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PartyPoker.com Million III

Hosted by Card Player Cruises

The following are "snippets" of a narrative supplied by PartyPoker.com and written by Andy Glazer

Day 1

PartyPoker.com Million Launches to New Record

OFF THE BAJA CALIFORNIA COAST

Yesterday, Saturday, March 13, 2004, the ms Ryndam embarked from San Diego breaking records of all sorts. Some of the more interesting and relevant records include:
1. It offers the largest prize pool in the World Poker Tour's admittedly short history: $3,822,000. That's what happens when you set records like...
2. It's the first time a major poker cruise has taken up an entire cruise ship. That's right: with 546 players (463 online qualifiers and 83 direct buy-ins) each contributing $7,000 to the prize pool (less 3% for dealer and floor staff tokes), the PPM.com III has completely taken over the ship. Originally, PartyPoker.com reserved 175 cabins. Six weeks later, with online qualifying going through the roof (deck?), they upped the request to 325 cabins, and a month after that, they just said "Give us the whole ship."
It turns out they might well have taken an even larger ship, because PartyPoker.com offered to buy back almost 100 cruise packages from online qualifiers. Although increasing the buy-in to $10,000 next year may help PartyPoker.com avoid the need to charter a fleet of ships, the always dry-witted Steve Zolotow noted that much as the goal at the World Series of Poker has recently become to "make the final room," PartyPoker.com players may soon embark "hoping to make the final ship."

Many players who won cruise packages for as little as a $25 investment already feel like winners, of course...while others, like direct buy-in Phil Hellmuth, Jr., who was the second player to bust out of the tournament, are down a few bucks before half the field has even begun play.

Although Hellmuth didn't blame his early exit on his draw, he could have been luckier. This tournament is dominated by amateur players, and yet when he made his customary late entrance (only 45 minutes after the tournament began), he found Erik Seidel two seats to his right and two-time WSOP Championship runner-up Dewey Tomko three seats to his left.

Because of the relatively large number of players, Tournament Director Matt Savage is splitting Day One into two days. 270 of the 546 players began today, and 91 of those remain. Those 91 will get a day off before resuming action on Tuesday, when two day's worth of Day One survivors will play down to the final 27.

Those final 27 will play down to a six player final table on Wednesday night, and on Thursday night, the World Poker Tour's highly mobile set sets up at sea for the finale, which will be (as has the entire tournament) a limit hold'em event.

Probably the most famous player to attend is award-winning actor/director James Woods, who has developed a huge poker fascination over the past seven months.

Players were for the most part very well comported and happy to be on the cruise, although I overheard a number complaining about having to "get beat on the river and on the ocean simultaneously.

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Day 2

OFF THE CABO SAN LUCAS COAST

There are 177 folks at sea who don't mind being among the leaders. The PartyPoker.com Million III's 546 starting players have now, after the second of two "starting days," been reduced by almost exactly two-thirds.

A look at the combined leaderboard tells some interesting tales. Everyone started with $7,000 in no-cash value tournament chips. The top 15 players and their chip totals are:

1. Adkins, Jason $68,000
2. Brodie, Richard $64,500
3. Benyamine, David $56,000
4. Shulman, Barry $53,500
5. Bray, Dennis $52,000
6. Oliver, Ray $50,500
7. Quass, Kevin $50,500
8. Franklin, Tom $47,000
9. Shkolnik, Steven $45,500
10. Eddings, David $45,000
11. Salem, Samuel $45,000
12. Totera, Frank $44,000
13. Hernandez, Martin $41,000
14. Corrado, Ed $39,500
15. Colberg, Dave $39,500

Although they are underrepresented among the early leaders, the direct buy-ins are still alive and well. A total of 30 remain from the starting 83 (a survival rate of 36%, slightly better than that of the online qualifiers, of whom 32% are still kicking), including the Champions from the first two PartyPoker.com Million Events, Kathy Liebert and Howard Lederer (who have $35,000 and $33,500, respectively).

After two days of morning starts, the survivors get a day in Cabo San Lucas tomorrow, and then resume play at 8 p.m, when they will play at the $500-1,000 blind level (the hundred dollar chips have just been removed from the tables), and compete until either 4 a.m. or 27 players remain, whichever comes first.

Those final 27 will play down to a six player final table on Wednesday night, and on Thursday night, the World Poker Tour's highly mobile set sets up at sea for the finale, which will be (as has the entire tournament) a limit hold'em event.

One of the more interesting aspects of the PartyPoker.com Million III is that it is bringing together players from the online world and the brick and mortar world. Until Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 WSOP, many people thought that online players would initially face considerable difficulty when needing to employ a true "poker face.

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Day 4

ON BOARD THE ms RYNDAM

Wednesday. March 17 2004 was a day for winners. After the PartyPoker.com Million III's first two split days, we had completed a day's play, with 177 still alive. Although all but 30 of these were already winners, with a cruise package and a shot at glory in the bank, we were halfway through the real Day 2 before people started winning actual money, and when the dust had settled, players 28-90 had some cash to go with their cruise, as follows:

73-90, $2,000 each
64-72, $2,500 each
55-63, $3,000 each
46-54, $7,791 each
45-37, $10,387 each
28-36, $12,984 each

Today, the money started getting much more serious. The 27 starters knew that only six of them could "go Hollywood" and make the big World Poker Tour TV show, as well as have a shot at the really big money that would come along with it.

