Well, to make a short story long;
The final table began like this:
1 Amir Vahedi 598k
2 Me 168k
3 Tom Koral 63k
4 Doug ‘Rico’ Carli 164k
5 Chip Jett 359k
6 Bill Edler 160k
7 Luke Neeloy 143k
The prize money breakdown:
The prize money steps were fairly small until it got to the top three, which is what I had my sights on. I knew Amir was going to play hard with such a big lead, and I wasn’t going to back down if a situation came up make a run at the lead, merely to try to squeak out a little more prize money.
Usually I’m very cognizant of short stacks behind me. I don’t want to attempt to steal with a hand that can’t stand a re-raise if a semi short-stacked player to my left is subject to come over the top with any decent hand. However, I felt that Tom was going to play very tight in an attempt to move up the prize ladder, so I didn’t alter my strategy on his account.
On the very first deal I picked up 55 in late position. I raised to 18k. (the blinds were still 3000-6000/1000) and got called in one spot. The flop came, A-Q-6, I bet out 35k and won the pot. This put me close to 200k, and sent a little message.
Unfortunately it might have sent the wrong message. Soon after, I raised with A5, got re-raised
and had to fold. I picked up A4, raised again, got re-raised, and had to fold again. These were big
hits to my stack, and I was soon down to about 125k. Tom had not played a hand yet. He finally
moved in and got called by Rico. Tom turned over Jc5s and Rico showed TT. Tom was out in 7th.
I was now the short stack and had to get busy. I moved in with 22 and took the blinds. I did it
again with 66 and picked them again. I raised with A4, and got called by the button. I didn’t like
the call, and was prepared to get away from the hand. The door card was a 4, and I knew that
was all I needed to see. The rest of the flop was KJ, I moved in and took the pot.
I was feeling a rhythm and was looking for a little rush. I picked up AK in the one-hole, and raised
to 19k. Being 6-handed, I was hoping somebody would make a play at it with a weaker ace.
Unfortunately, it was passed around to Amir in the BB. Now I was wishing I’d made a bigger raise. He
called, and the flop came Ad-Qc-8d. He checked, and I bet 45k, about the size of the pot. I wasn’t
going to try to trap, or give him a cheap draw. If he had an ace, we were going to play for all my
chips. He re-raised, and I called quickly. I was rooting for him to have AJ or a draw, but he
showed me Qs8s. He was a little under a 3-1 favorite, and I was done.
I really like this tournament. Last time I was never at less than a 3-1 chip disadvantage to Andy at the final table, so I wasn’t disappointed with my second place finish. This time, I had a good lead at one point, and really felt I was going to go all the way. If Amir had been ko’d on Day 2 when he was dead to the gutshot, perhaps it would have gone my way. As it was, he went on a huge rush, played great, and never stopped the aggression. That’s a hard combination to beat. I had some lucky breaks early to stay in it, but then ran bad, never winning a race after we got to 12 players.
But my success here isn’t why I like the event. It’s primarily a TV-driven tournament. They tell me that, outside of the WSOP final event, the UPC gets more viewers than any other televised poker show. As such, the 10k final draws a small field populated by good players. There’s not a money overlay, but the TV exposure can be very valuable. The structure is great, starting players with 30k in chips at the 50/100 level. They also play seven-handed almost all the way through, because the TV table is set up for seven and they have a feature table throughout the second day. The combination of these factors—lots of chips, good players playing short-handed-- leads to some great poker. I think the televised play at the TV table prior to the final table will be some of the best poker on TV.
Except for the last UPC final, this was some of the most fun I’ve had playing a tournament in years. Too often in tournaments, most of which are unfortunately played 10-handed and are populated by lots of less-skilled players, the primary strategy is to take advantage of mistakes by the inexperienced players. In this event I was able to unleash just about all the plays in my arsenal, and that is fun. Also, the top players are fun to play with. Most of them like to talk, and aren’t afraid to give or take the needle. Too many of the new players in the game, regardless of their talent level, aren’t pleasant to be at the table with. Modern tournaments are being driven by the legions of anonymous players who play them because they enjoy the scene and the challenge. Unless something happens where someone else starts putting up the prize pools, these players are vital to the future of poker. Making it as fun an experience as possible for them should be a priority for all pros or would-be pros. The players with the hats and sunglasses who never say a kind word are no good for poker.
I heard several different rumors about the future of this event, all of which included moving it from the Plaza. I hope this doesn’t happen. While the Plaza may not be the glamour spot of Las Vegas, as most poker players know, some things can their flavor when they’re taken out of their element.