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Million Dollar Men

by Michael Craig |  Published: Nov 30, 2008


Million Dollar Men -- Phil Ivey, Mike Matusow, and Patrik AntoniusThe Full Tilt Million Dollar Cash Game is Europe's largest high-stakes cash game, which sees poker legends come together once a year for a no-holds-barred two-day televised tournament. Here is a summary of what occurred over those two turbulent gambling-ridden days.

Day 1:

The starting lineup:

Seat 1: Patrik Antonius
Seat 2: Eli Elezra
Seat 3: Gus Hansen
Seat 4: David Benyamine
Seat 5: Tom Dwan
Seat 6: Phil Hellmuth Jr.
Seat 7: Phil Ivey
Seat 8: Chris Ferguson

The blinds began at $300-$600, with a $100 ante. The cards were in the air at 2:10 p.m., and by 2:15, Antonius had rebought. Everybody but Dwan started with $100,000. (Dwan had $200,000.) On the first hand, Ivey moved all in for $100,000 from the button. Antonius, in the big blind, smelled something was up and called. Ivey had shoved with 7-3. Antonius called him with K-6. The first card off the deck was a 3 for Ivey, and it held up. Ivey won $100,000 in the first two minutes of the game, and Antonius bought in again for the same.

The next big hand occurred when Ivey got Hansen to move all in with pocket jacks against his pocket aces. But Hansen picked up a jack on the river to win $96,000 from Ivey. Ivey looked disgusted. No one likes to lose $96,000 - but all Ivey really did was hand over his 7-3 profits to Hansen.

Just after 5 p.m., a member of the production staff whispered to me the following state secret: "Mike Matusow will soon be entering the game." Hansen, apparently, was leaving in a few minutes. He had been uncharacteristically quiet with his chips. He eventually left the game with a $34,800 profit on his $100,000 buy-in. He got very active in the last several hands before the break, and no one looked him up. Mike Matusow took his place.

One hand, which involved Ferguson's A-J against Benyamine's A-2, was one of those collisions that you can't avoid; you can only hope they don't hurt too much. The flop was J-5-4, giving Ferguson top pair. Benyamine, however, had in addition to the gutshot draw and the (illusory) overcard, four to a flush. The turn was an ace, which obviously emboldened Ferguson, and assured that Benyamine would have to call. Along with straddles and four players seeing the flop, the pot was too big for Benyamine to fold to a well-sized value-bet by Ferguson when the offsuit 9 on the river left Benyamine without much hope.

Here's a hand you would love to see on TV. Ivey live-straddled. Everyone folded around to Hellmuth in the big blind. Hellmuth had 2-2, so he raised. Ivey found that he had the A J and called. The flop was Q-Q-J. Hellmuth checked, Ivey checked. The turn was a 7, Ivey bet $12,000, and Hellmuth, thinking it over for a while, reluctantly called. The river was the 5. Hellmuth checked. Ivey bet $32,000. Hellmuth thought it over for a long time, and was very, very, very reluctant. Then, he called with his deuces. Ivey revealed his A-J and Hellmuth muttered, "Great bet on the river." Then the Phil Hellmuth Show started. He began, "Beats me and beats me and beats me. Sucks out and sucks out and sucks out." The hand stuck Hellmuth about $50,000 for the day.

Matusow bought in for $100,000 and was soon down to $40,000. He lost most of it to Dwan in one hand, when he got stuck with such good draws that he had to call all along, including a value-bet by Dwan on the river, even though Matusow had only ace high. Dwan played more hands than anyone that day, and the only hand I heard him not play super-strong was queens preflop. In a pot with Antonius on a board of K-5-4-5, Dwan bet $10,000, and Antonius called. The pot wasn't huge at this point, under $40,000. The river was a 3. Antonius checked and Dwan moved all in, about $80,000-$90,000 more. Before Dwan moved in, he thought about it for a very long time, way longer than he'd ever have to think about a hand online. Antonius took five minutes and finally called with top pair, K-J, for kings and fives. Dwan showed 5-3 for a full house, increasing his stack to somewhere between $230,000 and $250,000. However, he was still stuck about $200,000.

Day 2:

Starting lineup:

Seat 1: Patrik Antonius -- $362,300
Seat 2: Andy Bloch (replacing Eli Elezra) -- $100,000
Seat 3: Mike Matusow -- $76,700
Seat 4: David Benyamine -- $670,600
Seat 5: Tom Dwan -- $227,100
Seat 6: Phil Hellmuth Jr. (soon replaced by Howard Lederer) -- $158,200
Seat 7: Phil Ivey -- $294,200
Seat 8: Chris Ferguson -- $298,900

Matusow had pocket kings, including the K, on the following board:

J 6 4 J 7

Ivey, with the A 4, checked to Matusow, who bet $10,000, just over a quarter of the pot. Ivey, with no club and just a pair of fours with an ace, raised to $47,000. Matusow, who was behind only a full house or the A, took a long, long time agonising over $37,000. There was over $100,000 in the pot. "Philly, Philly, Philly, Philly. Why do you do this to me, Philly," he said. It was a full five minutes before … Mike mucked the kings - with the K!