Although there were some interesting moments in the early and middle going, not the least of which was a run by Scotty Nguyen from $20,000 up to about $300,000 in just a few minutes, I decided that the battle from 10th down to the final six would be about the right length, and the set-up looked like this:

Seat Player Chip Count
1 Zolotow, Steve $180,000
2 Adkins, Jason $555,000
3 Nguyen, Scotty $230,000
4 Juanda, John $140,000
5 Hinchcliffe, Chris $470,000
6 Greenstein, Barry $645,000
7 Negreanu, Daniel $775,000
8 Lindgren, Erick $430,000
9 Rogers, Dave $80,000
10 Leap, Kevin $320,000

Even though some players looked to be in excellent shape and others in deep trouble, the limits were already so high that just one or two hands played to the river could dramatically change the picture. The blinds were $10,000-20,000, playing $20,000-40,000

1998 World Champ Nguyen lost almost all of his chips on the second final table hand, playing two black aces hard into a red, connected high board. Hinchcliffe had flopped an open-ended straight draw with his 10c-Jc, and connected on the turn. Nguyen had only 50k left after the hand, and declined to engage on his next trip through the blinds, leaving him with only 20k left-exactly the sum of one big blind.

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A NOVEL "DOWN TO THE FELT" STRATEGM

Nguyen played his button, but then promptly got up from the table and, with only eight hands to go before the last of his chips were going to be forced into action, left the room for four of them. He had eight chances left to find a hand, and he let four of them drift into the ether.

Nguyen finally returned, but didn't play until it was his big blind, when Negreanu brought the hand in for a raise and Lindgren made it three bets. Nguyen could only look on helplessly as Negreanu called.

The flop came A-J-6, and most observers expected Negreanu and Lindgren to check it down, to maximize the chances of eliminating a player, but after Negreanu checked Lindgren fired, and Negreanu immediately threw his hand (8-8) away. Lindgren turned over pocket nines, and Nguyen squeezed for a while and found Jd-3d-top pair.

The "eliminate a player" folks raised their eyebrows when an eight hit the turn. Although Lindgren had indeed grabbed a reasonable side pot, and had indeed protected his hand from a Negreanu catch-up, it looked like he'd cost the table a Nguyen knock-out-until a third diamond hit on the river, giving Nguyen a flush and new life, his 20k having turned into 70k.

Two hands later, Lindgren raised a hand, only to see Nguyen three-bet it. Two sixes were no match for Nguyen's K-K, and in the blink of an eye the players who had been counting Nguyen out were now counting his $150,000.

Although interrupted by a brief moment of comic relief when Zolotow bet his A-K very aggressively and almost got a short-stacked Juanda to lay down the very same hand (you really have to see the mild-mannered Juanda make a mock strangling motion to get the full comic effect), Nguyen rampage continued just a couple of hands late when he got dealt an A-K of his own, but caught a flop of A-K-K. Nguyen had raised pre-flop and been called by both blinds, but checked the hand twice afterwards, hoping someone would bet for him. Finally, after two more checks on the river, Nguyen finally bet, and got Leap to call him with A-Q.

No sir, at $40,000 a pop, no one was getting very cute with two kings on board unless he owned one himself.

WHY WERE THEY BOTH SO ANXIOUS TO RAISE?

The short stacked Zolotow and Juanda got into it again a few hands later, in a raise-reraise-reraise-reraise sequence that had Tournament Director Matt Savage telling the eager lads they'd each put in one bet too many. They agreed that the last two bets were dark bets and calls for the flop, and as this put Juanda all-in, they turned their hands over. AK vs. AK had been comical; AA vs. AA was more of a "Can't I beat this guy?" hand for each of the two desperately short players. Juanda got the briefest of freerolls when two diamonds hit the flop, but a club on the turn split the pot.

Leap had to post 40k as his big blind. Zolotow raised him, and the action got back around to Leap, who tossed his last 10k in, turning over pocket queens. Zolotow could produce only pocket tens, but a ten hit the flop, and Kevin had to be the first to leap from the final table, albeit the honorable way: getting his money in when he had the best of it. The blinds moved up to $15,000-30,000, playing $30,000-60,000. Figure it out: the table's chip leader didn't have a dozen big bets in front of him.

Have two hands go well or badly, and you could go from worst to first, or first to worst, without making a single mistake, or even without anything particularly unlucky or unlikely occur.

A MODEL PLAYER SETS A MODEL EXAMPLE

Shortly into the new round, Greenstein, a fabulous player who is so successful in both business and poker that he donates all his poker tournament winnings (and there are a lot of them) to charity (which I suppose you'd have to say makes him a fabulous human being as well: nice example for the rest of the successful, Barry) opened for a raise, and the still short-stacked Juanda thought for a while before calling in the big blind.

The flop came 5-8-Q, Juanda checked, Greenstein bet (as was fairly predictable: he didn't let too many people look at free cards throughout the day), and Juanda check-raised, which for some reason was exactly the sequence I had anticipated before a flop had been dealt. Greenstein didn't hesitate very long before making it three bets, though, and neither I nor Juanda had seen that one coming, because Juanda looked at his pitifully small collection of chips, trying to decide if he should get out, or call the six $5,000 chips now and the inevitable three more chips on the turn.

Juanda finally decided to call, checked, and as Greenstein bet Juanda's last three chips, Juanda looked at them or a moment, as if trying to decide if there were any point to saving them. He finally tossed them into the pot, and eight chairs more or less fell over simultaneously when the players exposed their hands. Greenstein had been pushing a real hand throughout, pocket tens, but Juanda had K-Q for top pair, good kicker, and took the pot when no ten hit the river.

The always good for a line Daniel Negreanu recovered first and started laughing hysterically. "Top pair, very good kicker, and you're sitting there like you think you might have three outs?" Negreanu laughed. "You must not play much limit hold'em."

