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The Inside Straight

by CP The Inside Straight Authors |  Published: Dec 01, 2006

World Championship of Online Poker Biggest Ever
J.C. Tran Wins Championship Event

By Shawn Patrick Green

Records Broken and Guarantees Shattered doesn't know its own strength. At least that's the impression one got while watching its annual World Championship of Online Poker this year. Every event in the series rendered its guaranteed prize pool meaningless, some by as much as 875 percent. The 18 events in the series, spanning 16 days, offered more than $18.5 million in prize money. Even more jaw-dropping was that the $6,275,000 prize pool for the main event secured its place as the biggest online poker tournament in history.

While all of that is impressive, to be sure, the real stories are in the historic wins and star-studded final tables the Championship produced. The likes of Humberto Brenes, Chad Brown, Todd Brunson, Isabelle Mercier, Kyle Bowker, Jason Strasser, and J.C. Tran all had seats at this year's final tables. In fact, four of those pros would be sporting some new jewelry by the end of their respective events, and one would take down the main event and the top prize.

History in the Making

"Spawng" was the first player to make history in this series when he became the first two-time WCOOP winner with his victory in the $215 buy-in no-limit hold'em match-play event. He bested 2,047 entrants by taking down 11 heads-up tables to land his win. He took home $58,248 and a 14-karat gold WCOOP bracelet for his efforts. His previous win was in the $530 pot-limit Omaha event in last year's series.

Not to be outdone, poker pro Kyle "kwob20" Bowker went on to win two bracelets in this series alone. Bowker captured his first bracelet in the $530 Omaha eight-or-better event, in which he defeated 952 other entrants. Bowker then put his diverse poker skills on display by routing the seven-card stud eight-or-better tournament just eight days later. Bowker would pocket more than $170,000 for his two wins this year.

Poker Pros Make Big Cashes

The next poker pro to take down an event was young gun Jason "strassa2" Strasser, who won the $1,050 no-limit hold'em tournament. Strasser ended up raking in the second-largest first-prize payout in the tournament with his win, $442,440, which was behind only the main event. Strasser outlasted almost 2,500 others to nab the top prize.

Humberto "Humberto B." Brenes finished in a very respectable second place in the $530 pot-limit Omaha event. He avoided elimination multiple times during the final table as a short stack to outlast seven other competitors. His luck finally ran out against eventual winner "Trabelsi," and he took home $58,089. Trabelsi enjoyed a $93,853 payday for his win.

Care for a Game of H.O.R.S.E.?

Two H.O.R.S.E. events were introduced during this year's WCOOP, and both blew away organizers' expectations. Both events had a guarantee of $100,000, but ended up with prize pools of $359,000 (for the $215 buy-in) and $875,000 (for the $5,200 buy-in). It was obvious that PokerStars would have to reevaluate its H.O.R.S.E. guarantees for future WCOOPs.

The H.O.R.S.E. tournaments also had the power to attract fewer poker neophytes and more star talent. This became especially apparent with their final tables, which both had their fair share of poker pros. The $215 buy-in tournament's final table was graced by Gary "p10ker" Jones and Shirley "Siren" Rosario, who placed third ($30,566) and seventh ($10,788), respectively. "F.Briatore" was the eventual winner of the event.

The high buy-in for the $5,200 H.O.R.S.E. event wasn't enough to dissuade the 175 entrants for the tournament, but it was good for stacking the final table with pros. The tournament generated the biggest prize pool for an event that didn't already guarantee more than $1 million. Upon first glance, the final table had only one notable player, Isabelle "NoMercy" Mercier.

Another player, "Sam Grizzle," was confirmed not to be the pro of the same name. However, a source later divulged to Card Player that "Sam Grizzle" was, in fact, Todd Brunson. Brunson finished in eighth ($22,312), while Mercier nabbed $41,125 for her sixth-place finish.

The ultimate surprise was yet to come in the final H.O.R.S.E. tournament. Once the chip leader, "stelladora," was just a few hands away from taking the title in the event, he sent a text message to Barry Greenstein, who was announcing on the WCOOP radio show at the time. Stelladora's message gave a knowing Greenstein permission to reveal his identity as poker pro Chad Brown. Brown proceeded to take down the tournament and $223,125.

Main-Event Bracelet Goes to a Pro

Despite all of the excitement preceding it, the WCOOP main event was still a sight to be seen. And seen it was, as PokerStars announced that 3,000 people were observing the event's final table. The final table was also heard by the 2,500-plus people listening to the live streaming radio broadcast hosted by Greg "Fossilman" Raymer. The fervor was undoubtedly due to the historic, record-breaking $6,275,000 prize pool and the $1,157,737 first prize for the tournament; not bad for a $2,600 buy-in online tournament.

The excitement didn't stop there, as poker pros Joe Hachem, Victor Ramdin, Tom McEvoy, and Katja Thater rushed the final two tables to offer comments and congratulations in the chat box. Hachem gave particular kudos to his friend "area23JC," who was doing well at the final two tables and was later revealed to be none other than J.C. Tran.

Raymer vocalized his dismay when the final six decided to do a by-the-chips chop for the prize money, which reduced the top prize to less than $1 million. Tran would receive the lion's share of the chop at $620,194, and the six players would duke it out for the remaining $50,000 and the WCOOP bracelet, per the PokerStars chop rules.

Tran eventually took down the tournament, the extra prize money, and the bracelet, but second-place finisher "hannibalrex" put up a good fight throughout. Despite the chop, Tran left the tournament with a sizable $670,194 and the main-event title. Tran's win proved that pros could still win big events with nonprohibitive entry fees, regardless of the number of poker amateurs who enter. spade

Congress Passes Bill to Curb Online Gambling
It Was Snuck Through on theBack of Act for Port Security

By Bob Pajich

It took a backdoor move by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, but an act designed to curb online gambling in the United States passed recently.

Sen. Frist helped get the legislation attached to a defense bill designed to boost security at the nation's ports. To read what the legislation means to online poker players, please see Allyn Jaffrey Shulman's column.

The bill calls for banks to work with the federal government to stop transactions between customers in the U.S. and offshore gaming companies. The bill makes it illegal for banks and credit-card companies to make transactions with online gambling companies.

The bill considers online poker a form of gambling. Recently, online poker sites have worked harder to expand their customer base outside the United States, where about 80 percent of online poker players live.

Share prices of publicly traded poker sites plummeted the Monday after the bill passed. PartyGaming lost more than half its share value, 888 Holdings lost about a quarter, and Sportingbet, the company that owns ParadisePoker, lost almost 70 percent.
PartyGaming said it would suspend operations in the United States if the president signs the bill into law and 888 Holdings has said it will do the same. Other companies are looking into their options.

The bill would not target players, but does call for prison time for people who run online gaming companies. Banks that don't comply with the bill also may face punishment. A representative from the Independent Community Bankers of America testified to the House that its members will have trouble enforcing the act.

The United States is moving in an opposite direction concerning this issue compared to the rest of the world. The United Kingdom recently moved to tax and regulate online gambling sites, and the European Union has made it clear that it considers online gambling a product that should be allowed to be freely traded. spade's hit radio show The Circuit brings you updates, interviews, and strategy from the biggest names in poker.
The Circuit broadcasts from all World Poker Tour events. Tune in at

The following is a discussion between hosts Scott Huff, Gavin Smith, and Joe Sebok, and guest Shane "Shaniac" Schleger on rebuy strategy, as broadcast on The Circuit from Bellagio during the 2006 World Series of Poker:

Scott Huff: How do you adjust your strategy for rebuy tournaments?

Shane Schleger: The bottom line with any rebuy tournament, in my opinion, is to buy as many chips as they're offering you. So,
I'm always going to buy the $1,000 (rebuy) that they give me. There's really no stack size that I could have at the end of the break that would preclude me from wanting the double add-on.

Gavin Smith: There's [no amount] that I could have.

Joe Sebok: Certainly there are the two strategies of playing completely maniacally, and moving in and just going completely nuts, which a lot of the professionals do. I personally don't. So my question to you guys is, is that how you guys play? Do you go in there and just shove in, shove in, shove in, and get as many chips on the table as possible?

GS: I would definitely say that I play draws way more aggressively in a rebuy tournament than in a non-rebuy tournament. I'm willing to put my chips in on a draw almost every time and let a guy call me if he wants to call me.

