by Chris Edge
The brainchild of PokerStars' very own 'Promotions Bob', All Star Week was given its premier airing in March, 2009 - a series of heads-up matches designed to test the mettle of various members of Team PokerStars Pro, pitted against their slightly lesser-known counterparts, making up The Challengers.
Spearheaded by Team Captain Victor Ramdin, the Pros were made to sweat as the Challengers pushed them all the way before falling at the last, 18-17.
Entering the half-way stage of All Star Week in 2010, and the contrast in fortunes for the Pros couldn't be starker. Four unimpressive day's showings leave them perched on the wrong side of a 15-5 drubbing, reflecting the Challengers' dominance and vast improvement on 2009's performance.
First out of the blocks to put things right on Day 5 was Team PokerStars Pro Joep van den Bijgaart, with top performing Challenger caprioli turning out to provide the opposition. The Dutch pro set his stall out in defensive fashion, letting the aggressive caprioli do all the betting and ultimately dictate the flow of the match. It proved an astute strategy as some check-calling in hand 36 earned him the first major pot of the match with the pretty-looking 6♠7♠. Poker logic argues if ever you are to take a hand up against the Goliath that is A♠A♣, then your suited-connectors are just about the best you can expect as the underdog.
Having witnessed countless American Airlines fall by the wayside to much lesser holdings, the legendary Doyle Brunson once shrewdly observed: "You only ever win small pots or lose big pots with Aces." That old adage rung true once again as van den Bijgaart made mincemeat of caprioli's bullets on an eventual T♦T♠J♠7♥2♠ board, to earn his rivered flush the 1,850 pot.
From there on in it was plain sailing for the Dutchman, who later called a caprioli all-in raise pre-flop with Q♠A♦, up against the Challenger's dominated 9♦A♠. By the turn the board read T♦A♥Q♥K♥, leaving the Challenger with 4 outs to a chop which never arrived on the 3♠ river, securing the Pros' the first win of the day.
Match 22 served as something of a throwback to yesteryear, when no limit hold'em was all but an apple in PokerStars' eye. The series' only Limit 5 Card Draw event brought the Challengers' Timmy K and the Pros' Maria Mayrinck to the felt to slug it out for honours.
Both sides exchanged the customary "hi, gl, ty" pleasantries before Timmy K pushed his stack upwards of 3,000 following a 100 bet from Mayrinck with nothing but Ace high holding J♣A♠9♦Q♥T♦, which was snapped off by the Challenger's 8♠8♣K♠7♣2♥ for two 8s.
Any eagle-eyed observers watching on will have made note of a recurring theme that had arisen throughout the previous few days of play, with the Pros on more than one occasion far from accustomed to the poker variant they were put forward for. When questioned by Timmy K what she tends to play on PokerStars, Mayrinck would soon confess "not a lot of five card draw :)".
The Pro appeared less than perturbed by her somewhat hellish induction to the discipline, throwing in the :) for good measure in the hope of keeping Pro spirits alive. Hell, a handful of Pros including one Phil Ivey have confessed to knowing very little of a particular game-type before throwing themselves in at the deep at the WSOP, to then go on and capture untold riches in their new-found talent.
With all due respect to the Pro however, Phil Ivey is Phil Ivey and Mayrinck could not produce such miracles to overcome Timmy K on the virtual baize. She eventually shipped it in with just a miserly 50 chips behind holding J♠T♠9♠A♦6♠, following 1 discard. Her Ace high losing out to the Challenger's 4♥4♠9♥5♠A♥ for a pair of fours to level the honours for the day.
Vietnamese-born Anh van Nguyen was next up for the Pros, whose duty it was to see off the Challenger's MOJOEX1.
Van Nguyen looked to have the match wrapped up by the half-way mark, some relentless pre-flop raises seen through on the flop doing the trick for the PlatinumStar Pro. A hand on 22 minutes in then saw MOJOEX1 take a 1,142-sized bite out of van Nguyen's stack and get the Challengers' campaign back on track.
With the flop reading a king-tastic K♠5♦K♣, the Pro checked then called a 150 chip bet, before both played it cool on the 6♥ turn. The river action followed that of the flop, with van Nguyen calling after MOJOEX1 fired 321 at the A♥. The challenger turned over T♣K♥ for three Kings, which bore MOJOEX1 no Gold, Frankincense or Mur but the 1,142 pot, enough to take the Challenger into the lead.
