In the highest echelons of sports - be it football, baseball, soccer - no team is ever so dominant that they can rest on their laurels. Coaches and owners are always out to improve their teams regardless of standing, and fans are always gripped by the gossip surrounding transfers and trades and who's going to pick up whom.
Right now, all the chatter in the basketball world centers on the destination of the soon-to-be free agent LeBron James. But while the NBA goes through its drawn out motions, Team PokerStars Pro has got right down to it and signed up two of the finest poker talents in the world.
After a reception at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas on Tuesday July 6, David Williams and Vanessa Selbst will carry the logos of Team PokerStars Pro on their sleeves. With a WSOP bracelet each, and combined career earnings already of more than $9,500,000, Williams and Selbst are perfect fits for the most prestigious outfit in poker.
Williams puts paid to the cliche that no one remembers the runner up. In 2004, he was the last person to be busted by Greg Raymer en route to the World Series Main Event bracelet that had seem destined for the Fossilman's wrist almost since the first card was dealt.
Williams stared across the felt at Raymer, trying to ignore the huge pile of cash on the table, as the two of them slugged it out for poker's biggest prize. When it came down to it, Raymer's pocket eights beat Williams' pair of fours and that might have been the last we ever heard of Williams. Few could have blamed him for taking his $3,500,000 and disappearing back to the tables of Magic: The Gathering, from where he had graduated to poker.
But not this man. Williams' success at the World Series fired him on and he picked up eight six-figure cashes (including his WSOP bracelet and two second-places in WPT and WSOP events), before he was back with the million dollar cheque in April of this year. Williams won more than $1,500,000 for taking down the $25,000 World Poker Classic at the Bellagio. (He also won a WCOOP bracelet on PokerStars last year, under his screenname RugDoctor.)
Williams has class in ample measure.
Shortly before that big score in Las Vegas, Williams was in Uncasville, Connecticut, for the NAPT event at Mohegan Sun, where he raced into a day one chip lead. But even Williams that week was powerless to halt the charge to the title of Vanessa Selbst, who put on one of the most dominant displays of the modern era.
Selbst, and her utterly fearless approach to the game, seized the chip lead at the mid-point of day two and she barely surrendered it from then on. Every other player said they feared her more than anyone else, and Selbst lived up to their nightmares as she surged all the way to the title and $750,000.
During the final table, Selbst was roared on from the rail by friends and colleagues from Yale Law School, where she is still a graduate student. This makes Selbst's achievements all the more remarkable: she remains only a part-time player as she continues her studies on one of the toughest courses in the world.
But in a short, even part time, career, Selbst has developed quite a game. When she won her World Series bracelet in June 2008 (in a $1,500 Omaha event) it was already her third final table at the WSOP. The following week, she took her new bling back to the hallowed felt, finishing third in the $10,000 heads up event.
Selbst is versatile, articulate, intelligent and formidable in all pursuits. She is a winner too.
Williams and Selbst will be officially welcomed to the Team by the reigning World Series of Poker Champion Joe Cada during a Champion's Reception at the Palms next week.
After that, the poker world had better take cover.
AROUND THE TABLES
When does poker get really serious? It's a difficult question. One player's 83rd in a $1 buy in tourney on PokerStars is another's deep run in a $10,000 championship event at the World Series. Would you rather play great and min-cash, or luckbox to a final table? It depends on expectations, finances and the reason you play the game - but much like the PokerStars online tables, the World Series offers enough to keep everyone entertained.
Yesterday presented a dilemma that got me thinking about all these things. In the Pavilion Room, the $25,000 six max no limit hold'em event got under way at the same time that in the Amazon Room, Nacho Barbero and Jason Mercier were coming back to play the last three tables of the $5,000 pot limit Omaha.
Which was most important? Should I check up first on how the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Lex Veldhuis, Vanessa Rousso, ElkY, Dario Minieri, William Thorson and many others were faring in the early stages of the prestige $25K event? Or should Barbero and Mercier's attempts to inch onto a final table take precedence?