SS: There is a fine line between giving yourself the best shot to accumulate chips and take advantage of the rebuys, and dumping so much money that it becomes unprofitable. I think you just have to be willing to take every gamble that's presented to you in the rebuy period.

GS: A lot depends, as well, on where your table sits in the breaking order. If you are late in the breaking order, you can afford to gamble more, because then there are going to be more chips on the table that you can win at a later time. If you're the first table to break, you don't want to pump that table up and have them go everywhere else in the room.

SS: It's also a matter of image.

JS: You play more maniacally if you think the players at your table are going to believe that's how you play. So, if they don't adjust at the end of the rebuy period and think you're still pushing in with ace-deuce and ace-six and all that crazy stuff, you really can play more insanely (during the rebuy period), because they're not going to adjust and they're going to think, "Oh, this guy's been completely insane." It basically means that they don't understand the strategy of a rebuy tournament.

SS: If you're playing it like a freezout with one or two bullets, you're playing on scared money, basically. You're going to be worried about busting out, whereas Gavin is going to be firing it in, putting you all in and putting you to decisions, and he can accumulate chips from everyone who's buying in only once or twice. And I think that has to be a big edge. spade

Ask Jack

Want to know how a multimillion-dollar poker tournament is run? Have a question about a specific tournament poker rule or past ruling you've encountered?

Card Player is
giving you the chance to pick the mind of one of the game's finest - Bellagio Tournament Director Jack McClelland.

You can send your questions to, and McClelland will share his 25-plus years of industry experience with you.

Rebecca Fuller (poker manager, Coushatta Casino Resort): If you hold a $1,000 no-limit hold'em tournament, should alternates be taken, and if so, for how long if the rounds are 45 minutes long? We are planning to have 400 players.

Also, have you ever heard of tournament dealers being allowed to accept a personal toke during a tournament? Or, should all tournament tips be pooled, as we are doing.

At what point in a tournament should all tables be kept to no more than a one player difference? In your opinion, is eighthanded considered a short table?

Jack McClelland: If you have limited space or are full, and players want to play in your tournament, alternates should be allowed.
In my tournaments, I allow alternates for two hours, until the first break. I start alternates with a full amount of chips. I believe it is better for morale and harmony if the dealers share the pooled tips. I keep my tables within two players (8-10) until I reach the final six tables; then, I keep them within one (8-9).

Rob: I have been playing poker tournaments for a few years now, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of the rules of tournament poker.

While playing in a recent tournament, the following situation occurred: With the blinds at $50-$100, player A threw a single $500 chip in without saying raise. The dealer said that it was just a call. Player B called the $100 big blind and I was player C in the big blind. I checked. The flop came 10 10 9. I checked. Player A threw all of his chips into the pot in an angry manner, and his cards went flying facedown across the table, hitting my cards. My hand was protected.

The dealer and five other players all agreed that his cards directly hit my cards. I said that his hand is considered dead and that his chips remain in the pot. The dealer called over a floorman, who agreed with my assessment of the situation. Then, he called over another floorman, who overturned the ruling, saying he could have his hand back and that it was still alive. The floorman later told me that he is a member of the TDA (Tournament Director's Association), and there is no such ruling in the handbook.

Can you please clarify the ruling for me?

Jack McClelland: My ruling would be that the hand is alive if his cards were not mixed in with other cards (yours were protected). I would issue a 20-minute bad-behavior penalty after the hand. I do not use the TDA rules.

Aaron: I am a college student who is trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. I have been playing cards for about three years and thought it would be an interesting job to run the big-money tournaments. I would like to know how you got started running the tournaments for Bellagio, and how someone who's interested might go about doing an internship (or something like that) for the type of job you do.

Jack McClelland:
Get a job in a cardroom. I started out doing setups (reassembling decks). Learn how to play, deal, and work in management. You need to know rulings very well. Courses in psychology, public speaking, and accounting will be of great help.

Good luck.

Mark: In the World Series of Poker main event or any tournament, how does the tournament director decide how many chips of each denomination to order? Is there any formula, or is it some empirical number based on experience?

