I happened to cover this same event last summer when Joe Commisso won it. It also came late in the summer (it was Event No. 46), and the one thing I remember about it was the inordinately long heads-up portion of the final table.
Looking back at the live blog from last year, we did hand-for-hand coverage of that six-handed final table (as we did for most events last year). That was impossible yesterday since we weren’t on the main feature table, not that we necessarily would’ve done hand-for-hand anyway. MaconMarc and I had our laptops set up on a nearby table, a sort of makeshift arrangement necessitated by the unique location of yesterday’s final day. As far as I know, this ended up being the only final played out over in the Orange section of the Amazon room (the front left quadrant) rather than at a feature table or at least next to a feature table.
Anyhow, I see from last year’s blog that at the six-handed final table the first four players were eliminated in just 69 hands. Then it took a whopping 209 hands -- like six hours -- for Commisso finally to finish off Richard Lyndaker. My Hard-Boiled Poker post afterwards was titled “Kafkaesque, It Was.” “How did I get here?” I was asking myself as the night wore on and on and on. “What crime did I commit? Is this my punishment, or is something worse awaiting me? Just call me Shamus K.”
Anyhow, yesterday’s final day would go a little differently.
There were 16 players returning for the last day, so three tables’ worth. There were also many who’d come around wanting to watch -- not nearly as many who would be gawking at the Ante Up for Africa Celebrity-Charity Poker Tournament that was taking up most of the rest of the Amazon Room, but eventually well over a hundred or so, many of whom were friends of the players.
Because we were set up in the unusual location, it would take tourney officials and security an hour or more to realize that we had a lot of people milling about between the tables who didn’t belong there. Indeed, I had a nearly very frustrating moment when I was quickly jotting down the cards on a bustout hand, and this joker got in my ear saying “jack of hearts two of clubs ace of diamonds jack of spades” -- basically goofing around and trying to cause me to miss the cards. Hilarious, dude. I was able to get them down anyway, and soon after security got him out of there and eventually the ropes were put in place.
While my working conditions weren’t ideal, my various distractions were minor compared to those the players had to endure. I genuinely felt bad for them, playing for a first prize of more than $1 million in what were at times some friggin’ crummy conditions.
After about a half-hour of play, preliminaries for that Ante Up for Africa tourney started up on the other side of the room. Phil Hellmuth had the microphone, and he spent a long time introducing and kibitzing with the various celebs and poker players who’d come to play in that one. Hellmuth’s voice blared loudly over the PA system, and would continue for the next three hours or so as he “emceed” the event by calling out hands and so forth.
The noise was both loud and especially distracting, such as when Hellmuth would be calling out all-in hands and the board cards. The players immediately complained and asked if the tourney could be moved to another room. It actually looked like they were going to move them once it got to 12 players and two tables, but for some reason it didn’t happen and we stayed.
I made a couple of references to the noise in the live blog, bringing up in one post the popular Kurt Vonnegut story “Harrison Bergeron.” That’s the one set in an imagined future where the U.S. has made laws designed to ensure everyone is made equal by handicapping those with greater physical or mental gifts. So, for instance, people with higher intelligence are made to wear headphones through which painfully loud noises intermittently blast so as to make it more difficult to think clearly.
That’s basically what the players faced. In addition to the way Hellmuth’s booming voice might distract one’s concentration, players couldn’t hear each other, and so were constantly having to ask each other to repeat themselves when announcing their actions. And all this with more than $3 million worth of prize money up for grabs between those final 16!
After the dinner break -- when we were down to the actual final table -- the conditions had improved, although there were still occasional problems. The Ante Up for Africa tourney had moved over to the main stage, and so was less of an issue, but that was replaced by the noise of workers replacing the tables for the Main Event which begins today, as well as other oddities filtering over the PA system.
At one point, some pop song rang out over the speakers. Again, the players looked up and wondered what the hell was going on. “You gotta be kidding me,” said Hawrilenko of yet another sudden cacophony having arisen. “God, Hellmuth was better than this,” added Josh Brikis, who’d eventually finish second.
As a side note -- for those who might not know Hawrilenko, he is the high-stakes limit hold’em specialist and Full Tilt pro who had an interesting heads-up LHE session versus Phil Hellmuth on UltimateBet back in the spring. Hawrilenko apparently crushed the Poker Brat, and the latter lost his mind in the chatbox, going so far as to entertain suspicions that his opponent could see his hole cards. Hawrilenko subsequently posted the chat on his blog, and I wrote about it all in a post titled “I Am Irony Man.”
I have to admit I thought about that story a couple of times last night as I watched Hawrilenko there winning a bracelet while Hellmuth was yammering on incessantly on the other side of the room.
Anyhow, Hawrilenko and Brikis finally got to heads up, at which point they decided to take a 20-minute break. It was just after 11 p.m. Hawrilenko had 9 million chips, Brikis 5 million. At the time that meant Hawrilenko had over 110 big blinds and Brikis over 60.
I harbored no hopes of getting out of there soon. Indeed, looking back at last year’s $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event, it was a pretty similar situation, where Joe Commisso had about 132 big blinds to start heads up and Richard Lyndaker had 67.
But this time the players returned from the break, and on just the fourth hand Brikis shipped it with versus Hawrilenko’s pocket jacks. Hoss_TBF’s hand held, and we were done before midnight.
I’m off today, as it appears the bloggers are going to be on an every-other-day schedule here for the four Day Ones and two Day Twos of the Main Event. I might run over to the Rio anyway today and check out the “Poker Palooza” expo which is set up through Sunday, I believe. I missed that last summer, having worked every day it was held.
I’m thinking that’ll be a nice distraction.