Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Rio During the WSOP

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The Rio During the WSOP

The Rio during the WSOP
by Chad Holloway of

When it comes to premiere poker, the World Series of Poker takes the cake. The numerous events in the different variations of poker bring people by the thousands from around the world. These tournaments become poker lore through numerous broadcasts on television and extensive online coverage. However, there is one part of the WSOP that does not harness the attention of the mainstream media, and that is the cash games.

The cash games that are spread at the Rio throughout the WSOP are nothing less than spectacular. WSOP officials set aside approximately 50 tables (they'll add more if needed) for cash games that are spread 24 hours a day. Almost every variation of poker can be found at almost any limits.

Some of the regular games spread during the WSOP include No Limit Hold'em, Limit Hold'em, Pot Limit Omaha, Omaha Eight or Better, Razz, Seven Card Stud, Mixed Games, Chinese Poker, H.O.R.S.E., along with many more.

The stakes are as varied as the games, the cheapest being the $2- $5 No Limit Hold'em tables and the highest . . . well there isn't a limit since the Rio will spread any game at any limit if enough players are interested. Games such as $200-$400 Mixed Games, $100 a point Chinese Poker, and $100-$200 Stud are a daily occurrence.

On top of the excellent game and stake selection, the Rio offers the chance for players to play against some of the most recognizable names in the poker world. Players such as Greg Raymer, Chris Moneymaker, Jerry Yang, Teddy "Iceman" Monroe, and Robert Williamson III could be seen playing various cash games at the 2009 WSOP.

Afraid you can't afford their stakes? You may be excited to know that Raymer was playing $2-$5 No Limit, while Moneymaker and Yang were found at the $5-$10 No Limit tables, making it affordable for the average Joe to sit and play with a World Champion.

There are some other specifics regarding cash games at the Rio during the WSOP that make a visit worthwhile. Although the rake is a bit higher than other casinos at $5 a hand, it is well worth it considering the speed of the dealers (there are no automatic shufflers in the cash games) and the other amenities offered. These amenities include offering a massage service at $2 per minute and free drink service (this includes free alcohol, Red Bull, water, etc).

Second, the experience of playing at the WSOP, whether in a tournament or in a cash game, is second to none. Being able to play with or near some of the biggest names in poker will make any amateur feel like a pro.

Finally, the competition in the WSOP cash games is easier than you might think. Many tournament players venture into the cash arena in between tournaments and tend to lose a bit while others at the tables are merely tourists looking to have a good time. These table dynamics are enough to make any serious poker player's mouth water.

Trying to capture the magic and wonder that surrounds the WSOP is not an easy task; in fact, the only real way to really understand its mystique is to experience it for yourself. Whether you are a cash game specialist or a tournament player, the next time you are in Vegas between the months of May and July, the Rio is the place to go for the highest quality poker action.

Fantasy Poker: Handicapping the World Series

The following article appeared in the June 2009 issue of Poker Pro Magazine and on their website at

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Poker Articles - June 2009
Handicapping the World Series

Who Will Benefit From the Larger Starting Stacks?

The 40th Annual World Series of Poker, as well as this year’s fantasy poker
season, is upon us. The Series will encompass a record 57 events, including ten World Championship events, a $40,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event to celebrate the Series’ 40th Anniversary, and of course the $10,000 World Championship Main Event.
For 2009, WSOP officials have instituted a major change: “We’ve tripled the chips (in relation to the buy-in) for every event,” explains WSOP tournament director Jack Effel. “Now some people might say, ‘Oh, you must’ve eliminated levels.’ On the contrary, we’ve added levels…It’s a tough economy, so we wanted to make sure our poker players were getting the most value, but this is about making the tournaments better for the longevity.”
With more starting chips and added levels, poker skill will truly have a chance to establish itself. What does this mean for fantasy poker? Simply put, the larger starting stack and additional levels are going to favor poker professionals by allowing them more time to utilize their talents; consequently, determining which of these professionals will be the most successful is more difficult than ever, but not impossible.
Based on recent success, experience and preparation, here is a list of five pros likely to make a statement during the 2009 WSOP fantasy poker season.

