Erick was busted, and I was back up to $165,000. In my opinion, the two toughest players in the semifinals had been eliminated, and I liked my chances. Then, a key hand between Matt Dean and Graham “Kiwi” Putt came down. Matt made a small raise and Kiwi called with the 9spades 7spades. The flop was 7-9-X. Matt bet, Kiwi raised, Matt reraised, and Kiwi called. Matt had K-K and went broke when no king came. This gave Kiwi a good chip lead, with more than $350,000. This left me as the sole American remaining in the event. After we took a break, the cards died on me. I always had to lay a hand down because of reraises, or just got lots of unplayable hands. My final hand was 6-6 against A-K, and he caught an ace. I went out in fourth place.
The final table played until 4 a.m., and it was won by Badgirl Pham against Joe Beevers of the Hendon Mob. (Ram Vaswani of the Hendon Mob also made the final table.) I didn’t see the ending, but Badgirl started low in chips and built her way up to a win and €250,000. Congratulations to her.
There were limitations with being in a small venue and the television production causing numerous delays, but overall, Mel Judah and the staff did a fantastic job for a first-time event. The WPC will be held at least annually at different locations around the world, so we can expect more exciting action to come in the future.