The day I (and everyone else) had been waiting for since my arrival in Las Vegas 43 days ago was finally here. The excitement was very real in the room. When you walked by one of the players that had made the final table, you got a sense that they knew what was at stake here. Not only were these nine competitors thinking about the 7.5 million dollars, they were also thinking about becoming the next Greg Raymer. For 12 months, one of these players would do Letterman, Leno, and tour the world being the next ambassador of poker.
The final table was fixed firmly in the middle of Benny's Bullpen. For years, Benny's Bullpen was the home to every event of the WSOP, not to mention the home of some of the best cash action, prop bets, and wildest scenes one can imagine. Since the sale of Binions to Harrahs, and the subsequent sale of the Binions property to MTR gaming (Harrahs actually owned the property for only about 15 minutes. They were solely interested in the WSOP tournament, and brand) the Bullpen has been used as a showroom, and is currently housing a comedian's act, which by the way has a two drink minimum.
No drinks at this final table, however as it was all business. The final table participants were.
Aaron Kanter - 10,700,000 in chips
John Tex' Barch - 9,330,000
Andrew Black - 8,140,000
Mike Matusow - 7,410,000
Steve Dannenmann - 5,460,000
Joesph Hachem - 5,420,000
Daniel Bergsdorf - 5,270,000
Scott Lazar - 3,370,000
Brad Kondracki - 1,180,000
There has never been an event in any sport, hobby, or garage sale where there has been this kind of money at stake. The final nine players were battling for the following payouts.
1st Place - $7,500,000
2nd - $4,250,000
3rd - $2,500,000
4th - $2,000,000
5th - 1,750,000
6th - 1,500,000
7th - 1,300,000
8th - 1,150,000
9th - 1,000,000
We had our first all in, well, on the first player to act on the very first hand. Short stack Brad Kondracki moved in on his very first hand. Kondracki got no callers, and we were underway. Things really slowed down on the very next hand, as we had two players all in before the flop. Mike Matusow moved in with Kings, and Scott Lazar called with Aces. A King on the flop sent Matusow into a 'Oh what a feeling, Toyota!' leap, while Lazar nearly fell out of his chair. Lazar did have the Ace of hearts however, and with two hearts on the turn, and the river, Lazar had pulled a runner runner flush out of his hat, and Matusow had lost half his chips on the second hand of the night. Matusow is legendary for his meltdowns, and you kind of expected him to go out in a blaze of glory quickly after that.
Mike seemed to take this double reverse suckout pretty well, and you got the sense that he might have beaten some of his old demons. This thought lasted about 5 hands though, as Mike re-raised Andy Black 2 million of his roughly four million, and then when Andy moved back over the top of Mike all in, Mike took a think, and laid his hand down.
Now down to about 2 million in chips, Mike got involved in a pot that would spell his end. On a flop of 5 3 2, Mike made a good sized bet, only to have Steve Dannenmann move in on him. After a quick think, Mike called with an overpair of pocket tens. Dannenmann sheepishly turned over A J, and we were going to see two more cards. The turn was a four, and Matusow was dead to a split pot. The river was a nine, and the only known player at the 2005 WSOP Main Event Final Table was out in 9th place. Mike Matusow - 9th place - 1,000,000.
Next to go was Brad Kondracki. Brad got into this tournament for $160, and outlasted one competitor despite being the shortest stack by far. After doubling up once, Brad got ground down again, and made a stand with AQ. Andy Black had a bit of a think, but ultimately chose to call with pocket eights. The board was no help to Brad, and he left in 8th place, having parlayed his $160 almost 7,200 fold. Brad Kondracki - 8th place - $1,150,000.
At this point, the players went on dinner break, and the chip counts told us that the one true pro at the table had begun to take control. The chip counts were.
Andy Black - 18,230,000 in chips
Aaron Kanter - 10,680,000
Tex Barch - $10,480,000
Steve Dannenmann - 7,130,000
Scott Lazar - 5,370,000
Daniel Bergsdorf - 2,940,000
Joe Hachem - 2,450,000
On the first hand back from dinner break, we had our next elimination. Tex Barge pushed his pocket tens really hard, so hard that they ran into Daniel Bergsdorf's pocket Jacks. A brutal 10 on the flop made Daniel a candidate for the bad beat of the night (though Matusow can definitely make a case with his getting sucked out on a runner runner flush). The turn, and river were no help, and Daniel was out. This was significant in a different way because it meant that since the dawn of online qualifying, Pokerstars would not have the World Champion qualify through their site. Daniel Bergsdorf - 7th place - 1,300,000.
What rhymes with Bizarre? Lazar. Only four hands after Bergsdorf's elimination, Scott Lazar doubled Joe Hachem when he called Hachem's all in with K 9 of spades. Joe had A Q of spades, and an Ace, and two spades on the flop pretty much sealed Lazar's fate on that hand. On the very next hand, Scott Lazar moved in for about 4 million chips with Q 10, and ran into Andy Black's Jacks in the Big blind. The Jacks held up, and in two hands Studio City, CA's Scott Lazar had gone from 5.3 million in chips, to out the door. Meet me at Priscillas on Riverside Drive, Scott, and tell me all about it. Scott Lazar - 6th place - $1,500,000.