"I just wanted it on the record that I thought I was going to lose, somehow," Juanda replied with a laugh of his own. Only Greenstein wasn't laughing, but he wasn't angry, either, just probably feeling what the rest of us were-confused by Juanda's hesitance.Meanwhile, amateur Dave Rogers had been seeing his own chips leak away, and decided he had to defend his big blind with A-6 when the aggressive Negreanu attacked from the button. The flop came 3-2-2, and Rogers quite correctly called with his last couple of chips when Negreanu bet: there was too much money in the pot to fold a flop that had likely missed both of them. Unfortunately for Rogers, it hadn't: Negreanu had attacked with Q-3 and in so doing had flopped top pair. He hit a queen on the turn for good measure, leaving Rogers outs only to an ace, but no silver bullet saved him, and we were eight.

Steve Zolotow is one of my favorite poker players, not merely because he's always been helpful with advice to those who seek it, but because his sense of humor is so good and so arid that I thought we might have a matter/anti-matter explosion should he leap into the sea. He saw that he had exactly enough to make a full raise, and did so. Nguyen considered calling from the small blind with what he later claimed was K-J, but we've all seen that 2003 WSOP video that proves you can't believe Scotty about what he's folded unless you see the cards (which is probably as it should be). Juanda, now finally supplied with some ammunition, played Sheriff with the second-worst heads-up hand, 2-4.

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A FAST CALCULATION FROM NEGREANU

Juanda's 2h-4c hit a deuce on the Kh-10c-4c flop, and Daniel Negreanu demonstrated he understands poker math pretty well by instantly proclaiming that Zolotow's Kc-6c was a small favorite (and it is, too, thanks to the two overcards and the flush draw, but I wasn't positive about this one until I crunched it, because Juanda had a club in his hand, too. Danny boy, you got some new respect here: Zolotow was indeed a 51-49 favorite, although he lost that status when a blank, the 10s, hit the turn. The 8c gave Z a flush on the river, though, and Zolotow lived on with 135k.

Hinchcliffe raised from his button, and Negreanu, as he quite often did, defended his big blind. The flop came Kh-10c-4c. Negreanu checked, Hinchcliffe bet, and Negreanu raised. Hinchcliffe tried to re-raise, but put the wrong amount in at first and had to go back for the rest of his bet.

It was a clear a string raise as I'd ever seen, but Negreanu never protested, and I knew that meant a minimum of two pair, probably a set. The As hit the turn, and Negreanu check-called, and both players checked the river. Negreanu bet each time and got called each time, and turned over the 10h-4h that had flopped two pair. Hinchcliffe had been unlucky to hit his ace on the turn, or he might have given up the power play, but it was too easy to believe the ace might have put him back in front.

Zolotow got low again-back down to the 60k mark-but we all knew he wasn't making a move with K-6 suited when Greenstein opened the hand for a raise to 60k, Negreanu flat called, and Zolotow called all-in. Adkins later claimed, believably, that he'd considered coming in from the small blind with pocket fours, a matter that became relevant when the flop came 8-4-10. Greenstein again demonstrated a complete lack of desire to check-down an all-in player when he fired out at this flop, this time without a side pot even to be won. Negreanu folded, and Greenstein turned over Q-J, which left Zolotow feeling pretty good about his A-A. Z got a brief scare when another eight hit the turn, because the number of pips on an eight look a lot like the number on a nine (which would have given Greenstein a straight), but he survived and was back in the hunt with 225k.

Greenstein and Negreanu, who never showed any fear of each other all day long, played a big pot with a 10d-As-4c-5c-Qs board, and Negreanu took a long time calling the final bet, even though he showed an ace after Greenstein turned up A-Q. "I was pretty sure I was beat there," he said, a line not so special for that particular moment as it was for what it foretold on an encounter just a few moments later.

Negreanu raised up front and Hinchcliffe defended his blind. The flop came 7s-5s-3d, Hinchcliffe bet 30k and Negreanu called. The Kd hit the turn, and it went check-check. The Kh hit the river, Negreanu checked, and one of the most amazing poker sequences I've yet seen ensued.

REALLY, NOW, COULD YOU MAKE THIS READ and CALL?

Hinchcliffe reached for his chips and his cards lifted part of the way off the table. I thought I saw one of them, and thought it was a seven, but I wasn't sure, and I made sure I was looking straight into my notebook in case Negreanu tried to read me. He didn't, though. He started talking.

"Boy, now that just has to mean nothing," Negreanu said. "I keep trying to figure this one, I figure it one way, you have nothing, another way, you have nothing, and a third way, you have nothing. A, B, or C, it's nothing either way, the only problem is, I don't know if I can beat nothing."

Negreanu finally decided to call with Q-6: that's right, he called $60,000 with queen-high. "You win," said Hinchcliffe, who turned over not the seven I thought I'd seen (I guess Zolotow and I have the same problem with counting pips in a flash) but 8-6. Hinchcliffe had flopped an open-ended straight draw, but the bet on the river didn't add up to Negreanu. Neither of the draws had gotten there, and you'd have expected Hinchcliffe to raise on the turn if he had a king. So it was understandable to think that Hinchcliffe had nothing...but thinking it, and making a $60,000 call with a hand that could lose to a lot of nothings (ace-anything, or maybe something like 4-3), well, that's what separates the men from the boys.

With his second big loss to Negreanu in a round, it looked like Hinchcliffe was in trouble.

We had a little while to recover from this stunning hand when the hand of the night came down. Let's track the pot size as it moves along. Adkins raised, and both Greenstein and Negreanu called from the blinds. That left us with 180k in the middle.