Matusow was soon all in with 9-9 against Hellmuth's A 2. Although Hellmuth hit bottom pair on the flop and a flush draw on the turn, Matusow's 9-9 held up, giving him the $182,000 pot.

The two were at it again when Hellmuth reraised Matusow and Dwan all in. Matusow had raised with 10-10 and Dwan called with the A 2. Matusow called and Dwan folded. Hellmuth showed A-Q and Matusow's pocket tens held up. (He actually made a straight on the river, although he didn't need it.)

Hellmuth said, "Idiot, Matusow. Guess you were just hoping for even money. Good read."

Matusow replied, "I have the best hand and bust his ass and I'm still an idiot. Will someone help me with this one?" The scene ended with Matusow singing, Hellmuth fuming - and buying in for another $100,000.

The biggest hand of the game happened when Hellmuth, with J-4, decided to raise. Ivey called with 3-3. Ferguson reraised around $27,000 with A-A. Hellmuth, of course, folded, and Ivey pretty quickly called. He was getting the right odds to hit a set, but only if he could get paid. He didn't know he was up against aces (but that's what he was hoping). Ivey flopped a set of threes on a 9-high board. Ferguson bet $40,000. Ivey raised to $100,000. Ferguson called. The turn was another 9. Ivey moved all in and Ferguson called. The river was a 5, and just like that, Ivey was over $1 million, ahead more than $300,000, and Ferguson was a $100,000 loser; he rebought for another $100,000.

That was just before the hour break at 5 p.m., and the money on the table was close to $3.5 million.

Just as they were coming out of the break, Hellmuth had a run-in with Tournament Director Barry Mundee and stormed out. Mundee has an incredibly difficult job as the tournament director of this game, and has handled it delicately and with professionalism. It's a poker game and it's a TV show. And because these guys are playing with large amounts of their own money, it's not even like a tournament, in which everyone on TV is a winner. The players act like you'd expect people to act when they have hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line. So when the players want to do things to speed up play - like cutting out breaks to change tape - he can't behave like a tournament director. He has to be the heavy for the production. Or when they want to play Chinese poker during a break to change the tape, he has to be the bad guy and tell the dealer not to deal the cards, then stand there while they stare at him when the delay takes a few minutes. And these guys all have very intimidating stares.

A minute later, Matusow yelled, "$5,000 for anyone who gets Phil back in the game!"

There wasn't a stampede for the door, but several members of the audience rushed out. I was already on my way out because I wanted to talk to him; I swear, the $5,000 had nothing to do with it. We talked for a few minutes. He was steamed about some request from the production, but what really had him steamed was the way the game had gone. Hellmuth assumes the whole world is against him, and he does that regardless of the circumstances, but he had had a tough day. He got played with a lot and when he played back, he got no breaks, either losing coin flips or running into big hands, or running into little hands that became big hands, and so on. And let's face it, Ivey is in everybody's head. He's so good, and is so good at taking advantage of timely luck, that catching him is like catching lightning.

Hellmuth said he was done for the night, in any event, and admitted that it was more the game than the production or the personnel that set him off. He offered to do an exit interview, and they took him up on it. He can be a baby, but he's also a professional, and he has a lot of pride. It was a bad day for him and he was at least nice enough to offer to help the production after he left.

Some 25 minutes later, Matusow was still asking if Hellmuth was coming back. Finally, he leaned back toward the audience and said, "I'm drawing dead here, aren't I?"

Hansen then returned with the $135,000 he took off the table the day before, and sat in seat 8, Ferguson's old seat. Ferguson had left, down about $100,000, all thanks to Ivey's set of threes. John Juanda bought in for $200,000 and took over seat 2, Bloch's former seat. Howard Lederer then joined the fun in seat 6.

Bloch had lost about $100,000, as a result of one bad situation with Antonius. Bloch raised with A-Q and another player flat-called. Antonius reraised in what looked like a squeeze play. But it wasn't a squeeze play. He had A-K and he called Bloch's all-in re-reraise. When the dealer turned over the flop, there was a queen in the door … but the other two cards were a 10 and a jack, giving Antonius a straight.

In the end, Ivey won the Full Tilt Million Dollar Cash Game trophy once again, and took home $536,400. The next-biggest winner was Matusow, ahead $130,000. Juanda picked up $69,000 late session, and Lederer made $27,000 for an hour or so of work. I think everyone else lost. Hellmuth quit a $200,000 loser. Bloch and Ferguson each lost $100,000. Hansen, who left $35,000 up the first day, lost that back and another $40,000 the next. Dwan made it into the black and played some tough big hands to end up $54,000 underwater. Benyamine, once the big winner, ended up a $120,000 loser, thanks mostly to Dwan. Antonius lost the most, about $170,000, but he played while under the weather, without a word of complaint, and seemed to get no breaks for two days straight. He comported himself, as always, like a winner.

This jaw-dropping, nail-biting, hair-raising event is due to air in January 2009 on Sky Sports.