No-Limit Hold'em

$3,000 No-Limit Hold'em: "Elon's Ship Comes In"

Before I jump into today’s article, I’d like to say that in reviewing my notes, and talking with a couple of players, I think I failed to give Mike Carson credit for some good plays he made in winning the Pot-Limit Hold’em event, and so if you read the original write-up of “Mr. Carson’s Wild Ride,” I’d suggest you take a look at the revised version that should be up by the time you read this.

A lot of people had speculated, if you’ll pardon the expression, that the recent Nasdaq dot.com nose-dive, combined with Jack Binion tournament in Tunica, would leave the 31st Annual World Series of Poker in bad shape. Although it’s too early to know if we’ll shatter another record in the Big One, records have been falling, well, like the Nasdaq. In last year’s $3,000 No-Limit event, we had 242 entrants. This year, a modest 24% increase to 301 players, creating a tidy little prize pool of $903,000. Just as the mega-casino building frenzy seemed to bring more gamblers to Las Vegas, rather than stealing away market share from existing casinos, the increasing number of big poker tournaments seems to be increasing the number of players interested in tournament poker.

The person most interested in tournament poker today might have been Elon Bjorin, son of the great Swedish player Chris Bjorin (who now lives in London). It wasn’t just a case of loving his dad. The elder Bjorin promised Elon a sailboat if he won a tournament at this year’s World Series. Hoist the mainsail, Elon, and remember to duck when the aptly named boom comes swinging by when you tack, because dad scored today when a number of his opponents failed to duck when Chris lowered the boom on them.

When we started play, the seats and chip counts, playing for 38 more minutes with $2,000-4,000 blinds and $1,000 antes, were:

Carlos Mortensen, $55,500

John Clements, $40,500

David Pham, $81,000

Alfredo Moreno, $56,000

“Miami” John Cernuto, $21,000

Chris Bjorin, $126,500

Matt Lefkowitz, $126,500

Paul Evans, $236,000

Marciano Elie, $165,000

Extra bracing and supports were placed underneath the side of the table on the dealer’s right, so that it could bear up under the weight of all the chips that had randomly landed there. Even without the bracing, this was an interesting table. We had four established stars in Pham, Cernuto, Bjorin and Lefkowitz, but two of them were a bit short on ammo, and none of the other five players had ever reached a Series finale before, with only one of them (Evans) having ever even cashed.

Nice time to make your first-ever final table, when there’s $772,965 left to be given away.

“Miami” John Cernuto was short-stacked for the last two hours of play last evening, never able to pick up a hand at the right moment in a table full of action players, but Cernuto hung on when other big stacks were mixing it up, and made it to the finale trailing the field badly.

You don’t have the consistent winning record that Cernuto puts together without knowing how to get maximum value for your chips, though. With $9,000 worth of antes and $6,000 worth of blinds out there before any cards were dealt each hand, a couple of fast Cernuto moves that no one wanted to mess with had more than doubled John to $44,000 before anyone could get comfortable in his chair.

Then Mortensen decided that if John could grab money that easily, so could he, and he raised it to $16,000 from middle position. Alfredo Moreno decided to play along and called, and Cernuto fired his $44,000 at them from the button. Everyone lost interest, and in less than 15 minutes, “Miami” John wasn’t just a star, he was a star with $82,000.

David Pham started as a star with $81,000, but got blistered twice by major draw outs. In the first, he raised it to $15,000 under the gun, and John “Chicken Man” Clements (I guess everyone named “John” needed a nickname at this table) moved the rest of his remaining $34,000 all-in from the small-blind, and Pham moved so fast in calling you’d have thought he was getting out of way of a boom swinging around. A-A for Pham, J-J for the Chicken Man, and boom, the J-4-2 flop took the wind out of Pham’s sails.

Table heavyweight Paul Evans had the chips to muscle people around, and decided he would use them to grab another of those $15,000 freebies. But he muscled gently, making it only $15,000 to go, and Moreno decided to play along with him, re-raising all-in for another $16,500. Interesting move by Moreno, because with the giant size of Evans’s stack, and the relatively small amount Evans would have to call to try to claim the size of the pot, he was representing a big hand. Evans wasn’t going to throw A-8 away for just 16.5k, though, and Moreno turned over Jh-Qh.

The flop was a big scary for each player, 10d-9h-7h, giving Moreno a heart draw and Evans a straight draw to go with his still-leading ace. Moreno definitely didn’t want to pair his jack, because that would have completed Evans’s straight, but Evans wound up making it the other way with the 2c-6c finish. Alfredo was the 9th dish on the menu.

