This may deviate from the usual tournament report in that for the first two days I happened, through one of those strange twists of fate, to be playing this event thanks to a rather under the weather Peter Roche (left), whose faith in me proved eventually unfounded, but who gave me a taste of playing in the tournament rightly described by many as the best in Europe. What makes it so good? Well, the structure is without compare, with a ninety minute clock and 10,000 starting stack, no juice on the entry, and a field of 346 which was catered for with aplomb through four days of play.
Having updated this event last year with no official press access, we were prepared for more of the same (I was politely ejected from the Poker Pit no fewer than 24 times in 2005) but they’d catered for us much better this time round and the only obstacle to Snoopy reporting on the first couple of days was me – I was happily sat feeling the hours fly by at my first table while he dashed around the sizeable casino, notepad in hand. I heard the occasional piece of early news which was dramatic enough to filter down though – Ramzi Jelassi was chip leader in the first level thanks to a double through with pocket Jacks. He hit a J 2 3 flop as hard as it is possible to do, and found fellow Scandie Johnny Lodden sitting with 23 – game over. Likewise Barney Boatman doubled up early, joining other early big stacks Bruno Fitoussi, Ross Boatman, Kristian Ulriksen and Andreas Hagen.
These names just listed had enough chips after the first level to comfortably make the second day while sat at the bar, and it was no surprise that most of them got a long way through it and into Day Three. Although most of my personal anecdotes are probably pretty tedious, I do have a general comment to make about the Televised Table, at which I was unfortunately sat for around six hours over the first two days. Never a big fan of the TV table (it’s slow, uncomfortably hot, distracting, people are more unpredictable, I don’t like showing hole cards) I was grumpily resigned, if not surprised, at the non-random nature of the selection of players to fill in the gaps. Minding my own business on the button, having spent a good two levels staring intently at the players hoping that patterns would miraculously form in my brain as they sometimes do, a man with a chip tray arrived saying I was being moved. Surely some mistake? I had just gone through the blinds… “No, we’re moving you to a special table.” Marvellous – it all became clear as I got sat with Tony G, Ulle and Marcel Luske instead of the bunch of randoms I was just getting to know.
I consider moving table to be a pretty large setback. I am not the quickest cookie in the jar when it comes to profile building (something I am always trying to remedy), and the reason I am such a fan of these deepstack tournaments is the time one has to take advantage of the accuracy of one’s assumptions built up over several levels. For a sponsored player, better and more experienced than I am, it might be advantageous to be moved on TV, but for me it’s not so good. Being picked for televisation makes my life harder, pure and simple, and the fact that every player doesn’t have an equal chance of selection strikes me as unfair. They could have at least waited until I was on the big blind, therefore giving the illusion of randomness.
While sat under the lights, I did watch the maniac on my left (whom I’d given far, far too much respect in the first few hands - we see again the benefit of having been on a table for a while - leading to one of the worst passes in my poker career so far) call a big blind re-raise of 7,000 with the 78 of hearts, getting Ulle to move in with his AKoff on an all-heart flop and accumulating a big stack around level five, although he, perhaps predictably, disappeared before I was back to my updating duties. Meanwhile, on the other side of the casino, Norseman Sverre Sundbo (left) was down to just 1,200 and about to start his (successful) bid for Climber of the Day. The hand which took him down to this little stack was pretty harsh – he held 55 on an A 7 5 7 board, but the river brought a third Seven, forcing him to fold to his opponent’s bet. By the dinner break, he had, in Snoopy’s words, “clawed his way back to 9,000 without ever doubling up.” Plus he finished the day on 24k.
Blondepoker qualifier Chris Moorman had an interesting day, heading happily towards 18k around the midpoint, but eventually exiting with AQ to JP Kelly’s AK. JP had a particularly frustrating exit himself, having attained a comfortable 32k before going out in the last five minutes of Day One. Keith ‘The Camel’ Hawkins looked in trouble at this point, losing a 15k pot to Roy Brindley, but after a good night’s sleep he knocked The Boy out with pocket Aces vs AK (how’s that for revenge), and rocketed skyward in chips, ending the second day as leader.