THE POT GROWS LARGER THAN SOME POKER BELLIES

The flop came Jc-8s-2h, both blinds checked, Adkins bet, and both blinds called. That's another 90k for a total of 270k. The 9c hit the turn, the blinds checked again, Adkins bet 60k, and Greenstein made it 120k. I almost dropped my pen when Negreanu flat called the 120k and Adkins called also. That's right, 360k went in on the turn, and we now had 630k in the middle.

The 3h hit the river, and Greenstein led out for 60k. Negreanu called...and so did Adkins, making this an $810,000 pot. Greenstein turned over Q-10 for the nut straight, Negreanu showed 10-7 for the second-nut straight, and Adkins didn't show (I have a feeling it was something like K-K or A-A, though it could have been a set). Barry Greenstein was now the unquestioned chip leader, and he wasn't satisfied. I ran into him on the next break and mentioned the hand.

"I think I win at least one more bet if I check there," Greenstein said. "If I check, Negreanu probably bets, gets called, and then I can raise. But I was too concerned with check-check-check on the end, so I decided to fire."

An $810,000 pot, and he was concerned on the break about not making more with it. Maybe this tells you something about what makes a championship-level poker player.

A hand later, I saw Adler toss J-J away heads-up on a board that showed Q-6-2-Q, which I took to be a sign he was worried he might be on tilt from overplaying the other hand. It could have been good poker, too. Zolotow showed him one six, leaving him Adler to wonder if he had escaped a full house, or if he'd thrown away jacks to someone who had sixes.

The good ship Hinchcliffe, which had been sailing along so nicely for so long, was foundering, and he soon raised a pot. Greenstein, perhaps suspecting a tilt factor, made it three bets, and Hinchcliffe called. The flop came 2d-Js-Qc, and Hinchcliffe led out, with Greenstein calling. The 8c hit the turn, and Hinchcliffe led out again, but this time Greenstein made it $120,000. Hinchcliffe didn't look happy and called. The 3d hit the river, and Hinchcliffe checked. Greenstein bet $60,000, and Hinchcliffe assessed his situation. He had $80,000 left in front of him, and he'd need to commit 3/4 of it to call. If he tossed the hand away, he'd be low man on the totem pole, but we'd seen plenty of comebacks already, and both Juanda and Nguyen were one good hand away.

OH, $20,000, $500,000, WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?

Hinchcliffe took another look at his 10-J, and decided to call. It was good (probably by a lot, as Greenstein's "good call" announcement seemed to indicate the moment the chips went in), and instead of a 20k stack, he was a half millionaire again.

We'd hit the break, and it was a good thing, because more than a few players probably needed oxygen. They were going to need more of it at the new level, because the blinds were moving to $20,000-40,000, playing $40,000-80,000. There wasn't a player in the room with ten big bets in front of him.

Just in case anyone had gotten relaxed, the second hand after the break took care of that. Juanda had the button, and Adkins raised from late position. Hinchcliffe defended his big blind, and the flop came 9c-7d-4h. Hinchcliffe check-called a flop that was likely to have missed the raiser. The Kh hit the turn though, certainly a raiser's card, but Hinchcliffe fired right out, only to see Adkins make it $160,000.

Hinchcliffe called, and check-called when the 2s hit the river. "If you have a king, you win," said Adkins, and Hinchcliffe turned over K-10. Two hands previously, Chris Hinchcliffe had been in deep danger of sitting there with $20,000, and now he was the unquestioned chip leader, while Adkins had only 30k left.

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WHERE'S A TALL BUILDING WHEN YOU NEED ONE?

Adkins survived a rough all-in where he took Q-4 against K-Q and flopped a four, but Superman, the Man of Steel, who had already shown that he could change the course of mighty rivers (well, escape them, anyway) and bend steel in his bare hands (the steely hearts of some of his competitors), yes Superman, Chris Hinchcliffe, strange visitor from another planet with powers beyond those of mortal men, just buried Barry Greenstein in a Q-Q vs. J-J confrontation that got heavily bet throughout, and why not, with a lowly board like 5-3-3-8-6.

He had to be Superman, because this construction worker was still worth only a quarter of what Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man, cost, but all 1.5 million appeared to have been invested in his heart, brain, and eyes.

Adkins, whose chances had seemed so good a couple of hours earlier, finally fell to Negreanu in a Q-J vs. A-Q confrontation, with most of the drama gone immediately on the 2-A-9 flop. There was one player left to go. Who would be the "bubble boy" for the show?

A few hands later, we had what in wrestling they'd call "a reversal." Nguyen made it 80k from late position, and Juanda, realizing that Nguyen had very little time to wait for a hand, decided to make Nguyen commit, re-raising and putting Nguyen all-in. Nguyen had a real hand, though, Ad-Js, and better still a dominating one, because Juanda held Ah-9h. Nguyen had leapt past Juanda. "Welcome home, chips," Nguyen said.
A little while later, Juanda found a hand he was willing to go with. He made it 80k, and Negreanu put the rest of Juanda's 95k all-in with a raise to 120k. Ac-Kd for Negreanu, and Qh-Qc for Juanda. Curiously, although Juanda is the 13-10 favorite in this confrontation, Negreanu looked and sounded confident. "I got a good feeling about this one, Johnny," he said, not unkindly.

You have to be careful with someone whose feelings can be "nothing, nothing, and nothing." The flop brought not one king, but two: K-K-3. A ten on the turn left Juanda dead to one of the remaining two queens, but a five arrived, and the final table was set:

STEPHEN ZOLOTOW
$380,000

SCOTTY NGUYEN
$310,000

CHRIS HINCHCLIFFE
$1,765,000

BARRY GREENSTEIN
$220,000

DANIEL NEGREANU
$560,000

ERICK LINDGREN
$595,000

I got a chance to speak with a few of the players before the night was over, and in covering literally hundreds of big money tournaments, rarely have I encountered a group that was as generally happy with everything that had transpired as this one was. Eighth place finisher Adkins, who could easily have been bitterly disappointed, was thrilled.