Pham had been cut in two by an underpair only minutes before, but he had to like his chances when he moved his remaining $37,500 one off the button with A-K and Bjorin called the probable steal with A-Q. The board came down 7-Q-J-2-A, and Pham was gone, having played two big hands and having lost to a two-outer and a three-outer.

We lost Madrid’s Carlos Mortonsen only moments later when he moved his last $28,000 all-in with pocket threes, only to see the chip leader wake up with 9-9 in the big blind for a relatively easy call. The A-10-8-7-8 board never created much of a stir, and the Spanish Armada had added a few more doubloons to Evans’s treasure.

The buzzer went off, and we moved to $3,000-6,000 blinds and $1,500 antes, leaving, even six-handed, $18,000 out there for anyone who wanted to make a grab for it. Miami John, who’d lost a few chips in a fight with Marciano Elie, got them back with two uncalled all-in moves in four hands.

Marciano, from Boulogne, France, had a lot of fight in him. Evans raised a pot to $20,000 one off the button, and Elie raised him back $80,000 more. In one of those moments that reminded me of a missed extra point in football (they always seem to come back to haunt you), Evans said “call” when he meant to move Marciano’s last $40,000 in with his pocket kings. The flop came down K-Q-4, Elie checked what he later claimed were pocket jacks, Evans bet, and Elie mucked.

Evans was a bit dispirited at having missed his chance to knock Marciano out, but hey, a $215,000 pot is a $215,000 pot, and accidents can always happen. “I knew it was a mistake as soon as I said it (“call”), but there was nothing I could do then,” Evans told me on the break. “But I won the pot, so it can’t be all bad.”

Not so bad for Evans and his chip mountain, but bad for Cernuto, who missed a chance to move up the pricey pay ladder, and who went out next. After losing a third of his chips in a big three-way pot with Clements and Lefkowitz (Matt had started that action with a $25,000 bet, only to get both blinds as callers, and lost interest in his pocket tens when the flop came Ah-Js-4h and Clements moved all-in), Miami John moved his last $43,000 in two off the button, only to see Bjorin shove his stack right in behind him. A-J for Cernuto, J-J for Bjorin, who demonstrated rather dramatically one of the ways that pocket jacks can be a lot better than, say, pocket nines, when the board came down K-K-10-10-5.

Elie, still alive after Evans’s missed extra point, shoved his $70,000 in pre-flop with Ah-7h, and the Chicken Man bravely called with A-A. The 9c-3c-9s-6s-10c finish meant Elie wouldn’t be around to threaten Evans, but his $70,000 gave Clements a hefty pile of his own. Four-handed, the players decided to count their chips, just to pass the time with the clock stopped, and we had

Evans, $428,500

Clements, $260,500

Bjorin, $131,000

Lefkowitz, $83,000

The final four decided to take about a half hour break to talk about what a good spinnaker costs these days, marvel at the weather, demonstrate their knowledge of how to use a pocket calculator, stretch their legs, exchange family pictures, and so on, and eventually returned.

Whatever happened while our four heroes took this extended break no one will ever know, and really, how could anyone in the gallery even begin to guess? Even after the spirited action on the first two hands after they returned, no one in the room had any idea what might have occurred during the lengthy discussion.

On hand one, Clements raised it to $24,000, and Evans raised $25,000 more from the big blind, with Clements calling. The flop came down 7c-3c-2c, Evans bet $20,000, and Clements raised back for $75,000 more. Evans, now familiar with just how much a really good spinnaker does cost these days, decided to fold.

On hand two, Evans bet $30,000 at the 8h-4d-3h flop, and Clements called. The 8c hit the turn and both players checked. The scary Ah fell on the river, Evans acted appropriately scared by checking, Clements bet $100,000, and Evans called. He turned over Kd-8d for trips, and Clements mucked his hand.

My oh my, what a little fresh air will do to loosen up the action.

A few hands later, Clements and his freshly shortened but still imposing stack bet $40,000 under the gun, and Bjorin called. The flop came down 5s-8c-9h, and Clements moved all-in. Bjorin didn’t take very long to call as much of the bet as he could, about another $70,000, with his pocket sevens, and Clements turned over A-K off. The 4s-8h turn and river didn’t change anything, and Clements paid off Bjorin, who, between the size of his new stack and the promise to his son, might now actually have started wondering just what a good spinnaker costs.