About five minutes after my sad yet dignified exit, with Q6 on the big blind, all-in against small blind’s QJ on a Q 6 3 flop (the Jack appearing like a tournament guillotine on the turn), Mike Tse suffered an even more tough beat – he had a decent stack as opposed to my 18k – and got it all-in with KK against Rolf ‘Ace’ Slotboom’s QQ. He made a big overbet preflop, and got Rolf thinking, eventually saying those words you both pray for and dread, “I think you have Kings. No, Aces. No, Kings. I call.” Despite the King on the flop, Rolf bagged himself a straight and a ticket to the final table. A few words about Casino Holland’s star blogger and PLO guru: without exception, other players found him irritating to play against. He once told me about his chip stacking and card-checking routines. About the flower pattern and the chip tower with the tic-tac box perched on top. About the dwell, check a card, sunglasses on, dwell, check other card, dwell, pass routine. But it was quite something to watch it rile the pros, and make for interesting TV.
The British contingent, including Devilfish, Surinder Sunar, The Camel and Ross and Barney Boatman, was still going strong as Day Two drew to a close (I personally was fast asleep by this point, the effects of adrenaline-comedown kicking in with a vengeance). Young Jerome Bradpiece, spotted hanging out with Gutshotters like Simon Hennessey and Mike Tse, built up his stack in several leaps, until he too was in contention for the final. One such leap occurred against Stuart Fox – a huge pot in which raiser Jerome saw a Kd Jd Qc flop which gave him a set of Queens. He didn’t feel like passing to Foxy’s 75k all-in raise on the flop, and it was just as well, as his set held up against the 4d 6d flush draw with which Foxy had made his aggressive move. A dangerous situation, especially considering there was another smooth-caller of Jerome’s 15k bet on the flop, but he escaped with a huge stack (and near chip leader position) having sent Stuart to the rail.
The following afternoon, Jerome continued where he’d left off, knocking out Bruno Fitoussi in another big pot –this time it was his straight-flush draw on a 7 7 4 flop which hit against Bruno’s A7. Fair enough. For someone with only one other big live tournament under his belt, Jerome looked happy enough to be in almost every hand, and his stack gave him the backup and intimidation factor which he seemed to be utilising successfully. In fact there was only one big knock on day three for Mr. Bradpiece – Sverre Sundbo’s pocket Aces got Jerome interested with his, er, 6s 3s on a two-spade flop, but this time he missed, giving the singing Norwegian 240k. This stack was destined to head to another British player, however, in a couple of huge pots. JJ Hazan, Gutshot qualifier, quoted by percentage-holder Jimi as “just crazy enough to win it” basically took the lot in two bites, firstly making a Foxy-style move with a Ten-high flush draw on a Six-high flop, while Sverre’s 77 were no good when the river brought that spade. Then a frustrated Sverre headed for the rail after his AK blinds re-raise preflop didn’t convince JJ with the AJ – I heard shouts of, “Nine!” which could only mean that a sneaky straight was Sverre’s doom.
Now might be the time for an aside on Paul Parker, not mentioned previously because as he’ll freely admit, he didn’t play a hand. Content to get to Day Two playing only Aces, once, he kept re-evaluating when would be a good time to start playing. “After the first day” became, “when I’m in the money” became “when I’m heads up.” Sadly that was not to be, as he exited somewhere in the forties, but actually active cardwise or not, he’s one of my favourite players to watch, or listen to.
So the last 27 (in the money) slowly whittled themselves down to the final Nine, with some drama occurring as Thierry van der Berg finished 11th, on the TV table, with the Aces, against Rolf Slotboom (right), with the Kings. All in preflop, as might be expected; Rolf hit a King on the turn. We were starting to expect that some kind of Dutch voodoo might have been involved (although what happened to him on the final put that out of our minds). At ten, they announced it would be “hand over hand” – we assumed that this was a dodgy translation, but actually it meant that one table would play a hand, then the other, then the first again, thus making a slow and tedious process slower and more tedious.
But in fact it wasn’t too bad – Sergei Pevzner obligingly pushed his short stack in with A2, and Rolf’s J6 hit where he did not, sending us home just as the casino was threatening to close (which they do abruptly, with a no-nonsense herding effect). This left the final table looking like this:
Rolf Slotboom -- 841,000
Alex Jalali Abadi -- 694,000
Jonathan Fahl -- 596,000
JJ Hazan -- 433,000
Jan Sjavik -- 357,000
Keith Hawkins -- 176,000
Jorrit van Hoof -- 128,000
Jerome Bradpiece -- 110,000
Jan Boubli -- 80,000
And the prize money:
1st -- €690,000
2nd -- €345,000
3rd -- €172,500
4th -- €112,125
5th -- €86,250
6th -- €60,375
7th -- €43,125
8th -- €34,500
9th -- €25,875
There was an all-in within the first five minutes of the final starting (on time; I wasn’t prepared for such an eventuality, and showed up with literally seconds to spare). Jerome Bradpiece moved in preflop in an empty space (or so he thought) with 56off, but JJ had AQ and disposed of his fellow Brit with no hesitation. This left the definite short stack Jan Boubli (left) in an all-in or pass type situation, and although he got it through a couple of times, flat calling on the small blind gave JJ Hazan a chance to bluff with his 67off on a 2 3 4 2 board, which he called with Q3, only for the deadly 5 to pop out on the river.
