At 9 o’clock in the evening on July 20, 2004, the threehanded play was intense at the final table of the World Poker Tour tournament held at the lovely and intimate Aviation Club in Paris, France. Parisians were bustling in the streets below, while indoors, Tony Guoga taunted Surinder Sunar, telling him: “Surinder, you are going to bleed so badly once it is heads up. You’re putting me to sleep. I’m scared for you!”
When it was down to two players, Tony G. brought the game to a halt for well over five minutes as he attempted to goad and provoke Surinder, who sat expressionless. Five minutes may not sound like a long period of time, but under the severe heat of the camera lights, along with a room bloated with anxious onlookers, five minutes was a dreadfully prolonged period of time. The official WPT statistician, Jan Fisher, confirmed that there had been only 14 hands played per hour.
Surinder was manikinlike, impervious, and unaffected. Tony G’s ridicule seemed to have turned objective observers into zealous devotees. Imagine Surinder’s stone face against a backdrop of animated fans cheering wildly every time he won a pot. Four long hours after Tony G. told Surinder that he was going to make him bleed, Surinder was being congratulated for capturing the title, taking home €679,000 and winning a $25,000 seat in the WPT Championship event at Bellagio.
When this event is televised next March, you may notice that even after he won, Surinder barely smiled; he was in an odd sort of zone in which his concentration was so fixated that it was barely possible to let go and celebrate the victory. That would come the following evening when he hosted a fabulous dinner with drinks, lots and lots of drinks, for friends and well-wishers.
Poker in Paris
A total of 205 daftar poker online players enjoyed the hospitality and gracious service provided by the Aviation Club de France (ACF) during the World Poker Tour’s sold-out tournament July 17-20. This number dwarfed the field of 96 competitors who played last year, and why not?
Nestled within walking distance of the Arc de Triumph, located in the heart of Paris on the famous Champs-Elysees, who wouldn’t want to visit Paris to play poker at its finest?
The Aviation Club offered the largest prize pool in European poker history, €2,050,000 ($2,550,492), for its World Poker Tour tournament, called the Grand Prix de Paris.
The service at the Aviation Club was impeccable. The waiters smiled as they rushed to diligently serve the players. They practically ran to bring drinks and food. The dealers were among the most professional I have ever seen. They are trained to shuffle and then deal the cards by pushing them while they’re on the table, never lifting and pitching the cards. This way, there is no chance of a dealer tossing a card so high that it is seen by others. The dealers spoke both French and English, so there was never any misunderstanding as to what was happening.
There was, however, one rule that made me laugh. Someone called the “clock” on a player who took a long time to act. In a similar situation in the United States, a floorman would come over and look at his watch for 60 seconds; typically, he would inform the player that there was 15 seconds left, then count down to zero, at which time the player’s hand would be dead.
In France, if someone calls the “clock,” the dealer counts silently and then informs the player that his time is up. I was so intrigued by this rule that I asked a number of dealers about their understanding of the rule. Do the dealers count quickly, or slowly? Do they ever lose count or play favorites? And after the time is up, do they grab the cards away from the unsuspecting player? The consensus seemed to be that a dealer counts in silence, after which the player is told to act immediately. This situation is one example of why it would be to the player’s advantage to have an international, uniform set of tournament rules, upon which each player could rely in every venue.
A Tournament the French Way
The starting time for the tournament was 4 p.m., and in typical French fashion, at 9:30 p.m., there was a two-hour dinner break. Everyone piled into the fine dining area, where the very best “tournament” food in the world was served. I personally enjoyed the buffalo mozzarella with tomato appetizer, followed by a rack of lamb with perfectly cooked “al dente” fresh green beans. Then, a bowl of thousands of fresh cherries was placed at every table. The French are in no hurry when it is time to dine. Two hours later, play resumed.
The Paris tournament attracted world-class players from around the world, including the two previous champions, Christer Johannsson and David Benyamine. The lineup of international poker elite included WPT season two Player of the Year Erick Lindgren (USA), WPT Champion Martin De Knijff (Sweden), WPT Champion Barry Greenstein (USA), WPT Walk of Famer Gus Hansen (Denmark), two-time WPT winner Howard Lederer, Carlos Mortensen (Spain), Mel Judah (Australia), David “Devilfish” Ulliott (UK), and Daniel Negreanu (Canada).