On the next hand, Evans raised it to $20,000, and Clements moved his freshly shortened but no longer imposing stack in over the top, and Evans called. K-K for Clements, A-9 for Evans, and the A-5-4-2-5 board concluded the five-minute evaporation of what had been a $260,500 stack.

Semi-big pairs had already been unkind to Lefkowitz this day and another one cost him his remaining $62,000 the very next hand after Clements went out. Matt made it $16,000 from the small blind, Evans and his $620,000 comfort zone came over the top, and Matt called. J-J for Matt and As-4s for Evans, who immediately repeated his one-overcard trick with A-9-7-Q-A. Six post-break minutes, two players gone.

Now heads-up, Evans had a big lead that lasted at least another 90 seconds, maybe 100. Paul made it $20,000 from the small blind/button, Bjorin popped him back for $30,000 more, and Evans moved all-in. Bjorin called instantly and turned over Ah-Ac, leaving Evans in bad shape with Ac-Jh. No accidents happened along the way to a Q-Q-2-6-5 finish, and we had a new chip leader when Evans paid Bjorin off the $211,00 he had left.

Gosh, this was fun.

I don’t know if the veteran Bjorin had a big hand on the next big encounter, but he sure played it that way. Evans made it $20,000 to go from the small blind/button and Bjorin called. The flop came down 7s-3h-3c, Bjorin bet $20,000, Evans raised $30,000, and Bjorin called. The Ah hit the turn, Bjorin checked, Evans bet $50,000, and Chris craftily called. Chris checked when the 8d hit the river, Evans bet another $60,000, and as my notes said, “CB all-in, what a shock.” Evans let it go, along with the $134,000 he’d contributed to the pot, and had about $240,000 left to Bjorin’s $560,000.

It wasn’t quite time for Elon to cast off the moorings, though: Evans still had some fight in him. With $40,000 already in the pot after a 6h-4s-Jc flop, Evans bet $75,000 at the 3c turn, and Bjorin called. When the Kh hit the river, Evans moved in his last $125,000, and Bjorin decided he rather start over with the chips about even.

Both players got a bit cautious for a while, each looking for a big hand or a big trap, and with the blinds up to $5,000-10,000, they each got what they wanted. Staring at a 4-7-6 flop, Chris moved all-in with 4-5, bottom pair and an open-ender, and Evans happily called with 7-6, top two. A three on the turn gave Chris Bjorin the win and his second bracelet, Elon Bjorin his boat, and Paul Evans the feeling that all that time the last four players had spent discussing spinnakers hadn’t been wasted.

Bjorin wasn’t the only good dad amongst the final two; Evans, who owns both a concrete construction company and an embroidery company, and who has played and won some tournaments before but is a bit new to this World Series business, had approached me before the finale began, to ask for an estimate of how long the final table might take, because he wanted to get home for an important moment in his daughter’s life. Nice to see a good family man do well here.

Bjorin isn’t a full-time poker pro, but he spends most of the rest of his “working” hours engaging in a profession shared by a lot of other poker players, sports betting. Elon has been a bit upset with dad, because he wants to learn poker, but dad hasn’t been giving him lessons. I asked Chris if that was because he wanted his son to steer clear of poker.

“No, I don’t mind if he plays,” Chris said. “I just told him that if he wants to learn, he has to do it on his own, I’m not going to make it easy for him.”

I guess that’s another mark of a good dad, but watching Chris Bjorin play, it’s pretty clear, he doesn’t make it easy for anyone.

By the Numbers

Entries: 301

Total Prize Pool $903,000

1. Chris Bjorin, $334,100, more or less.

2. Paul Evans, $171,570.

3. Matt Lefkowitz, $85,785.

4. John Clements, $54,180.

5. Marciano Elie, $40,635.

6. “Miami” John Cernuto, $31,605.

7. Carlos Mortensen, $22,575.

8. David Pham, $18,060.

9. Alfredo Moreno, $14,445.

10th-12th, $10,835: John Aglialoro, Johnny Chan, Paul Ladany.

13th-15th, $9,030: Artie Cobb, Bill Gazes, Vasili Lazarov.

16th-18th, $7,220: Dimitrios Magdalino, Richard St. Peter, Batchney Boatman.

19th-27th, $5,420: Men “the Master” Nguyen, Ian Dobson, Marc Jean Baptiste, John Hon, David Lei Cai, Randal Reeb, Alex Gurevich, Don Barton, Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott.