The Winner's Circle
With four gold bracelets awarded in two days, its was a busy weekend at the World Series of Poker with many new faces receiving their first WSOP pay-outs and some known faces finally grabbing WSOP gold.
Event # 12 $5,000 Omaha High-Low 8/OB
Sam Farha earned his second gold bracelet after a more than a decade without a WSOP victory. To grab the title, Farha had to go through poker phenom Phil Ivey, instantly making this heads up battle one of the most intriguing clashes of the 2006 WSOP. The midnight start made the gallery a little thin at the $5,000 Omaha High-Low 8/OB Event # 12 final paring, but those who stayed were treated to a classic.
Farha became a household poker name in 2003 when he battled Chris Moneymaker in an epic Main Event final table. Although he came in second, Farha's well-dressed, slick-haired, unlit-cigarette demeanor made him an instant poker star.
Although he's cashed in only one event since that time (2005 WSOP Main Event), he does lay claim to one gold bracelet, winning an Omaha event in 1996. Saturday changed his recent WSOP luck and that win coupled with another cash already this Series proves the high stakes cash game player might be well on his way to tournament stardom.
Ivey, who has been the main attraction for the rail birds since the WSOP began, had the loudest cheering section as he sought his sixth bracelet. With five titles already on his mantle, the 27-year old Ivey is already one of the most decorated tournament players of all-time.
The performance of both Farha and Ivey is that much more impressive considering the 265-player Event #12 field was filled with some of the world's top tournament players.
With Chris Ferguson, Mike Caro, Andy Bloch, and Gavin Smith making the final 26 players, Event #12's final participants had 11 gold bracelets and one World Poker Tour title between them. That does not include the millions won at high-stakes cash games and the countless final table appearances in the biggest poker tournaments worldwide.
Event # 10 $1,500 7-Card Stud
Another former WSOP Main Event runner-up finally won his first gold bracelet at the $1,500 7-Card Stud WSOP Event #10.
David Williams, best known for his $3.5 million second place finish to Greg "Fossilman" Raymer in the 2004 WSOP Main Event, secured his first WSOP bracelet, giving credence to the claim that he's one of poker's brightest young stars.
Besting a final table that included Johnny Chan (10 gold bracelets) and "Miami" John Cernuto (3 gold bracelets), Williams won the first 2006 WSOP stud event. Known for his No-Limit Hold'em skill, it was surprising to many that Williams would have his breakout win in stud.
"I play a lot of mixed games against some very good players," Williams told WSOP officials. "I play with Chau Giang, David Singer, Mike Wattel, and top players who really know the game. I picked up some of the things they do, and that has really helped me."
Although Williams is a favorite among poker fans and autograph seekers at the 2006 WSOP, the majority of those watching the Event #10 final table were waiting to see if Chan could grab a record-breaking 11th gold bracelet.
One day after watching Phil Hellmuth's attempt to tie Chan and Doyle Brunson's career mark of 10 WSOP victories in Event #9, Chan was trying to make his own poker history by becoming the first player to reach 11 wins.
It wasn't meant to be for Chan who went into the day severely short-stacked. He ended up finishing in seventh place, outlasting only one other player.
To come in first, Williams had to go through John Hoang, who almost led the tournament from start to finish. Finally giving up the chip lead right before heads up play, Hoang battled Williams for three hours before succumbing to the 26-year old.
For Williams, the chance to finally erase the "runner-up" image that often accompanies a second place finisher in the Main Event was something he didn't take lightly.
"It's really all I have thought about or cared about," Williams said. "I wanted it so bad I changed my daily activities to put myself in a much better position to win. Now, I am so happy I feel like crying. I'm fighting back the tears right now. It's the best I've ever felt in my life."
Event #11 $1,500 Limit Hold'em
While the best players in the world were taking their shot at the $5,000 Omaha High-Low 8/OB event, a field of unrecognizable faces was battling in the second Limit Hold'em tournament of the 2006 World Series.
One of those faces can now call himself a champion.
Bob Chalmers, a 59-year old business consultant from Vancouver, British Columbia bested 700 players to earn his first bracelet and $258,344.
"What I realized from playing at this final table is that it takes a lot of work to win," Chalmers said. "Sure, some luck helps. But it's really hard work. There was not a time when I was not thinking of my stay at the final table as like working. It seemed like a long time. The easy thing for me was to understand that (winning) was going to happen in just a hand or two, but it rather would be a process that took a long time – so I looked at it that way."
Although the final table represented a good mix of solid poker players, the casual fan would have trouble identifying many of the participants who were competing at their first WSOP final table.
Doug Sabb, the only final table player who had won a gold bracelet (1997) or had any WSOP final table experience, arrived as the short stack and made a run at the title with a few double ups, only to suffer a brutal final half hour that erased his stack and landed him in fifth place.
Event # 13 $2,500 No Limit Hold'em
Max "The Italian Pirate" Pescatori arrived at the final table of Event #13 several minutes late. Even though he was playing in the biggest event of his poker career, Pescatori wanted to watch his beloved Italian soccer team play in the World Cup finals against France.
The decision paid off. Pescatori was there to see Italy win its fourth World Cup on penalty kicks, then made it to the Amazon Room of the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in time to win his first WSOP gold bracelet. He collected $382,389.
"Nothing can beat this. For me, this is incredible," Pescatori said. "I told all my friends that they have to watch for Italy to win the World Cup and then afterward to cheer for me on the Internet to win here at the World Series. This is the greatest day of my life."
When the tournament was down to just three players, the chip leader and 2005 WSOP $1,000 Shootout winner Anthony Reategui had Justin Pechie outchipped 4-1 and Pescatori outchipped 7-1.
Reategui, who was the favorite to win against two first-time WSOP final table participants, had already knocked out three consecutive players and was well on his way to victory.
Pechie was crippled after Pescatori called Pechie's large river bet with only King high, good enough to beat the stone-cold bluff. When Pechie next entered the pot, he did so by going all-in with sixes, only to find that Pescatori had pocket eights. Both men hit their set on the flop, but Pescatori had the better three-of-a-kind and to emphasize his reemergence, he hit quads on the river.
Reategui relinquished the chip lead to Pescatori, but looked as though he might take back the lead when both men went all in on a 10-7-6 flop. Reategui, who held top pair, was relived to see Pescatori had only a gut-shot straight draw with his J8 suited.
Unfortunately for Reategui, Pescatori hit a jack on the river to steal the victory. Much like in Germany several hours earlier, there were plenty of Italian fans in the audience with something to cheer about.
Crowd favorite Mike "The Mouth" Matasow also played at this final table, but remained relatively quiet despite his boisterous and infamous reputation. When asked after the event why he was so subdued, Matasow told WSOP media officials that he wasn't feeling very well during the match. Matusow finished in seventh place.
Normally Crazy Event Dubbed "Tame" in 2006
Typically one of the most exciting events of the recent World Series competitions is the $1,000 No Limit Hold'em Re-buy tournament, a chance for the game's top professionals to square off against players with large bankrolls.
Normally the strategy in these events is to take advantage of the re-buy period and amass as many chips as possible. Often, players bring stacks of re-buy chips with them to the table and continually go all-in until they are comfortable with their chip stacks. If they lose with this strategy, they always have the re-buy option.
In 2004, poker superstar Daniel Negreanu set the re-buy tone with an amazing 23 re-buys. His reasoning on the re-buy option is simple – the person with the most chips after the re-buy is more than likely the favorite to win. With some professionals plopping down $10,000 on a tournament, $1,000 plus a few add-ons is no big deal when a gold bracelet is at stake.
This year, things are tame. There were 752 entrants into the event and only 1670 add-ons and re-buys, well under the normal total. As for Negreanu, he bought into the event several times and accumulated a large stack, but didn't make it out of round two. Neither did Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, who according to live WSOP blogs led the re-buy charge with double-digit-wallet dips.
Here are the final table chip counts. Play begins today (July 10) at 2 p.m. PST.
Tom Franklin - $590,000
Tim Phan - $551,000
Steve Wong - $295,000
John Hoang - $274,000
Allen Cunningham - $233,000
David Rheem - $170,000
Andy Bloch $163,000
Alex Jacob - $106,000
Everett Carlton - $86,000
Women's Event Draws Record Numbers
The success of Oscar nominated actress Jennifer Tilly in the 2005 WSOP Ladies Event may have had something to do with the record number of participant in the 2006 version of the tournament.
In total, 1,128 women entered Event # 14 on Sunday. Last year, the same event drew a then-record 601 players even though it is often considered an afterthought compared to the larger-payout events that allow both men and women.
Tilly, known to mainstream America as an actress, learned to play poker from her boyfriend, Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, a popular and often unpredictable player who has had much success on the World Poker Tour. Her poker success has arguably attracted large numbers of new women to the sport, especially after she became a WPT winner in the 2005 Ladies Invitational Tournament.
Her association with Laak has landed her the nickname the "Unabombshell." Although she competed in this year's event, Tilly was unable to defend her title against the record number of women. She is playing in many more events this year, although to date she has not cashed.
Laurie Scott is the current chip leader with $175,500 chips closely trailed by Sue Luckenbaugh with $173,000 chips.
Play in the Ladies Event begins again today (July 10) with 26 players and will be continued until there is a winner.
Ryan McLane is a gaming industry reporter for Casino City and is assigned to the poker beat. Email your comments and questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org .