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Championship Day One

The Poker Mi££ion Championship Day One: "Let's Call It the Poker 1.25 Mi££ion"

THE ISLE OF MAN — Faced with both a player shortfall and a number of players uneasy about the prospective "winner-take-all" nature of the event, Ladbroke Casinos made an 11th hour decision to add £250,000 to the prize pool for the Poker Mi££ion, guaranteeing prize payouts as follows:

£1,000,000

£100,000

£ 50,000

£25,000

£15,000

£14,000

£10,000

£8,000

£6,000

The 10th through 20th place finishers will receive £2,000 each. With 20 players now scheduled to make the money, officials decided that play on Day Two would continue until we had the final 20, rather than 27.

With 137 players fully paid and registered at noon, and the event scheduled to start an hour later, tournament officials finally settled the unsettling questions that had loomed over the event, and in doing so created a nice overlay for the participants. Guaranteeing £1,250,000 meant that unless 208 players entered, the average player would start with positive equity.

To give fence sitters a chance to make up their minds about the added value, the tournament start time was shifted to 3:00 p.m. These changes not only brought several players in directly for £6,000, but also caused a brisk last-minute business in "flash satellites," a one-hand, ten-player, £600 (no house rake) opportunity to gain entry into the field.

£6,000 "SHOWDOWN," ANYONE?

You read right: one ten-way hand of hold’em showdown for £6,000. The players clustered around these events, some wanting to play, some wanting to watch.

"With the crowding, shouting, energy and cash being thrown down, it reminded me of a cock fight," said Jim McManus, who is alive and well and in sixth place after the first day with £33,400.

With no juice, the flash satellites were complete even money gambles, no advantage to player or house, but the winners were assured of an overlay entry. If one could cash out his starting equity immediately, the flash events would have been the kind of gambles about which players could only dream, but of course winning a "no brainer" seat still meant the winner would have to contend with the best no-limit players in the world.

Unlike the 512 player World Series of Poker, where I estimated about half the field was probably dead money (or at least money on life support), perhaps only 15% of the field here really has no realistic chance.

A 33% OVERLAY FOR EVERY PLAYER IN THE FIELD

When the dust settled, we wound up with 156 starters, meaning that on a straight per-player equity basis, each starter was worth £8,013—better than a 33% overlay. Ladbroke’s Tournament Coordinator Richard Wade told me they decided late last night that if the entries were hovering around 130 by noon, they were going to add the extra £250,000 to the prize pool, a gesture that will show the poker world that Ladbroke’s is in this game for the long haul, and will remove much of the uncertainty from next year’s event.

"We considered adding another £500,000 a few months ago," Wade told me, "as adding the money in advance certainly would have attracted a larger field."

The late move today only added slightly to today’s field, but I have a feeling it will mean a huge field next year. Another big announcement arrived on the heels of the expanded payouts. While the event will be broadcast live in Europe on the Sky network, a condensed two and half hour version will be broadcast in the USA on the Fox Sports network at 7:30 p.m. on THANKSGIVING.

I don’t know about you, but in my household, after stuffing ourselves with all that turkey, about the only thing we have the energy left to do Thanksgiving night is watch TV. If other households follow suit, the final table of the Poker Mi££ion will be shown in the US on one of the biggest TV watching nights of the year.

NOW THE FUN BEGAN

We started with some interesting table match-ups. Over at Table Ten, TJ Cloutier drew the six seat, and Chris Ferguson the nine seat, leaving the two 2000 WSOP finalists sitting directly opposite one another. Over at Table Four, the 1989 WSOP finalists wound up across the table from each other, with Johnny Chan in the five seat and Phil Hellmuth in the nine.

While there are no easy tables here, Four would not have been my choice for a place to land. In addition to Hellmuth and Chan, Lee Channing, F. Pini, Hamish Shah, and Stan Mazza got to enjoy the company of Layne Flack, Stewart Reuben and Surindar Sunar.

The most interesting and eerie hand of the night came down at Table Ten. People who followed the 2000 WSOP remember a remarkable Day 3 hand that ended a great run by Jeff Shulman and set the final table. Ferguson, the chip leader as the result of a 1.7 million dollar dustup with Shulman only a few minutes earlier, brought the hand in for $90,000, a raise of $60,000 from the $30,000 big blind.

Hasan Habib and Jim McManus tossed their hands away, and Cloutier raised it $300,000. The $390,000 he put in the pot represented just over 3/5 of his stack. Roman Abinsay folded, and Shulman, without much in the way of deliberation, moved his roughly $600,000 all-in.

After only the briefest of hesitations, Chris muscled up and moved his remaining 1.6 million in. Cloutier looked like he’d been hit between the eyes, and mucked J-J.

Shulman asked the appropriate rhetorical question to Chris, "You got the aces because I’ve got the kings," and Chris nodded. They turned the hands up, and indeed it was aces for Ferguson and an incredibly unfortunate pair of kings for Shulman.

Today, with the blinds at £100-200, Ozzie Mustangelo opened under the gun for £650, and Ferguson, sitting immediately on Ozzie’s left, raised it to £2,000. Cloutier moved in from the small blind, Mustangelo moved in right behind him, and quicker than you can say "this really couldn’t happen again, could it?" Ferguson moved in also.

YES, IT COULD REALLY HAPPEN AGAIN

Q-Q for Cloutier this time, instead of J-J, but the rest came according to form: K-K for Mustangelo and A-A for Ferguson. Once again the aces inherited the chips, once again the fellow with the kings got knocked out, and once again Cloutier survived.

How could TJ survive when his all-in move got called and beaten in two places by larger stacks? The Poker Mi££ion is using an unusual format. Everyone gets £10,000 in tournament chips, but only receives £5,000 to start, along with a pink slip of paper with the words "5,000 points" printed on it.

Anytime during the first four levels, the players can chose to trade in their pink slip for a £5,000 chip, but they can’t do it in the middle of a hand. TJ hadn’t yet traded his pink slip for the chips, so he lived on despite the beat. Normally people don’t enjoy being handed pink slips, but TJ was glad to have his.

"If Chris had just called, I don’t think I would have moved in," Cloutier told me. "A flat call would have been more threatening. But the raise made me think I had a good chance to hold the best hand."

Many of the player choose to trade in their slips when they got short stacked, rather than waiting to get busted—after all, in no-limit, you don’t want to wake up with a big hand and only be able to win a tiny amount with it—but I was stunned that of the 156 starters, only Howard Lederer choose to trade in his slip immediately and start with £10,000.

I’m pretty sure I would have done the same thing, or at least would have done it the moment anyone at my table got more chips than me, but most players either decided they liked the second-chance idea, or just didn’t think all the scenarios through. Maybe I’m wrong. 155-1 sounds like a pretty strong vote, unless you’re in Florida. I saw one short-stack take aces up against kings and win only the £400 he had in front of him. Even after this dramatic lesson, he chose not to add to his stack until he had to.

THE STARTERS AND THE SURVIVORS

Don’t let your eyes glaze over if statistics get to you. I have a couple of lists for those who like full details. First, all of the starters and the tables and seats they drew, and second, the 99 players who survived into day two, listed according to their chip positions.

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