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A brush with greatness at the Foxwoods Poker Classic

7 April 2008

LEDYARD, Conn. – The first hand of the first day is being dealt at the World Poker Tour's Foxwoods Poker Classic last Friday and Ron Maset is sitting at a table tucked away at the back end of the massive Sunset Ballroom. Maset, a 44-year-old financial advisor from central New Jersey, notices a vacant seat across the table from him and wonders to himself if anyone will be filling it in the next 20 minutes before registration for the event officially closes.

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Meanwhile in the ballroom lobby, a fashionably late Phil Ivey arrives wearing an untucked white dress shirt, jeans and an iPod around his neck. Ivey, the biggest name of all at this event taking place in the deep woods of Connecticut, is nearly a half-hour late, but that doesn't prevent him from receiving a little star treatment.

A blonde woman immediately greets him with a wide smile and a big hug while handing him a powder blue Full Tilt Poker baseball hat. Ivey flashes back a smile of his own as he turns and hands his registration form to the WPT staff.

But once he receives his marching orders, Ivey's demeanor immediately changes.

With the look of Tiger Woods walking to the first tee of a major championship, Ivey begins to make long, purposeful strides down the center of the ballroom. Everyone – from the players, to the dealers to the catering staff – takes notice, including Maset, who can't help but think to himself, "Is Phil Ivey heading for my table?"

"As he got closer and closer I just kept saying to myself, 'Keep going Phil, keep going. Don't sit here,'" admitted Maset with a laugh. "So when he sat down at the table, I was just like, 'OK, it's time to step up my game.'"

"I've played against him before, so I know what it's like. You have to realize that if you want to survive, you have to bring you're 'A' game. Because, if not, a guy like Phil Ivey will take your lunch pretty quickly."

Such is life when you're a player like Ron Maset and you make the brave decision to compete in a WPT event. Maset, who would be the first to admit he's not nearly as skilled at Texas Hold'em as the throng of professionals in the field, has only played in a handful of big events like these over the years. And he realizes heading in that his $10,000 buy-in could be gone in an instant if gets seated at a table with players like Ivey and Nick Shulman, who won this event in 2005 and was already at the table on Ivey's left.

But while the likelihood for victory for all of the players sitting at Maset's table decreased considerably when Ivey and his $5 million in career earnings and four WSOP bracelets sat down, that didn't mean they were ready to simply cash in their chips and go home.

In fact, most of them relish the chance to go up against one of the world's most skilled and recognizable players.

"Oh yeah, I look at it as an opportunity to learn," said Steve Daniel, a 65-year-old from Belmont, Mass. who typically plays in one or two WPT events a year on the East Coast. "I like to watch him and see how he handles himself in position.

"Phil likes to bet a lot of pots," Daniel continued. "You can't go out there and get into a guessing game with him. But at the same time you can't change your own strategy. I'll only take him on when I'm in position and I also try to get some chips out there elsewhere on the table. Other than that, I try and play the same way I always play.

"You've also got Nick Shulman right next to Phil, so right there you've got two very good players sitting back-to-back. That makes it tough."

Tough, but not impossible, as long as you don't allow the celebrity players to get into your head, added Phil Consolo, another player seated at the table.

"I've played against Phil a lot and what you have to remember is that he likes to bet early and often," explained Consolo, a WPT Tour regular. "The thing with Phil is he bets so often, you really never know what he has. He's very aggressive. He picks up a lot of small pots early and builds his chip stack. That's how he makes it to so many final tables."

While Consolo says he's no longer rattled by sitting next to a star player like Ivey, the juices still get flowing for him when he does get the chance to take him on.

"It's always exciting to play a guy like Phil," he says. "He's the guy you see on TV all the time. He's the guy everybody wants to beat. So why not take advantage of the chance when you get it? That's the way you have to look at it."

And, on this day, that's exactly the attitude Ivey's tablemates played with. Midway through the day, Consolo, Daniel and Maset were all not only playing with Ivey, but beating him.

"He took three or four grand from me early on," Daniel said during the second 15-minute break of the day, about four hours into the tournament. "But I didn't let it get to me. I stayed the course and was able to get back into the ballgame. At this juncture of the tournament, that's all you can ask for."

At the close of Day 1, Ivey trailed most of the people that were sitting at his table. Shulman was bounced from the tournament late in the day while Consolo finished the day in 55th place with 64,125 chips. Daniel sat in 168th place with 24,475 while Maset could only manage to get out with 18,700. But that was still better than Ivey, who dropped a couple of big hands late in the day, and finished the day in 197th place with 16,400 chips.

All four players saw their luck run out on Day 2, as they were each eliminated well before the final table, which will be played Wednesday night.

Nonetheless, it was still the kind of experience that Maset said he would never shy away from.

"I've learned so much from this," he said. "Every time I play I learn more about the game, especially when it's against a guy like Phil Ivey.

"This is the kind of experience you don't get every day so you can't run and hide. You've got to embrace it."

A brush with greatness at the Foxwoods Poker Classic is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT