Saturday, 26 June 2010

Taking Notice

“Please welcome the latest bracelet winner, from Birmingham, England...” I never thought I’d hear those words come from anyone’s mouth, never mind Jack Effell’s, but when Steve Jelinek skipped across the stage, disbelief turned into reality: yes, Birmingham, England, my birth city, where I grew up, and went to school, was now the home of a WSOP champion. Surely my ears must be deceiving me.

There have been a lot of strange occurrences this year; I’m beginning to wonder if it’s just a glitch in the matrix. Following in the footsteps of Messieurs Bansi, Dempsey, Ashby and Ellis, Jelinek made it a fab five, thus making the UK the only country outside the host nation to have won five bangles in a single year. Whatever happens for the rest of the Series, the Brits have shouted louder than anyone, and everyone’s taking notice.

Steve Jelinek is a 39-year old poker pro from Birmingham who grew up in the “industrial Midlands of Great Britain”. He graduated from Manchester University and is married to fellow player/enthusiast Irena Liepina. Steve recorded his first live cash in 2003 and has been performing consistently ever since. Online, he is regarded as somewhat of a satellite specialist, earning entry into numerous events across the globe under the moniker ‘superowl99’, but never quite getting his hands on a major trophy.

Event #41’s $1,500 Pot Limit Omaha High-Low seemed to be all about the Poker Brat, making a rare appearance on a non Hold’em final and seeking his 12th bracelet. Inevitably, all the focus was on him, but the following day, on that Pavillion stage, the cameras only had eyes for Jelinek as he proudly held his bracelet aloft. The irony of it all is that Jelinek has never garnered the attention he deserves, yet now, he was at the centre of the poker world, and lapping it up with a smile that I doubt will ever leave his face.

Like Mike Ellis before him, Steve has an uncanny ability to slip through the net. He’s just your average, no thrills poker player: jeans, T-shirt, nothing fancy - you won’t see him wearing shades, doing chip tricks or hollering “ship it” at every opportunity. Most of the time he’ll be reading his newspaper or watching a film, seemingly paying little if no attention to the task in hand. However, he must have another set of eyes, as before you know it, he will have amassed a monster stack without so much as a murmur and be preparing for his umpteenth final table.

Steve has been around for as long as I have been playing. He always seems to be at every event I attend, quietly plugging away and doing his utmost to add to what is an extensive list of results. For a while, I wondered if Steve would ever get his break. He was making finals, but not quite finding that big score he was searching for. Then came Monte Carlo.

I’d just had a tipple at the bar and was heading up to my room when I noticed Steve in the hallway, the clock quickly heading towards 6am. I asked him why he wasn’t in bed when he had such a big day ahead. “I can’t sleep,” he replied. “I’m too excited.” With over $1.8 million up for grabs, it was understandable he was restless - this was his chance to make a mark. In the end, Steve finished a credible sixth place for €305,270 and finally his poker career had experienced a much needed boost.

A former IT manager for a construction company (and, previously, Kellogg’s), this was likely the pivotal moment that convinced Steve to turn pro and tackle poker full-time. Three years on, and Steve has continued to amass consistent results with GUKPT final tables, a near miss at EPT Dortmund, and various successes at Dusk Till Dawn, however, that one big win, that title holding victory, has still eluded him.

Steve’s results for the first half of 2010 had been sparse, so he may have been lacking confidence heading into Vegas. However, on Thursday, it didn’t show - this was, after all, the same event that he finished sixth in 2009. - and with nine left, he sat in second place with 692,000. This was his chance, and he wasn’t going to blow it.

As the players (including Hellmuth) began to fall, Steve remained in a strong, but vulnerable position, and with five left, found himself slipping down the chip counts. However, after Ben Lamb and Michael Chappus had exited in quick succession, Steve enjoyed two key double-ups: first, off John Gotlieb, with Jh-Jd-4d-2h versus Kc-6h-5d-As on an eventful Ks-8h-Th-6d-Jc board, and then, moments later, against Anders Taylor, with set over set. A couple of hours later and it was all over, Steve triumphing in an epic heads-up battle when his As-Ah-Qd-4h held up against Gottlieb’s Ad-Kh-9d-5c. Finally, the victory, and the bracelet, were his!

“It’s not quite sunk in yet,” reported Steve in the aftermath. “But you would not know how much this means to me because I’ve been a professional for two and a half years and a serious player for seven. I’ve been down on my luck, maybe through poor play, maybe through a bit of mismanagement, or picking the wrong games. My bankroll was down a bit. I decided to come to the WSOP this year and try and get a gold bracelet to try and continue my poker career and that’s what it means to me - not only to win the biggest prize in poker, in the best setting, in the best tournaments, against the best players, but to be able to continue my poker career as a winner.”

“I’m not really surprised,” he added when asked about the collective success of the Brits. “There are a great number of very fine players from the UK. I am part of the old school. But these new young players, so many of them are doing quite well. I am not surprised at all. Of course, I take great pride in being English, but it does not mean I am anti-everyone else. There are so many great players who have not won a gold bracelet, including some of my friends who have helped me. To win this gold bracelet is a great honour.”

