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From The Den: My Top 10 Most Memorable Moments of 2008 – Part 2

Posted at 00:48 2009-01-20

During the past year I’ve been lucky enough to cover many major international poker tournaments as a reporter and blogger for PokerNews. To wrap up an amazing 2008, I decided to publish my own personal Top Ten moments for 2008. In case you missed the first half you can catch up with Part 1, otherwise here are the final five moments that I will always remember as the standout moments that I personally witnessed during 2008.

#5 – Jamie Pickering Drinks Away a Bracelet – World Series of Poker, Las Vegas

Jamie Pickering We were several weeks into a long World Series of Poker when I was covering a $3,000 H.O.R.S.E event and found myself stationed on one side of the ESPN feature table area. It was just another day until we started to hear a chorus or cheers and screams from the secondary feature table on the other side of the stage. Everyone was wondering what was going on, so during a break in our own event I ventured over to join the swarms of fans on the rail to take a look. I flashed by media pass and snuck inside the rope to get up close to the table and witness Australia’s own Jamie Pickering heads up for a WSOP bracelet. The event was Event #19: $1,500 Pot Limit Omaha and his opponent was Vanessa Selbst – well known to Australian poker fans as the chick who threw away a huge chip lead to allow our own Mark Vos to capture his bracelet in 2006.

Selbst was looking to redeem herself in what should’ve been an excellent heads-up contest between two elite Omaha players, however the scene was more like a wild college frat house party. The rail was swarming with twenty-somethings who were chugging beers and yelling madly. It took a moment to realize they were cheering for Pickering who was apparently the ring-leader - ordering drink after drink and entertaining the fans with his bizarre antics. It took another minute to realize that the fans were actually friends of Selbst and encouraging Pickering to continue to drink himself into oblivion.

He was knocking back the drinks like a madman which probably explains why he thought it would be a good idea to start “potting blind” (betting the size of the pot without even looking at his cards). Here we are at the biggest stage of them all, the Mecca of poker, the World Series of Poker, and an Aussie is heads-up for the most coveted prize in the game, and he’s pissed and not looking at his cards.

Here’s how my buddy Shamus saw the action:

Insanity at the Final Table
The third hand of heads up began with Pickering having about 950,000 to Selbst's 1.3 million. The two talked a bit about chopping the cash and playing for the bracelet, but couldn't come to terms and the hand was dealt.
"RAISE POT!!!" cried Pickering, again without looking at his cards. An incredulous Selbst checked hers, and made the call.
The flop came {A-Hearts}{Q-Spades}{3-Diamonds}. Selbst checked. Pickering again bet the pot, still having not checked his cards. "Have you really not looked?!" asked Selbst. She made the call.
The turn was the {J-Clubs}. This time Pickering checked. It was Selbst's turn to put on the pressure. She bet the pot.
Thus ensued about ten minutes' worth of hilarity as Pickering contemplated whether or not to call, or perhaps raise the pot again. He also had to decide whether or not he was going to look at his cards.
Finally, amid the shouts of the 70-80 spectators we have gathered around, he gave in and looked at his hand.
"Oh, sh*t! I'm dead!" he said. "Five-king-eight-two!"
"RUN IT FOUR TIMES!" came a shout from the rail.
"I've got a shot at a wheel," he said. Finally, amid the ever-rising craziness surrounding the table, he let it go. Selbst showed Q-7-7-9, not much, but better than what Pickering had folded.
Selbst has retaken her commanding chip lead.

The situation has been heatedly discussed in the PNW forums, however I am pretty adamant in my opinion on this one. There are thousands of Australians who would give their left leg to have been in Pickering’s shoes that day and have the opportunity to go heads-up for a bracelet. Pickering showed a complete disregard for the situation, and lack of respect for the bracelet and his opponent. He preferred to get smashed than compete. Many say that it was just typical Aussie larrikin behaviour but that day I was pretty embarrassed to be Australian, and was glad when Selbst won as she clearly wanted it more.

It was a certainly a memorable moment, but one I’d rather forget.

#4 – Phil Hellmuth’s Blow Up – World Series of Poker, Las Vegas

Before arriving in Las Vegas, one of the most well known professionals who I had yet to cover in a live tournament was the “Poker Brat” himself, Phil Hellmuth. During the series I caught glimpses of Hellmuth magic, such as his movie-star late arrivals, having a conversation with someone thirty feet away audible to everyone in the room and prancing around tables to mingle with all the other pros even if he wasn’t in the tournament.

However I had to wait until Day 5 of the WSOP Main Event before I had my chance to personally witness what every poker blogger dreams of…a good old fashioned Hellmuth blow up! I was blogging the feature table and we were in the final stages of the day when this beauty erupted:
Phil Hellmuth

Hellmuth Ends the Day With a Blow-up
Cristian Dragomir opened with a raise to 80,000 before Hellmuth made it 255,000 to go from the small blind.
"I hope he doesn't have aces," said Hellmuth as Dragomir asked for a count. After a few moments, Dragomir made the call.
They saw a flop of {9-Clubs}{10-Clubs}{7-Spades} and Hellmuth checked to Dragomir, who thought for a moment before firing a healthy bet of 300,000. Hellmuth sighed in disgust before folding {A-Spades}{K-Hearts} face-up on the table. Matusow laughed and said to Dragomir to show the bluff, and Dragomir flipped {10-Diamonds}{4-Diamonds}! Matusow and the crowd roared in hysterics as Hellmuth jumped out of his seat and stormed around the room berating his opponent for calling his reraise with ten high.
"Listen buddy, you're an idiot!" screamed Hellmuth. "This is the Main Event and you are the worst player in history!" he continued as the crowd was loving every moment of the blow-up.
Dragomir's entourage continued to cheer as Hellmuth continued the barrage. The TD stepped in and issued a warning to Hellmuth to settle down before Dragomir stood up out of his chair to put Hellmuth back in his place with a cry of, "Enough is enough!"
Fortunately for both players the clock ticked over to the end of the level, and the end of the day's play to settle both players down. They eventually shook hands and began to bag up their chips as Mike Matusow summed up the situation best as he shouted, "Thank God for Phil Hellmuth! Thank God for Chris Moneymaker!"
What a way to end the day!

This day was also memorable one as I got to enjoy an evening of Hellmuth and Mike “The Mouth” Matusow sitting at the same table. Love them or hate them, Hellmuth and Matusow are great fun to watch and highly entertaining which is great for the game.

#3 – The Tiffany Michelle Saga – World Series of Poker, Las Vegas

Tiffany Michele This topic is a delicate one, and one that I’ve avoided commenting on for obvious reasons. However hopefully the dust has settled now and everyone has moved on.

Everyone in the poker industry understands what went down in this one, so I won’t go into too much detail other than to mention it was a bizarre situation on Day 6 of the WSOP Main Event. PokerNews’ presenter Tiffany Michelle had somehow managed to find her way through most of the 6844 strong field after being put into the event by Tony G and Jeff Lisandro. Controversy emerged after self-titled “Hot Chips” signed another deal with Ultimate Bet half way through the tournament without their knowledge.

The PokerNews crew were all very supportive of Tiffany’s deep run in the Main Event. Eventhough she didn’t have a lot to do with the blogging team, we were all excited for one of our team to be going so well. At the same time, the whole situation made many of the PokerNews management very nervous due to the legal complexities that were going down at the same time. It was like happy families when on stage, but backstage behind the curtains things were somewhat frantic.

Flights were postponed, cell phones were running hot and the big wigs were all hanging around to see what was going down. In the end Tiffany busted out in 17th place and collected $334,534. In a strange way I guess she had the last laugh as she’s now a sponsored pro with Ultimate Bet and remarkably now travels the world as a touring poker professional! She’s extremely marketable so will probably be around for a while but it’s yet to be seen whether her result was a once off.

It was definitely the biggest story of the WSOP Main Event, and unfortunately for Tiffany and PokerNews, one that will be remembered for the controversy off the felt, than for the performance on it.

#2 – Joe Hachem’s Blow Up – European Poker Tour Grand Final, Monte Carlo

The European Poker Tour Grand Final was an amazing experience. The world class field and stunning backdrop in the hills of Monte Carlo, set the scene for some of my fondest poker tournament memories. The one moment that stands out from that event, actually involved Australia’s own Joe Hachem Hachem had a wonderful run in Monte Carlo finishing in 11th place but this moment went down a day or so earlier just as we approached one of the longest bubbles in history. Everyone was tense, there were swarms of media and finally someone cracked. Here’s how it went down:

