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Omaha

$1,500 Entry Limit Omaha:"Let's Make a Deal... PLEASE!"

When today’s $1,500 WSOP Limit Omaha event got four-handed, Austrian chess master Ivo Donev, low man on the chip totem pole with about $30,000, stood up and asked his remaining competitors, Thor Hansen, Hassan Igram, and Martin Oliveras, if they would be willing to make a deal. Igram and Oliveras seemed open to the idea, but chip leader Hansen ($75,000) took one look at his stack and the relative inexperience of his competitors and shook his head.

“I have too many chips,” Hansen said, graciously not mentioning his edge in tournament experience. “Sit down and play.”

Thor grabbed $10,000 of Ivo’s stack on the very next hand, and started taking control of the table. Ivo continued to request a deal, and it was hard to blame him. The big money was finally in sight, after he’d survived a tough early stage at the final table. When play began today with blinds of $800-1,500, playing $1,500-3,000, the average stack at the table was just under $24,000, only eight big bets.

This tense period saw two of the table’s most experienced players fall first. Dan Heimiller went out 9th, and Card Player President Barry Shulman 8th. By this point the average stack had grown to just under $31,000, but the blinds had jumped to $1,000-2,000, playing $2,000-4,000, so now the average player didn’t even have the eight full bets.

Mark Scott and Charlie Brahmi were the next victims, Brahmi’s exit ending a nice little run for last year’s opening limit hold’em winner, and indirectly, for Layne Flack. The day before, when Brahmi had come to the tournament, he brought his three $500 buy-in chips, but forgot to bring any cash, and so didn’t have the $70 entry fee. He asked four people he knew for the $70, and all declined.

“I don’t want to mention any names,” the Ventnor, NJ resident said, “but I was pretty surprised it was that hard to get $70 in this room. I was telling them I’d either give them their money back or 5% of me in the tournament, whatever they wanted, but they all said no. Then I saw Layne, and I asked him for the $70 without even mentioning what it was for. He peeled off a $100 bill and handed it to me. I told him, ‘You’re not going to get your money back,’ and he asked why. I told him I was gonna give him 5% of me, and he said ‘In that case, keep the change.’”

Take that, you cheapskate buddies. The $70 5% wound up being worth $375.

When Brahmi exited, stacks were bigger, but the blinds had risen yet again, so the table was still short: $43,000 a man, playing $3,000-6,000. Then Ben Tang ran into the classic pot-limit Omaha nightmare, and given the high stakes, the results were almost as bad in the limit game.

Holding Qc-Jc-As-5h, Tang made it $6,000 to go under the gun, and Hassan cold called the raise, with the blinds declining the engagement. The flop came down 9c-10c-Ks, about as perfect as you could ask for: the nut straight, and an open-ended straight flush draw for back-up.

Tang fired out, Hassan raised, and Tang re-raised. Igram called, and the dealer dragged their $9,000 each into the now $34,500 pot. The 9d fell on the turn, and Tang, gazing at the $7,500 left in Igram’s stack, fired out $6,000. Igram raised back his last $1,500, and when Tang called, he flipped over his two kings. Top set had run down the nut straight, and with the Kc in Igram’s hand, only the 8c could save Tang, and there were no miracle reprieves. Tang had been gutted on one hand, and exited quickly thereafter.

Having just witnessed this swift turn of events, then, it was understandable that Ivo, who has been playing poker for only two years, wanted a deal. The final four places were to pay $85,800, $42,900, $21,450, and $12,870, and International Masters with 2,400 ratings, even though very talented, do not get half-million dollar offers to play Big Blue like Gary Kasparov does.

Thor continued to decline, even when Ivo won a nice pot from Hassan to get to he $50,000 mark. “We came here to play poker, not to be partners,” he said with a polite smile.

Hassan went out when Thor’s aces held up against his kings, and Donev again wanted to yank Monty Hall into the room so he could trade his chips for the cash behind door #3. He and Oliveras had almost identical stacks, about $45,000 each compared to Thor’s $124,000 and they conferred briefly.

“Tell you what we want to do,” Ivo said. “Martin and I have agreed that we will split whatever money we win.” Tournament Director Bob Thompson quickly ruled that this deal was only acceptable if Thor agreed to it, and also said, “You guys have to agree to play hard against each other.”

Hansen mulled it over. Ivo tried to encourage him. “You will still be in good position, you are the chip leader,” he told Hansen.

“I know I’m the chip leader, I can tell,” replied Norway’s best with a smile. “But I think this deal is very bad for me. You will not want to beat each other.” After a bit more thought, Hansen vetoed the innocent proposal that amounted, as he recognized, to being asked to play against partners.

The chess master wasn’t finished negotiating. He then proposed that he and Oliveras take $40,000 each, leaving the remaining $70,150 for Hansen. When Hansen hesitated, Ivo even tried to throw the bracelet into the deal, but Thompson quickly reminded them the bracelet couldn’t be part of a deal. Since this offer was only 15k off of first, Hansen finally relented, and Ivo was finally able to relax a bit.

“Now you got to play good,” Hansen laughed, and then said to the crowd, “I still think this maybe is a bad deal, now they loosen up, before they were too tight.”

Bing-bing-bing-bing, we have a winning answer. Thor’s jest proved 100% accurate. Donev, who had been quiet throughout play, except when trying to make a deal, and who had been playing, as Hansen had suggested, a bit on the tight side, suddenly transmogrified into an amalgam of Phil Hellmuth, Layne Flack, and Daniel Negreanu.

“Raise it, raise it, raise it,” I kept hearing, but there was no echo in the room. The once-quiet man was firing away both with his chips and verbally, and was knocking his dual stacks of three chips into each pot with a deft flick of his index finger. His chips started looking like the Austrian Alps, as he took down pot after pot.

In a relatively short time, Ivo had $120,000 in front of him, and Hansen sat leaning with his elbow on the table and his palm supporting his jaw. Although not saying anything, his eyes were wistfully doing all the talking. He had been completely in charge of the action, his stack and controlled aggression keeping his opponents on the defensive, but this was a new game, and Ivo was playing by new rules.

Thor’s pre-deal $124,000 had been more than cut in half before he finally won a small pot, and he noted sadly, “That’s the first pot since the deal.”

Martin, a New Jersey resident who eschews side games and does almost all his playing in tournaments in New York’s Diamond Club, also fell victim to Ivo’s assault. Another relatively new player, he got interested in tournaments when he watched Russ Hamilton win the Big One in 1994. He played well, but his cards couldn’t match Ivo’s speed, and went out third.

Now it was Austria vs. Norway, which sounded more to me like Olympic Hockey than O’limited Omaha, and while Hansen regained some momentum briefly, the now-fearless Donev eventually took the title when his K-J-7-5 knocked off Thor’s A-A-4-7, courtesy of a K-5-3-7-5 board.

I asked Hansen the obvious question in the aftermath, but he was gracious enough to credit his opponents. “They’re both pretty smart guys, I think they would have played fast anyway,” he said. “I can’t blame the deal. I think it was impossible to refuse to lock up $70,000. There are three people left, and at that limit, you can go broke in three hands.”

Mike Paulle was already interviewing Ivo when I joined the conversation. Ivo was alternating answers in English and German, using English for the simple ones and German for the more complex answers. He had a friend there to translate, but Paulle kept telling him not to bother translating, “Because I understand.”

“Well I don’t!” I said, and Paulle cracked up. “I just wanted to make you say it,” my pal said with his trademark deep laugh. Actually Mike is tri-lingual, speaking French also. He told me with eyes a-twinkle, “I’m sure there are languages you speak that I don’t, but I could tell you didn’t speak German.” I told him that I was pretty much reduced to English, unless you counted my ability to speak New Age. Oh, wait, this is supposed to be a story about poker players, not unenlightened journalistic banter.

Ivo, it turned out, had started playing poker only a couple or years ago, and did very badly at first. He took some time off from the game, read some books, played against a computer, and did much better when he returned. He has played in about a dozen reasonably large European tournaments, but isn’t planning on playing in the Big One here.

“I feel I have no chance in no-limit,” he said. “In Casino Austria, in Bregenz, where I play, they play only limit poker.”

They play it pretty well, it seems, especially when the money pressure comes off. When we got down to the end game, the chess master’s chip sacrifice yanked the hammer from Thor’s hand. Hansen already has a bracelet, has won lots of tournaments, will win a lot more, and he did get most of the money. But the flashy gold trinket that Ivo was so casually willing to pawn off in the deal heads back to Austria as the property of a bright and charming man who knew exactly what he wanted, and who did exactly what he needed to do to get it.

By The Numbers

Entries: 143

Total Prize Pool: $214,500

1) Ivo Donev, $40,000 (officially $85,800)

2) Thor Hansen, $70,150 (officially $42,900)

3) Martin Oliveras, $40,000 (officially $21,450)

4) Hassan Igram, $12,870

5) Ben Tang, $9,650

6) Charlie Brahmi, $7,510

7) Mark Scott, $5,360

8) Barry Shulman, $4,290

9) Dan Heimiller, $3,430

Other "in the money" finishers:

10th-12th, $2,575: Herry Atkins, Richard Mills, An Tizan.

13th-15th, $2,360: Cissy Bottoms, Alex Kwok Hung Ting, Michael Keiner

16th-18th, $2,145: Tommy DeLoach, Jay Heimowitz, Chris Tsipralidis

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