Other top players included Card Player Publisher Barry Shulman (who stopped by on his honeymoon), T.J. Cloutier, John Juanda, Phil Ivey, Scotty Nguyen, Farzad “Freddy” Bonyadi, Sammy Farha, and 2004 World Series of Poker Champion Greg “Fossilman” Raymer.
Some of the most famous faces at the table were not poker stars. I was placed at a table mobbed by the paparazzi. As a matter of fact, in the middle of tournament play, some of the eager photographers asked players to move during a hand in order to get better pictures. I could not believe what I saw; players, all of whom had paid €10,000 to compete, obliged and moved out of the photographers’ way while they were in the middle of the hand!
The Famous Frenchman: Patrick Bruel
As it turned out, I was sitting with superstar actor/singer Patrick Bruel, oftentimes called the Brad Pitt of France. My Internet search revealed that his stardom has reached such heights that something in France exists much like “Beatlemania”; it is called “Bruelmania,” as young girls scream hysterically while proclaiming their love for the handsome star who has made 28 French films and two American films, and has recorded scores of wonderful, popular songs.
When I interviewed Bruel, he told me that he loves to play in Las Vegas, that the Aviation Club is the best place in the world to play poker, and that the WPT has changed the face of poker forevermore, because poker is now considered an accepted sport.
When it was down to heads-up play between Tony G. and Surinder, with Tony G. having the chip lead, I asked Patrick what he thought of the match. He responded that Surinder is not only inventive, but is also one of the best players in the world.
He Just Would Not “Surinder”
As I watched the heads-up match, I was struck by the manner in which Surinder conducted himself. He was stalwart and untouchable. When I later asked him about his play at that crucial time, he said Tony G. was trying to get to him, but he remained like a manikin, barely accessible and hardly hearing Tony G. at all. He explained that he doesn’t play many tournaments anymore because of the rigorous concentration that is required.
I was told a story about Surinder’s concentration, which he verified during our interview. He was playing a no-limit hold’em tournament at The Bicycle Casino years ago. There were three players left when his friend Devilfish Ulliott approached and told him that Princess Diana had tragically died in a car accident. Although he felt like he could think of nothing other than the tragedy, he turned inward to the place where he has total concentration and still won.
After watching hours of continuous taunting, and seeing Surinder remain expressionless, it was no surprise that after he won, he for the most part continued to remain unresponsive. In many of the victory photos, Surinder remained inexpressive, as if he wasn’t exactly there yet.
Surinder Sunar’s Inspiration
Although both of Surinder’s parents are deceased, he remains exceedingly close to one family member. His Grandfather Shiv Singh is a healthy 104 years old and still lives in Dhinpur Punjab, India, where both Surinder and his grandfather were born. They both speak Punjabi, which is a Hindi dialect.
Surinder will soon go to India to visit his grandfather. He mentioned that his grandfather is the only human being he knows who has lived through three centuries. When Surinder visits his grandfather in India, he loves being there and feels that he can finally relax and feel calm. The photo below depicts Surinder with his grandfather 17 years ago, when Surinder first began playing poker.
Surinder is also close to his older brother, Onkar, for whom he has the utmost respect. When Surinder was 7 years old, his parents moved the family from India to England. Onkar inspires Surinder because of whom he has become, given the adversity they faced as children. The young boys came to England not speaking the language, and Onkar worked very hard to become a successful engineer and now is the CEO of a successful company. Not only has Onkar earned a black belt in karate, he has achieved the honor of a 6th Dan (called a Rokudan). He taught Surinder, who also is a black belt. His teaching helped give Surinder confidence, patience, and a sense of calm.
The Private Life of Surinder Sunar
At the beginning of our interview, I asked Surinder how old he is. He answered that he is a very private person and didn’t want to answer any personal questions. I panicked. How is it possible to paint a picture of a person who won’t answer any personal questions? I told him that his age wasn’t all that personal compared to what I had in mind to ask him!
