Sunday, August 24, 2008

Drinking and Driving with Scotty

Poker's so big now that it's almost impossible to win any kind of tournament - the fields become so big that you in effect enter a lottery. The only ones who enjoy clause from this mass-effect are the high-rollers, but the downside is that they end up playing each other, with a few fish from time to time.

The cliche' is apt: Easy way to make a tough living.

There're a few exceptions, and one of them is what some regard as poker's most prestigious tournament: The WSOP's H.O.R.S.E. Championship, which I touched on here a while back. Here's a description:

the WSOP H.O.R.S.E. Championship (a $50K buy-in and comprised of 5 poker games; Hold-em, Omaha Eight or Better, Razz, 7 Stud, and Eight or Better 7 Stud, thus the acronym)

At those stakes, H.O.R.S.E. gets rid of most suckers. The fact that it's poker's Pentathlon gets rid of the rest, with everyone and their dog being into Hold 'Em. What's left are the cream of the crop and a few exceptions, and since it's played over five different games, insofar as tourneys are concerned, it's the most prestigious title in terms of ability.

When the 2007 H.O.R.S.E. champion, the legendary Chip Reese took it all, many, including yours truly, thought all was right in Vegas. If nothing else, Reese had bona fides upon bona fides. He was a made man, a long time ago.

Then in a tragic/poetic twist depending on your view, Reese died last year. Poetic because Reese was a cash game player - it was how he'd made his living, and even though he had World Series wins many moons ago, the tourneys didn't yield as much cash for time invested. Like poker's theoretician, David Sklansky, they're stone cold killers who look at poker as a money venture above all others.

So we come to the recently completed 2008 H.O.R.S.E. tourney and Scotty Nguyen. A WSOP World Champion (1998), with this win he sets the bar high as the only person to win the main event and the WSOP's most prestigous title as well.

What was so gratifying was that last year, on cruise control to the final table, he blew it and let his ego take over, and in just a couple of hands when out to Phillip Hilm in 11th place. It was shocking to watch a player of his caliber meltdown, or "tilt" as is said. As an Asian, I hate to say, I was also rooting for him, but more, because he had the pedigree and bona fides, and is just so OG with his gangsta lean.

And then, he took a turn. At times belligerent, downright in-your-face intimidating and by appearances, just drunk, he even managed to rile the all-around nice guy Erick Lindgren, who along with Michael DeMichele and Lyle Berman (another poker great) comprised the final four.

It was really DeMichele - from what footage ESPN chose to air - that was tangling with Scotty. And though Scotty has since issued an apology, I don't think it excuses the numerous outbursts, table manners and outright infractions he committed, such as showing cards to the audience and berating players. Pro Layne Flack, who's Sotty's friend, was also out of line, being really "boisterous" in the audience.

But the WSOP has to assume responsibility; the tournament director should have gotten involved and snuffed it. He didn't, and what made it to TV was ugly.

I don't know if after ESPN's editors were through is the entire story, as Scotty alleges it is not, but again, even if it isn't, the infractions are there.

He's a great player, I've seen him play a lot, and he's always jovial, laughing and coffeehousing it up. But between last year's main event, and this year's H.O.R.S.E., he should do some vacationing.