Remember Andy Beal, the billionaire banker who challenged the best poker pros to a high stakes heads-up game at the Bellagio? The Corporation accepted – let battle commence…
For sheer over-the-top magnitude, no poker game in history matches the recent series of showdowns between a consortium of poker pros (dubbed the Corporation) and a Texas billionaire named Andy Beal. Beal made his money in banking, developed an obsession with poker, and has been aiming to take down the game’s greats at heads-up Texas hold’em ever since. Over the past few years, there have been a number of matches in which the pros rotated their best players in and out against Beal. He has played the likes of Todd Brunson, Jennifer Harman, Barry Greenstein, Chip Reese and Ted Forrest. And as you might expect, he’s dropped millions of dollars in the process.
After a square-off that coincided with the 2004 World Series of Poker (read about it here), Beal had been laying low. Then, following extensive negotiations with Jennifer Harman, he re-emerged on February 1, 2006. This most recent match took place at Wynn Las Vegas, with a buy-in of $10m per side (20 pros kicked in half-a-million each), and the stakes set at $50,000-$100,000.
Beal likes to point out that he’s won more sessions than he’s lost against the Corporation, despite the fact that, overall, these matches have been a financial negative for him. Barry Greenstein sees it as what you’d expect from an amateur – when Beal loses he goes off for more money than the pros do. ‘Wealthy people focus on the number of sessions they win because, for them, the money is all the same,’ says Greenstein. ‘In the Larry Flynt game, I won only 50 percent of the time, but I still earned a handsome living from it.’ This is a win/win situation, he says. ‘The wealthy opponent gets positive reinforcement and I get to pay my bills.’
This time, Greenstein handicapped the pro team as a 1/2 favourite and acknowledged that losing $500,000 would be meaningful for many Corporation investors (including him). Early on, when Beal got $1.5m ahead of Brunson, Greenstein grimly pointed out, ‘Andy winning is a much different player than Andy losing.’
Ultimately, though, relative to the massive stakes, there were no wild swings during the most recent match-up (Beal confronted Todd Brunson, Jennifer Harman, David Grey and Ted Forrest over the course of five days). Some of that might stem from the fact that Beal — who played with a stopwatch (he always took five or six seconds to act) and an abacus (for tracking his opponents’ moves) – has reined in his game.
Ted Forrest learned this soon after he sat down to play. ‘A hand came where the flop was 4-4-10-5-A and I had Q-4,’ recalls Forrest. ‘Andy had limped in on the button and I figured that three Fours had to be good against him. But he had three Tens, and I wound up losing a number of bets on the end there. I just didn’t think he’d be capable of limping in with a pair of Tens. I thought I was playing against super aggressive Andy, but he’s a new player. He’s got a solid, conservative game now. He’s progressed beyond the point of trying to pressure with weak hands. That makes it harder to win a lot of money from him.’
In the end the pros prevailed, but not to the degree they had hoped. Forrest says they won around $3m from Beal, and he acknowledges that, at the stakes being played, it’s nearly a push (the term for when the dealer ties with a player in Blackjack). ‘Of course,’ Forrest adds, ‘if you’re going to push, you’d rather do it by winning $3m than losing $3m.’
[Just as we went to press with this article, Barry Greenstein phoned and left two excited voicemails that detail the rest of the action]
<Barry Greenstein to POKERPLAYER>
Thursday, February 23, 7:12 pm
Hey, it’s Barry. Just wanted to get back to you on the Andy Beal thing. Andy beat Jennifer [Harman] for $5m. Todd [Brunson] had him stuck, then Andy came all the way back and won a million. So between Jennifer and Todd, Andy was up about $6m. Then he went up against Ted [Forrest]. Ted at one point was up by $7m. He’d won all the money back and got ahead. Then he lost it all back and fell behind by $600,000 or $900,000 for the day. Then Andy quit for the day. He got it all back [plus some more], so that was pretty discouraging. The next day there was $3.6m, I remember, left in the bankroll, and Andy took that and busted us out of our $10m.
What a lot of people don’t know is that we wanted to put in anyone we wanted at any time, but Andy wouldn’t go for that. We wanted David Oppenheim to play, but Andy vetoed new players. He wanted to play against people that he had already played before because he had prepared for them. Phil Ivey would have been an okay guy to play because Andy had played him and basically broke even. And Phil was next to play.
We re-upped, Andy came back to town, and we dropped [the stakes] down to $30,000-$60,000. Phil played, beat Andy for $2m the first day and $4.6m the second day; the third day we kicked it up to $50,000-$100,000. Andy got up $3.5m at the beginning, but right now, three-quarters of the way through the session, Phil is up $5m. So the final reports aren’t in. If we get up enough, though, there is dissension in the…
<Time runs out on the voicemail>
<Barry Greenstein to POKERPLAYER>
Friday, February 24, 7:18pm
Hey, it’s Barry. Phil Ivey ended up taking the rest of the money from Andy. He won $2m the first day, and he won $4.6m the second day. Then he won the last $10m that Andy had. Phil won a total of $16.5m! Andy probably had about $17m on deposit [which accounts for the $3m The Corporation originally won] and might have lost $500,000 shooting dice. But, you do the math – basically we got most of the $10m he had initially wired in.
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