Isn't it odd that when two well-known big-money players, Tony Bloom and Daniel Negreanu, are squaring off in the luxurious Wynn card room over a $1,000,000 prize pool, only a handful of spectators and two camera people come to take a gander? I certainly thought so, but the WSOP penultimate day madness meant that I got a front row seat to watch one of the most interesting heads up matches around. Not only was the game pot limit Omaha, which bamboozled the American spectators (I heard the floorman saying, “No, you can only use two from your hand,” several times), but the players were both confident and aggressive and so the match was anything but slow.
The game started at 2pm, and when I arrived an hour and a half later I heard from Mike Tse that at the first break Daniel had been up about $60,000, but Tony had been fighting back and it was about even in chips. They both started with $500k, with chips in denominations of $25k, $5k, and $1k, and the blinds fixed at $1k and $2k. One of the first hands I saw ended up with a board of 5 2 9 10 A, no flush. Daniel bet $50k, and Tony flat called, showing two pair, 9s and 10s. “Good call,” he said, and mucked his hand. A few minutes later, a similar situation occurred on a board of 8 3 2 6 4 with two clubs present. Again, Tony Bloom called on the river with two little pair (his hand 6 3 2 A). Daniel showed his hand: 6 7 9 A with the A-high club draw which had missed the river. “Three pair? You know my hand better than I do,” he said.
Another unusual early hand involved a 5 6 7 flop, all spades. They saw the 3c on the turn, and the 9s on the river. Daniel bet the river, and after a while, Tony folded showing the Ace of spades. In return, he was shown the 8 of spades. The fact that they were showing cards every now and then made for interesting watching, and there was remarkably little pre-flop folding. Almost without exception, both players would raise from the button every time, and so most flops were seen with $12,000 or more in the pot already.
The first pot I saw with over 100k in it was won by Tony Bloom in this fashion: The flop came 7c 10s Kh. He bet $10k, and called the subsequent raise. The turn was the 8c. Both players checked. The river brought the 10c (probably one of the least harmless cards in the deck). Daniel bet $28,000 and he just called, showing the A-high flush which beat the K-high flush Daniel was holding.
This was followed by another big pot where two Jacks graced the flop (Jh Js 9d) which was raised by Tony to $35,000, with a call. The turn was the Qs and Daniel bet one brown chip (or, $25,000). Tony called and they checked the river (9c). Daniel showed the winning hand (5 8 K J) and was shown the other J. So they were back and forth in chips, until the following hand gave Tony Bloom the lead. A flop of 2c 10d 9s was bet by Tony; it was raised by $21k, which he called. The turn was the 7s. Tony bet $50k, and Daniel raised $75k more. When Tony quickly announced “all-in” Daniel passed and the chip lead (of about $20,000) belonged to him.
By 5.30pm Tony had increased his lead to $200,000. Daniel was getting used to his aggressive style, and said “I'll beat you to it!” throwing the extra $4k into his big blind before he could be raised. “I'll check in the dark, too – how do you like that play?” he added, proceeding to check-raise the Ad 7d Kd flop. After Tony calls and bets $37k when the 10h comes, Daniel throws another hand away. During a break he was heard to say that playing Tony was “completely different to Barry Greenstein. I knew where I was a lot more, but this guy is bluffing a lot, making me think.”
The floor guy came up to me at a break and asked me if Tony was Tony G. I said no, and he asked, “Is he a screamer?” I said I doubted it. People were attracted to the rail despite the lack of screaming (the match was taking place right next to the hall) but clearly didn't know what was going on with these two guys playing some funny four-card game with tournament chips. Five of the permanent spectators were English.
Then after a pre-flop pot re-raise from Tony, there came the 9s 4d Kh. Tony's $30k bet was minimum raised; he called and the turn was the Qh. Tony checked, Daniel bet $80k, and after a long dwell (ornate little golden lizard fixed on top of his hand) he called. When it was checked again on the 7c river, Daniel pushed all-in for about $130k, and when he was eventually called showed 10 J Q 4 for the Queen-high straight which had remained the nuts. This double-up put him back in contention with $600k to Tony's $400k in chips. He was, however, forced to pass on the following big pot when Tony raised all-in (the board showing 3 7 9 10, rainbow).
The next big hand saw a pot already at $70,000 after the 3c 8s 6d flop. Tony bet $50k on the 3d turn, with a flat call. On the river he checked and Daniel bet $100k. Tony passed and was shown the other two threes in Daniel's hand.
With the chips now at approximately $660k - $340k in Daniel's favour, and some back-and-forth smallish pots going on, I thought it was safe to pop in to the café two shops down for a $10 sandwich (salami, bresaola, lettuce, aubergine on raisin focaccia – only in Las Vegas).. Not so – when I returned to the rail, both parties were standing up and some kind of final count-up was going on. Luckily, Mike had seen the surprising final hand. The major action had occurred on the turn, when the board was 4s Jh 5d 8d. Bet, raise, re-raise and a final all-in from Tony had been called and both players showed the 6 7 for the made straight. But Daniel's 6 7 were the 6 7 of diamonds, and Tony's hand contained three hearts. The 9d on the river not only gave Daniel the straight flush, but the match and the $500,000.
Nearly five hours of intense play had reached their conclusion, and Tony with his characteristic calm walked away, while there was some muted applause from the surrounding tables for the victor. It was great to see such gentlemanly conduct after three days of people standing on chairs and waving their arms around at the first sign of any sort of big hand. In heads up, you end up in either the top or bottom half of the field, and with 50% getting paid, there's no way both players can walk away happy. However, Tony Bloom and to a certain extent Daniel Negreanu showed that there is a great deal to be said for understatement – just compare Mike Matusow's performance on the WSOP final table.
I give Tony bloom a little more credit in this area and as an illustration I compare their pink shirts. Tony was wearing a salmony coloured shirt, was logo-less and displayed little emotional reaction to anything, acting slowly and deliberately, while Daniel's shirt was bubblegum pink with a FullContactPoker label and he talked more and had a little less steady manner of playing. They weren't there to be a spectacle for the crowd (although I can't help thinking that self-controlled players like Tony Bloom are not what the Wynn would prefer to have challenging their star), they were there to play cards for a stake bigger than all but the WSOP final table's payout, and that is exactly what they did. And next time I'll send someone else for the sandwiches.