He answered that he is either 43 or 44, and that he couldn’t remember which. But his accent was so appealing, with hints of India and hints of proper English, that one couldn’t get too frustrated with the man who has an absolute perfect “poker” face, whether or not it’s necessary. I asked if he remembered the date he was born, and he said it was in April and that I would laugh. So, being a dedicated journalist, I burst out laughing and asked: You were born on April Fools’ Day??? The interview was off to a good start, I thought.
Having been a practicing criminal defense attorney for more than 20 years, I have been well-schooled in the art of cross-examination. Young lawyers learn that when a witness does not answer a question, there are myriads of ways to disguise the same topic and ask it again and again until the necessary information is elicited. So, I continued to ask Surinder about his love life, only to have him artfully duck the question.
About two hours into the interview, when I asked yet another question about his private life, he looked at me quizzically and inquired with his marvelous Indian accent as to whether I was going to keep asking about the same thing over and over again. I guess I wasn’t fooling him! I told him that perhaps at his victory party, he and his friends might drink enough so that I would get some juicy information. He responded that I would have to show up to see.
The Victory Party
We arrived at the victory party to find Bruno Fitoussi talking about what a fabulous tournament it was and how well Surinder played. I was seated between Surinder and WPT Producer Steve Lipscomb, who talked about the fact that this may very well be the best show ever.
How disappointing! I wanted some juicy gossip about Surinder, and would have to settle for some respectable quotes about the success of the tournament. Even after Surinder broke out a fabulous bottle of very old Cabernet Sauvignon, he was still stonelike when I tried to pump him for personal information. The only thing I can say for certain is that he is a class act.
A Class Act
When Surinder won, cameras were everywhere. I stood with pen and pad, awaiting his words. Of course, when the WPT show airs, you can verify my accuracy, but when Mike Sexton asked Surinder for a comment, Surinder said, “I was up against a real great player and I got lucky.”
Although Surinder was short-stacked going to the final table, this quickly changed. The final table chip standings were:
Seat 1 — Surinder Sunar, 202K
Seat 2 — Tony Guoga, 442K
Seat 3 — David Colclough, 338K
Seat 4 — Peter Roche, 615K
Seat 5 — Jim Overman, 358K
Seat 6 — Ben Roberts, 99K
When it got heads up, the lead went back and forth. Tony G. was talking uncontrollably while Surinder was in deep concentration. Although Surinder explained his win as simply getting lucky, statistics will show that his answer was a classy one, but not necessarily accurate.
At key moments, Surinder lost with A-J against 10-8, tied with A-9 against A-4, and tied with Q-10 against Q-6.
It is true that Surinder did get lucky with his K-6 suited against Tony G.’s pocket tens when the board flopped 9-6-6, but other than that, his performance was mostly the result of skill.
I asked him about a particular hand when he put Ben Roberts all in. Ben raised with A-K and Surinder moved all in. As it turned out, Surinder had pocket threes and 3 is his lucky number. He was quick to point out that he would never have called an all-in bet, but he was the raiser with his lucky threes. When no ace or king came, he was the victor. (If you are interested in learning the odds of these and other hand matchups, go to www.cardplayer.com, where you will find hand matchups in which Cardplayer.com reports on actual tournament hands and gives the odds for each player.)
In the tournament’s final hand, Tony G. moved all in from the button with K-3 offsuit. Surinder called immediately with A-7 offsuit. The flop was Q-10-6 of different suits, the turn was a jack, and the river was a 6. Surinder’s ace high won the tournament, and at about 1 a.m., he was crowned the champion of the Grand Prix de Paris.
Even when the tournament was over, Surinder remained a class act. When I asked him to comment about Tony G.’s behavior, he simply said that Tony G. took other players off their game and that made it easier for him to win.
At one point in the game, Tony G. mocked Surinder, stating he’d get blinded off waiting for aces. Surinder’s focus and patience apparently paid off. As a matter of fact, it paid more than Surinder has ever won: €679,000 and a $25,000 seat in the WPT Championship event. WPT Producer Steve Lipscomb summed it up with precision when he proclaimed: “This tournament will make for fabulous TV.” Don’t miss the show, which should air on the Travel Channel in March 2005.