847 players entered the event (85 up from last year) including many of the game’s ‘big names’. Chris Ferguson, Mike Matusow and Barry Greenstein all cashed in 12th, 49th and 75th respectively, whilst the UK also found representation in Joel Ettedgi, who was cruelly three-quartered by a one-outer before dropping in ninth, and unknown entity Darren Sprengers who snapped up eleventh.

But the day belonged to Steve and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player as happy, and proud, to have a bracelet than he was. You could tell it meant the world to him. Sponsorship has always evaded him, despite his results, and consistency, but now he owned what many consider to be the pinnacle of poker: a gold bracelet. Now people would have to take notice. Finally, this is his chance to truly leave a last impression on the poker world.

image courtesy of Rob Mathis/WSOP

1st Steve Jelinek -- $245,871
2nd John Gottlieb -- $151,884
3rd Anders Taylors -- $97,913
4th Michael Chappus -- $71,728
5th Ben Lamb -- $53,319
6th Mandy Thomas -- $40,169
7th Phil Hellmuth -- $30,633
8th Ryan Karp -- $23,635
9th Joel Ettedgi -- $18,432

Previous Bulletins:

Employee of the Month
Fairytale Endings

Must Be Nice

Make Mine a Double
Blonde on Blonde
Summer of Sam
Chuft to Bits
Under the Radar

Vegas Blog Entries:

May 23: My Old School Teacher
May 31: Welcome to America; Let the Institutionalising Begin
June 1: Pleasure & Pain
June 5: 100% British Beef
June 9: Alphabetti Spaghetti & Giant Meatballs
June 13: Colour Me Up
June 14: The Crying Game
June 20: Last Gasps
June 24: Dancing With the Devil

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Under the Radar

Mike Ellis isn't the archetypical poker player, and certainly not the image one might have of a pro formed from the 2003 poker boom. To look at him, you'd be forgiven for thinking he was an accountant, not one of UK poker's current hot topics. However, that actually isn't too far away from the truth, as before he turned pro, Mike worked in banking and investments where he specialised in analysing financial markets. Although he played as a student at Oxford University, it wasn't until 2004 that he truly got bitten by the bug, a business conference in Vegas quickly turning into an excuse to play poker and thus triggering his hunger to earn a living from the game.

Now 45-years old, Mike is a regular in the London cash games - predominatly at the Vic - and has also built up a meaty set of results, one of which was a win in the 2007 GUKPT Grand Final for £197,600. But despite his record, you won't have seen his face in many magazines or TV shows, and he is rarely mentioned in the same breath as some of the UK's more prominent figures, whether they have earned more than him of late or not. Mike is just so quiet and unassuming that he's one of those players who seems to continually pass under the radar unnoticed.

It is perhaps because of this that everyone was rather surprised to see Mike Ellis become the fourth UK bracelet winner when he fended off 2,394 other participants to win Event #30's $1,500 No Limit Hold'em. Yes, that's a field of 2,395, and he did it without so much as a murmur. I'm sure he had his fair share of good fortune, but he never gave up, and when he was within reaching distance of the bracelet, he maintained his focus to win a three-hour heads-up against America's Christopher Gonzales. It was an epic performance, and one that concluded at the yawn-inducing hour of 6am.

The very next day, Mike was back in the Rio to play another donkament. He wasn't out by the pool or balling (is that a word?) with his newfound fortune or waltzing around as though he owned the place. He was there to grind, and to add another bracelet to the trophy cabinet. He still looked like Mike Ellis, the financial trader and poker player, in his jeans and raggy T-shirt, and about as unostentatious a bracelet winner as I'd ever seen. This was the sign of a man dedicated to his job.

"The British players have had a fantastic year," commented Mike. "And you can see from all the support we get. We are all kind of rooting for each other here and we come together. We are all friends and we know each other back home. It's nice to see all of us doing well. It's great.

"This [winning] means absolutely everything," he continued. "It's definitely the marking post for playing poker. If you have won a bracelet, then you have really achieved something.

"I love the game. I absolutely love the game and never tire of it. There is always a different situation. It's a challenge to work things out. You also meet so many great people in poker - it's just a fantastic game."

Meanwhile, the tale was bitter-sweet (mainly bitter for the immediate future) for Black Belt Poker's Neil Channing. Although he made his 15th WSOP cash in three years and finished a credible 11th place for $33,191, that first bracelet still evades him. Channing was desperately unlucky not to have made the final table when K-x outdraw his pocket tens to leave him short-stacked, but he proved once again what great form he is in. He's been the bridesmaid way too many times lately, and it's only matter of time before it's him walking down the aisle. Maybe the Poker Gods are holding him back for the Main Event...

