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World Poker Open 2005

by Bob Ciaffone |  Published: Mar 22, 2005


Every year I start the poker season the same way, by going to Mississippi for my favorite tournament of the year, the Jack Binion World Poker Open at the Horseshoe and Gold Strike hotels in Tunica. I love the Southern hospitality. The action is terrific, especially for us pot-limit Omaha players. My plans called for attendance during the first two weeks, Jan. 4-18.

This year, I got off to the worst start you can imagine. No, I am not talking about poker. I arrived at the Memphis airport with both my baggage and my wallet missing! Of course, I do not carry my playing money in my wallet, but I did have several hundred dollars of walking-around money and all of my identification in it.

In this post-911 world, my first concern was whether I would be able to get on the aircraft for my flight home if the wallet did not turn up. I called the airline, reported the loss, and inquired whether I could board my return flight with no identification. They were very nice. I was told that a note about the missing wallet would be made on my reservation. I would have to receive a thorough search of my body at the airport, but could then get on the airplane. When they said I would be searched, I asked if it was OK to bring more than $10,000 onto the plane (I am an optimist). I had heard a rumor from a friend of mine that there was a cap of 10K put on airline passengers by the Patriot Act. Evidently this was wrong, as the airline representative said there would be no problem, as the 10K limit is only for international flights.

My baggage was delivered to my room by the airline at about 3 a.m. I of course had quickly cancelled my credit cards and my calling card. Several days went by without any news about my wallet. Mentally, I had resigned myself to the loss. But three days later, I got a phone call notifying me the wallet had been found, and it even had all of my money in it! A lady from Michigan and her husband had found it on the floor of the airplane the day after my flight, and were nice enough to make arrangements for its return. All of the money was still in it.

The absence of any identification did not stop me from such matters as getting a hotel room or a safe-deposit box, thanks to the help of tournament hostess Carole Lambert (Cardroom Manager Kenny Lambert's wife) and Publicity Director Nolan Dalla, who of course both knew me personally. But getting the phone in my hotel room activated and sending out laundry presented a problem. I offered to give the hotel a cash deposit of up to $1,000, but was given a definite denial; credit card, yes, cash money, no. I had to obtain the assistance of one of my friends, who was kind enough to put up his credit card to guarantee my room bill.

I was eligible to play in the media tournament, which had about 50 players. I won a prize in the tournament – but not the one I had in mind. I got caught running a big bluff and was the first one out, so I was awarded a copy of Ray Zee's book on eight-or-better high-low split, which was the "quickest exit" prize. Since I already have that book, I gave it to one of my friends.

The turnout for the first no-limit hold'em tournament, the $500 buy-in event, was enormous even by present-day standards. Hundreds of people were lined up to register all afternoon the day before the event, and eventually the hallway corridor outside of the registration area had to be cordoned off because the building capacity was being threatened. There were well over a thousand players seated and hundreds of alternates waiting to play when the event got under way. The eventual official number of entrants was 1,447, exceeding last year's record turnout of 918 by more than 50 percent. First-place prize money was $174,663, and it was won by Shane Shields, a 35-year-old realtor from Kentucky. The event paid 81 places.

I had obtained an entry to this event from a friend who registered me (an entrant was allowed to register two other people). The $500 no-limit hold'em event did not have a prize for being the first one out, but I made a fast exit anyway. I had dribbled my starting stack of a grand down to $750 when this hand came up. I picked up a 10-9 offsuit in the small blind and a bunch of people limped in for $50. I raised to $350 because I could see that the under-the-gun (UTG) limper was a weak player who was unlikely to have much, yet none of the subsequent callers were willing to raise him. The big blind folded. The UTG limper started to throw his hand away, then started to call, then changed his mind again, and finally tossed in the chips instead of his hand. Rats! The rest of the field folded quickly. The flop came down 8-6-5 rainbow, which was not too bad for my 10-9, giving me two overcards and a gutshot-straight draw. My opponent – you guessed it – checked to the raiser. I bet my last $400 and, unfortunately, got a quick call. It turned out that he held A-7 suited, an open-end straight draw and also the best hand. So, I was in serious trouble, and failed to improve. I am good at knowing whether my opponents are weak (when I can see them in person), but not so good at diagnosing whether they are going to call anyway – especially in the last few years with all the new players.

In retrospect, I probably would have been better off just moving all in before the flop. Perhaps the threat of near extinction would have been the ticket to get the A-7 suited to lay down his hand, instead of spend nearly half of his chips to try to hit the flop. Then again, I am not too good at getting into the thought process of such players. Frankly, I am a little handicapped by being used to playing against quality opposition. It does not surprise me that online players who are sharp often do better than some of us longtime pros. They know better how to handle the typical opponent of the 21st century.

In my next column, I will discuss some of the more interesting hands I played in Mississippi. spades

Bob Ciaffone has authored four poker books, Middle Limit Holdem Poker, Pot-limit and No-limit Poker, Improve Your Poker, and Omaha Holdem Poker. All can be ordered from Card Player. Ciaffone is available for poker lessons: e-mail His website is, where you can get his rulebook, Robert's Rules of Poker, for free. Ciaffone is the cardroom director for