H.O.R.S.E. play

We run a fine-toothed comb over the epic WSOP $50,000 buy-in mixed game event

The 2006 World Series of Poker might have started over two weeks ago but as my plane dips over the desert and darts towards the impossible, yet familiar, cluster of lights, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. For me the WSOP proper starts with the H.O.R.S.E. event, a mixed-game tournament that’s been billed as being as big as the Main Event itself. And therein lies a story…

The WSOP has been running since 1970 and traditionally the winner of the Main Event has been recognised as the world champion. Up until 2003, the event was relatively small and the top pros had a monopoly on it. But when Chris Moneymaker, an unknown internet qualifier, beat 838 other players to take the bracelet and the $2,500,000 first prize the game changed forever. Spurred on by the knowledge that anyone could win if luck ran their way, the online floodgates opened and the numbers in the Main Event swelled to 2,576 in 2004 and 5,619 in 2005. This year it’s rumoured the field’s going to top 8,000, which would mark an astonishing 1000 percent growth since Moneymaker made his millions.

All good for the game you might think. And the success of the World Series and its promise of overnight rags to riches has done more for poker than any other tournament in existence. But, inevitably, there is a downside…

It could be you

No matter how good you are, beating 8,000 other poker players takes a lot more than skill. If you want to win the Main Event you need to be able to concentrate fully for well over a week of solid play and dodge more bullets than Jack Bauer. And this means the winner of the Main Event this year – while being the single richest poker winner in history – is not necessarily going to be the best player in the world.

And if you’re a true poker aficionado it gets worse. Hold’em has dominated the WSOP in recent years – 34 of the 45 events this year are Hold’em and 25 of these are no-limit, which is quite understandable – it’s a TV-friendly game format that produces high drama and is easy to edit for the MTV generation. But it ignores the fact that poker is about far more than two hole cards, a flop, turn and river.

A growing number of players felt the WSOP was more concerned with bums on seats than offering a true festival of poker for the genuine players. Because of this, and from advice given by the Poker Advisory Council (consisting of top pros like Daniel Negreanu), WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack decided to revive the H.O.R.S.E. event, last contested in 2004 (and won by our very own agony uncle Scott Fischman). H.O.R.S.E. is a multi-variant game where the poker rotates through Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Low, Razz, 7-Card Stud and 7-Card Stud Eight-or-Better. Because you have to be proficient in all games, the H.O.R.S.E. event is seen as removing a lot of luck and producing a winner who’s truly a poker great.

How much?

But Pollack went one step further. In 2004 the H.O.R.S.E. event cost $2,000 to enter. This year, in a bid to elevate it to the top of the bill, Pollack decreed it would be a $50,000 freezeout – the biggest buy-in in WSOP history – ensuring online operators wouldn’t be sending many, if any, qualifiers. Full Tilt was one of the few major operators that ran satellites and even then only sent one player to the tournament.

Elitist? Without a shadow of a doubt. And that’s not the only element that’s angered some players in the poker fraternity. The decision to move to no-limit Hold’em on the final table means that the H.O.R.S.E champion will effectively be the best Hold’em player from the best nine H.O.R.S.E. players. It might make for better TV but is that a decent enough justification? But as I make my way into the Rio casino for the start of the three-day event all negative thoughts are banished from my mind. There’s a huge buzz surrounding the poker room and, checking the registered names in the H.O.R.S.E. event, you can see why. The 143-player line-up reads like the guest list of This Is Your Life if they stuck the big red book in Doyle Brunson’s face. And as you’d expect, the godfather of poker himself is in position and aiming for his 11th bracelet. The script is there, but have the other 142 players read it?

The action


12.00 The tournament’s due to start with 143 players and starting chip stacks of $50,000. World-beating pros are everywhere you look, but the biggest crowd’s gathering around table 150 where the past three winners of the H.O.R.S.E. event – Doyle Brunson, Scott Fischman and John Hennigan – are sitting. The first controversy of the day kicks off shortly after the deal when first Andy Bloch and then Annie Duke both find marked cards in the deck. Both bend the corners of the cards back, but Bloch gets a penalty off the floor manager when he expresses his displeasure at the fact that the tournament kicked off with used decks. With his $50,000 buy-in behind the desk at the Rio he’s got a fair point.

14.00 Phil Hellmuth arrives to take his seat two hours after everyone else. .

21.30 The first player busts out of the tournament. After a good nine hours play, Arturo Diaz takes the applause. .

23.20 The defending champion, Scott Fischman, is eliminated from the tournament. It’s a massive disappointment for him, especially as he’s only the fourth player to exit. .

01.00 Play ends for the night after a gruelling 13 hours play – 127 players out of the initial 143 players are left and there’s a Brit – the Hendon Mob’s Ram Vaswani – in the top 10. .

Chip counts – end of day one
1st: Joe Cassidy 168,700
2nd: Patrik Antonius 136,200
3rd:Tom Franklin 125,000
4th Allen Cunningham 122,400
5th: Matthew Glantz 119,300
6th: Andy Bloch 113,200
7th: Minh Ly 110,900
8th: Freddy Deeb 110,600
9th: Chad Brown 110,100
10th: Ram Vaswani 107,400


14.00 Play begins on the second day with 127 players left – they’ve got to play down to nine players before they can finish for the day. The next hour sees a raft of big name eliminations including Tony Bloom, John D’Agostino, Eli Elezra, Chip Jett and ‘Miami’ John Cernuto.

16.00 Johnny Chan is eliminated, followed an hour later by Daniel Negreanu. .

18.00 Playing 7-card Stud Eight-or-Better, Phil Hellmuth dispatches John Juanda. Juanda holds a full house Queens full of Nines, but Hellmuth has him beat with Aces full of Kings. .