1st Mike Ellis -- $581,851
2nd Christopher Gonzales -- $360,906
3rd David Wilkinson -- $254,996
4th Martin Jacobson -- $183,345
5th Bill Griner -- $133,574
6th William Kakon -- $98,605
7th Jason Hallee -- $73,719
8th Christopher Kastler -- $55,814
9th Jeff Cohen -- $42,790

Previous Bulletins:

Employee of the Month
Fairytale Endings

Must Be Nice

Make Mine a Double
Blonde on Blonde
Summer of Sam
Chuft to Bits

Vegas Blog Entries:

May 23: My Old School Teacher
May 31: Welcome to America; Let the Institutionalising Begin
June 1: Pleasure & Pain
June 5: 100% British Beef
June 9: Alphabetti Spaghetti & Giant Meatballs
June 13: Colour Me Up
June 14: The Crying Game
June 20: Last Gasps

Friday, 18 June 2010

BBP Ambush Summer Series

All eyes in the poker world may be on the World Series of Poker in Vegas, but back on home soil, it’s business as usual as the GUKPT continues its rampage over the UK poker circuit. Last weekend, the Summer Series visited the G Casino in Luton for its latest feast of poker fun and frolics. Whilst 33 players battled it out in Aberdeen, a slightly more meaty 53 took up the challenge in Luton.

Three players stumping up the £500 buy-in were Black Belt Poker sponsored pros Gavin Hall, Kevin Williams and Jamie Burland. Incredibly, at the end of the opening day, and with nine players left, Black Belt dominated proceedings with Kevin chip leader, Jamie in second and Gavin third, each boasting over 100,000 of the 530,000 chips in play.

Although a clean sweep look imminent, Reading’s Graham Pound spoilt the party by taking top spot for £8,740, forcing Gavin, Kevin and Jamie to settle for second to fourth respectively. The trophy may have evaded us, but between them, they took home an incredible £13,120 of the £26,500 up for grabs - almost half the prize pool!

“I was the one who didn’t go to Ireland,” commented Gavin following the event,” the only one of the four main Graders selected not to cash so far, so, at the moment, I am uber happy to have been able to repay some of the faith shown in me and provide a wider audience for Black Belt Poker. If you want a barometer, then, as Kev put it, we have just come second, third and fourth in a major UK event and all three of us are pissed off that we haven’t won it. That’s the drive and determination to get to the top that we have.”

“Obviously, going into the final nine as chip leader with a great seat draw, I was feeling very positive about my chances,” added Kevin. “Holding the chip lead with three left felt even better. Coming third wasn’t in the game plan, but Gav runs too good against me. :) It feels much better now, though, and it was great for the three of us to really dominate the comp. Replication in the November Nine, in my opinion; better get on with winning our seats...”

Gavin, Kevin and Jamie were a product of the Black Belt Poker Grading last March and became Blue Belts as a result. As Blue Belts, they receive $1,500 a month in live tournament buy-ins. Our congratulations go out to all of them for a quite magnificent performance.

1st Graham Pound -- £8,740
2nd Gavin Hall -- £6,360
3rd Kevin Williams -- £4,240
4th Jamie Burland -- £2,520
5th Yirah Shimon -- £1,990
6th Dean Morris -- £1,460
7th Michelle Bashir - £1,190

images courtesy of Jonathan Raab/GUKPT

Chuft to Bits

Richard Ashby once confessed that despite an Aussie Millions final table and over $650,000 in live tournament winnings, his live game simply wasn’t up to scratch. Online, his reputation precedes him and he has become one of the most renowned British players at the nosebleed stakes, but live, he still felt he had a lot to prove.

First prize for Event #21’s $1,500 Seven-Card Stud may not have look like much in comparison to neighbouring events, but to Richard, this win was about much more than money, it was about achieving a goal and finding self-satisfaction in his own abilities. It was also about recognition. Whether we like it or not, live players are measured on bracelets; all the greats have one, and now Richard is a member of that elite list.

Seven-Card Stud may have, at one time, been the most popular poker game on the East Coast, but since Moneymaker’s win in 2003, it has taken a back seat to Hold’em and found itself overtaken by other games, such as it’s High-Low sibling. As such, and despite the affordable $1,500 buy-in fee, the event attracted just 408, many of whom may have seen the small field as an opportunity to get their hands on a bracelet.

Seven-Card Stud was actually the first game Richard ever played. When he was 18, he began playing for pennies with his dad and at his local tennis club before venturing into his local casino and playing a £10 Stud tournament. When Stud waned in popularity, Richard ventured into other games, in particular Pot Limit Omaha which is currently his favoured game and the one he appears to excel in the most.

I recall bumping into Richard at the end of a long Day Two. He was tired, but excited about the upcoming final. Despite this being one of the smallest prize pools to date, there was a glint in his eye, and I could sense how much the bracelet meant to him. He was hungry for gold and not even a tough line up that included Sorel Mizzi, Jon Turner and Dan Heimiller was going to stop him. “I think I’m third in chips,” he gleamed. “I’m feeling good, though, and think I have a good chance.”

As expected, the final table was a turbulent affair, and although Richard was the short stack five-handed, he dug his heels in and battled his way to heads-up where he faced Christine Pietsch, a debuting amateur looking to become 2010’s first female bracelet winner and only the 16th in history. However, in the end, it was the 38-year old Brit from Watford who would enjoy victory, the final hand seeing Ashby’s queens in the hole improve to two pair to beat Pietsch’s pair of tens.

“I have played so many tournaments,” he later commented. “You put so much energy into something like this and to make it all the way - it means a lot me to win, so I’m really happy.”

“She [Christine Pietsch] was playing realy well. She was playing very aggressively. She was never scared when I hit three to a flush or made an open pair. She kept on being aggressive. Once the pots started getting big, it was hard to put on the brakes. I got lucky on a couple of pots and she played really well. (On one hand) I was bluffing and she kept on correctly calling me. Then, I got lucky and hit a third deuce and won. That was really the turning point, I think.”

