Players ante $10M in ‘private’ game

Feb 7, 2006 10:34 AM

By Phil Hevener

Dallas billionaire Andy Beal and a coalition of deep-pocketed Las Vegas poker pros have given new meaning to the familiar commentary that suggests the only difference between rich people and poor people is the price they are willing to pay for a little adrenalin rush.

The two sides each put up $10 million for a heads-up hold’em game staged through much of last week at Steve Wynn’s casino, trying to present this as a private game that was not interested in any of the considerable attention it received.

Yeah, sure.

This production has been well over a year in the making, ever since Beal got into a bit of a snit over a New York newspaper "exaggerating" the extent of his losses in previous high-limit play at the Bellagio against some of the same pros involved in this match.

Beal was looking for a little redemption as he returned to Las Vegas and appeared to have made his point against some of the best poker pros in the business, one at a time.

The game was getting a lot of attention despite the best efforts of some of the local pros to term this clash "a private game" that was not in search of publicity.

At least that was the view of Jennifer Harman, one of the organizers, who returned a phone call from a reporter only to underscore her group’s hope that publicity should be avoided.

But author Michael Craig, who has written a successful book about past clashes at the Bellagio between Beal and "the corporation," just happened to be in town to take a look at what was happening.

Also, the New York Times just happened to have a representative in the neighborhood who stopped by to see what all the fuss was about.

The specialty poker and gaming publications were also well represented.

Craig said Andy was "up slightly" through Saturday, playing a "very good, very close game against the best in the world."

As for the self-styled "corporation," its members have what they have been wanting — a chance to play for the highest limits against an outsider who can afford to risk big money.

This is known as opportunity with a capital "O." It doesn’t get much better than this for those who gamble big for a living.

Coalition member Barry Greenstein, whose Ace on the River is one of the most interesting poker books authored by anyone over the last several years, said it’s rather remarkable the play was so close (after three days) because with these kind of limits, either side’s ten million bucks could evaporate quickly.

"A couple of years ago some people were seeing Andy as some kind of fish but he has become an experienced heads-up player, and for him there is very little downside to a game like this." Greenstein said. "He can afford the money and if he does even reasonably well then he can go home feeling good about the experience."

It must be like going one-on-one with Kobe Bryant and, win or lose, making him work up a good sweat.

Beal is, among other things, the president of Beal Bank of Dallas, the state’s largest privately owned bank. It has some familiarity with gaming in that it loaned Donald Trump $100 million to help him get through the recent Chapter 11 re-organization of his Atlantic City casinos.

Beal and poker legend Doyle Brunson have been going back and forth for months with their on-again, off-again negotiations for a super match. Beal said he’d be happy to play again, but wanted the Las Vegas pros to come down to Texas.

Pros such as Howard Lederer have said there was no way they would play a game this big anywhere except in a licensed casino with all the necessary security.

Besides Beal landing the opportunity to challenge the seasoned pros, Wynn’s poker room is getting some time in the spotlight that seems likely to continue generating returns.

Call it a gift that keeps giving, something of a Kodak moment for people fascinated by the vagaries of high stakes poker action.

Another disclaimer

World Series of Poker Champion Joe Hachem says he’s joined the list of big name poker pros who expect to boycott future World Poker Tour events. Hachem says he is fuming at the notion of "signing away all my rights when I have to pay the money that allows me to play in one of their tournaments."

Other poker stars such as Daniel Negreanu, Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer, to name a few, have previously complained about the provisions of the WPT’s player release form that gives the WPT total rights to use the names and likenesses of participating players in whatever way it likes.

These release forms have been around for a long time but as one tournament veteran wise-cracked, "You’ve got more people than ever actually reading them now" as poker has morphed into a huge opportunity for -personalities and companies.

WPT chief executive Steve Lipscomb has spent a lot of time recently trying to defuse the grumbling created by the forms, saying, in so many words, that he does not want to interfere with the opportunities that poker’s popularity has given players to make money away from the tables.

But the fact is, Hachem maintains, the releases say what they say and he’s not happy about that.