Daniel Negreanu
Always one to take the World Series seriously, Negreanu has been playing the $400-$800 eight-game mix on PokerStars in an attempt to prepare for multiple events.
“I plan on getting loads of practice before this year’s WSOP and have spent almost a year planning for the WSOP 2009. I’m physically stronger than I’ve ever been, and it’s really not even close.”
Furthermore, Negreanu has revealed in his online blog that he will attempt to play almost half the events. This is a fantasy poker player’s dream as the more events played, the higher the chance of fantasy success. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Negreanu make a final table or two as he pursues his fifth bracelet.
The only downside with Negreanu, if there is such a thing, stems from his personal life. His mother, with whom he is very close, has experienced serious health complications, which could have an emotional impact on his performance. Predicting how someone will react to such a situation is difficult; however, Negreanu is a professional and highly successful player. More than likely he will use the WSOP as a chance to honor his mother by playing his best, much as Brett Favre did in the NFL when he passed for four touchdowns and 399 yards the day after his father passed away.
Negreanu is one of the world’s greatest players who consistently performs well at the WSOP. The 2004 Player of the Year has been practicing numerous games, will be playing a large number of events and will likely turn problems in his personal life into a motivating force. He is a must have in any fantasy poker league.

Huck Seed
Although he hasn’t had a strong WSOP showing since 2006, aside from a seventh-place finish in the 2008 $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. World Championship, Seed is coming off a huge tournament win. In March, Seed won the 2009 NBC National Heads-Up Championship on his way to becoming the all-time leader in that tournament with an 18-4 record (he has also cashed in all five years the event has been held). The Heads-up Championship has developed into one of poker’s most prestigious events, and a win there carries a lot of momentum into the WSOP.
For instance, Chris Ferguson, who took down the event in 2008, went on to cash five times at the WSOP that year, including second and third place finishes. Add to this that Seed is no stranger to the WSOP, having won four bracelets – including the 1996 Main Event – and a strong fantasy candidate emerges.
Seed is one of the most respected players on the tournament circuit today. Very few players will be entering the WSOP with a recent major tournament title and that fact alone warrants attention. If he brings his “A” game, Seed will be a force to be reckoned with both at the WSOP and in numerous fantasy poker leagues.

Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier
No one has had as much success in the first three months of 2009 as “ElkY.” He started the year by outlasting 48 players in the EPT PokerStars Carib-bean Adventure’s $25,000 High Roller event for $433,500. Over the course of the next ten weeks, Grospellier went on a heater, cashing at the L.A. Poker Classic, finishing third at the EPT Deauville High Roller deep stack event, third at the NBC National Heads-Up Champion-ship and second at the Wynn Classic Event 4, giving him tournament winnings of more than $700,000 in the first few months of 2009.
Although Grospellier only has six cashes in WSOP events, he has to be a favorite to win his first bracelet. Given his momentum, ability to focus and deep stack poker skills, Grospellier is primed to take advantage of the increased starting stacks and added levels. It wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility for Grospellier to have six cashes this year alone, making his fantasy potential hard to ignore.

David “Devilfish” Ulliott
Fantasy poker UlliotOne of poker’s most well known international stars, Ulliott has had a strong start to 2009 by winning PartyPoker Irish Poker Champ-ionship Event 2. He followed this up two weeks later with another win at the Euro Finals of Poker main event at the Aviation Club in Paris and then made a 23rd-place cash at EPT Deauville a week after that.
“It’s nice to get off to a winning start in 2009 after few tournament results in 2008,” Ulliott says. “If I was a racehorse, I’d never have been given so many chances; I would have been shot long ago.”
Like Grospellier, Ulliott will be entering the WSOP with a lot of confidence and momentum. The Devilfish, who is known for his cutthroat play, is proficient in multiple games and will likely make an impact in the hold’em and pot-limit Omaha events. There is a chance cash games will lure Ulliott away from some tournaments, but after a lackluster performance at the WSOP in 2008, look for him to concentrate and make a return to prominence.

