Friday, January 13, 2006

Tournament of Champions

I got around to watching the Tournament of Champions last night, hoping that I might actually get to see some quality poker. Last year's TOC was fantastic, with single-table action all the way through. I watched it on my plane flight to Santiago, Chile, and Annie Duke took the championship away against Phil Hellmuth.

What impressed me about last year's event was that it seemed like real poker. There weren't too many stupid bluffs, the betting was solid, and the player who played best was the one who won. It was a great table -- Duke, Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Howard Lederer, Johnny Chan, Greg Raymer, David Williams and other stars that I love to watch.

This year's event was the opposite. The play was erratic, there were plenty of ridiculous bluffs, and the player who got luckiest was the one who won.

This year started with a field of 119 players, which I don't know really qualifies as a Tournament of Champions. I know almost all of the entrants qualified at World Series of Poker Circuit events, but plenty of them were no-names. If I wanted an all-in fest, I could watch any number of televised poker events.

The broadcast seemed like a lesson in how not to act at a final table. The final four were Mike Matasow, Phil Hellmuth, Hoyt Corkins and Steve Dannennman. It was like a contest of who could be the biggest jerk off. Dannenman lit into Hellmuth for no apparent reason, calling him a punk. Matasow acted like Matasow acts all the time: like a guy who knows how to play poker but puts himself on tilt more than his opponents. Iggy linked to an analysis of Matasow's play in his most recent entry.

Of course, Hellmuth was his normal "poker brat" self. Of the four finalists, I actually liked Hellmuth the most. I know they're all sellout asshats, but I feel like Hellmuth is sincere when he goes on his whiny tirades. I think he can't control himself when he suffers bad beats, and that's why he's fascinating and entertaining me. By comparison, Matasow is trying to be the dumb shit, which just pisses me off. Dannennman isn't as bad, but the moment he abandoned his "I'm just glad to be here" attitude, he lost all his charm. Corkins I didn't mind too much either -- I liked it that he wore earplugs to tune out the inane table talk.

The level of play just wasn't what it should have been. There were way too many limps when even a small bet would have taken down the pot. I felt like no one had ever heard of a continuation bet. The players seemed like they were more afraid of being raised than they were confident in betting the best hand, which is a characteristic more commonly seen in $25 buy-in no limit games on Party Poker than at the final table of the conclusion of the World Series of Poker.

The last hand was also stupid. The announcers tried to make excuses for the players in the last hand, saying that they were really tired, but come on. They both seemed to give up and just went in with whatever. Let's throw our chips in the air and see where they fall.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the TOC couldn't be any higher quality poker than Celebrity Poker. That's what it came down to anyway -- a few "name" players showing off for the cameras rather than playing cards.

I also can't see how this is good for poker at all. It felt like a bad episode of ESPN's soapy poker drama, "Tilt." When the supposed heros of poker are all bad boys, I'm sure I'll see many prima donna imitators the next time I sit at a table. That's what I need -- some 21-year-old cussing at me and telling me I don't have teeny weeny balls. I'll happily take their money, but I won't feel like I'm having fun unless I bust every single one of those bastards.

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