It was only right, after the forty five days of play that constituted this year's World Series of Poker, that it took the longest final table in the history of the game to crown a World Champion in the Main Event early Saturday morning. In what was nearly a fifteen hour final table, the poker world awarded its largest accolades, as well as the largest payday ($7.5 million) in history, to Australia's Joseph Hachem. Congratulations to him, as well as all the combatants at this tremendous final table for the Main Event!
There were many great moments of this year's World Series that will go down in the annals of the game. With the move to the Amazon Room at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino, over 29,000 players stepped to the felt to compete for over $103 million in prizes that were awarded over the six week period. To put that in perspective, it took the previous thirty five years for the total prize pool in the World series to crack the $300 million in prize money level; in this one year alone, one third of that was handed out to the players. It leaves one to wonder what 2006 is going to bring!
Along with the money in the room, there were other fantastic performances that deserve to have mention:
1. Brunson and Chan - And Then There Were Two
When this year's World Series began, three men were tied at the top of the World Series bracelet list. Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth, all legends in their own right, had nine each and, conventional wisdom as the event started, the thought was that it would be very difficult that they would change.
The first player to shake the standings was Johnny Chan. Early on the morning of June 27th, Chan came down to the final two in the $2,500 Pot Limit Hold 'Em event with Phil "The Unabomber" Laak. In what was one of the fastest heads up showdowns of the tournament, Chan was able to vanquish Laak in seventeen hands to capture his tenth bracelet.
Not to be outdone, Doyle Brunson then replied. Four short days later, Brunson overcame a demanding final table in the $5,000 No Limit Short Handed (6/Table) Event to take his tenth bracelet as well. Along the way, the legendary Brunson was able to outlast two former fellow World Champions (Scotty Nguyen and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson) as well as Layne Flack, Men "The Master" Nguyen and Minh Ly.
Phil Hellmuth, alas, was unable to reply to either of them. While cashing in several events, Hellmuth was able to make only one final table and was eliminated in eighth place in that event. At least for now, Hellmuth has to look up to the leaders in the "Bracelet Race", Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan!
2. The Professionals Are Back! (Like They Ever Left...)
With the sheer numbers that descended on the Rio in Las Vegas, it was a common thought among most that it would be difficult for the professionals to take any bracelets. With the assortment of Internet qualifiers, the people drawn to the "new" game of poker, and people with money to burn, it was assumed that the professional players would have just as difficult a time with them as in the last couple of years.
The exact opposite proved to be true. In the very first event, professional Allen Cunningham was able to defeat all comers in what, at that point, was the second largest poker tournament of all time. Out of the 2,303 players that stepped to the felt in the first event, Cunningham captured the bracelet, but he wasn't the only one making the statement that the professionals were there and ready to play; also at that final table were other professionals such as defending champion of the event Scott Fischman, David "DevilFish" Ulliot, Can Kim Hua and An Tran.
It was a theme that tended to repeat at nearly every final table that was played. While there were first timers and Internet players that made the final tables, there were also anywhere from three to five solid, if not readily recognizable, professionals that were there as well. It made for simply excellent poker in every event played.
If you don't think the professionals came back this year, take a look at the list of some of the bracelet winners: Cunningham, Michael Gracz, Erik Seidel, Reza Payvar, Josh Arieh, T. J. Cloutier, Mark Seif (twice, but we'll get to that in a moment), Barry Greenstein, Doyle and Todd Brunson (patience...), Farzad Bonyadi, Johnny Chan, Phil Ivey, and David Chiu. It does have to show to those who might claim that poker is all luck that, while luck doesn't hurt, there is a distinct skill level to the game.
3. Mark Seif - Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun
Mark Seif is one of the professionals that has seemingly lingered in the shadows of the poker world. While an excellent player (and a great gentleman of the game as well), it has always seemed that he never captured the same recognition factor that other better known professionals had. That all changed at this year's event!
On June 17th in Event #15, the $1,500 Limit Hold 'Em Shootout, Seif was able to make his way through the final table to pick up his first World Series bracelet. Exactly one week later, Seif made his way back to the final table again to make it a pair of bracelets by taking the championship in the $1,500 No Limit Hold 'Em event.
Mark's feat was astounding in that not only did he become one of very few players who have ever taken double bracelets in a single year of the World Series, but also he became a member of another very short list of people who have won two tournaments in the span of one week! All in all, it was a masterful performance by Mark Seif and now he can no longer "sneak up" on his competition!
4. Doyle and Todd Brunson - Father and Son Bracelet Winners
There have been other "family" moments at the World Series. Dr. Max and Maria Stern have captured bracelets as the first married bracelet winners at the World Series. Howard Lederer and Annie Duke are the first siblings to each own the coveted gold bracelet as well. One thing there has never been was a father and son bracelet holding.
Leave it to Doyle and Todd Brunson to rectify that situation. On June 23rd, Todd Brunson solidified his reputation in poker when he methodically decimated the field in the $2,500 Omaha Hold 'Em Hi/Lo Event. While long known for his cash game skills, Todd had not concentrated on the tournament game. With the victory, he etched his name alongside his father as the first father/son champions at the World Series, as was noticed by Doyle Brunson, stepping away from the tournament he was competing in to tilt his Stetson to his son and new champion at the end of the Omaha event. A week later, as mentioned before, Doyle made it even more special when he took his tenth bracelet, setting the bar pretty high as the first father/son bracelet winners in the same year at the World Series of Poker!
With that said, in nearly happened twice this year. Barry Greenstein was a bracelet winner and his son, Joe Sebok, made two final tables in his drive to capture his first. Wouldn't it have been sweet to see a DOUBLE father/son bracelet winners in the same year!
Kudos must also be handed out to the Harrah's staff. Tournament Directors Johnny Grooms, Jack Effel and all of the card room personnel handled the event with the utmost of professionalism, whether it was a major final table or a $1/$2 game going on in the furthest reaches of the Amazon Room. It was an excellent performance by the entirety of the team, to say the least, and they should be applauded for their efforts.
Another "tip of the hat" must go to Nolan Dalla, the Media Director of the World Series. Nolan was faced with the arduous task of making sure all reports were out to the respective media, obtaining the information on players, putting out various fires when they flared and generally making sure all the media staff was taken care of. He did this excellently and always in his genial and friendly manner. It is with great hope that Nolan stays with the World Series; it would be a grave error if he wasn't the man in charge of the Media Room!
One thing as we look towards 2006 is where CAN the World Series be held next year? While the Harrah's staff was prepared for a 6,600 player Main Event (it came up short at 5,661 or so), if there is an exponential increase in next year's event (another doubling, as this year's was), where will TEN THOUSAND players be seated? Additionally, at several points in the six week run of the World Series, there were sometimes as many as four events going on at the same time, not counting the various ring games and satellites that were also occurring. This made for some tough travels for all, including Harrah's staff, players, media and fans. As our sport continues its meteoric growth, is there any venue that can hold it all? Maybe the Superdome is available, but it would be wrong to contest the World Series of Poker outside of Las Vegas!
With these things all said, we must also say goodbye to the birthplace of the World Series, Binion's. When the final card hit the table at 6:44 on Saturday morning, July 15th, we crowned another World Champion in Australia's Joseph Hachem and bade farewell to the legendary home of the Series. It aches in the heart that the Series will, most likely, never return to the history of the game as it was born there on Fremont Street in Las Vegas. It also wells in the pit of your being that we have to wait another three hundred days or so for the 2006 World Series of Poker to begin!
Ed Note: Lots of new players playing at London Poker Club Join the club today.