This marked Richard’s ninth WSOP cash with his first coming in 2003 when he came sixth in the $1,500 Omaha High-Low event for $12,640. In taking down this event, he joins a long list of previous winners dating back to Puggy Pearson who won the inaugural event back in 1973. Richard also became the third UK player to snap up bracelet gold this year along with Praz Bansi and James Dempsey.

When we talk about some of the greats back in the UK, Richard’s name is often one that is missed. In many respects, he’s a highly underrated player. He has an incredible work ethic, is knowledgeable in all games, and is one of the few veterans to have shone online, a platform which is undoubtedly dominated by the gifted twenty-somethings of the game. Now, with a bracelet under his belt, he should surely be considered one of the best we have to offer.

$140,467 is a figure that Richard could win or lose online in seconds, but this was about triumph, it was about winning his first bracelet and proving to both himself and everyone else that he’s more than just an ‘online cash player’, he’s one of the best all-round players in Europe. I think he made his point.

1st Richard Ashby -- $140,467
2nd Christine Pietsch -- $86,756
3rd Darren Shebell -- $55,955
4th Dan Heimiller -- $40,544
5th Owais Ahmed -- $29,809
6th Sorel Mizzi -- $22,235
7th Pat Pezzin -- $16,826
8th Jon Turner -- $12,916

Previous Bulletins:

Employee of the Month
Fairytale Endings

Must Be Nice

Make Mine a Double
Blonde on Blonde
Summer of Sam

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Summer of Sam

One of my regrets this Series is that I wasn't able to rail the final table of the $5,000 No Limit Hold'em Freezeout. At the time, I was blogging the Omaha event in the Pavillion Room, but when possible, I would venture over to the Amazon Room to check out the progress of UK representatives Sam Trickett and Paul 'Pab' Foltyn.

As expected, the scenes were reminiscent of James Dempsey's final, and the Brits were once again out in full force, singing and cheering as if it were the F.A. Cup Final. According to Nolan Dalla, the rail built up a $4,600 bar tab (even without Dubai in tow), and at one point had bottles of Cristal champagne wheeled into the playing area.

Even before the final, there was a real buzz about the event. As we crept into the cash, Stuart Rutter and James Dempsey were also still in, and it was assumed that between the four of them, someone would have a real shot at the bracelet. On this occasion, that man was Sam.

Like the six-handed event Sam finalled in 2008, this event has a tendency of attracting a tough field, and one that is perhaps younger than the average. The final table line-up perhaps reflected this: David Benefield is a hugely talented online pro who remains one of durrrr's closest friends; Amit Makhija is a member of the Brunson 10; whilst 23-year old Jeff Williams is a former EPT Grand Final winner. This was arguably the toughest final table of the Series so far.

Despite being ahead of Trickett in chips, Pab would ultimately find himself eliminated in eighth place for $79,957 when he ran pocket fives into the bullets of Jason DeWitt. A 25-year old online pro from Doncaster, Pab hardly ever plays live tournaments, yet has two WSOP finals and a GUKPT Grand Final title to his name. Not too many people can top him when it comes to ROI.

Sam, meanwhile, was firing on all cylinders, and after Dewitt eliminated Williams in third place with 7-7 versus A-5, he found himself heads-up for the bracelet. A near two hour battle was required to determine a winner, that man being 26-year old DeWitt of Georgia, USA, who tied up victory when his Ts-8h spiked top pair on an eventful 8d-6s-5c-6c-5h board against Trickett's As-7d. The bracelet and $818,959 was to stay in the hands of the host nation.

"I feel like I didn't make any mistakes at the final table," beamed DeWitt. "There is not one move I regret, I was happy with every play I made. I made it to two final tables last year and this one was tougher than those other two. Out of the three final tables, I played my best at this one, so it's nice the Poker Gods rewarded me."

Much like James Akenhead was in 2008, Sam will inevitably be gutted to have come so close, especially after such a dogged heads-up, but the sight of $505,725 for second place will undoubtedly soothe those pains. Johnny Chan won the inaugural event in 2003, and TJ Cloutier emulated that success two years later - Sam would have loved to have joined that elite group, but it just wasn't to be, no matter how bracelet-hungry he was.

Sam cut his teeth in poker at the same venue as myself: the Gala Casino, Nottingham. Although he started playing there a month or two after I relocated to London, I was continually hearing his name, and people were quick to label him a potential future star. After running rampant through his local casino, Sam eventually joined the live circuit and within a year was a GUKPT Champion after taking down the Luton leg for a mouth-watering £109,050.

I don't think you'll ever see Sam researching his Poker Tracker or sitting at home reading strategy books. He's a naturally gifted player who's biggest assets are his aggressive style and his testicular fortitude. He seems to have an innate ability to detect weakness and apply the necessary pressure. He's a dangerous player who'd be a nightmare on any table.

Sam doesn't strike me as the type of guy who's likely to sit on a bankroll either. He's dying for success, and he'll always be looking to climb the stakes and play a bigger game. I expect he pushed a little too hard after his earlier wins, but I sense he will have learned from past mistakes and will this time, along with the support of recent sponsors Titan Poker, scale the ranks with a slightly tighter rein on his bankroll. One thing's for sure, Sam will be enjoying both his success and winnings in equal measure, and I'm sure the local bars will be profiting too.