Andy Bloch
How many times can one man play bridesmaid? Bloch came close to tasting gold last year when he finished second in the $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold’em World Championship event and in 2006 when he was runner-up to Chip Reese in the inaugural $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. World Championship. In last year’s WSOP, Bloch had five cashes (four of which were 16th-place finishes or better) bringing his career cash total
to 20.
Block was the top fantasy poker point earner in the Full Contact Poker League last year and there is no reason to believe he won’t put up similar numbers once again. Bloch is adept at multiple variations and always plays a wide variety of events. He is determined to win a bracelet and will do everything in his power to do so. All things considered, he is likely to duplicate his success and remain among the top fantasy point earners, making him a wise choice for any roster.

Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list of potential fantasy league stars. There are numerous other players who deserve honorable mention such as World Poker Tour 2009 Bay 101 Shooting Star champion and poker veteran Steve Brecher; Internet sensation and issuer of the infamous “durrrr Challenge,” Tom Dwan; new Go Daddy Girl and 2009 NBC Heads-Up Championship runner-up Vanessa Rousso; 2008 WSOP Player of the Year and bracelet winner Erick Lindgren, and odds-on non-bracelet winner most likely to win one, Patrik Antonius.
With the increased starting stacks and added events, the 2009 WSOP is shaping up to go down in history; likewise, the 2009 fantasy poker season should be the biggest and best yet.

WSOP: Event #4 Sets Attendance Record on Day 1b

The following article appeared on at and was written during my time at the 2009 World Series of Poker.

WSOP: Event #4 Sets Attendance Record on Day 1b

Entering Day 1b, all attention was focused on how fast the field would thin after the prior day’s massacre. Day 1a of Event #4 ($1,000 No Limit Hold’em) at the 2009 World Series of Poker saw a massive field of 2,992 decimated at an astounding pace, 4.36 players per minute.

3,020 players put up the $1,000 buy-in on Day 1b, bringing the total of players in Event #4 to 6,012, the largest field for any event outside of the Main Event. This shattered the previous record set in Event #2 ($1,500 No Limit Hold’em) of the 2008 Series.

Along with the usual masses of amateurs, a large number of pros turned out for their shot at the $5,410,800 prize pool, with first place receiving $771,106. The pros in attendance included Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, Andy Black, Tiffany Michelle, T.J. Cloutier and Erick Lindgren.

Action seemed to start a bit slower than Saturday, but that didn’t stop some notable names from busting. Lindgren was ousted when his Q-6 failed to improve against his opponent’s K-Q. Likewise Jonathan Little, Eric Lynch, Michael Mizrachi, David Chiu, Ivey, Michelle, Flack and Black were sent to the rail early. As play continued, interesting and amusing developments began to occur.

One of the more entertaining moments came a few hours into play when Negreanu and some of his table mates were betting on pace of the tournament clock. The clock had two columns listing each spot to be paid and the amount they would receive; however, the left column was cycling through the spots at a slower pace than the right, but with a head start. Negreanu bet that the right column would reach the end of the payouts. Soon a crowd of spectators and floormen gathered as Negreanu chanted, “Go, horsey, go!” Unfortunately for him, the left column reached the mark fifteen spots ahead of the right, thus ending the excitement and Negreanu’s fun.

During the middle stages, action picked up and the number of players dropping began to approach Day 1a levels. Some recognizable names could be seen wandering the halls of the Rio after their eliminations. John Juanda had gotten it all-in with A J but was outdrawn by A 5 when a five hit the flop. Likewise, Gavin Smith’s pocket tens lost a race against A-Q to send him to the rail. Negreanu was eliminated shortly thereafter along with John Phan, Peter Feldman, and David Pham.