Down to seven, and we were waiting for Keith Hawkins to get a hand. He didn’t; a couple button-raise-then-pass situations later and then finally he called Jorrit van Hoof’s preflop all in with pocket Sevens, against 89 suited. The flop brought the camel a set, and despite an eight and nine appearing pre-river, he eliminated van Hoof and left himself more comfortable. I can’t resist quoting what he said on the forum concerning his final table experience: “I can't deny at being chuffed with a 4th place finish. I just sat at the final table, drank a lot of free beer and passed my cards and then picked up 100 grand.” That kind of spoils the suspense, doesn’t it. Ah well, at least you know that he doesn’t go out next.
Before any more of that knockout stuff, however, Jan Sjavik got in an interesting hand with Jonathan Fahl, which spelled the beginning of the end for the French player. I caught the hand when Jan was calling Jonathan’s bet on a 4 6 6 6 board (both of them taking their sweet time). The river brought another 4, and Jonathan bet 60k, at which point Jan just moved in for another 160k. A real think before he was called with 55, revealing KK and just how strong his hand had been all the time. It must be said that Sjavik was probably the biggest threat to the chip leaders (and everyone else, actually) – he played consistently and unreadably throughout, and sat unflinchingly when his stack was crippled as he lost a race earlier that day, only to calmly get it all back and then some. Scary.
After entering the danger zone chipwise, Jonathan Fahl survived once with Q 10 against Rolf’s Q 10, and then came over the top of Jan Sjavik (right) with pocket Tens, eventually receiving a call with KJ – a lost race and a 6th place finisher. Then came the most dramatic hand of the final, another same-hander for Rolf Slotboom, who got his large stack (around 700k) all in preflop with Ac Kd against Alex Jalali’s As Kc. “Why have I included the suits there?” you ask. Well, with the flop coming Kh Ks 8s, it was runner-runner flush which knocked out Holland’s Ace and pretty much handed the title to Alex. It looked like the luck wheel had spun round and kicked him off the final – I bought his book.
They went to dinner with four players remaining, Alex Jalali way out in front with Jan Sjavik second and the other two (JJ Hazan and Keith Hawkins) on half a mil and 130k respectively. Unsurprisingly, upon his return, The Camel moved in, and the second time Jan Sjavik gave him a spin with 44 against his K10. The flop brought both a King and a Ten, so it was a little wince-inducing to see a Four on the river which brought Keith’s run to an end. He looked happy, though, and I thank him for that glass of champagne…
But before all the celebrating, they had to get down to one winner – and Jan Sjavik was raising preflop pretty much every hand, looking determined to give the top spot a shot, especially as Alex seemed to have rocked up somewhat. Unusually for a TV table, they were speeding along, playing a satisfying number of hands per hour, and after a good 20 minutes of not getting past the flop, it was an uninspiring flop of K 8 4 rainbow which caught Jan Sjavik. He held 89, but JJ’s 8 10 had him wrapped up by the river and that made it heads up between Hawaiian shirt aficionado JJ and Alex Jalali (left). They had a decent sized break at this point, and I thought that must be some sign of deals being struck, but apparently not, despite the quick-fire couple of all-ins from JJ. In fact, the lot went in after JJ re-raised from the big blind preflop, and they saw 6h 10c 4c. Bet out, re-raise all in, call. It’s that quick. JJ showed 4h 5h while Alex held Td Qh. The 7 on the turn made the press room pause, hands over keyboards, but the straight didn’t come and we had a winner.
The floorpeople and staff handled the prizegiving and photo moments with the same efficiency with which they’d run the whole event, and we were sent out into Saturday night in Amsterdam, which was interesting. I decided it would be eminently sensible to go clubbing all night in the middle of an industrial estate 20 minutes’ drive from the casino with a bunch of Swedish people, while Snoopy sensibly rested and didn’t have to get on the plane after barely half an hour’s sleep. Boring. I will definitely be returning to the Masterclassics next year, and if there’s one tournament to play it’s that one.