H.O.R.S.E. play brings increased fun to World Series of Poker

ON GAMBLING

March 07, 2006|By BILL ORDINE

Daniel Negreanu is something of a poker purist, meaning that he believes the measure of a world-class player should go beyond simply the compulsion to call "All in!" and catching a lucky winning card on the river.

That's why the 31-year Toronto native lobbied for a new event to be included in the World Series of Poker that he's convinced will produce a winner that can be more fittingly called a poker world champion.

"What we've seen happen with the World Series is that it has become the World Series of Hold 'em," said Negreanu, the winner of three WSOP bracelets. "And that's certainly not the best way for determining the best player."

Negreanu was referring to the trend of emphasizing Hold 'em over other games and, indeed, nearly 75 percent of the 45 tournaments that will make up the 2006 WSOP are a variant of Hold 'em. The rest will be some style of stud, Omaha or draw.

Negreanu persuaded Harrah's Entertainment, the casino company that owns the poker World Series, to include a new $50,000 buy-in event for this year's tournament that would test a range of poker skills.

It will be a H.O.R.S.E. tournament - so called because players compete in Hold 'em, Omaha, Razz (stud where the low hand wins), seven-card stud and eight-or-better (where the best high and low hands split the pot, unless there's no qualifying low hand).

"I sold [Harrah's] on it by explaining how this would be a win-win situation for everyone," Negreanu said. "The high buy-in brings in the best players in the world. Because we're playing H.O.R.S.E., you're guaranteed of having a final table of star players. And then to satisfy ESPN, you switch to Hold 'em for the final table."

ESPN films the WSOP and then shows an edited version later. Hold 'em, because of its simple rules and easy-to-follow graphics, has become the style of poker that has attracted TV audiences.

Negreanu said the multi-game format parallels, to a degree, the fabled Big Game at the Bellagio. That's a cash game where the best players in the world, including Negreanu, Jennifer Harman, Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan and others, go at each other for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the Big Game, the style of poker changes every 10 hands.

"I felt we should do something to protect the integrity of the event and not water it down by making it all Hold 'em," Negreanu said. "Just because among the mainstream public that's the game that has become the most popular doesn't mean that's what we should do."

Heads-Up event

Chris Ferguson, Huck Seed, Ted Forrest and Sean Sheikhan advanced to the final four in the $20,000 buy-in National Heads-up Championship that was scheduled to be decided sometime last night at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

The tournament format mirrors college basketball's March Madness with a starting field of 64 players that began play over the weekend.

The event will be televised on NBC over six consecutive Sundays from April 16 to May 21.

Competitors play one-on-one in single elimination until the final, which was supposed to be a best-of-three match. The winner earns $500,000, and the top 16 players cash in.

In an early match, Ferguson, famous for his black cowboy hat, beard and sunglasses, bested Jim McManus, a college professor, book author and poker writer for The New York Times.

"The rules for Hold 'em are the same but the way you look at hand values is entirely different," McManus said after his pair of sevens was beaten by Ferguson's pair of nines on an all-in.

"In heads-up, you have to play every hand and so you have this steady intensity as opposed to a normal tournament where you are waiting and waiting for a good hand to play."

McManus' quarterfinal finish was worth $75,000, but more notable was his improbable run at the 2000 World Series of Poker main event when he placed fifth overall while on a writing assignment for Harper's magazine. He won nearly $250,000 that time and wrote the book Positively Fifth Street.

And, oh yes, the winner of that final table in 2000?

Chris Ferguson. bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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