By the time my lesson concluded, we were about 10 minutes from the start of play and most of the players had arrived, getting their stacks arranged. The layout of the TV table:
Seat 1: hyperaggressive asian guy. Approximately 75k.
Seat 2: Me.
Seat 3: Barbara Enright. About 38k. More on her below.
Seat 4: Vacant, but reserved for Howard Lederer.
Seat 5: Asian man wearing either a kimono or a smoking jacket. About 40k.
Seat 6: Don’t remember
Seat 7: Very nervous looking guy in Pokerstars gear. About 60k.
Seat 8: Don’t remember.
Seat 9: Google-eyed, visor-wearing guy. Sitting on a huge stack, over 200k. More on him below.
With about five minutes to go before the start of play, to a rousing round of applause from the now-packed bleachers, Howard Lederer arrived at the TV table.
Howard Lederer grew up in New Hampshire and began playing poker at a very young age. His upbringing in a now-famous household, his sister Annie Duke is a very accomplished poker player and is considered one of the top two or three female players in the world, has been immortalized in a book written by his youngest sister, Katy, entitled “Poker Face.” I have not read this book, but I presume it mentions the fact that both Howard and Annie are math geniuses who can make poker’s required probability-based calculations instantaneously.
Howard’s story goes like this. At some point in the late 80’s, Lederer, then a mammoth bearded chess prodigy nicknamed “Bubba,” deferred his entrance to Columbia University to play chess in and around New York City. He soon discovered that one of NYC’s chess clubs also offered poker, started playing, and became a regular at the Mayfair, then the biggest poker club in New York. It was there that he honed his skills against several other now-famous players, including Eric Seidel and Dan Harrington, eventually becoming such a good player that he moved to Las Vegas to play professionally. By 2003, Lederer was about 100 pounds lighter and beardless. He was also among the best players in the world, and in the right place at the right time. 2003 was the year the Travel Channel decided to capitalize on the success of their 2002 poker cruise special by airing one poker tournament every week, calling this new “league” the World Poker Tour. Howard Lederer won two WPT tournaments in the show’s inaugural season, making several brilliant plays along the way, earning a reputation for being able to peer into other men’s souls, discarding “Bubba” and earning a new nickname: “The Professor.” The World Poker Tour was television’s surprise hit of the season and Lederer became televised poker’s first superstar, a millionaire several times over, and an instant celebrity. Today, Lederer would make a good living even if he never played, having parlayed his fame into successful business ventures. He is the instructor in a series of instructional videos and hosts a “poker fantasy camp” for aspiring players. He also gets paid to promote the poker website FullTilt.com.
His varied achievements and celebrity status aside, right now Lederer, a still-bulky 6′-3″ guy, was unloading a considerable number of chips from his bag onto the TV table. He was wearing a Full Tilt hockey jersey with the number 13 and his name on the back. He was in an all-business kind of mood, and was very brusque with the ESPN people and didn’t bother to acknowledge the ovation from the bleachers. His expression remained dour as he began to do something peculiar: arrange some of his black $100 chips (the smallest denomination still in play) in a pattern in front of him. Noticing that he was surrounding one chip with a circle of others, I offered up my first comment to Lederer: “Ooh, a flower.” Howard did not respond to this insightful (and masculine) comment. It was Barbara Enright, seated between us, who filled me in: “He’s building a base so his chip stacks won’t fall over. The felt is not a stable enough surface.” That was indeed what Lederer was doing. Once his architecturally sound base was in place, he set about placing towers of purple, yellow and black chips on top of it. When he was through, he had built a small metropolis, perhaps the size of Rochester. My guess was that he was sitting on about 170k. This was not good news for the rest of us.
Knowing that most professional players have an affinity for proposition bets, I made another attempt to break the ice. “Hey Howard,” I said, “how many hands to you think we’ll play until we’re off the bubble? What’s the over/under?” My ploy worked. His interest piqued, Lederer looked up at me, gave this question a few moments’ thought, and replied “nine.” “That few?” I asked. “I think it’ll be more like eleven.” Now Howard ignored me and went back to quietly messing with his chips.
12:42 pm: At a table on the other side of the room, a dealer dealt for the button, and the result was announced to everyone: Seat 7. This meant there would be only two hands before the big blind was on me. And with that, the tournament director gave us another “shuffle up and deal,” the ESPN cameras rolled, and we were underway. I felt a surge of adrenaline as the dealer sprung into action. As my first card slid towards me, I noticed a close-up of my face on one of the monitors set up nearby. Sug Cam. Cool.
getting down to biz on TV table
Hand #1: I paid my $300 ante and mucked the trash I was dealt. The action was folded to Lederer, who deliberately surveyed the rest of the table before dropping a chip on his hole cards, his infamous “I’m playing this hand” signal. He raised to 8000. It was obvious that his strategy would be to continually steal the blinds until he was met with resistance from the group of amateurs surrounding him. The kimono-clad guy to Howard’s left took a deep, exaggerated breath, smirked, and checked his hole cards. Now, turning to Lederer, he said “you’re just gonna try to run us over, now aren’t you?” This comment was followed by an extended visual examination of Lederer, who bore the expression of someone who was rolling his eyes, but without actually rolling his eyes. Finally, his inspection complete, Kimono said “Okay, I’m gonna lay this down, I think you have a strong hand,” and folded. Thanks for the color commentary, buddy. Kimono was either a complete nit or had decided to milk his TV appearance for all it was worth. Either way, I was already irritated by him. Everyone else quickly mucked their cards. Lederer raked the 5.7k pot, the crowd cheered, Howard acknowledged them with a smile and half-wave, and the dealer stood up.