Lee Markholt made a stand with Q T and was called by two players holding K K and A [10h], needless to say he was dominated and sent packing when the board came 5 6 4 K A. As the big names in poker continued to fall, the amateurs seemed to be thriving. At the dinner break, 1,017 players remained which meant up to that point the tournament was losing 5.5 players per minute.

One pro who has managed to find success throughout the day was J.C. Tran, who quietly amassed a large stack. In one hand, Tran called an opponent’s all-in bet with A Q only to run into Q Q; luckily, the board ran out K 8 6 K T giving him the nut flush and a 55,000 chip stack.

“I’ve been hitting hands and had a good table draw,” said Tran regarding his success, “They’ve been letting me get away with stuff.”

As the night wore on, the eliminations continued and by the end of the night 2,636 player’s dreams had come to an end. This meant that 4.39 players were eliminated per minute, slightly more than the Day 1a average. Day 1b was nothing short of historic. The event shattered the record for largest field outside of the Main Event and coincided with two final tables as well as the Tournament of Champions Invitational.

Along with Day 1a’s remaining 376 players, the surviving 384 Day 1b players will return at 2PM on Monday to battle it out some more.

WSOP: First Day of Stimulus Special Loses 4.36 Players per Minute

The following article appeared on at and was written during my time at the 2009 World Series of Poker.

WSOP: First Day of Stimulus Special Loses 4.36 Players per Minute

Amateur Kevin Volk, from Wisconsin, tries to navigate his way through the massive Day 1A field of the $$1,000 buy-in Stimulus Special event.
Amateur Kevin Volk, from Wisconsin, tries to navigate his way through the massive Day 1a field of the $1,000 buy-in Stimulus Special event.

Harrah’s predicted there would be a large turn out for Event #4 ($1,000 No Limit Hold’em) of the 2009 World Series of Poker and they were right.

Day 1a of the tournament dubbed the “Stimulus Special” began with 2,992 hopefuls, amateur and pro alike, who were looking to claim their share of an almost $6 million prize pool. The field was so large that the Rio’s Amazon Room couldn’t hold all the action; both the Brasilia and Miranda Rooms were used to house the overflow.

Some of the bigger poker names attracted to the event included Chris Ferguson, Shaun Deeb, Kevin Saul, Billy Baxter, Eric Froelich, Barry Greenstein, Teddy “Iceman” Monroe, Dewey Tomko and Vanessa Rousso. Along with all the big guns, another recognizable name showed-up to play, R & B sensation Nelly.

Although some big name pros turned out for the event, the cheap buy-in made for a minefield of amateurs who came from far and wide for their affordable shot at poker immortality. One such player was Kevin “Smoker” Volk from Reedsburg, Wisconsin. Volk was attracted by the modest buy-in and made the trip with some friends.

“I’ve always wanted to do it and this is the event we picked. I would have went $1,500 at the most, but its something I definitely want to do every year [now].” Although he is clearly excited to be playing the WSOP, Volk is also realistic when it comes to his chances of winning. “Everybody says, ‘You’re gonna win,’ but you don’t even think that. I did set a goal, I did want to make the second day. After today if I make it to Monday, I’ll be happy. ”

Ruffling chips and shouts of “Seat Open” permeated throughout the room during the first few levels as players were constantly exiting the tournament. Amateur players were sent to the rail by the dozens with nothing more than a story to tell. Many of the big name pros also made their exits early. Greenstein had to autograph a copy of Ace on the River, his custom when busting out of a tournament, when his K-8 failed to improve against his opponent’s pocket threes. Likewise, Rousso was sent packing when her pocket tens failed to hold up against A-2.

By the time Level 6 rolled around, putting the blinds at 100-200 with a 25 ante, things started to thin down. The Miranda room contained a mere fraction of the tables it did at the start of the day. It seemed as though the remaining players continued to play aggressively. It was at this time that the music star Nelly found himself all-in with K-K against his opponent’s K-Q and was in great position to double-up; however, the board ran out 8 T J 9 3 and the celebrity made his exit with bodyguard in tow. By the dinner break, the Day 1A field had been narrowed to 1,100 players or so with two-thirds of those registered eliminated in the first six hours of play. Players continued to bust throughout the next four levels of play at a much higher rate than anticipated; in fact, the numbers speak for themselves.