Van Nguyen retook the advantage lead shortly after, betting out on a familiar-looking 9♠K♥K♣ flop, following a pre-flop 3-bet to 450. The kings not having quite the same appeal this time round for MOJOEX1, who mucked having seen his chip lead last a matter of seconds.
Greg DeBora checked in shortly after to wish his counterpart "gl Van!" The good luck wishes proved the perfect tonic for Van Nguyen minutes later, whose Q♥J♥ smacked the flop square on in the face, coming down J♣T♥Q♦. That was enough for MOJOEX1 to commit his stack with Q♣A♦, with the subsequent 4♦5♥ inconsequential to make it 2/3 on the day for the Pros.
WSOP Main Even final tablist Darus Suharto took his seat for Match 24 of the Series, lining up against the Challengers' badblood1 in the 8-game event.
Suharto found the going tough in the opening 2-7 Triple Draw round of the Match, bemoaning his luck after discarding 1 on the 3rd draw in only the 6th hand. His misery was compounded upon seeing badblood1's winning 2♦J♠8♣4♦5♣, stripping the Pro's stack down to 1,600.
The matched continued in the same vein for the Canadian Pro, unable to find any traction in either the Limit Hold 'Em or Razz rounds. After a quarter of an hour's play, Suharto brought it in for 18, before calling a raise to 60. With 9♠7♥ up front he fired out 60, then called badblood1's raise to 120. The Pro called on 5th with 9♠7♥T♦ showing, before checking on 6th once his 2♥ fell.
Eventually the Challenger showed down 7♠Q♥3♠9♦A♣T♥4♠ for a 9,7,4,3,A low once Suharto called his final river bet, to push his stack skyward in the region of 4,287. It was to prove a mountain too high for Suharto, who finally succumbed to the Challenger's supremacy in the 7-card Stud round on the 22-minute mark.
With 2 showing and K♦8♣ in the hole, Suharto shipped his remaining 194. badblood1 looked him up with T♣A♠5♦ and let the cards fall as they may.
Suharto never caught up as his hand ran out K♦8♣2♠4♣A♥4♠A♦ to badblood1's T♣A♠5♦6♣5♣5♥3♠, which made a set of 5s on 6th street. With that the scores were locked at two apiece as we headed into the final match of Day 5.
For the first time in their 2010 campaign, the Pros went into their final encounter a win away from registering their first profitable day's run.
Their hopes lay with four-time bracelet winner, Tom McEvoy, whilst the Challengers again put their faith in caprioli to bring home the bacon for the series leaders.
Action started off in a rather placid fashion, with neither player seemingly willing to take the initiative and crank up the aggression factor. That all changed after 37 hands of play with McEvoy peering down at two ladies, and earning a call from caprioli following a 3x raise to 90. The former 1983 Main Event champ followed through on the 4♠9♣8♥ flop, before the Challenger re-popped it to 300. McEvoy called and both slowed on the 8♠ turn. The 2♠ river prompted a 420 bet from the seasoned pro, warranting a call and subsequent muck from caprioli, to push McEvoy's stack north of 3,000.
Action meandered along peacefully without much ado for the following 10 minutes, with some mistimed flop-probes plummeting McEvoy's stack back to 2,500 and take us back to square one.
Half an hour in and McEvoy's patience wore off as his suited A♥4♥ picked up a gutshot draw on a 2♣5♣7♠ flop, with the 3♥ turn landing right in McEvoy's lap to hand him the most disguised of turned straights. McEvoy played it coy and checked into caprioli, feinting submission. caprioli resisted and the river fell a safe K♦. Finally McEvoy fired out 450, to which caprioli called and mucked.
That vaulted the Pro to 3,415 in chips, a lead the Challenger was quickly able to reverse after pushing all in with pre-flop. McEvoy called in a flash holding J♥J♠, and made a set of knaves on the 7♦8♣T♠4♦J♣ board. Unfortunately for him his opponent needed the very same Jack to make a 7-J straight with 9♣9♥, and retake the chip lead.
McEvoy doubled through shortly after with A♣T♥ vs A♠7♦, and sealed the deal moments later when his T♠T♥ outran caprioli's J♥J♣ on the 8♣6♥K♦9♥7♣ board. McEvoy's win proving there's still life in the old dog yet breathing one last lease of life into the Pros' cause.
Admittedly their hopes of a successive title appear slim-to-none, with the 17-8 scoreboard meaning the Pros must win every single remaining match in the series. Log onto to PokerStars on Saturday to see if the Pros can write history and produce a miraculous comeback.