"Hey, the big thing for me was winning the cruise and having a great time with my wife here," Adkins said. "All this money in the tournament, that's just gravy, and pretty nice gravy, since I only bought in once for one $25 tournament and made it right through qualifying with that."

Curiously, "Superman" Hinchcliffe's story was similar. The Olympia, Washington construction worker had only signed up at PartyPoker.com a few days before qualifying ended, and also invested just one $25 buy-in. Now, of course, he gets to go for a lot more, and it isn't just gravy for him.

"This is life-changing money for me," Hinchcliffe said. "I owed my Mom $8,000 she'd advanced me, and I've been paying her back a little at a time, but now she's getting the rest of it all at once, and she's getting a new car, too. I'm going to take the rest of the year off (remember, it's March) and reassess a lot of things in my life.

Is he intimidated by the field he'll face? After all, even online qualifier Erick Lindgren is a rather famous player. "I'm thrilled to be playing against players like this, it's the thrill of a lifetime," he said. "I was intimidated by one player in the field, (defending champ) Howard Lederer, and once he went out, I felt like it was more possible."

What about "bubble boy" Juanda, who nursed a short stack for most of the evening. Was he bitterly disappointed about missing the TV appearance. "No, not at all," Juanda replied. "Sometimes, I'd rather not make the TV show, not if I don't have any chips. I wasn't thinking about that at all. I was trying to make the best plays I could to have a chance to get chips and do well tomorrow." Lederer, who happened to be standing next to Juanda as we exchanged there remarks, agreed vehemently. "There's not a lot of point in just sitting there, anteing yourself off so you can get to a final table so low that you get knocked out immediately. That's not going to do much for your reputation. You want to make the plays that give you a chance to contend to win."

With more than three times as many chips as his closest rival, Hinchcliffe figures those plays will be "to stay aggressive, and show them the nuts a few times. I know a lot of people aren't big on showing cards, but I really think that if you show your opponents a big hand a few times, they might not be so anxious to call sometime later when you don't want to...and it can work the other way too, when you want a call, if they start thinking 'he can't have it again.'"

Whether Hinchcliffe decides to stick with his immediate plan, or decides that he can essentially ante himself into no worse than third, is something we won't know until this time tomorrow. It should make for quite a show, though. If anyone can lug some Kryptonite to a final table, it's a fivesome of Zolotow, Nguyen, Greenstein, Lindgren, and Negreanu.

In closing, I have to add one more observation. While they certainly wouldn't qualify for one of those "separated at birth" photo comparisons, Mr. Hinchcliffe bears more than a little resemblance to another online poker player who did pretty well for himself recently, a fellow named Chris Moneymaker. If Hinchcliffe wins, we may have a whole new definition of "poker face" on our hands.

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Day 5

"Ricky, I Want to be In the Show!"

It was fitting that as PartyPoker.com put on what Mike Sexton called "the world's greatest poker party" the final day's heads-up battle would ultimately be introduced by a florid, colorful show that evoked images of what Ricky Ricardo used put on at his club, a show just like the type that Lucy always wanted to be in.

Lucy would have wanted to have been in this show not just for the color and pageantry, but for the money: the final duo, one direct buy-in and one online qualifier, were fighting for the difference between the PartyPoker.com Million III's guaranteed million dollar first prize and the "mere" $675,000 awaiting the runner-up.

The gala tournament at sea set two poker records: it was, to date, the largest prize pool ever assembled for the World Poker Tour, and it was also the largest limit hold'em tournament ever held. That made it hard to imagine anyone not wanting to be in the show.

In order to leave some play at the final table, tournament officials first rolled the blinds back a level, with play beginning at the $10,000-20,000 blinds, playing $20,000-40,000 level. We had finished the final scramble the night before at the $40,000-80,000 level as the competitors played cautiously, in some cases no doubt trying to ensure they made "the show." At that level, even one hand played aggressively to conclusion could turn a leader into a trailer, or vice versa.

Indeed, of the final six, only Internet star Erick "Edawg" Lindgren didn't experience a major roller coaster ride in the final 90 minutes the previous night. Daniel Negreanu and Barry Greenstein each had moments when their stacks had exceeded a million, and eighth place finisher Jason Adkins-an Internet qualifier who had just been happy to win the cruise and have a fun trip with his wife, never mind the $77,905 he won-had been over $800,000 at one point.

When we started back today, though, the seats and chip counts were:

Zolotow, Steve
$380,000

Nguyen, Scotty
$310,000

Hinchcliffe, Chris
$1,765,000

Greenstein, Barry
$220,000

Negreanu, Daniel
$560,000

Lindgren, Erick
$595,000

Although Lindgren was an online qualifier, he was certainly no amateur; he had already notched one World Poker Tour win this year and another final table.

Although some had speculated that Hinchcliffe might have done well to sit on his chips for a while until some of the shorter stacks busted out, he decided to remain aggressive, and started running into trouble fairly early in the tournament, especially in a series of run-ins with Negreanu, who had position on him and who seemed willing to take flops with Hinchcliffe in an effort to outplay him after the flop.

SCOTTY NGUYEN STRANGELY PASSIVE

Greenstein survived one all-in, and soon pulled ahead of Nguyen, who was rarely aggressive at any point in the match. Of course, short stack status and no cards can do that to a fellow in no limit hold'em. At one point, as the 1998 World Champion pondered a call with some of his last few chips, one enthusiastic audience member shouted "the sooner you loose, you sooner you booze, Scotty," and drew laughs from everyone, Nguyen included.