There were 10 hours of play and a total of 2,616 players eliminated for an average of 4.36 people sent home per minute throughout play Saturday.

Toward the end of the night a few fan favorites were sent to the rail. Marco Traniello, husband of Jennifer Harman, was all-in with A Q against his opponent’s J J and failed to improve when the board ran out T T 6 3 J. David Williams was eliminated 40 minutes from the day’s end when his Ax-10x couldn’t win a race against the 9 9. Shortly thereafter, Jeff Williams was sent packing when his pocket fours lost to a river flush.

Day 1a of the Stimulus Special was long and arduous where more than 2,600 players who started met their demise. Volk, the amateur from Wisconsin who had high hopes of making it to Day 2, failed to do so. On the other hand, some players were fortunate to survive the day including Tom Franklin, Dan Heimiller and Billy Baxter. While the end came for many, the tournament hasn’t even started for some. The other half of the field will return tomorrow for Day 1b and will play through ten levels of their own.

Andrew Cohen Wins First Bracelet of 2009 WSOP

The following appeared on at and was written during my time as a poker writer at the 2009 World Series of Poker.

Andrew Cohen Wins First Bracelet of 2009 WSOP

The party at N9NE Steakhouse is bound to last a little longer this weekend as bartender Andrew Cohen took down Event #1 ($500 Casino Employees No Limit Hold'em) at the 2009 WSOP.
The party at N9NE Steakhouse is bound to last a little longer this weekend as bartender Andrew Cohen took down Event #1 ($500 Casino Employees No Limit Hold'em) at the 2009 WSOP.

Event #1 ($500 Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em) resumed play Thursday with the remaining 81 players of a 867-player field. When the day was done the first bracelet of the 2009 World Series of Poker had been awarded with N9NE Steakhouse bartender Andrew Cohen taking home the jewelry and the $83,778 first place prize.

The day’s action started loose and fast as 20 players, many who had entered the day with stacks approximately 10x the big blind, were eliminated within the first 38 minutes of the tournament. As players busted, tables broke and new seating assignments were given. When five tables remained, table #3 became the center of attention with some of the largest chips stacks in the room. Ivas Abrahim, a cashier at the Palomar Club in San Diego, was also at the table as one of the short stacks. Luckily for him, he managed to get his stack all-in with pocket aces against his opponent’s K-Q.The Aces held up and Abrahim managed to hang on. Things didn’t go so well for Ramy Zakaria, Abrahim’s friend and co-worker, who was among the chip leaders throughout day one. Zakaria found himself in a pot with Casey Kuhn and another player. Both Kuhn and Zakaria called the all-in bet of the third player as the flop came 7 Q 4. Kuhn, who had the most chips of the three, pushed all-in and Zakaria quickly made the call. Kuhn showed 7 7 for middle set, Zakaria 4 4 for bottom set, and the third player was way behind with Ax Kx. The 7on the river gave Kuhn quads and left both his opponents drawing dead; however, to add insult to injury the river brought the 4, sendingZakaria home with losing quads!

Play continued for the next couple hours as more and more players were eliminated. Abrahim joined his friend on the rail in 26th place; similarly, the last woman remaining, Stephanie Donahue, met her end finishing in 19th place. After the dinner break, a string of eliminations occurred that ultimately lead up to the final table:

  • Tuni Rafaele (18th- $3,153)
  • Alan Adler (17th- $3,153)
  • Jesse Duangrudeesawat (16th- $3,153)
  • Felix Karli (15th- $4,088)
  • Aaron Medrano (14th- $4,088)
  • Jeffrey Von Alst (13th- $4,088)
  • Osmel Fernandez (12th- $5,503)
  • Cesar Chavez (11th- $5,503)
  • Jon Williams (10th- $5,503)

