The future of televised poker is safe. After the insanity that I witnessed in San Jose, with Danny Nguyen hitting running sevens to rescue himself, and eventually win the tournament, I believe I wrote that the San Jose WPT episode will go down as the best ever. Move over San Jose, here comes the World Poker Tour Season Three Championship.
I'm going to tell you right now, the words I write will not do this program justice. If you are a fan of poker - you should have been here. If you could not be here, watch the episode when it airs. The beats, and the suckouts contained in this article are not fiction, but they should be. To lend a tiny bit of perspective, let me tell you the first fact you should know about the season three championship. The season two championship had virtually the same amount of chips in play, and was resolved in 78 total hands. Tonight's season three championship took 191 hands to decide. The average WPT taping takes 4 hours. This taping tonight was only 10 minutes under double that - 7 hours, 50 minutes.
The emotional rollercoaster the final three players went on over the course of the last four and a half hours of play (yes - four and a half hours of three handed and two handed play) was unlike anything I have ever seen at a poker tournament. Another quick fact for you - the structure sheet (the sheet given players and media outlining the amounts of blinds and antes, and when they go up) went to 80,000/160,000...that's when the tourney should be over, right?? No need to go beyond that. How about going FIVE full levels beyond that. When this tournament was finally resolved, we were playing 400,000/800,000 blinds.
Before I get into the tournament, every man (and some of the women) reading this has to observe a moment of silence. It was announced right before the start of the telecast that this would be Shana Hiatt's final WPT episode - Shana is leaving for greener (televised) pastures, though what those pastures are is TBD. Please observe a moment of silence now.....................................................................Thank You.
OK, now on to the poker, and I must say, I am going to blow thru the first three eliminations, as if I spend any time on them, this story will be 4,000 words long....way too long for those of us who have grown up in the CNN/USA Today culture. To refresh your memory, here were the players who started today, and their chip counts.
Hasan Habib - 7,795, 000 in chips
Rob Hollink - 4,430,000
Phil Ivey - 3,365,000
Paul Maxfield - 2,885,000
Tuan Le - 2,700,000
John Phan - 1,405,000
Let's get right to it....Phil Ivey fought valiantly today, but kept getting people playing back at him, and quite frankly Phil never got anything going. Phil took his last chips into battle with AJ, and ran into (at that time) dominant chip leader Hasan Habib's QQ. The board came king high, and the unexpected happened. I didn't expect to be writing - Phil Ivey, 6th place, $264,195.
Next to go was Rob Hollink. Rob is a terrific Dutch player, who also didn't get a lot going today. Rob had bled some chips off, and had moved over the top of John Phan, and Tuan Le a couple times. The third time was not the charm, however, as Rob moved over the top of John one more time. Rob had KJ, John had pocket jacks, and called right away. No king came, and Rob was our fifth place finisher. Rob Hollink, 5th place, $377,420.
John Phan had made a heck of a go today. At one point John had less than three times the big blind, and managed to make it all the way back into contention four handed, at one point being second to Habib in chips. In fact, four handed, the chip count was...
Hasan - 11.2 million chips
John - 4.95 million
Paul - 3.28 million
Tuan Le - 3.06 million
Sick hand # 1
A few hands after that, John raised it up with KQ, and Paul moved in with AK. John called, and knew he was in trouble when Paul flipped his cards over. Sure enough, the first card off was a Queen on a flop of Q 10 8, and John had the lead in the hand, and had Paul covered in chips. The turn was a blank, and Paul assumed his goose was cooked, but the river was a Jack, giving Paul a straight, and crippling John Phan.
Several hands later, the inevitable happened, and John Phan put all his chips in the pot. John had 8 3, but was making a move from the small blind. Paul had A 5, and called. The flop held not only an Ace, but a five also, and John Phan held out his hand to shake his fellow player's hands. John Phan - 4th place, $518,920.
This is when it really started to get a little odd, and speaking of a little odd...It was hot in the studio, but not crazy hot. Hasan had a small electric fan he kept in front of his face for nearly an hour of play, I'm sure you will see it on TV. Also, Hasan.....put ice packs down his shirt...and I believe his pants as well. I've heard of keeping ones cool at the poker table, but this was a little strange to me.