Either way, Sam's near miss is yet another reminder of the British invasion at this World Series, and that unlike any other year, we have come armed with an array of talent that could finally prove that we are catching up with our American friends who have, for so long, been regarded as the front-runners in poker. With the likes of Neil Channing, Praz Bansi, James Dempsey, Stuart Rutter, Richard Ashby and now Sam Trickett already making their mark, I think we're going to have a pretty strong case.

1st Jason Dewitt -- $818,959
2nd Sam Trickett -- $505,725
3rd Jeff WIlliams -- $328,762
4th Peter Gilmore -- $241,472
5th Amit Makhija -- $179,866
6th David Benefield -- $135,718
7th James Carroll -- $103,594
8th Paul Foltyn -- $79,957
9th Manelic Minaya -- $62,350

Previous Bulletins:

Employee of the Month
Fairytale Endings

Must Be Nice

Make Mine a Double
Blonde on Blonde

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Blonde on Blonde

It's amazing how much influence the letter 'P' holds at the World Series. When Praz Bansi won his bracelet last week, he was required to defeat 2,091 other competitors. In the Pot Limit Hold'em event of the same buy-in, however, just 650 turned up. People say that televised poker has lost its influence, but it certainly left its mark. Having been brought up on the fast-paced all-in frenzy of the WPT and WSOP, it's clear that Pot Limit Hold'em is a foreign format to many Americans, and one which doesn't hold the glitz and glamour of No Limit.

But this isn't a recent oddity. Pot Limit didn't make an appearance at the World Series until 1984, despite No Limit being regarded as the more modern game. Even then, the game was Pot Limit Omaha. Pot Limit Hold'em actually didn't emerge until 1992 when the late and colourful John Bonetti toppled Chau Giang for the bracelet and $122,400 first prize. Five years later, the $1,500 buy-in took a sabbatical (increasing to $2,500) before returning in 2002, where it has remained ever since.

When I first started playing at the turn of the Millennium, Pot Limit was the only choice, even in the tournaments. In fact, unless you were playing a major tournament (of which, I expect, was attempting to emulate the popularity of the WSOP Main Event), No Limit simply wasn't even an option. It wasn't until the WPT rose in popularity that No Limit became the norm, and Pot Limit a forgotten format. Before then, the UK seemed to showcase an unprecedented loyalty to Pot Limit, much in the same way as America held onto Limit.

It was therefore, I suppose, of no surprise that at this year's World Series, the $1,500 Limit event had few Brits, and the Pot Limit a lower concentration of Americans. Understandably, people don't like playing a game they're not particularly accustomed to, even if they are arguably more skilled formats (Pot Limit, after all, promotes good play down the streets, and emphasises the importance of bet sizing), and it's inevitable that the fields for these events would thin as a result.

I've known James ‘Flushy’ Dempsey since 2005, when I was working for Blonde Poker as site editor and live updater. James later, and after my departure, became a major shareholder at the company, but at the time, he was a regular poster (using the alias 'Royal Flush' - hence 'Flushy') who, despite being banned on multiple occasions due to a brutally honest approach in expressing his opinions, clearly had a talent for the game and a great poker mind. As a result, many had him penned down as a future prospect, a reputation which led to him being selected for BlueSquare's Unusual Suspects promotion in which he came second to Jen Mason for a seat in the EPT Grand Final.

But despite the promise, James never found that big live score, instead, turning his attention to the less variance-ridden world of online MTTs. Playing under the monikers 'JackxxBauer', 'The Norse Horse' and 'MKKMOO', James began his assault on the virtual world, which culminated in a SCOOP runner up finish for $211,747.51, his biggest ever payday. James had intermittently staked various players previously, but this financial boost allowed him to strengthen his stable and become one of the UK's major stakers along with Neil Channing.

The final table will perhaps be best known for its raucous support. In what has become somewhat of a trend at this year’s World Series, the rail was heaving with an intoxicated, but loyal fanbase, the latest batch made up of British talents such as James Mitchell, James Keys, Nicky Evans and David Jones. As the beer continued to flow, the support became more vocal and various chants began to bellow through the Amazon Room. The atmosphere was like that of a football match, the noise becoming so loud that Michael Matusow issued a complaint from a neighbouring tournament.

When James deposed of veteran JJ Liu (2010’s first female finalist, and one of three female players to make the top 13 in this event), he found himself heads-up for the bracelet with only Steve Chanthabouasy standing in his way. The heads-up encounter was a rugged, back and forth battle in which James couldn’t seem to finish off his opponent, but at 10.40pm, and after eight hours of play, James finally sealed victory with Ad-Ts holding up against As-7c on a teasing 6s-5h-4s-Qh-4d board.

"It's great to win a tournament,” commented James after his triumph, “but there's no reason why this should hold any edge over another tournament. You play for money. Someone can finish third in a tournament and make like $300,00, but if you win another event (with a smaller field or lower buy-in) you might get first and it's $200,000 - that to me does not make any sense at all. Poker players play for money. It's great to win a major tournament. But I just think there's too much emphasis put on winning a World Series of Poker gold bracelet. You want to try and win one, of course, you win more money, but you see people playing three events at the same time. It's just stupid.”

