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Best of Andrew N.S. Glazer

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The Tournament of Champions, Day Two: French Fry Opponents, Conventional Wisdom

22 August 1999

On Day Two of poker's inaugural Tournament of Champions, the French contingent stole the show. Maybe it's revenge for American Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France bicycle race.

Europeans aren't supposed to be strong limit poker players. It's not the genes or the language, just experience. European poker consists almost entirely of pot limit and no-limit games, and that experience tells when they cross the Atlantic and enter major pot limit and no-limit tournaments.

The Championship Event in this year's World Series of Poker demonstrated European no-limit power when three Irishmen started the 393-player event, and all three were still playing when only seven players remained. Irishman Noel Furlong won, eliminating his two countrymen along the way

But limit poker—-that's supposed to be a different story. The Europeans are supposed to be out of their element in the more technical limit form of poker, and Day Two of the TOC, like Day One, consisted entirely of limit action.

Nonetheless, while only 12 French players started this event, out of 664 players, when the final battle in the nearly hour long, six-table hand-for-hand struggle to eliminate player number 46 ended, setting the 45 "in the money" players, seven of the twelve French starters remained.

The French haven't conquered this much territory since Napoleon. Whether any Wellingtons can be found among the remaining opposition is something we'll learn on Day Three, but the surviving Frenchmen (and other Europeans) are now in their element: they'll play No-Limit Hold 'em the rest of the way.

"I want to emphasize what an incredible showing this has been for the French," said TOC founder Mike Sexton. "To perform that well at limit…" He trailed off and shook his head. "Where these guys are really dangerous is at no-limit. They'll run over these guys at no-limit—-they're fearless."

While there are certainly more than a few non-French "guys" remaining who are unlikely to get run over by anyone—-Doyle Brunson, An Tran, Men "the Master" Nguyen, David Chiu, and Louis Asmo, among others, will contend for the title—-the French feat is certainly impressive. Not all the French thought it was miraculous, though.

Patrick Bruell, the French movie star who enjoys his trips to America both for the poker and the chance to walk around without getting mobbed by fans (in France, he has about the same chance of walking quietly through a mall as Tom Cruise would here), disputed the "Europeans can't play limit" theory.

"The value of the cards is the same," Bruell said. "Last year, I won the $5,000 Limit Hold 'em event at the World Series, and people ask, 'how can you win at limit?' I say limit, no-limit, the cards are the same, especially late in the tournament, where the limits get so high, you are almost playing no-limit."

Switzerland's Chris Bigler agreed. "I play no-limit or pot limit better," he said. "But I can play limit. After the sixth level, it's like pot limit anyway. I think it is harder to go from limit to no-limit than it is to go from no-limit to limit."

For a while, the only "limit" which appeared threatened was the limit of the players' patience, because the duel to get into the money (and as a result to qualify immediately for TOC 2000, which will again be held at the Orleans Hotel & Casino) was interminable.

The "expanded payout" schedule voted in by the players meant hand-for-hand play began with six tables remaining, and as fate would have it, the rotation called for Omaha Eight or Better at that point, which provided more chances for escape for the short stacks.

For a while, it looked like Mark Gregorich ($1,500) or Benjamin Hannuna ($700) would find their bubble hopes burst. But each survived all-in blind hands, and Don Naifeh eventually succumbed as finisher #46, the owner perhaps of much more pride than finisher #664, but no more cash. The final 45 drew for new seats and got back into action.

After the hour of "survival mode" ended, play loosened up, and it took roughly the same length of time to eliminate the next nine players, where the tournament re-drew again. Doyle Brunson shook his head at the timing. "I've had the button each time we re-drew," he sighed. "Didn't get to play it either time."

Ironically, just as the tournament reached the stage which started to resemble the high limit games to which they are most accustomed, the French suddenly lost a big part of their contingent. On the way from 45 down to 27, Bruell went out, as did Bruno Fitoussi, Jeff Duval, and Hannuna. But the two chip leaders each marched in yesterday under the tricolor flag. Michel Bittan, who donated the $5,000 royal flush prize, ended Day Two where he ended Day One, in first place, but he certainly didn't have a smooth ride. Bittan's chips ebbed and flowed throughout the day and he was in trouble several times early. He also caught a bad break in a fairly large pot he played against up-and-coming southern Californian Allen Cunningham.

Cunningham sat in the big blind with Bittan in the small blind. Each had called a pre-flop raise from the button. When the flop came 10-5-2, Bittan checked, Cunningham, who held 10-8, bet, the button folded, and Bittan called. An Ace spiked on the turn, and the player holding the button slammed the table in disgust, making it pretty easy to guess where one of the Aces had been (and probably A-2 or A-5, at that).

Cunningham checked, Bittan bet, and Cunningham called. Another rag fell on the river, and again Cunningham check-called. He showed his pair of tens and Bittan threw his hand in the muck. Bittan later complained about the other player (whose name I know but for now at least am withholding), and Cunningham agreed with Bittan.

"It made it much easier to call," Cunningham admitted, "knowing where one of the Aces was. It made it less likely that Michel had one."

Nonetheless, Bittan finished the day with $242,100, at a time when the average stack is $122,963. Countryman Jan Boubli follows closely behind at $226,200, and will be seated immediately to Bittan's left, giving him position eight hands out of nine.

The chip counts and table positions for Day Three:

Table One:

Table One:

Seat

Player

Chip Count

1

Lynn Bauer

$184,600

2

An Tran

$95,200

3

Randall Skaggs

$222,700

4

Paul Kormelly

$135,600

5

Doug Saab

$55,900

6

Claude Cohen

$7,600

7

Bill Pollitt

$114,900

8

"Toto" Leonidis

$67,800

9

Doyle Brunson

$161,400

 

 

 

Table Two:

Seat

Player

Chip Count

1

Russ Eleogram

$63,200

2

Martin Comer

$151,000

3

Barbara Enright

$39,300

4

Louis Asmo

$170,000

5

Mohamed Ibrahim

$11,200

6

Michel Bittan

$242,100

7

Jan Boubli

$226,200

8

Claus Schumacher

$167,200

9

Allen Cunningham

$54,800

Table Three:

Seat

Player

Chip Count

1

Guy Sitbon

$108,400

2

J.P. Massar

$146,700

3

Richard Santos

$127,200

4

Claude Stefanescu

$114,500

5

David Chiu

$207,400

6

Nancy Nevits

$94,300

7

Men Nguyen

$77,000

8

Gene James

$155,400

9

Hans Pfister

$121,700

Andrew N.S. Glazer
Andrew N. S. Glazer was a blackjack, backgammon and poker pro whom Newsweek Magazine called a "poker scholar." He also was the weekly gaming columnist for The Detroit Free Press, and a regular contributor to Chance Magazine, and the top gaming information websites.

Books by Andrew N.S. Glazer:

Andrew N.S. Glazer
Andrew N. S. Glazer was a blackjack, backgammon and poker pro whom Newsweek Magazine called a "poker scholar." He also was the weekly gaming columnist for The Detroit Free Press, and a regular contributor to Chance Magazine, and the top gaming information websites.

Books by Andrew N.S. Glazer: