Among the contingent of French players still in the main event, none have such a prolific career at the tables as Michel Abecassis.
A veteran of the tour, Abecassis has seen the evolution of poker first hand over the past ten to 15 years, and has nearly $1 million in live tournament winnings from a career spent cashing at major events around the world. So you could say he knows how to handle a short stack.
That’s exactly what he returned to today, with just 150,000 chips. As far as the opposition goes his was not a table loaded with anything much bigger, at least not until Shahaf Hadaya arrived to take a seat, but he was reduced to spending the level waiting for a hand with which to shove. It happened three times, and each move went unanswered. Frustrating, I asked him. Not at all.
“It doesn’t’ matter as long as you still win the hands you play,” said Abecassis at the break. “It’s day four now and I’ve been short stacked since day one. But I know how to play a short stack and I don’t think I’ve made any mistakes. It’s pure maths, right, and watching the other players, learning about their range.”
Abecassis wealth of experience comes from having spent the past 15 years at the sharp end of the game. As well as playing the EPT from Season 1, the Frenchman was among the early participants of Late Night Poker, the iconic British poker show that introduced Texas hold’em to a new generation of players.
The show featured some of the best players in the game, characters all, divided between those who wore suits and smoked, and those who wore garish tracksuits who also smoked. If there were to be a Venn diagram of the two, the shaded middle area would be called “baseball cap”.
Not for Abecassis anything that might slow his Gallic style. To complement his tailored suit and neatly parted hair, Abecassis’s only prop was a cigarette, never held more than two inches from his face.
With commentary from the hushed tones of Jessie May, who spoke as if reporting on the deliberations of a jury working towards a contentious unanimous decision, Abecassis played his heat almost one-handed, a cigarette occupying the other. It made his elimination one of the classiest looking of the series, watching, standing, with one hand in his suit pocket, the other holding aloft a Gitanes, his expressive eyebrows left to do the talking.
All these years later and Abecassis survived one all in, doubling through Hadaya, but would finally depart in 33rd place, some way short of a second final table. I asked him at the break what kept him coming back to events like this.
“Passion,” he said. “I love competition. I always did. I played bridge for a long time, I was one of the top players in my country on the circuit. Bridge is like poker, less the money!”
The cigarettes may be gone (he quit in Las Vegas a few years ago), but it’s just one change from the game he started playing in the late 1990s.
“It was a different age! You can’t smoke, people are much younger,” he said. “The strategy – there’s been great, great changes. It’s like coming from the first aeroplanes to the concord. It took for aviation more than 100 years – for poker it took less than ten years. It’s very nice to see that. I like the tour more, the technique, and the turnover of strategy, it’s fantastic. You cannot see that in any other competition. It’s unique.”
Abecassis will no doubt be back. For now it will be the new generation of French players left to carry the flag.
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Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter