Melbourne: The Future of Poker History
A couple of nights ago we stood in the middle of Studio 3, an air plane hanger of a nightclub perched atop the teaming Babylon project that is the Crown Complex. On the stage a pretty good Kylie impersonator (you wouldn't put it past the Crown – or Full Tilt - to have hired the real thing) was entertaining a crowd that included all the card room staff, most of the seven hundred and forty-one players from the Aussie Millions main event and countless more besides. Out on the decking you could stand in the warm summer air and watch the boats floating down the Yarra into Melbourne Bay. You could reach out in any direction and grab a beer or a glass of champagne from a passing tray. And you may ask yourself...'How did I get here?
Somewhere between Austria and Slovenia in the summer of 2001 I bumped into (or tripped over) a determined and driven poker enthusiast from a small town north of Melbourne Australia. Keith 'Bendigo' Sloan, a pocket sized poker piped piper was leading a group of Aussie players around Europe, keeping them in beers and buy-ins and enthusing all the time about the forthcoming Australian Poker Championships.
Don't ask me how, but he managed to convince the Hendon Mob and a handful of other Europeans that the best way to spend New Year's Eve would be in the Hong Kong airport transit lounge en route to the farthest point on the planet for a poker festival that had netted less than $140,000 total prize pool the previous year. What can I tell you? We didn't get out much in those days.
A week or so later we were on the roof of the Crown watching Shane Warne - Australia's greatest living sportsman – barbie-ing Billy 'The Croc' Argyros' hat in front of the world's media and presenting the Mob with the Poker Ashes for defeating a four man Aussie team in the first ever international poker team challenge. Surreal isn't in it mate.
Sixty-six players contested the 5,000 AUD main event that year and first prize was a respectable 150k. Tenth place and money back went to a certain 'Rocky' Ross Boatman. Solid. Over the next couple of years we came back, got drunk, lost the Ashes, all made the final of the main event, made a lot of friends and saw a bit of Australia. Our last visit before this year was in 2004. Danny McDonagh had taken over the card room and the main event was double the buy-in with more than twice as many runners. Tony Bloom beat 132 players to take Peter Costa's Crown and become the second Brit to win the Aussie Millions. They were followed in subsequent years by Australia's Jamil Dia and Lee Nelson. The event was getting bigger and more prestigious every year but what it probably needed to really put it on the map was an American winner. A face.
Well, once Full Tilt Poker got involved that was it. Job done. Ninety-five on-line qualifiers joined scores of Full Tilt pros to make this year's Aussie Millions the biggest event ever held outside the USA. If that plane out of LA had gone down, then forget about Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper; Don't tell me about the Busby Babes; A generation of the greatest minds in poker – and Roland de Wolfe – could have been dashed from the annals of history as yet unmade. (Ross and I were on a different plane.)
Ram and his golf partner Marc Goodwin drew day one of the main event and got knocked straight into the rough. Ram never talks about it, but Marc was shaking his head the next morning and rearranging the words 'Patrick' 'Antonius' 'unbelievable' and ‘bloody’ into a surprising range of viable sentences.
Ross and I kicked off next day. My first table featured the unflappable Andy Bloch, and let me tell you something about him. If you bet the river, you'd better have your hand cos that boy ain't passing second pair. He put on a master class in the value call, and he was mostly getting it right.
I started well and took my wares on to Greg Raymer's table. Here you have a fellow who loves the game and loves to talk about it. No doubt you've heard what a gentleman and a scholar he is. It’s all true. But it wasn't his day and he left the table to me. I ended up with eighty lumps and not a single 'geezer' story.
My luck continued with a great draw on day two and with about 140k after an hour or so I was off to the same kind of start as in just about every tournament I've played in the past couple of years. What could possibly go wrong? The guy on my right was as nice as pie but for some reason I found a clue to show him a bluff. This resulted in his getting stubborn with a gutshot draw, and as he was raking in half my chips they sent me scurrying off like Santa with a lucky bag to sit with the run away chip leader: Mr Antonius unbelievable bloody Patrick.
I think there is no better, more relentless chip builder in the world, and that includes the nearest thing the southern half of the world has to offer: Lee Nelson, who was also at the table with chips. What a time to have left half my tank behind. And what a time to go card dead. Patrick was raising Every Single Pot and as he was three to my left I wasn't well placed to take him on without a hand. I didn't win a chip for a couple of levels, and finally I picked up a monster. By which I mean that finally they all passed round to me when he raised to 5,500 from first. I made it 15k to go and he studied a while before setting me in for my last 20 thousand. With the blinds and antes it was a seventy-five grand pot and I was forced to call with what I suspected may not be the best hand: Four deuce.
Now they want to bring the cameras over and someone announces 'Patrick Antonius has moved all in with jack nine and Barny Boatman has called with a two and a four!'. I could hear the mummers of disbelief, and out of the corner of my eye I thought I spotted Howard Lederer ripping up my sponsorship deal. But he would have been reaching for the sellotape on the turn when the two came down. Aces? You can have 'em!
For several more hours I had a ringside seat in the Patrick Antonius show. At one point he was all in for his last two thousand but he came back, knocked me out and went deep into the money before losing a four million dollar pot to Gus Hansen on day three.
All this time, Ross had been playing his game; tough, tenacious, unhurried, one good decision after another. He finished the day with a big stack and on day three it was my pleasure to stand alongside Marty Wilson funking for Ross and Katherine Hartree who was following up her brilliant run in the WSOP with another great performance. They didn't quite make it, though it was Ross's turn for the standard Boatman crossbar when he was cold decked for a disappointing 25th place finish.
There was plenty to cheer for in the final, with Kristy Gazes and our good friend Andy Black giving it a great spin. And it was only right that Full Tilt got their winner. They'll have to wait another year at least for an American champ though. It went to a European I tell you. Mr Gus Hansen. I think it was that huge pot against his fellow Skandie Patrick that really settled the thing.
Gus played great. The 2007 Aussie Millions champion took to the stage that night at Studio 3 raised his arms and yelled 'Party On!' Which were more words that I'd had heard from him in the past four years put together.
I looked around at the dealers, who must spend most of the year dealing blackjack and five card Manilla and realised that I hadn't seen them make a single rick. The beer kept coming and Brett, who is taking over as TD, told me that next year they expect a thousand runners. I'll be there. Even if they hold it on the moon.
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