Now down to five, no competitor could do worse than $1,750,000, and the play had gone from tight as a drum before dinner, to lightning fast after dinner. The chip counts down when we got down to five were.
Andy Black - 21,750,000 in chips
Tex Barch - $12,560,000
Aaron Kanter - 10,300,000
Steve Dannenmann - 6,550,000
Joe Hachem - 2,100,000
About an hour went by, and the food coma settled in on the players, and they started playing really slow...Until the following hand came up. Andy Black made it 550k to go, and Aaron Kanter re-raised from the small blind. Black called the re-raise, and the flop came K 5 3. Aaron bet out 1 million, and Andy raised to 3 million. Aaron smooth called the raise, and the turn was a blank. Both players checked the turn, and Aaron bet out on the river when it came a three. Andy Black called the bet, and Aaron flipped over pocket Kings for Kings full. Andy mucked, and Aaron Kaplan had come full circle....back to the chip lead after winning a nearly 15 million pot.
Over the next hour, a full moon must have shone over the final table, as the following hands played them selves out.
- Steve Dannenmann moved in with A 6 into a board of 5 6 9. After a long think, Andy Black called with 10 9, the best hand. An ace on the river felled Andy, and Steve's move in made him the chip leader.
- On the next hand, Andy moved in with A 8, to get called by Aaron with pocket fours. An Ace, and an eight doubled Andy back up.
- Several hands later, Tex Barch, and Aaron Kanter played a 22.3 million dollar pot. With a board of K 10 7, two spades, raises, and re-raises flew back and forth across the table until Aaron moved in with K 5. Tex took a long time, but called with K 7 for two pair. This clipped Aaron down to only about 3.5 million.
After an incredible shifting of chips all over the table, and a three and a half hour five handed adventure where I believe four of the five contestants had the chip lead at one time or another, we finally lost a player, and got down to four handed. Andy Black, and Steve Dannenmann played a coin flip for all of Andy's stack (about 8.5 million). Andy had two tens, and Steve had A K. the flop was an innocent 8 5 3, but the turn was a King, and the stomachs of Andy's 20 strong Irish contingent all turned at once. Andy Black - 5th place - $1,750,000.
It was yet again nearly another three hours before we lost another player. A funny thing happened during this period - Joe Hachem finally put on his run. Joe had been short, and surviving most of the day, but once the clock hit midnite, he began to rally, and put together a nice little rush, and place himself firmly in contention.
The person it took three more hours to eliminate was Aaron Kanter. Aaron had already doubled up about an hour ago, on a three outer nonetheless. Aaron's time had to come, and it came swiftly. A couple times during the evening, Aaron had his hand caught in the cookie jar, only to escape with some fancy card catching. Aaron's run of luck ran out when he ran into Tex Barge's pocket Jacks. Aaron moved in with A 9, and Tex's Jacks held up, and won him a big pot, and a big elimination, as he was now guaranteed $500,000 more by eliminating Kanter. Aaron Kanter - 4th place - $2,000,000
Now down to three, the chip counts were.
Joe - $23.2 million
Tex - $16.66 million
Steve - $16.42 million
After another couple hours of play, I wandered out into the casino, and saw the sun had come up. During this couple of hours, Tex had gotten ground down, and he had to go. Tex moved in for his last five million, and got called by BOTH Joe, and Steve. The board came Q 10 8 5 4, and was checked down the whole way by both the live players. When the time came to showdown, Joe showed pocket Jacks, and Steve showed pocket sevens. We'll have to wait for the airing to see what Tex went broke on, as he mucked his hand, and went off into the sunrise $2.5 million richer. John 'Tex' Barch - 3rd place - $2,500,000.
Now down to heads up, Joe had come all the way back from survival mode early on in the day to the two to one chip lead. It is interesting to note that these two guys were the shortest stacks with five handed play began, which at this point was over eight hours of play ago.
Joe Hachem - 39,990,000 in chips
Steve Dannenmann - 16,380,000
Only several hands into heads up, the following hand ended it all. Finally, mercifully at 6:45 am, it came to an end. On a flop of 4 5 6, Joe Hachem bet out 750,000, and was raised by Steve to 3 million. Joe went all in, and Steve called. Joesph showed 3 7 for a flopped straight, and Steve Dannenmann showed A 3 for top pair, and an open ended straight draw. Steve could only draw to a tie, but the board blanked out, and we have a new World Champion. Get used to the name Joeseph Hachem....You'll be hearing it a lot.
Champion Joesph Hachem - $7,500,000
2nd place - Steve Dannenmann - $4,250,000
Interestingly enough, both of these players were part of the less than 10% of entrants who actually bought in direct, and paid $10,000 to enter the $10,000 event....Now there is a novel concept.