On hand #23, Greenstein survived his second all-in.

It looked like we might lose Nguyen three hands later when he took As-Js up against Hinchcliff's pocket jacks, but a board that started Kh-8s-Qs-4s doubled Nguyen through, and Hinchcliffe saw a few more chips escape.

Hand #32 really smacked Hinchcliffe hard. Greenstein opened for a raise under the gun, and Hinchcliffe, the Olympia, Washington construction worker who had already indicated that the money he had won had changed his life, defended his blind, as he did so often throughout the day. The flop came 10d-8c-7c, and Hinchcliffe check-called. The turn brought a third club, the Jc, and Hinchcliffe checked again. Greenstein bet, Hinchcliffe check-raised, and when Greenstein re-raised all-in, it was pretty clear what had happened. Ac-2c, the nut flush, for Greenstein; 9c-4c, a decidedly non-nut flush for Hinchcliffe, who never should have defended his blind with a hand of that sort to begin with.

As so often happens, a questionable defense led to a very unlucky piece of "good" luck, and Greenstein was back in the game. We lost Nguyen a couple of hands later, when he decided to toss his last 30k in, and got protection when Greenstein raised and Negreanu played along, with the two firing bets at each other back and forth through the hand. With the final board 9h-Kd-Jc-Qd-7d, Negreanu turned over 10d-9d, a flush, and Nguyen was out, never showing his hand to the crowd.

Nguyen's exit marked the end of the first round, and the blinds moved up to $15,000-30,000, playing $30,000-60,000. Eight hands into the new round, Hinchcliffe and Negreanu hooked up in another of the duels that Negreanu had been looking for.

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NEGREANU PICKS ON THE AMATEUR

Hinchcliffe made it 60k from mid position, but Negreanu made it 90k from the button, and Hinchcliffe called. The flop came 3h-2h-2c, and Hinchcliffe led out, with Negreanu calling. The 6d hit the turn, and once again it went bet-call, this time for 60k. On the river, the 9d hit, and Hinchcliffe checked. Negreanu went through a series of facial gestures that entertained the closed circuit TV crowd throughout the day, and decided to bet. Hinchcliffe thought a long time and finally tossed 60k more into the pot. Negreanu showed J-J, and Hinchcliffe showed Kh-9h, a flush draw that had missed, but had provided Hinchcliffe with just enough reason to lose another 60k on the end. $240,000 shifted stacks on the hand, and the out-of-sight lead was no longer out-of-sight.

A couple of hands later, the relatively quiet (literally and figuratively) Zolotow raised it to 60k from his button, and Hinchcliffe decided to deposit the required 45k to call from the small blind. Hinchcliffe led out at the 2s-8c-7h flop and got called. He led out again when the 2h hit the turn, but this time Zolotow made it 120k (the figurative equivalent of the more active Negreanu making it 1.2 million, if such could be allowed in a limit hold'em game). Hinchcliffe called, and check-called another 60k on the river when the Jc hit.

Zolotow turned over his pocket kings, and Hinchcliffe was another 255k poorer. He'd lost half a million in half four blinks of an eye, and his chip lead was so far gone, it wasn't even history; it was more like mythology:

This had taken 44 hands. Hinchcliffe could have borrowed a lifeboat and rowed around the ship a couple of times while letting himself get blinded off and still had considerably more chips than he had now. Inexperience was telling. Seven hands later he got involved in another big pot and won; had that one gotten away, the impossible would probably have happened: the man who had started the evening owning nearly half the chips would probably have finished fifth.

THE ONLY GUY I DON'T KNOW, AND I'M ROOTING FOR HIM

I didn't want to see it happen. He'd seemed such a friendly, regular guy the night before, and the money meant so much more to him than it did to any of his millionaire opponents, it wasn't funny. This was the only player of those left I didn't know and like, and so much did I want him to come away with a few more bucks, he was the one I was rooting for.

I'd no longer figured that out then it looked like the impossible was going to happen. Hinchcliffe raised a pot to 60k, and Lindgren called from the small blind, with Zolotow also calling from the big. The flop came Jh-5d-6d. It was checked to Hinchcliffe, and "old faithful" bet the predictable 30k. Lindgren made it 60k, and Hinchcliffe called. The Ah hit the turn, and both players checked. The Kd hit the river. Lindgren bet 60k, Hinchcliffe made it 120k, and after some hesitation, Lindgren called.

Hinchcliffe turned over K-8, a hand no one was quite sure what he had been doing with at any point, save possibly the river, when it looked like his bold play almost got Lindgren to lay down K-J. As it was, his stack was a shambles, with another quarter million gone.

Fortunately for Hinchcliffe, another weak play worked out. He limped in with 3c-5c, and flopped a flush when the board came Qc-Jc-Kc. No one else caught a fourth club as the board finished 7s-6s, and the bleeding had stopped...for three hands, when he even announced "I'm going to chase" as Negreanu bet into him time and again. He lost 300k when Negreanu showed him trip sevens with an ace kicker on the 7d-2d-4d-3c-7s board.

This latest disaster struck just as the blinds moved up to $25,000-50,000, playing $50,000-100,000.

WPT FINAL TABLES A PARTICULARLY TOUGH EXPERIENCE

Before you decide whose personality is more unstable-I've already said I was rooting for the guy, although I've been pummeling his decisions-walk a mile in a man's shoes before criticizing too harshly. These WPT final tables are very different experiences from conventional final tables, and those are pressure-packed enough as it is. There's a huge audience watching, and you know everyone is going to be watching your hole cards, and if you don't think that doesn't bring out the macho desire to prove you're no wimp, you haven't experienced it. That doesn't mean a good player can't control it, but there are X Factors that go beyond most folks' experience.