The final table, which was surrounded by spectators eager to watch the action for the first bracelet of the series, got underway with the following seat assignments and chip counts:

  1. Paul Peterson (Las Vegas, Nevada; 26) - 126,000
  2. Bobby Rooney (Oakland, California; 39) - 360,000
  3. Ferdinand Boleski (Las Vegas, Nevada; 42) - 175,000
  4. Jun Dulay (Las Vegas, Neveada; 43) - 297,000
  5. Andrew Cohen (Las Vegas, Nevada; 39) - 408,000
  6. Sammy Porter (Bullhead City, Arizona; 55) - 303,000
  7. John McAvoy (Chandler, Arizona; 40) - 227,000
  8. Casey Kuhn (Bettendorf, Iowa; 24) 392,000
  9. Grant Yasui (Waipahu, Hawaii; 25) - 205,000

The first elimination of the final table came when Porter, who had lost most of his chips, moved all-in for his remaining 46,000 with [Ah[ 8. McAvoy called with A Q only to have Rooney push all-in over the top for 68,000 more with pocket Jacks. McAvoy made the call and the board ran out 3 2 9 J 4, giving Rooney the pot and making Poter the 9th place finisher for $7,782. A big hand developed when Boleski pushed all-in with the A J and was called by Matvoy's Q Q. The board ran out [10c] 7 5 5 3 and Boleski, the table games dealer from Las Vegas, was eliminated in 8th place for $8,866. Matvoy’s fans, who seem to be lined along the rail, cheered as their man became the new chip leader. Unfortunately, the celebration was short lived as McAvoy doubled-up a few opponents and lost the chip lead. This lead to a hand where he was all-in with A 7 and behind Dulay’s Q Q. The board provided no help for McAvoy and just as quickly as he became chip leader, he was sent packing in 7th place for $10,545.

Rooney, a casino floorman, left himself short stacked when he doubled-up Peterson; as such, he decided to push all-in when action was folded to him in the small blind. Dulay made the call from the big blind with K 8 and was ahead of Rooney’s 6 5. The board came A Q 7 J [10d] and Rooney became the 6th place finisher, earning $13,125. Action stalled for a couple hours before Dulay called a Cohen all-in with 8 8. Cohen was in the lead with J J and took down the sizeable pot when the board came [10h] 5 9 K K. Dulay took home $17,127 for his 5th place finish. A few hands later, Cohen raised to 45,000 from the cutoff and was reraised by Yasui to 145,000. Cohen made the call as the flop came Q 6 6, causing Yasui to move all-in only to have Cohen snap call with 5 5. Yasui turned over A 9 as both the turn and river blanked. Yasui finished the tournament in 4th place for $23,483. The next elimination came when when Cohen raised the pot to 48,000 and was called by Kuhn. Cohen bet out 75,000 on the 3 K 5 flop only to have Kuhn push all-in. Cohen made the call and revealed the 5 2 for middle pair but was behind Kuhn’s K 4. The turn changed everything when the 5 fell, giving Cohen three-of-a-kind. The 4 blanked on the river and Kuhn became the 3rd place finisher, which was accompanied by a $33,923 payday.

Heads-up play began with Cohen holding an approximately 5-1 chip lead over Peterson. Things didn’t last long when Peterson found himself all-in with A Q against Cohen’s 6 6. The board ran out [10d] J 4 [10h] 7 allowing the sixes to hold up and giving Cohen, a bartender at the N9ne in Las Vegas, the victory. Peterson finished in 2nd place for $51,787. Cohen’s friends, including poker pro Alex Outhred, burst into cheers on the rail. The 39 year-old Cohen, who has a wife and daughter, became the first bracelt winner of the 2009 WSOP by outlasting 866 players and taking down the Casino Employees $500 No-Limit Hold’em event and took home the $83,778 first-place prize.