Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

World Poker Tour Invitational: Barry Greenstein Proves He's a Star Among Stars

by Scott Huff |  Published: Apr 18, 2006


Lights … camera … poker.

Day One
For the fourth straight year, the World Poker Tour brought together Hollywood celebrities and poker pros for its WPT Invitational at Commerce Casino.

Barry Greenstein

Part of the L.A. Poker Classic, the three-day $200,000 freeroll, was open to invited celebrity guests, all previous WPT winners, and anyone who had prepaid for a $25,000 seat in April's WPT Championship at Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Tournament professionals often talk about changing gears, and the gears necessary to win a major event. Mike Matusow, for instance, says there are five gears necessary to get there.

The WPT Invitational was a two-gear tournament, with the beer gear apparently being the first. All of the invited players gathered outside the tournament area for a cocktail reception prior to the beginning of day-one play.

"I was just standing next to Meatloaf," Kenna James said while two-fisting something-or-anothers on the rocks.

The second gear would come if and when the ether wore off and the final table came into less blurry view.

"I'm just kinda chillin'. I don't have any expectations because they raise the blinds so fast," Phil Hellmuth said. "If I happen to get in the hunt, I'll start focusing more."

Clearly, the first goal for the players was to have fun, but it seemed to be the consensus opinion among the pros that even though the event was about having a good time, they would turn it on if they started to taste the final table.

After all, Phil Laak's career in the spotlight began at the 2004 WPT Invitational. Although he has become one of the biggest poker celebrities around, many seem to forget that Laak's only major tournament victory came at this event. In the current age of televised tournament poker, the ancillary benefits of making a televised final table cannot be underestimated.

At the conclusion of the reception, the loose crowd of 315 moved inside the tournament area for night-one action. A celebrity at every table was promised, and once inside, big-name poker pros like Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, Barry Greenstein, David Williams, and Layne Flack were check-raising the likes of Louis Gossett Jr., James Garner, Danny and Chris Masterson, James Woods, and Jennifer Tilly, among others.

But even with all of these high-profile entertainers in the room, one table was noticeably short of Hollywood talent. In the far corner of the tournament area, one table housed a stiff lineup that included Amir Vahedi, Men "The Master" Nguyen, Eugene Todd, Clonie Gowen, Joe Sebok, Hung La, and Mike Matusow, none of whom seemed particularly pleased with their unlucky draws.

Of course, it's not unexpected that the brunt of the bad luck would fall on the pros in a field full of rank amateurs. The poker pros were fully prepared to take their share of bad beats from the "Hollywood fishcakes." However, for Cheryl Hines, the actress who plays Larry David's wife on the HBO hit Curb Your Enthusiasm, the opposite proved to be true.

On a board of Jspade 4diamond 4heart Jheart, Hines moved all in for $5,100, and David Tuchman, poker pro and host of the webcast Live at the Bike, made the call with pocket queens. Hines showed him the Adiamond Jdiamond, and Tuchman was down to two outs.

Even with the huge lead, Hines got out of her chair to sweat the river, as did her table mate and Curb fan Daniel Negreanu. It wasn't really clear who was more nervous.

World Poker Tour Invitational

And then … Tuchman rolled his miracle two-out queen on the river to bust Hines, much to the displeasure of Negreanu, who jokingly accosted Tuchman, complaining that he had more questions to ask Hines and now he wouldn't get the chance.

Other notable celebrity eliminations from day one included Norm MacDonald, Jennifer Tilly, "Boston" Rob Mariano, and Anne Heche.

Negreanu may have had questions for Hines, but the biggest question of the night came in response to the announcement that Ugur Murangoz was the day-one chip leader. Who is Ugur Murangoz?

In a roomful of Hollywood and poker elite, a total unknown had emerged with the chip lead. Murangoz had $96,800 in chips at the end of day-one play. He was followed closely on the leader board by two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner and WPT Young Guns Champ Scott Fischman with $94,600 in chips.

Day Two

Day two saw 98 players return. Was it time for gear two yet? Maybe not. The beer gear was still in full effect for most. Cocktail waitresses served liquor and hors d'oeuvres more befitting an Oscar party than a poker tournament.

Hellmuth, Paul Darden, Evelyn Ng, and Amnon Filippi all busted early, leaving them plenty of time to schmooze in Tinseltown.

The sequel to day one also saw the end of the Hollywood contingent. In 2005, two invited celebrity guests, actor Tom Everett Scott and Ultimate Fighting Championship announcer Bruce Buffer, made it to the TV final table. In 2006, only pros remained in the final half-dozen. Actor Dick Van Patten and Simpsons developer Sam Simon were among the early casualties. Mimi Rogers, Jason Alexander, and Danny Masterson were eliminated later in the evening.