The new level started with a bang and a statement. We had reached handed #67, and Greenstein opened from mid position for a raise to 100k, only to get immediately 3-bet by Negreanu to 150k. Greenstein called, took a look at an As-Kd-6d flop, and checked and immediately surrendered to Negreanu's bet.

Negreanu's crowd image had been a well-earned mover of chips, and he flipped up pocket kings, as if to remind everyone that an aggressive player is allowed to have a real hand too. This one had more than two million dollars in front of him, and all the momentum in the world. The position that had allowed him to tangle with the bold but inexperienced Hinchcliffe had him on top of the world and unstoppable, it seemed.

We lost the now-short Greenstein four hands later, when he moved the last of his 60k all-in and Lindgren completed the raise. The hand made for great poker theatre ("ooohhh...aahhh...") because Greenstein turned over Kd-9s against Ah-Qc, and the flop came 3h-9c-3c. Greenstein lived...for a moment, because the Qh hit the turn.

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GREENSTEIN'S LOSS ALSO CHARITY'S LOSS

It's always sad to see Greenstein leave a final table, because in a grand gesture that some of pokers other millionaires could learn from, he donates all his tournament winnings to charity-every dollar. He's wealthy enough from business and from poker side action to afford it, but that makes the gesture no less important. I asked him if he thought this put less pressure on him when playing. "No," he said, "I don't really feel pressure playing whether it's a tournament or a live game. It's just poker, and I just try to make good decisions." Ah, sometimes being rich and intelligent sounds better than others.

The battle now stood

Zolotow, Steve
$380,000

Hinchcliffe, Chris
$350,000

Negreanu, Daniel
$2,325,000

Lindgren, Erick
$775,000

Like a President with a high popularity rating, Negreanu decided to take his big lead out for a spin to see what it could do. He three-bet the next hand and bet 50k in the dark before the flop, only to have Zolotow yield when the flop came 8d-2s-3d, but on the next hand, Negreanu raised it from the small blind, and Lindgren played along.

Negreanu tried the dark bet again, but this time the flop came 7s-10h-As, and Lindgren called. When the 9h hit the turn, Negreanu led out, but Lindgren doubled it to 200k. Negreanu called, and check-called another 100k on the river, although he didn't look happy about it. He turned over A-Q, but Lindgren showed 9-10 for a full house. $450,000 had just flowed from one stack to the other, and even though Negreanu still had a very healthy lead, I got the oddest feeling.

LET'S SEE...THE HEAD TURNS SLOWLY FROM RIGHT TO LEFT...

Seven hands later (#81 overall), Lindgren whammed Negreanu again, A-Q again failing to come through for Negreanu when they could never improve and Lindgren's pocket sevens held up.

Two hands later, the increasingly aggressive Lindgren raised it from the small blind, and Zolotow decided to call all-in from the big blind, and no one in the house was rooting harder for Lindgren than Hinchcliffe, I assure you-even Lindgren. Lindgren's Kh-2h held up against Zolotow's Jh-4c, we were three-handed, and with one of the broadest grins you've ever seen, Hinchcliffe asked rhetorically "Do you know what I can do with $450,000?"

The grin stayed even when Hinchcliff's tiny stack went away four hands later, when Negreanu made it 100k from the button, Lindgren called from the small blind, and Hinchcliffe called all-in from the big blind. Negreanu and Lindgren each checked rather rapidly as the board came down J-3-2-2-4, and with small wonder: Negreanu had K-6, and Lindgren Q-9. Hinchcliffe offered a rue smile and flipped up his Q-8, and left to a standing ovation slightly more thunderous than the other players had received. Big chip lead lost or not, he had been in troubled waters and regained control just in time to make enough money to change more than his own life.

A YOUNG MAN'S LIFE CHANGES FOR THE BETTER

He had been in debt before he came on the cruise: he owed his mother $8,000. He had joined PartyPoker.com only a few days before online qualifying ended, and had won his seat and cruise on his first $25 try. Now Mom was not only going to get repaid all at once, but she was going to get a new car, and Hinchcliffe was going to take the rest of the year off to reevaluate a lot of things in his life.

Evil game, this poker is.

Now after 87 hands, the game was up to Harriet Bird's two favorite boys, and the chips were almost exactly even: Lindgren held a meaningless 20k lead. It was at this point that the "Ricky I want to be in the show" commenced, and I'd need to be able to write in Technicolor to really tell you what happened. Women in gowns that left little to the imagination, women dressed as playing cards, women dressed like playing cards on acid, a clapping chorus of white-gloved waiters...I was looking for the jugglers and dancing bears, but I didn't look long, as my attention stayed mainly with the Queen of Hearts. A couple of trays of money came in, as did a trophy that weighed about 40 pounds. There was no sawdust or spittoons in sight. Poker has grown up.

I started renumbering the hands at #1. Heads-up, the small blind goes on the button (SBB) and acts first before the flop but second after the flop.

Negreanu won two quick small pots, but then Lindgren won a big one that went to the river (at this betting level, any hand that went to the river was big) holding 8-6 against Negreanu's 10-6 as the board came 6-5-2-3-8. Lindgren had both rivered and oceaned Negreanu, and I wouldn't have been surprised if the river eight had wanted to cause Negreanu to spit in the ocean, because it cost him a 600k pot (Lindgren either tried to trap Negreanu on the end or was concerned about a straight, but Negreanu was content to turn his hand over), and for the first time since Negreanu had overhauled Hinchcliffe, someone else had a significant lead on Negreanu, about 2.2 million to 1.6 million.

