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Moving Forward: Sam Stein and Scotty Nguyen

Pair of Poker Pros Battled Heads Up for Bellagio $1K on Tuesday

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In this new series on Card Player, we bring you lives affected by the events of poker’s Black Friday. In this edition we feature Scotty Nguyen and Sam Stein.

The pair have racked up nearly $15 million in combined career earnings and recently competed heads up for a Bellagio $1,000 event. In the exciting battle, Stein gave his opponent a huge amount of credit on a river check-raise that would have likely decided the tournament.

Scott NguyenWhen Scotty Nguyen stood up from the table and contemplated a big river bet — with a smile on his face and a large crowd for a $1,000 event at the Bellagio looking on in anticipation — it almost seemed like it was 1998 again, more than a decade before a day called Black Friday rocked the game of poker.

The crowd had heard it all it before following a Scotty Nguyen all-in bet: “If you call, give me the trophy baby!” However, his opponent wasn’t an amateur — it was former online pro recently turned live-tournament-grinder Sam “KingKobeMVP” Stein. The board read 5-6-7-J-8, with three diamonds, and Stein held the QDiamond Suit 3Diamond Suit for the third nuts; sick after a large river value bet that Nguyen had check-raised.

Despite the strong holdings, Stein eventually mucked face up, and his 48-year-old opponent exposed the 10Club Suit, to send the onlookers into a timid laughter and Nguyen into his trademark bubbly personality.

“It was definitely a hero fold if I have ever seen one,” Vegas-based Stein said after being defeated not long after laying down the queen-high flush that could have crippled Nguyen. “I had a monster. I thought my bet was big enough where he if he came over the top of it he had to have had me beat because he has to be worried about me having the nuts. Not a lot of people would make that fold, and probably for good reason.”

“I hadn’t seem him get out of line in the tournament. Every time I play with him it’s really hard. For some reason he gets in your head. I don’t like to call people lucky, but he seemed like he had the nuts every single hand we played. He played his hand well. The only way he could ever get me to fold is to play the hand the way he did. I made a big value bet and he put me all in for a lot more behind. It was a tough one.”

The play was only possible, according to Nguyen, who took home $41,000 for the victory, because of a single card — the ADiamond Suit — and the fact that the tournament was played in the live arena.

“You know baby, that is one thing about no-limit: Make them decide,” Nguyen said. “People love to watch a hand like that; a big bluff, making people lay down the best hand. You see the way I stand up, laughing and joking around, saying ‘give me the trophy,’ You know baby, that makes them scared. He was scared. I had nothing to do with the flop, just a straight draw. I had the ADiamond Suit, so he couldn’t have the nuts. If I didn’t have that card I wouldn’t have made that play. And you know baby, online I couldn’t stand up and act comfortable in that spot. I would have lost a big pot online. That’s how poker is supposed to be, especially no-limit.”

Hopeful in Moving Forward from April 15, 2011

The only certainty after Black Friday is more uncertainty and conjecture, but that isn’t stopping players like Nguyen and Stein from remaining optimistic, albeit marginally, about the future of the game.

Sam SteinStein, who recently finished fourth in the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for $1 million, said the fields have yet to get more difficult since online poker in the US was rubbed out:

“There haven’t been a ton of online kids that have come out. There have been some of them, but they still have to get used to the live arena. They are very talented players. Their technical skills for the game are very good, but live poker is so much different. They are not used to seeing how these old people play. Your hand strengths are a lot different live versus online. A lot of them have had trouble adjusting so far. However, down the road live tournaments could get a lot tougher.”

One of those older guys, someone like Nguyen, who is near the top of the all-time career earnings list with $11.4 million (although zero coming from online play), is hoping that April 15 will help live poker in Vegas, regardless of whether or not the games get tougher.

“I hope poker goes back to the way it was, where everywhere you go they have 30 cash game tables running with every limit available; from $10-$20 to $500-$1,000,” Nguyen said. “Now baby, everywhere you go, the biggest game they have is $300-$600 and then $10-$20, too big or too low. If you ran bad at one casino you could go somewhere else for a change, but right now there are only a couple places to play poker.”

Stein has been grinding at one of the places that has seen a noticeable increase in high stakes cash game traffic — the poker room at Aria. He has been playing against the likes of Sam Farha and Daniel Negreanu in the big mixed games. “Those games are always fun,” Stein said. “They have been sparking up a lot more since Black Friday.”

While Nguyen is craving more action in the cash games, Stein has, in some way, been enjoying his decrease in poker-hand volume. His first Sunday after Black Friday consisted of lounging by the pool with some friends. “I actually didn’t mind it,” said Stein, whose had the vast majority of his 62 career tournament cashes come on the computer. “I can get used to actually. Maybe it’s better for me.”

Despite coming from different eras of poker, both Nguyen and Stein are both hopeful that Black Friday will have a positive effect in the long term — whether it’s for poker in general, or just a personal benefit. Stein said he will be playing more live (all of the hold’em and pot-limit Omaha events at the WSOP), something he has done more of so far in 2011, while Nguyen is hoping that an influx of players will give him more action at the bricks-and-mortars.