“It's something I used to do,” he added, when questioned about his lack of focus in the latter stages. “But I think I matured a bit. Like today, I lost two big pots and then I was short stack, but I really focused and tried to maintain my head. I used to rush some of my decisions, but today, I gave myself some extra seconds to think it through and it worked out.”

This victory was without doubt one of the most important of his career. Since his SCOOP success, James experienced one of his worst downslides to date and came into the World Series with a limited bankroll and the backing of Chris Moorman. Poor form meant the staker was now the stakee. Meanwhile, James continued to stake players, likely due to the make-up bills that he didn't want to concede. Make-up, after all, still has a value to the staker, and James had no intentions of breaking the chain.

I’m not sure who was more relieved in the end: James for clearing his make-up bill, Moorman for receiving the make-up and a percentage of the winnings, or James’s stable for increasing their chances of being staked. As Pauly says, “It’s like a small business borrowing from the bank.” On this occasion, Moorman’s the bank, and the bank just got richer.

Although the final table of the Pot Limit event was predominantly made up of North American representatives, it was perhaps not that surprising that James was the youngest player at 27 years of age, a rarity for post-boom final tables of such a low buy-in. However, like me, James probably played a lot of Pot Limit when he entered the game in 2003, and could well hold an experience advantage over many young, American pros of his age. JP Kelly won the event last year, John Kabbaj won the $10,000 Championship, and now James in 2010 – if only Harrah’s would make the Main Event Pot Limit, we might actually win the darn thing. Not sure how many people would turn up though.

1st James Dempsey -- $197,470
2nd Steve Chanthabouasy -- $121,963
3rd JJ Liu -- $86,512
4th Mark Babekov -- $62,232
5th Scott Haraden -- $45,393
6th Armen Kara -- $33,573
7th Joseph Williams -- $25,166
8th Edward Brogdon -- $19,120
9th Gregg WIlkerson -- $14,715

Previous Bulletins:

Employee of the Month
Fairytale Endings

Must Be Nice

Make Mine a Double

Monday, 7 June 2010

Shaun Deeb: “I Needed a Break”

Read Interview…

Shaun Deeb is considered by many to be the greatest online MTT player in history, not simply as a result of his natural talent, but also because of his dedication to the game in terms of volume and consistency. For four years, he was the ultimate grinder.

However, last November, Deeb shocked the poker world when he announced he was quitting tournaments, adding, “Poker was good for a while but **** I hate what I’ve become.” Despite all his success, Deeb had burnt himself out and reached a point where the poker lifestyle simply wasn’t fulfilling.

Several months on and Deeb is back, armed with a superior mindset and ready to take on the live pros in Vegas at the 2010 World Series. No longer is he obsessed with playing every tournament, instead, he is here to enjoy the game, and do his utmost to ensure that a smile remains on his face.

This week, Black Belt Poker caught up with Deeb to discuss his change in disposition, asking him why he took a break in the first place and what has changed since his return. “I was playing tournaments because I saw value in them,” he says, “and thought I had to play them. Now I’m playing for more social reasons.”

We also highlight numerous other topics ranging from his attitude towards money to his Monte Carlo encounter with Neil Channing: “What he said to the reporter was true, but I didn’t think it was cool to say it publicly. But it’s in the past, and since then we’ve become very close.”

To read more, then check out the interview now on Black Belt Poker. Also be sure to keep a close eye on our Vegas Page as we bring you all the news, articles and Tweets from the Brits, as well as blogs from Messieurs Snoopy and Channing.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Make Mine a Double

When I spoke to Praz earlier in the week, he expressed his thoughts on the huge fields, explaining what an overwhelming feeling it was to look across the Pavillion Room to see an endless sea of tables and wonder how on earth you're going to beat them all. A few days later and that's exactly what he did, toppling a field of 2,092 to capture his second bracelet to date. Suddenly, the task didn't seem so difficult after all.

Event #5's $1,500 No Limit Hold'em freezeout was the 17th bracelet event to boast in excess of 2,000 runners, the first coming in the Main Event back in 2004. Among the smattering of pros were masses of amateurs, all looking to 'live the dream' and seize the $515,501 first prize. Many were, sadly, dead money, and as the more experienced players feasted on their easy chips, the field quickly began to thin.

As the bubble burst and the once foreboding room emptied, Praz's confidence suddenly enjoyed a welcome boost. The end was in sight, and echoing his 2006 success was now a realistic possibility. "I've played really snug," he reported on Day Two. "I normally do really badly at the start of the World Series, maybe because I'm too excited, but this year I'm being much more patient. The players were going out so quickly, but I didn't let it affect me, I just played my game, built up my stack gradually, and made the odd big bluff."

With the final nearing, Praz's rail grew in size. The Hit Squad were inevitably present, as were close friends Priyan de Mel, Andrew Seden, and fellow two-time bracelet winner JP Kelly, but there were also appearances from the likes of Michael Greco, Tim Blake, Sam Trickett, Laurence Houghton and Roberto Romanello, all of whom had banded together to show their support for their fellow countryman. Previous events had proven to be heavily railed with whooping and hollering the order of the day, and the Brits refused to let their horse feel left out. Of course, an endless flow of beer from the Bad Beat Bar may have helped.