Wil Wheaton held out the longest of the celebrities. Wheaton is an actor and poker enthusiast best known for his starring role in Rob Reiner's 1986 film Stand By Me. For surviving, he received $10,000, which was donated to the charity of his choice.

World Poker Tour Invitational

However, some players took the competition more seriously, and their results were proof. Fischman got off to a fast start, hurdling Murangoz and taking the chip lead within the first hour of play. By the third level of the evening, he was sitting on $240,000 in chips. But Fischman's second WPT title was not meant to be, as he was eliminated on the TV final-table bubble by fellow poker pro Blair Rodman.

At the same time, Greenstein was starting to make his presence felt. He came into the day with just over $30,000 in chips, but quickly more than doubled up. Then, the veteran went on a tear, during which he eliminated Karina Jett, Gus Hansen, Matt Corboy, WPT founder and CEO Steve Lipscomb, and Clonie Gowen before ending the day as the chip leader heading to the WPT final table. The tax taken by the Robin Hood of Poker? $1,119,000 in chips. It was no surprise to see Greenstein make the final table, as he made little distinction between other WPT events and the Invitational.

"A World Poker Tour tournament is an important tournament," Greenstein said. "If you get to make the final table, you realize it's still the WPT. People still count that as a WPT win. Then it becomes serious."

Day Three

With all the celebrities gone, the final table was serious business. The final six players and their chip positions were:

1. Barry Greenstein $1,119,000

2. Thomas Lock $740,000

3. Blair Rodman $573,000

4. Jesse Jones $279,000

5. Allen Kessler $116,000

6. Ugur Murangoz $64,000

Day-one chip leader Murangoz was the first to go after getting all of his money in before the flop and getting two callers in Allen Kessler and Jesse Jones. On the turn, with the board showing 8heart 7heart 6heart 6spade, Kessler checked to Jones, who moved all in. Jones had the Aheart 10heart for the nut flush, and Murangoz could not overcome the curse of the day-one chip leader.

There was a lull in eliminations, during which time Greenstein relinquished his chip lead for the first time all day. It didn't last long, however, as he got his chip count back over a million after eliminating Tom Lock in fifth place. Greenstein raised to $60,000 preflop and Lock called. After a flop of 10diamond 6heart 3heart, Lock checked and Greenstein bet $90,000. Lock check-raised all in and Greenstein immediately called. Lock showed the Jdiamond 10spade for top pair with a jack kicker, but Greenstein had him dominated with the Aheart 10club. The turn and river brought the 9club and the 2club, respectively, and Tom Lock was sent home with an extra $10,000 in his pocket.

The next elimination brought with it some Hollywood drama. Greenstein raised to $90,000 and Jones moved all in over the top. Greenstein called with pocket nines, and it was race time as Jones showed the Qclub Jheart. The flop set the stage for some fireworks when it came 10diamond 9spade 2heart, giving Greenstein a set of nines, but also giving Jones the open-end straight draw. The turn was all bad for Greenstein when it brought the Kdiamond, giving Jones his straight. Now Greenstein needed the board to pair in order to eliminate Jones and retain his chip lead. The river indeed paired the board … nines, giving Greenstein quads and sending Jones to the rail in fourth place.

World Poker Tour Invitational

Kessler was next out in third place, another victim of a Greenstein set. This time, Greenstein flopped a set of jacks to bury Kessler's A-7.

Blair Rodman took advantage of Greenstein's dirty work and ended up heads up for the title, trailing 2-1 in chips. The final hand was a bit of a cold deck for Rodman. Greenstein raised to $90,000 from the button, and Rodman moved all in. Greenstein made the call, and was in dominating position with his Aclub Kclub to Rodman's A club10club. The board came K spade10spade 7heart 4spade 2heart and Greenstein's pair of kings clinched him the 2006 WPT Invitational title and the $100,000 first-place prize money.

Greenstein was gracious in victory as always, tipping a large amount of his winnings to the tournament staff. Clearly happy to be back in the WPT spotlight, he also shared an anecdote indicative of the atmosphere at the Invitational.

During day-one play, Greenstein was seated at the same table as Jason Alexander. WPT announcer Linda Johnson was collecting player names when the following exchange took place:

"What's your name?" Johnson asked Alexander.

"Jason," Alexander replied.

"What's your last name?" Johnson continued.

"Alexander," he said.

"Are you a player or celebrity?" Johnson asked.

Apparently, even though Alexander had been a part of one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, Johnson failed to recognize him. Without malice and without missing a beat, Alexander turned to Greenstein and said, "I guess you're the celebrities in this thing."

Greenstein is certainly one of poker's biggest celebrities, and he proved it by claiming his second WPT title.

Final-table payouts were as follows:

1. Barry Greenstein $100,000

2. Blair Rodman $50,000

3. Allen Kessler $20,000

4. Jesse Jones $15,000

5. Thomas Lock $10,000

6. Ugur Murangoz $5,000