THE NEW LEADER TAKES CHARGE

I thought announcer Linda Johnson had left the room and was just playing a tape that said "Erick wins again" for a while, because Lindgren quickly kept his snowball rolling downhill, and in just a few hands had extended his lead to 2.6-1.2 million. Finally on heads-up hand #11, the boys went at it on a Kd-4d-Kc flop, with Lindgren check-raising the flop and Negreanu calling. Lindgren check-called the turn and river, and Negreanu turned over Broderick Crawford, 10-4, for tens full, while Lindgren showed he'd temporarily had Negreanu in big trouble with Q-4-same flopped pair, better kicker.

Heads-up #13 got the crowd into it as Negreanu raised from the SBB and Lindgren called. The flop came Jc-10s-8h, and the betting went 50-100-150-200. Unless you had Q-9, you couldn't be too comfortable with that kind of action, but when the 3d hit the turn, Lindgren led out for 100k and Negreanu made it 200k. Lindgren finally pulled in the reigns and just called. Both players checked when the Ah hit the river, but Lindgren was happy enough to grab the million dollar pot with his J-10. We never saw Negreanu's hand. I'm going to give him some credit and guess J-8, but we'll know when this airs.

With Lindgren now at the 2.7 million mark, we hit the new limits: 40-80 blinds, playing $80,000-160,000. The very first hand was practically big enough to even the match or end it. Lindgren opened for a raise to 160k from the SBB, but Negreanu made it 240k. The flop came 3d-10h-10c, and Lindgren called Negreanu's 80k bet. He called again when the 8s hit the turn, but when the 4c hit the river, Negreanu finally checked, and looked uncomfortable when Lindgren bet out. After significant hesitation he called, and Lindgren grabbed 640k from Negreanu (a $1,280,000 pot) by flopping trip tens with 10-7. Negreanu was in big trouble, with just under 400k left.

Negreanu's star kept waning, and on heads-up hand #23, Lindgren decided to try to get things over and done with. Negreanu brought the hand in for a raise from the SBB to 160k, and Lindgren-inexplicably, I think-put Negreanu all-in with a raise. 5h-2h for Lindgren, Ks-5d for Negreanu. I understand why one would be tempted to get it all-in before the flop and finish a troubled foe, but with five-high? Why not just fold to the initial raise and put Negreanu in next hand?

If Negreanu were to win this pot, he'd have nearly half a million, and strange things can happen with a stack that big in a very short time. The board came 8-5-3-10-3, and Negreanu had doubled up. Harriet Bird hadn't yet looked back at The Whammer (a role for which the muscular 27-year old Lindgren is better suited than his bantamweight Canadian opponent), but this looked like a sign of impatience. Lindgren is too good a player to make a play like that more than once, but now if Negreanu could catch cards, he could catch Lindgren.

Most of the wayward chips came home four hands later, when Lindgren's A-J flopped an ace that held up, and Negreanu was all-in again two hands later, this time with 7c-10c against Ah-6c. The flop brought a roar with 5c-Js-2c, but Negreanu won the old fashioned way by spiking a ten on the turn. Negreanu was still alive with his half million again, and seven hands later, from little acorns had a mighty oak of a million grown. The lead wasn't even 3-1 anymore. It looked like the game was afoot, and two hands later, the gambling got bigger as the blinds went to 60-120, playing $120,000-240,000 (that's just fun to say..."We were playing $120,000-240,000, see, and he....").

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SAY "ONE UNDERCARD" THREE TIMES FAST

Lindgren won a couple of small hands, and then the 43rd heads-up hand proved decisive. Negreanu opened from the SBB for $24,000, and Lindgren called. The flop came 5h-7h-3c, Lindgren bet out for 120k, and Negreanu moved his last few chips in. He'd started better, A-4 to A-3, but Lindgren had flopped a pair. The Jc hit the turn, and Negreanu needed a four, six, or two to stay alive. The 5d, teasingly just in the right pip vicinity, hit instead, and we had a champion who'd just collected his second WPT title of the year.

Negreanu was generous in defeat, even more so than friendly pros often are. "I couldn't have lost to a nicer guy or a better player," he told the crowd.

A DIFFERENT ROUTE TO THE TOP

Had Lindgren entered the final table with a particular strategy? "I wasn't thrilled with the seating positions, because I knew Daniel would do the dirty work with position on Hinchcliffe. I just had to let Daniel do his thing and stay focused on the other players until I could get heads-up with him. From there, well, by then the limits were so high, anything could have happened."

During the many TV breaks for changing tapes and the like, Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher kept the crowd entertained, and they also warmed them up by getting some establishing shots. "OK, you group on this side, act like your favorite player just won a hand, and I'll give a book to the best actor." James Woods, seated in the front row, immediately strode to the front of the room and accepted the book to thunderous laughter, and took the microphone.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," said the fast-talking MIT grad, "I know why you've all been so gracious this week. Here's a rich sucker, let's be nice until he's broke, well, you can stop clapping, you've got all the money already." Woods was actually soft-selling himself a bit-he'd just had a nice winning session-but it wouldn't surprise me if people had been nice to him this week, because I can rarely remember a week when everyone was nicer to everyone. I guess that's what happens when a boatful of people who've already won take to the high seas. For Erick "Edawg" Lindgren, the seas were just a little higher. Maybe it was the greatest party in poker after all.

PartyPoker.com Million III Final Results

Winner - Erick Lindgren
Amount won - $1,000,000

2nd Place - Daniel Negreanu
Amount won - $675,178

3rd Place - Chris Hinchcliffe
Amount won - $441,463

4th Place - Steve Zolotow
Amount won - $259,684

5th Place - Barry Greenstein
Amount won - $194,763

6th Place - Scotty Nguyen
Amount won - $129,842

 
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