And there was a fourth complication too. Gavin Griffin, Florian Langmann and Alex Kravchenko were returning to the $3,000 triple chance arena. And another $1,500 hold 'em event - the limit shootout - was getting under way as well.
With so much choice, there was really only one option. Like the fat man at the Vegas buffet, I was going to have to sample it all. Every last dish. Here's a long and extensive tour around the World Series tables of yesterday:
$5,000 Pot Limit Omaha
Jose "Nacho" Barbero and Jason Mercier are in awesome form. Mercier wins something like a tournament a week (and kept himself in the spotlight with first place in the NAPT Mohegan Sun $25,000 Bounty Shootout), while Barbero recently went back-to-back on the LAPT.
The two of them were good flag-bearers heading into the final day of the $5,000 PLO event - and they were both seated on the same table for the early stages of the day. However, neither took the bracelet.
Mercier's day began very well, knocking out Ayaz Mahmood. And Mercier probably liked seeing the A♣A♥T♦T♠, especially with Eric Liu raising pre-flop. The first cards out were K♠3♠7♥ and all the remaining money went in, with Mercier's aces out in front of Liu's J♠T♣7♦8♦.
The Q♠ on the turn changed things, however, and Liu's flush sent Mercier home in 16th. He won $19,479.
As for Barbero, he did manage to bludgeon his way onto the final table - filling a spade flush to eliminate Gary Bolden in 17th for example - but had the second-shortest stack when the final nine convened shortly after a dinner break. Barbero is not one to hang around and soon got his chips in with A♦K♣J♥8♦. Problem: Danny Smith had aces, and they held.
Barbero took $40,364 for his ninth place.
$3,000 Triple Chance
Starting with 134,500 in chips, fourth of the remaining 162, Gavin Griffin will have had high hopes of reaching the final table, but probably did not expect too much given his wretched World Series to date. (He described his few weeks in Vegas as "absolutely abysmal".)
Griffin's day two in the $3,000 Triple Chance got off to a good start - busting Felipe Ramos with A♠J♠ against Ramos' A♣2♣ - and that took him comfortably into the money. But after a roller coaster through the next few levels and into the night, Griffin found himself all in with that same hand A♠J♠ and facing possible elimination. This time Frank Rusnak's pocket sixes stayed good and Griffin was out in 27th, winning $17,471.
Florian Langmann and Alex Kravchenko started the day in near identical red tops, something of a trademark for both of them. They each took their scarlet into the money, but each bust before the big dough came out.
Kravchenko hit a pair of queens with his K♣Q♠ on a A♦Q♦3♣ board. But James Akenhead had A♠5♥ and Kravchenko couldn't catch up. He finished in 59th, winning $8,735. Langmann went out firing - getting his stack in the middle with A♦T♥ but finding Tommy Vedes' pocket queens impossible to beat. Langmann bust in 24th, for $17,471.
$25,000 No Limit Hold'em Six-Max
The general consensus in the media room was that the $25,000 six-max had attracted probably the toughest hold'em field ever assembled at the World Series. It was a show for the biggest names in the game - 191 of them, arranged first in the Pavilion Room and then in the Amazon Room to allow multi-tabling.
From Team Pro alone, there were: Vanessa Rousso, Chad Brown, Daniel Negreanu, Lex Velduis, ElkY, Joe Cada, John Duthie, Thomas Bichon, Dario Minieri, William Thorson, Barry Greenstein, Pat Pezzin, Ville Wahlbeck and Ivan Demidov. They were joined by just about every other professional you see on television, or you see crushing the highest stakes online games.
Minieri started on the same table as Thorson and Wahlbeck. Yet none of them made it through the day. Wahlbeck ran kings into the flopped set of jacks belonging to Heather Sue Mercer; Thorson departed invisibly, and despite a good start and a table change, Minieri found Demidov in unforgiving mood.