Hachem Snaps
Amongst some incredible commotion on the tournament floor, Joe Hachem has just lost a monster pot and almost became involved in a physical confrontation with T6 Poker player Woody Deck!
We caught the action in the hand on the river with the board reading {A-Diamonds}{6-Hearts}{J-Diamonds}{A-Spades}{3-Hearts} and Hachem with an 80,000-chip bet into opponent Peter Traply. Traply thought for a few moments before making the call, showing {A-Hearts}{10-Clubs} which was good to collect the pot worth over 200,000 chips. Hachem calmly tapped the table, saying "Nice call" as he proceeded to muck his hand.
That's when the real action started. Woody Deck, who was not involved in the hand, then asked to see Hachem's cards. Hachem replied that he didn't have to show since the winning hand had already been shown, and the dealer proceeded to muck his cards.
Deck then said to Hachem something along the lines of, "Are you trying to angle shoot or something? Don't be an asshole!"
Hachem, who at this stage was standing up to walk away from the table, then turned and in an incredible outburst, leaned across the table over Deck with a barrage of intimidating replies!
Hachem appeared set to physically take Deck apart before Antonio Esfandiari lept up from a nearby table and held Hachem back. By this stage security had stepped between Hachem and the table until things calmed down. Hachem then took a walk outside to cool off as the crowd frenzy settled down and play returned to some normality.

To be honest, I don’t think this blog does the moment complete justice as I had to be conscious of toning down the piece as a lot of what was said was not suitable for a blog. Hachem’s “intimidating replies” were a barrage of expletives and I seriously thought he was about to lean over the table and punch the guy. It was like the moments before a bar fight breaks out. In a massive room of nearly 100 tables I was thankful that I, and my photographer, we there to witness the moment and capture a wonderful photo from three feet away.

To Joe’s credit, the next day he had a laugh about the piece and wanted to meet the photographer who took the fantastic photo. He gave us his email as asked for copies so he could put them up on his wall!

I never thought I’d ever see something like this at a poker tournament. It was the talk for many days and an incredible moment that is now captured that photo forever.

# 1 – Some Steicke Magic – Asia Pacific Poker Tour, Macau

Here it is…the moment we’ve all been waiting for…drumroll please… My most memorable moment came at the 2008 Asia Pacific Poker Tour event in Macau and is thanks to a man who has enjoyed much success in Macau, and is developing a cult following in the Australasian poker scene – David “Call Me Late For Breakfast, Just Don’t Call Me Sticky” Steicke. Here’s how I blogged the hand at the time:Some Steicke MagicAn amazing hand has just taken place on the money bubble that stopped the room for many minutes. Chip leader Kenny Hicks opened with a raise from the button to 5,000 and David Steicke made the call from the small blind.They saw a flop of {K-Diamonds}{9-Clubs}{K-Clubs} and Steicke checked to Hicks who fired 9,000. Steicke then check-raised to 20,000 and Hicks made the call.The turn was the {10-Clubs} and Steicke checked to Hicks who slid another 30,000 into the middle. Steicke deliberated for a long time before making the call.

By this stage all of the other tables had finished and a massive crowd had gathered around table one as the river landed the {9-Hearts}. Steicke checked to Hicks who quickly and quietly announced he was all in.
Steicke went into the tank. Steicke was already near the top of the chip count leaderboard and with so much in the pot already this was a make-or-break decision that took many minutes. Out of nowhere the murmurs of the crowded were broken by Steicke's voice declaring "I call!"
Hicks reluctantly flipped over {J-Clubs}{8-Diamonds} for nothing but imagination as remarkably Steicke tabled {A-Clubs}{10-Diamonds}. On a double-paired board, with straight and flush possibilities, on the tournament bubble, in a clash of the big stacks, David Steicke had made one of the most amazing calls you will see to collect the biggest pot of the tournament to claim the chip lead with over 300,000 chips.

This was a huge hand and moment, for a number of reasons that were touched on above. Being the money bubble, tournament on the line, Steicke held his nerve under immense pressure and was able to apply some clear logic which he was able to recall to me during a later discussion about the hand.

In our discussion the main factor that came across was Steicke’s fearlessness on the bubble. While US$4,862 is a lot of money and achieving a cash result in an APPT event is a significant achievement, Steicke always plays to win. He was able to deduce that his opponent wouldn’t make such a large all-in bet with a full house, flush or straight, and so Steicke’s tens were good. Makes some sense, but when you consider all of the external factors at the time, it was a jaw-dropping moment and a call that I will always remember.

Added note, as this piece goes live Steicke has just won $1.2 million in the $100,000 High Rollers Challenge at the Aussie Millions. Is he lucky amateur? Or is he a genius? I’m honestly still not sure, but he’s great to watch!

Thanks for reading and let's hope 2009 is just as memorable!

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