Jack Powell took 25th, top circuit pro Dwyte Pilgrim 20th, John Myung 17th, and when Mexico's Santiago Nadal bubbled in 10th, Praz cemented his fourth WSOP final table. Although the final was mostly made up of 21-year olds participating in their first World Series, there was one true dangerman: David 'DocSands' Sands, one of online poker's most successful tournament players and a member of the Brunson 10. However, when Bansi dropped him in eighth with jacks holding up against fours, it felt like the coast was clear.

Four-handed, Praz was the short stack, but he remained focused, and after a frustrating heads-up battle with a heavily supported Vincent 'Vuff' Jacques in which Praz's 4c-4s was out-flipped by Kd-Qd on a dramatic Ah-Qs-4d-5d-2d board, Praz finally sealed victory in the early hours of the morning with As-Js surviving a Qs-Qd-Jh-8d-2c board against Ac-8s.

"We've been saying that if we get off to a good start as a group (of friends)," commented Praz in a post-match interview, "we think we can go on and win three or four bracelets between us. I hope I might make another score. I know it's a bit greedy to ask. The EPTs and the other tournaments are important, but to me, the World Series is everything."

"I worked in recruitment," he continued. "I decided after a few months that it wasn't what I wanted to do, but I stuck it out because of family and the things they expected me to do. But then I started playing (poker) and got a bug for the game and decided I just couldn't do the nine-to-five in an office."

This victory officially marked the arrival of the Brits in Vegas. Whilst previous years, and 2008 in particular, have shown us in a poor light, there's something in the air this year that suggests we're about to leave our mark on the World Series in a big way. Neil Channing came second in the shootout, James Dempsey is heads-up for a bracelet, and there are number of genuine prospects currently running rampant through Vegas. If early signs are anything to go by, then 2010 could well be the year of the Brit, and if not the Brit, then the Bansi. At the end of the WSOP's official tournament report, they amusingly stated in one line: "Bansi is 32-years-old. He is single." They forgot to mention "rich".

1st Praz Bansi -- $515,501
2nd Vincent Jacques -- $320,913
3rd Calvin Kordus -- $223,069
4th David Tuthill -- $160,650
5th Tomer BErda -- $117.416
6th Donald Offord -- $86,858
7th Hugh Bell -- $64,097
8th David Sands -- $47,331
9th Kyle Knecht -- $37,943

Previous Bulletins:

Employee of the Month
Fairytale Endings

Must Be Nice

Friday, 4 June 2010

Channing Finishes 2nd in WSOP Event #6

Earlier today, Black Belt Poker's Neil Channing finished second in Event #6's $5,000 No Limit Hold'em Shootout at the 2010 World Series of Poker. On the final table, he was joined by fellow Brit Stuart Rutter and London based Frenchman Nicolas Levi, as well as online pro Joseph 'BigEgypt' Elpayaa.

However, it was lesser known Joshua Tieman who prevailed over the 358 thick field, the 27-year old Omaha specialist picking up bracelet gold and a cheque for $441,692 for his first place finish. The final hand saw Channing all in with As-7h versus Ah-Jc, the Ks-Tc-4c-Td-Qh board providing no assistance and knocking him out in second place for $273,153.

Channing earned his seat through two tough heats, the first of which he defeated Kirk Morrison heads-up to advance to an equally competitive table that included Christian Harder, Max Pescatori and Chad Brown. In the end, they proved no match for the 2008 Irish Open Champion as Channing toppled unknown Chris Moore to reach his first Vegas WSOP final table to date.

As with the previous day, the final table was six-handed with players starting equal in chips, but it wasn't long before players started to fall. First to hit the deck was Brent Hanks, whose A-Q suited failed to improve against Levi's pocket sevens. Next out was Nicolas Levi, his jacks cruelly outdrawn by Tieman's eights when a third snowman hit the flop.

Despite lying second in chips, Elpayaa took fourth when his A-J off-suit ran into Tieman's pocket tens. Then, when Tieman eliminated Rutter in with A-Q suited versus A-T off-suit, we were heads-up for the bracelet. Unfortunately, Channing was facing a chip deficit of 8:1, and it would be a mountain he'd fail to climb as Tieman secured victory within just several hands.

This performance marked Channing's 22nd WSOP cash and his second final after he finished fourth in the £1,500 No Limit Hold'em event at the 2008 WSOPE for £44,588. This cash means he has now broken into the top 10 UK all-time money list, sitting just behind James Akenhead in eighth with $2,684,401.

"Joshua played really well in the end and was a deserving winner," commented Channing just moments after the final hand was dealt. "Unfortunately, I saw very few hands on the final table, but felt I did the best with what I had. It was also great to see fellow Brit Stuart Rutter make the final table too. I'm sure it won't be his last."

"Of course, it was disappointing to come so close to winning a bracelet," he continued with a smile, "but I'm sure there will be other opportunities in the future. Having finished second in the London GUKPT, second in the iPoker Monthly Million, and now second here, I think I should definitely give the heads-up event a miss."

