By Arnold Warner
Northern California’s big hope for the 2012 WSOP Main Event, Sacramento’s Steve Gee, had a disappointingly brief stay at the final table on Oct.29 finishing in ninth place. Of course, no one was more upset than he was when his all-in bet with pocket 8s was called by Russell Thomas’ pocket queens.
Still, a $754,798 payday plus an endorsement deal with Poker Ace should eventually take some of the sting out of coming so close to, yet remaining so far from, poker’s Holy Grail. How much consolation will he find in prevailing over 6,589 of the 6,598 of the entrants? When the dust finally settles, one can only hope the answer is “quite a bit.”
Gee was at the center of the very first hand of the final table, also against Thomas. He raised with K-Q and Thomas called with 6c-9c. A continuation bet on the flop was called by Thomas even though he had no pair and no draw. He picked up a flush draw on the turn and called again when Gee fired another barrel. The river was a blank and Gee fired again—essentially bluffing with the best hand—inducing Thomas to muck his 9-high.
Did the fact that Thomas was able to learn what Gee had done on that hand affect his decision to call Gee’s all-in later? By checking with friends at the rail who were keeping tabs of ESPN’s coverage (on a 15-minute delay), players were able to learn what cards their opponents held on earlier hands. Even if it did factor into Thomas’ decision, that information was available to all nine of them, and everyone knew it, so the playing field was effectively even despite some players probably not liking it.
On that final hand, Gee went all-in for 11.35 million on the river with 8-8 on a board of 7c-4h-5d-Jc-3s and was called (after about five minutes) by Thomas holding Q-Q.
Here’s how Gee described the hand the next day: “I raised preflop and [Greg] Merson calls and he [Thomas] calls, so I’m thinking I’m ahead at that point. I’ve got pocket 8s and I got two calls. I’m thinking I’m in front.
“The flop comes 4-5-7 so I’ve got an overpair and a gutshot straight draw. I’m thinking that’s a good flop for me. I’m in the lead. Merson mucks and he [Thomas] calls and I still think I’m in the lead. I wasn’t bluffing at that point.
“Jack comes on the turn, so there’s one overcard … may be a bad card. But I didn’t want to check. If I check and he bets I have to call with a gutshot and I didn’t want to play that weak. So I didn’t have a problem leading on the turn because when I led on the turn I actually still thought I had the best hand.
“But once he called me on the turn I knew I was trailing. I thought he had either A-J, K-J, Q-J, J-10, or J-9. So I’m thinking what am I going to do on the river? I’ve got to hit either a 6 or an 8, but I sensed that he was weak, so when the river bricked—well it didn’t really brick, it was a 3 which made four to a straight—but I didn’t think he had queens because he didn’t raise preflop.
“So then I pushed and that was when it was questionable. But the problem for me when I pushed was that I didn’t really have any credibility. Because I had bluffed every hand [at the final table] he wasn’t as afraid. He knew I had three barreled him earlier. When the 3 hit the river and I still shoved, that polarized my hand. Now he didn’t have to worry about aces or kings anymore because I’m not going to shove with them. So now the only hands he’s really worried about are pocket jacks for a set, pocket 6s for a straight and maybe pocket 7s. Everything else was a bluff, so he knew it was either those three hands or it was total air.
“Maybe in retrospect I could have just checked the river and saved that 11 million. I’d still have plenty to play with. But I bet it because my read was that he was weak. He made a good call.
“That’s the way I play. I can’t be afraid when I play poker. You have to play without fear. That’s why when I sensed weakness I went with the move. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong. I actually didn’t think he played that hand correctly by flatting my preflop with pocket queens. With the blinds still behind him, by flatting he allows the blinds to possibly come in. If he had three-bet me and made it big enough I might have mucked my 8s. After the fact he played the hand brilliantly, because he got me to stack off!”
After his exit interview with ESPN’s Kara Scott, he said it was followed by several more and then a news conference. “After that they put you on the podium like a football game and there’s 20 people asking you questions. That’s the last thing I wanted to do. It was tough … such a sick bustout.”
Palo Alto’s own Phil Hellmuth scored his record-extending 13th WSOP bracelet at the 2012 World Series of Poker Europe in Cannes, France. The European Main Event was held Sept. 20 to Oct. 4 at Le Croisette Casino Barriere where 420 players put up 10,000 + 450 Euros.
Hellmuth took down the bracelet and 1,022,376 Euros with the title and said that this one ranks “right up there. The Main Event in 1989 is up there at number one, of course. It has to be number two, I guess. It’s the WSOP Europe Main Event! What would I want more than this? The Poker Players’ Championship I would say, which I had a massive chip lead in at one point and couldn’t get it done. But this has to be my second most valuable bracelet I think.”
That win also vaulted him into first place in the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year race with only the Main Event final table to be completed. The only way he could miss out on being POY was if Greg Merson won the whole thing and leapfrogged him into first. Unfortunately for Hellmuth, that’s exactly what happened, so he had to settle for POY second place for the second year in a row and for the third time in his career.
While technically no longer a NorCal resident, we will always consider Antonio Esfandiari one of “our guys,” especially when he does things like claim his third bracelet at the WSOP Europe.
Event #2 was No-Limit Hold’em Re-Entry with a buy-in of 1,000 + 100 Euros that attracted 626 entries (the second largest field in WSOPE history). Esfandiari received 126,207 Euros for the win along with his second bracelet of the year.
NorCal results at WSOP Europe (buy-ins, pay-outs, and prize pools are Euros)
Event #1: Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em, 2,700 buy-in, 227 entries, 544,800 prize pool
24th, Phil Hellmuth, Palo Alto, 4,887
Event #4: No-Limit Hold’em Shootout, 3,250 buy-in, 141 entries, 406,080 prize pool
12th, Phil Hellmuth, Palo Alto, 5,428
17th, Faraz Jaka, San Jose, 5,428
20th, Brian Park, Los Altos, 5,428
Event #5: Mixed Max – No-Limit Hold’em, 10,450 buy-in, 96 entries, 921,600 prize pool
4th, Faraz Jaka, San Jose, 86,087
12th, Phil Hellmuth, Palo Alto, 20,443
Event #7: Main Event – No-Limit Hold’em, 10,450 buy-in, 420 entries, 4,032,000 prize pool
1st, Phil Hellmuth, Palo Alto, 1,022,376