Minieri was down to about 25,000 when he moved in with K♣T♣. Demidov picked him off with A♥8♦. Demidov usually manages to go about his business out of the spotlight (except when he's on the stage at the Penn and Teller Theater and heads up for the World Championship), but he is pretty ruthless when he has to be. He managed to double his starting stack and finished with 169,200.
Brown was an early casualty. He lost most of his stack within the first couple of levels, running into Sandor Demjan's trip threes (Demjan held 7♣3♣) and then lost another stinker to Phil Ivey. Brown had pocket eights, but was counterfeited on a board of 9♥9♠T♥3♥T♦ by Ivey's A♦7♦. Brown was out soon after.
Rousso, however, didn't come home until much later - the end of the day, in fact. As she tweeted: "After playing my heart out all day made day 2 in the $25k, ended with about 80k chips (below average, but quite playable). 70 left 18 pay."
Duthie and Greenstein also progressed, but the big success story of the day was Negreanu, who seemed to be having a ball and doubling, then tripling up very quickly. We'll let him tell his own story through the medium of Twitter...
TWEETS OF THE DAY - DANIEL NEGREANU SPECIAL
Up and up in the $25,000 six-max with @RealKidPoker (Daniel Negreanu):
Tweet one: Started with Benyamine and de Wolfe. Table quickly broke. New table has Lee Markholt and 4 guys I've never seen before. Really?
Tweet two: Up to 118,125 after level 1 of the 25k 6max. Excellent start, we start with 75,000 in chips for this event
Tweet three: Another good level up to 136,275. I'm at one of the cold tables so I'm wearing the hoodie pretty tight.
Tweet four: 217400 after level 3 still cruising and hitting flops. Great start
Tweet five: End of level 4 235,900. New to my table are Ville Wahlbeck and Ashton Griffin.
Tweet six: 270,700 after level 5. Busted Ashton Griffin with AK to his QQ. Lots of people busting, very fast structure early.
Tweet seven: 261,800 thru level 6 and we are going on a 90 min dinner break. Started with 191 players and we are down under 120 already.
Tweet eight: Fun hand: old man makes it 3600 I call button AQ. Flop 843 rainbow he bets 5200 I raise to 12200 he raises 11k more I raise 15k moreHe folds
Tweet nine: 374,500. Raised sb w 5c 8c bb calls. Flop Kc 6c 4d I bet 6k. Turn 4 check call 10k. River 2 check he bet 22k I raise 35k. Win. End level 7!
Tweet ten: In the zone bigtime. Flop 8910 checked to LuckyChewy check. Turn 8 bet 6k he called. River 3 check call 9k. I called with AK. Over 400k!
Tweet 11: 421,300 with two levels left to go. Chip leader or close to it for sure. About 100 players left playing just great and running good.
Tweet 12: Thru level 9 463,100 with just one level left to play. Gotta say, this is fun! Only 78 players left. Dropping like flies.
Tweet 13: 407,100 end of the night about 70 players left. Just dodged a bullet vs Carlos sb bb. He had KK I had 77 and lost min. Played my butt off!
The $25,000 resumes today.
Previous WSOP Diary entries
WSOP Diary Day 34: The De Meulders and the Hachems. Team Pro's band of brothers
WSOP Diary Day 33: World Series Rio style
WSOP Diary: Day 32: Bracelets only for Tournament of Champions
WSOP Diary: Day 31: Soccer sickness infects the Rio as WSOP pauses for World Cup
WSOP Diary: Day 30: Climbing the cash ladder with Humberto Brenes
WSOP Diary: Day 29: Mandy "roxy24" Thomas mixes it with the big boys
WSOP Diary: Day 28: Barry Greenstein eyes final as shark attacks the Rio
WSOP Diary: Day 27: PokerStars party goes Dogg style
WSOP Diary Day 26: Bill Chen: Poker player, wedding planner, bridesmaid
WSOP Diary Day 25: Cutting through the throngs
WSOP Diary Day 24: Last chance to join us in Las Vegas
WSOP Diary Day 23: Anh Van Nguyen, remember the name