Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Travel Report: WPT Alpha8 Florida, Day 1 -- Lights, Camera, Action

Was a long one yesterday, starting well before noon and not ending until around 2:30 a.m. as the first day of the two-day, $100,000 buy-in World Poker Tour Alpha8 Florida event played out at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida. Will probably be another lengthy day today as a winner will need to be found from the nine players who remain in the event.

The day started quietly with only seven players gathered around one of the secondary tables. Soon a couple more showed and they redrew for two tables, then several more trickled in to build a total field of 18 unique players. Three would end up re-entering the event, making 21 entries altogether and a prize pool of just over $2 million.

The final total might have been higher if not for the fact that a few players were still alive over in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open $10 Million Guaranteed Main Event. For example, both Justin Bonomo and David “Doc” Sands might have played had they not continued their runs over there into yesterday evening (both are still among the 21 still fighting for the $1.7 million-plus first prize over there). In fact Matt Glantz who currently leads the Alpha8 might not have been able to play if he hadn’t been knocked out late in the afternoon in the SHRPO at which point he came over to late register.

The tourney is being held in the “Hard Rock Live” arena where concerts are staged. Posters of Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, and some others due to perform there in the coming weeks greet players and staff as they enter and walk past the box office. Once inside there are tall bleachers rising up all four sides of the large space, with the tournament housed inside curtained walls in the center of the floor. Within those walls are tables with the main feature table sitting in what almost resembles a high-end living room with a large area nearby for the show’s presenters to shoot their segments.

The small field and lavish set helped create a somewhat unusual atmosphere for a poker tournament. At one point Josh mentioned it reminded him of the high-stakes poker tourney in 2006’s Casino Royale. Later we ran over to visit the guys covering Day 3 of the SHRPO Main Event and I mentioned to B.J. Nemeth how the bright white chairs and spotless set seemed kind of like sterilized environment, resembling one in which surgery is performed.

The scene appeared quite relaxed especially early on when the stacks were all super deep (they started with an average of 250 big blinds). Even when players began getting short and eventually busting, there was little drama or theatrics from anyone with all being friendly and professional throughout as is often the case in these huge buy-in events.

Meanwhile the table talk came and went, and was often interesting to overhear.

Tom Hall -- a.k.a. “Hong Kong Tom” -- talked some about the big games in Macau, comparing notes with others who’ve made the trip and also contrasting those games with other big ones around the world.

Isaac Haxton shared an idea with his table for re-entry events that involved giving players who re-enter after the blinds have increased more than the original starting stack, something which seemed to intrigue the others.

Philipp Gruissem told Matt Glantz how they’d played against each other in Gruissem’s first ever “high roller”-type event, the $25K 6-max. at the World Series of Poker back in 2010.

The always entertaining Bill Perkins was there, too, surviving to today albeit as the short stack. He often had tablemates smiling and laughing with his banter, and indeed the general mood was reserved but upbeat throughout.

I haven’t even asked anybody specifically about that name -- “Alpha8” -- although watching the action yesterday it became somewhat apparent that besides the reference to eight-handed play, this was kind of an “alpha” group of players we were watching, both in terms of talent level and having the rolls with which to play in an event such as this one without being affected too greatly by the expense.

The reporting side of things went well, with lots of support from the very friendly and helpful World Poker Tour folks who have had many years of putting on tournaments. More than once I’ve had people referring to the “WPT family” as they welcomed me and offered whatever assistance I might need. Speaking of the WPT regulars, I saw and spoke briefly with tourney director Matt Savage who I’m very glad to report seems to be doing well following that scary water slide-related injury he suffered not long ago.

As mentioned nine made it through to today, although only the top four will be making the cash. At eight-handed they’ll begin the official final table, at which point the live stream will crank up over on the WPT website. They were shooting all day yesterday for the later Fox Sports 1 showing of the event, and that will continue in earnest again today, too.

Should make for another interesting day, I think, and as I say likely a long one, although not as long as had been originally anticipated had the field turned out to be twice the size it was. Joining Glantz and Perkins will be Haxton, Daniel Alaei, Steven Silverman, Jason Mercier, Joseph Cheong, Jeff Gross, and current WSOP Main Event chip leader and November Niner J.C. Tran.

If you’re curious to see how it plays out, click over today to the WPT site for both the live updates and the streaming video.

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