At this point, the Hasan was still way out in front (and hopefully cool) in chips, and the counts were...
Hasan - 11.4 million
Paul - 8.06 million
Tuan - 3.11 million
For about the next 45 minutes, not a lot was happening, except it seemed Paul was getting the worst of it. For whatever reason, everyone seemed to want a piece of Paul, and Hasan and Tuan seemed to be steering clear of each other. So, Paul was getting ground down (for the first time - stay tuned for more of this), and felt he had to make a stand.
Sick hand # 2
Paul put all his money in with K 10, and ran into Hasan's A J. The flop and turn were no help, but a river King saved Paul's life, and allowed him to remain in the game. At this point, things had evened out a bit and the chips were
Hasan - 9.7 million
Paul - 8.2 million
Tuan - 4.0 million
With Tuan only having about ten big blinds at this point, it was really time to gamble. Tuan moved in with A 8 of spades, and got called by Hasan with pocket sevens. Although this only qualifies as semi sick, suffice it to say that Tuan hit running spades to make his flush, and cripple Hasan, who had gone from having a stranglehold on the tournament, to being the short stack, and close to desperation time.
Several hands later, and after Hasan had folded to one re-raise (expensive at these blinds), Hasan had to put his money in with Q 8 of clubs. Tuan called him with K J, and no clubs, or queen came, and Hasan Habib was left wondering what might have been. Hasan Habib, 3rd place - $896,375.
Now down to heads up, and Tuan had 14.9 million, and Paul had 7.9 million. The heads up battle was great, with nearly every pot being raised, and often re-raised. These were two warriors giving their best, and it was a pleasure to watch. The blinds at this point were 250,000/500,000, and a small misstep would end it for someone.
Sick hand # 3
Tuan eventually got Paul in a weak position first, and got Paul to move in preflop with K 8 offsuit after Tuan had raised. Tuan called with A 4 of diamonds, and the first four cards off were no help to Paul. But once again, the river was a King, and saved Paul again, and we were back to about even in chips. You could see this deflate Tuan, and Paul was equally energized.
Paul again got ground down with some very aggressive play on Tuan's part, and a lack of cards on Paul's part. Paul was down to about 6 million when he moved in with a King on a flop of Q K Q, with two clubs. Tuan called with a flush draw, and missed, and we were back to about even in chips for the second time in heads up play.
This time it was Paul's time to wear Tuan down, and Paul did just that, getting Tuan into a place where moving in was nearly Tuan's only option. With the blinds at 400,000/800,000 and the chip counts roughly 14 million for Paul, 8 million for Tuan the following hand occurred.
Sick hand # 4
Paul raised preflop, and Tuan called. The flop came 3 5 6, and Paul checked. Tuan moved in, and Paul called him in a heartbeat. Paul had flopped two pair, and Tuan had 8 9, and had only a gutshot straight draw to stand on. The turn was a deuce, meaning now a four would split the pot, but only a seven would give Tuan the best hand. The river was, of course, a seven, and Tuan had survived after being sure he was done. Tuan was so sure, in fact, that he actually took his microphone off his shirt after the turn card came off.
The crowd roared, the sound guy had to reattach Tuan's microphone, and we were going to play some more poker. Both players at this point were completely exhausted, and emotionally spent. As mentioned earlier, no amount of words can convey the rollercoaster these guys went on.
Finally...mercifully, it came to an end. Paul had been ground down again, and moved in with K5. Tuan called with K J of diamonds, and a jack came on the flop, leaving Paul dead to running fives. For once tonight, there were no more sick beats to be had, Tuan Le was the season three WPT champ, and everyone could go home to a very sound night's sleep. Paul Maxfield, 2nd place, $1,698,390...Tuan Le, 1st place, $2,856,150 + seat in next years WPT Championship.
You can be sure that next years WPT Championship will take place, because after the high drama we had tonight at Bellagio, the future of televised poker is safe.
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