19.23 Phil Hellmuth is massively short-stacked and is forced to move all-in pre-flop with the game on Omaha Hi-Low. He’s eliminated and Gus Hansen follows almost immediately after. .

03.00 Down to 24 players, which means there are still 15 players to lose before play can stop for the day. .

04.00 Phil Ivey takes a huge hit from Robert Williamson III. On a board of 5 -5 -3 – 6 -2, Williamson shows the straight he made on the river to beat Ivey’s trip Fives. This puts Ivey down to about $60,000 in chips and in trouble, but he shows his colours as he rebuilds over the next few hours. By seven in the morning he’s back up to $590,000. .

06:15 The remaining 16 players have made the money and are guaranteed to take home at least $137,280. .

08:14 The game’s back to Hold’em and Chip Reese busts out Barry Greenstein when his pocket Queens hold up against Greenstein’s pocket Nines. Greenstein finishes 12th and pockets $205,920. .

09:00 Robert Williamson III busts out in 10th, with Patrik Antonius opting to fold on the other table with just $13,000 left, and the seating for the final table is announced. These nine remaining players have been playing now for a total of 21 hours straight.

Final table seat positions and chip counts
1. Jim Bechtel $841,000
2. Doyle Brunson $1,227,000
3. Chip Reese $1,756,000
4. Dewey Tomko $438,000
5. Andy Bloch $934,000
6. T.J. Cloutier $351,000
7. David Singer $745,000
8. Patrik Antonius $13,000
9. Phil Ivey $885,000


22:00 The atmosphere is electric as the play starts. The game from now until the end is no-limit Hold’em and Patrik Antonius, the short stack, busts out almost immediately when Chip Reese’s pocket Eights hold up against Antonius’ A -4 on a J -4 -3 -K -6 board. 00:30 Doyle Brunson – despite starting in second place – is the next to go down. Short-stacked he’s forced to move all-in with his weak J -6 on a Q -8 -2 flop. He doesn’t improve and he busts out with the crowd showing him massive respect.

00:45 Dewey Tomko is the next to walk when his pocket Eights are smashed by Andy Bloch’s pocket Queens. .

1:00 They’re dropping like flies as David Singer moves all-in pre-flop with A -10 and Chip Reese calls him with pocket Jacks. Singer hits a Ten on the flop to give him a couple more outs but none of them hit and he pockets $411,840 for his troubles. .

01:20 Tournament specialist T.J. Cloutier is next out when he moves all-in with pocket Sevens. Andy Bloch shows pocket Tens and improves to trips on the river. We’re down to the final four and the chip counts are as follows: Chip Reese, 3,200,000; Andy Bloch, 1,650,000; Jim Bechtel, 1,100,000; Phil Ivey, 880,000. .

01:30 And it doesn’t take long until we’re down to the final three. This time Jim Bechtel moves all-in for around $750,000 and Andy Bloch makes the call. Bloch shows pocket Tens (again) and Bechtel’s pocket Sevens don’t improve. .

02:00 Phil Ivey is eliminated. He’s never really had any chips at the final table and despite being ahead in his final hand Andy Bloch hits a flush on the turn to knock him out. Bloch’s now knocked the last three players out and goes into the heads-up play with David ‘Chip’ Reese as the chip leader. .

03:00 There’s hardly anything in it as the chip lead changes hands a few times but after around an hour’s play Andy Bloch has established a decent lead over his opponent. .

03:15 After just over an hour of tense heads-up play, Chip Reese is all-in for the first time. After Bloch bets on a 7 -4 -3 flop, Reese pushes all his chips in with 10 -5 . Bloch flips 7 -2 and is just two cards away from taking the H.O.R.S.E. bracelet until a Six comes on the turn giving Reese the straight. Reese doubles through and Bloch has to start all over again, but he’s still sitting on a chip lead with 4,400,000 to Reese’s 2,800,000. .

06.30 Reese doubles up again when Bloch moves all-in with K -J . Reese flips A -10 and is in the lead. The flop comes K -J -9 giving Bloch two-pair and a flush draw for Reese. The turn brings the A filling Reese’s flush and saving him again. But he’s still the short stack with just over 2,000,000 to Bloch’s 5,000,000. 06.45 Another double-up for Chip Reese when his pocket Kings hold up against Bloch’s pocket Nines. This draws the two players level again after almost five hours of play. .

09.00 The tournament swings firmly in favour of Chip Reese when he doubles up again. With a 9 -8 -3 flop, Reese has a flush draw that completes on the turn, making this the third key hand he’s won. Bloch is now seriously short-stacked with under 500,000 chips. .

09.21 It’s now officially the longest heads-up in WSOP history when Reese pushes all-in and Bloch calls. Reese has a monster A -Q , while Bloch holds 9 -8 , which doesn’t improve after picking up a straight draw on a J -7 -7 flop. Chip Reese is crowned the 2006 H.O.R.S.E champion and deservedly pockets $1,784,640 for his three-day masterclass in mixed game poker.

H.O.R.S.E. 2006 Final standings
1st: David ‘Chip’ Reese, $1,784,640
2nd: Andy Bloch, $1,029,600
3rd: Phil Ivey, $617,760
4th: Jim Bechtel, $549,120
5th: T.J. Cloutier, $480,480
6th: David Singer, $411,840
7th: Dewey Tomko, $343,200v 8th: Doyle Brunson, $274,560
9th: Patrik Antonius, $205,920
10th: Robert Williamson, III $205,920

Pin It

Comments are closed.