Jack McClelland:
At Bellagio, I try never to have more than five different chips on the table at once. So, for a $10,000 buy-in event in which the players receive $20,000 in chips, I like to give each player $200 in $25 chips (8), $800 in $100 chips (8), $4,000 in $500 chips (8), $5,000 in $1,000 chips (5), and $10,000 in $5,000 chips (2). The players feel like they have a comfortable amount of chips and the dealers don't have to make change every hand. In high-low split games, I give twice as many smaller chips. That is my formula. spade

Online Hand-to-Hand Combat: BeL0WaB0Ve Deciphers a River of Confusion
By Craig Tapscott

In this new series, Card Player offers hand analysis with online poker's leading talent. And, as an added bonus, you can check out additional live video commentary provided by the pros at
Event: $100 no-limit hold'em sixhanded tournament on FullTiltPoker
Players: 354
First place $8,850
Stacks: BeL0WaB0Ve - $17,347; Villain - $11,615
Blinds: $40-$80

Preflop: (six players) BeL0WaB0Ve is under the gun with the 5club 3club and raises to $240. Villain is in the small blind and reraises to $720. BeL0WaB0Ve calls $480 more.

Craig Tapscott: Why raise with 5-3 suited from under the gun?

Kevin Saul (BeL0WaB0Ve): Preflop and shorthanded, you have to be aggressive.

Flop: Kclub Qspade 6club ($1,520 pot, two players) Villain checks, and BeL0WaB0Ve checks.

KS: Wow, a check! I'm ecstatic to try to hit my flush on the turn for free, although at the same time, I am extremely alarmed. It appears to me that he flopped a set. So, I checked behind him and proceeded with caution.

Turn: Kclub Qspade 6club 7club ($1,520 pot, two players) Villain bets $420, BeL0WaB0Ve raises to $2,780, Villain reraises the minimum to $5,140 total, and BeL0WaB0Ve calls $2,360.

KS: Bang! I have my flush. He leads weakly, which means I'm obviously raising, for three reasons. One, I'm pretty sure I'm ahead now. Two, I can't smooth-call here and get full value for my hand. And finally, my flush is very small; if a fourth club falls on the river, I will likely lose the hand if he holds any club.

The minimum raise seems to be the rage. What do you think about it?

I hate minimum raisers, although I've started using it from time to time. I'll usually minimum raise when I'm up against a tricky opponent, just to mess with his head. It is one of the hardest bets to defend against. Sometimes an opponent will do it as a cheap way to take down the pot based solely on the fact that you can't call. But sometimes it's extreme strength of a made hand. You will also see players minimum raise when in position if they're on a draw. This way, they can assume control of the betting and see the turn and river for free.

Kclub Qspade 6club 7club Qclub ($11,800 pot, two players) Villain bets $5,755 and is all in.

Now I'm confused. My read in this hand has changed on all three streets! Granted, there is 12K or so in the pot, but his open-push, which was immediate when the river hit, does not make sense.

What was your first instinct on the push?

It looks like a scared bet. I really think he's played two aces without a club very poorly. It's like he hasn't even put me on a hand here, and is just determined to win this pot. I used my whole time bank and almost timed out before finally calling.

Results: Final pot - $23,310. Villain shows the Aspade Adiamond, and BeL0WaB0Ve wins the pot.

The lesson here isn't really how to play or not play aces, but more about how to play any hand. By the river, his A-A has become 3-2 offsuit; it has the same value, since I'm not calling any bet if I can't beat two pair. Villain made a crucial error. He did not sell his hand very well, and on the river, I didn't think I was beat. By that point, he was running a bluff on me and did not do a good job of convincing me that it wasn't a bluff.

To see this hand animated and narrated with additional analysis by BeL0WaB0Ve, visit

Kevin (BeL0WaB0Ve) Saul is a feared and respected online tournament player across every major poker site. He is adept at all games, has won many multitable tournaments, and has reached more than 200 final tables online. spade

Gambling: Part of Culture, Part of Life
By Tim Peters

Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling by David G. Schwartz (Gotham Books, $30)

To what seems to be the majority of today's poker players - the 20-somethings who have cut their teeth online - the phrase "back in the day" might easily refer to Chris Moneymaker, the first online qualifier to win the main event, back in 2003. Or, if they have a keen sense of poker history, they might think "old school" means Stu "The Kid" Ungar, who won his first World Series of Poker main event in 1980. But poker's real history dates back at least 500 years - and gambling in general "is simply older than history," writes David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (where else?), in this fascinating new book.

Schwartz has traced the roots of gambling back to the earliest forms of civilization. Here's an early example: In Mesopotamia, some 7,000 years ago, the small hucklebones of sheep and goats (located just above the heel bone) were used to "cast lots," an essentially religious practice for divination - predicting the future. "When Mesopotamian fortune-tellers filed down their hucklebones and marked them with insignia, they took the first steps towards modern dice," he writes - hence the origins of "roll the bones," an expression used by some old-time craps players. But it wouldn't be too long before people transformed sortilege (the technical term for telling the future by interpreting thrown objects) into a form of gambling, and eventually people realized they could gamble on just about anything, from "rolling the bones" to sports, from lotteries to card games. "At every juncture of history, it seems, the gambler is nearby."

In fact, Schwartz makes a pretty strong case that the impulse to gamble is a universal one - and that the desire to prohibit the activity is misguided and doomed to fail. Religious leaders have condemned gambling, but bingo accounts for a meaningful contribution to church coffers. Pharaohs, emperors, and kings all formulated laws against it, typically as they raked in gambling-related fees and taxes - not to mention lottery revenues. And with gambling legalized, in some form or another, in most of the United States, recent efforts to criminalize online betting seem particularly hypocritical. Card Player readers following this recent legislation will appreciate Schwartz's history of gambling suppression; we can only hope that members of Congress and state legislators read the book.

Of course, the most interesting sections of Roll the Bones for Card Player readers are those about poker (a comprehensive history of the game is being written by James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street; McManus supplies an introduction to Roll the Bones). Card games in general swept across Asia and Europe during the 500 years between 1000 and 1500 (the origins of playing cards are obscure, but Schwartz offers one historian's guess that they came from sixth-century Korea), and the modern deck, with 52 cards of four suits, was a French creation dating back to 1480. The roots of poker can be found in early forms of "vying" games, in which players used betting to indicate the strength of their hand (or to bluff, of course), like the French brelan and the Italian primero. But poker's clearest antecedent is the German game pochen, which in France became poque, and, in early 19th-century America, evolved to poker (some believe the practice of rapping the felt when checking comes from the German word pochen, "to knock").

Despite its European roots (Schwartz is somewhat dismissive of the notion that poker descended from the ancient Persian game of as nas), the history of poker is very much connected to the history of America. The game came to the States through the French colony of Louisiana (the word "poker" itself is thought to be the result of the American pronunciation of the French poque). When people began playing poker in New Orleans at the beginning of the 19th century, it quickly "became the American social game par excellence." Poker was part and parcel of America's westward expansion, and it has long been a standard element of the mythology of the wild, wild West. By "social," Schwartz means played among friends, but there was really nothing social about the games played by the cardsharps along the Mississippi. Not for nothing was poker sometimes referred to as "the cheater's game" (one of the great achievements of poker's recent history is that legitimate charges of cheating are remarkably rare). Schwartz also covers some of the recent history of the game, in particular the powerful combination of online poker and television that has catalyzed the remarkable growth of the game in the last several years.

Roll the Bones is interesting because gambling is interesting (indeed, one could go so far as to say that gambling makes things interesting). Schwartz makes the colorful history of this sphere of human activity come alive by dozens of separate strands into a comprehensive tapestry, a big-picture perspective that connects those Mesopotamians throwing the bones of a sheep to a vacationer tossing a pair of dice at Bellagio. It might be beyond the purview of Schwartz's book, but I wish the author had devoted more attention to the "why" of gambling: Why do we do it? Why is making a bet on a football game or playing a hand of poker so compelling? Perhaps those questions have more to do with psychology than history. Perhaps the instinct to gamble is hardwired in our brains, an evolutionary mechanism that reflects the ultimate game of imperfect information: life. Schwartz quotes Pliny the Elder (first century): "We are so much at the mercy of chance that Chance is our God." When you sit down to play poker, in a cardroom or online, you're taking part in a drama that spans human history, and Schwartz has written the definitive account of that history in Roll the Bones. spade