1st Joshua Tieman -- $441,692
2nd Neil Channing -- $273,153
3rd Stuart Rutter -- $179,617
4th Joseph Elpayaa -- $125,387
5th Nicolas Levi -- $92,543
6th Brent Hanks -- $71,998

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Fairytale Endings

The World Series is renowned for its fairy tale endings, but rarely do they occur in a $50,000 event, and you certainly wouldn't expect an established pro to be playing the starring role. But, when Michael Mizrachi defeated unknown Russian Vladmir Schemelev late last night in the $50,000 Mixed Games event, that's exactly what happened: a man who once held the title of CardPlayer Player of the Year had won the tournament of his life.

The event was officially named the 'Poker Player's Championship' and was essentially a replacement for last year's H.O.R.S.E. event with the format extended to eight games: Triple-Draw Deuces to Seven Lowball, Limit Hold'em, Omaha High-Low, Razz, Seven-Card Stud, Seven-Card Stud High-Low, Pot Limit Omaha and No Limit Hold'em - a combination that, despite constant bashings into the anagram generator, produced no such bestial acronym.

To most, this was the true start of the 2010 World Series, and to kick us off, Tournament Director Jack Effel was joined on stage by defending champion David Bach, and then Doyle Brunson who announced 'Shuffle up and deal'. But prior to those immortal words, participants were played a video clip celebrating the memory of inaugural champion Chip Reese. As Doyle proclaimed him the "best all-round player that ever lived", Jennifer Harman shed a tear and wallowed in his absence. With 54 bracelet winners and 123 bracelets (of which make up 15 percent of all bracelet winners since 1970) in the 116 thick field, if ever there were a tournament you could be proud of winning, it was this one.

But although it's high on every pro's hit list, the event doesn't come without controversy. Despite the tournament being eight-game and intended to test the skill range of its participants, the final table would revert exclusively to No Limit Hold'em, as it did when Reese triumphed in '06. With TV exposure such a commodity for sponsored pros, many of whom can't afford to be shelling out $50,000 off their own back, they had little choice but to conform to this change and keep their complaints to themselves. With the dramatically reduced ESPN schedule, what choice did they have?

I have always found this stipulation a ridiculous, yet unnerving reminder of the power of the dollar. Can you imagine playing the $1,000 donakment only to find it's Five-Card Draw on the final, or the November Nine switching to Uno for the Main Event. Why don't they change the Ante Up for Africa event to Strip Poker? After all, it would attract more viewers. The truth is that, even in the world of poker, corporoate America is an overwhelming factor. Players could vote with their feet, but they'd be shooting them at the same time.

Nevertheless, the event remained a spectacle, and when we neared the final table, it was clear that there would be at least one story for Harrah's to feast on. With just eight players remaining, there were still two Mizrachis left, Robert joining his younger sibling to become the first brothers to reach a WSOP final table since Barny and Ross in 2002. "There's no competition between us, we root for each other all the time." claimed The Grinder, and when he knocked out Robert in fifth place, he proved that there was no collusion either.

It's amazing what a few cameras and a couple of Mizrachis can do. Unlike other finals (including last year), the stage was heaving with fellow pros, salivating backers, random norkage and maybe even the occasional tax man. Many 'names' were seated in the audience just to get their mug on TV, whilst others may have been looking to nip or recall loans. Patrik Antonius, however, was there purely on business, having staked both Mizrachis in the event to produce an enviably handsome payday.

With just two remaining, Mizrachi seemed destined for gold as he found himself all in with Ac-7c versus Ad-Jd, only to river a flush on an ensuing Kc-9c-Td-Qh-5c board. An hour or two later, it was all over, Mizrachi once again granted divine assistance with Qs-5c out-gunning Qd-8s on a 9h-6h-4c-5h-4d board. Somehow, Mizrachi had pulled the rabbit out of the bag and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

"If I was going to win a gold bracelet, I definitely wanted to win this event," commented Mizrachi after the match. "To win Chip Reese's trophy is really special to me. I hope to honour him in the way he deserves."

You may be wondering what makes this a fairytale. Well, a few months back, it was well documented that despite being a double WPT winner with in excess of 8.5 million dollars in live tournament winnings, Mizrachi was struggling financially and subjected to a tax bill for almost $340,000 for monies earned during the years 2005 to 2007. Mizrachi was effectively in a hole and looking for an escape route.

For us mere mortals, it's hard to swallow, but it offers a stark reminder to some of the game's young hotshots with a lax attitude towards money, that it may not be there forever, and that once the results dry up and the bills start adding up, you could find yourself in a similar hole. Mizrachi showcased a grit determination like none other, and clearly has the capabilities and poker know how to dig himself out, but others won't be so lucky. Now married with three children, 29-year old Mizrachi has surely learned a valuable lesson, and one that he won't forget in a hurry: poker's great until you're broke, and then it's just stressful.

1st Michael Mizrachi -- $1,559,046
2nd Vladimir Schemelev -- $963,375
3rd David Oppenheim -- $603,348
4th John Juanda -- $436,865
5th Robert Mizrachi -- $341,429
6th David Baker -- $272,275
7th Daniel Alaei -- $221,105
8th Mikael Thuritz -- $182,463

Previous Bulletins:

Employee of the Month