After battling their way through the second largest field in the history of live tournament poker, the nine men who met on Thursday afternoon for the first open bracelet event of the 2006 World Series of Poker were all well worthy of their time in the sunshine. Chips stacks were fairly well spread out and there was an excellent mix of both the "old school", amateurs and newcomers gracing the felt to determine who would walk away with the $757,839 first place prize and, perhaps more importantly, the gold and diamond WSOP bracelet.
The blinds started at 8K/16K with a 2K ante and the field shaped up as such:
Seat 1: Lee Padilla, 753K in chips
Seat 2: Cash game player Phong "Mark" Ly, 516K
Seat 3: Mark Swartz, 359K and his first WSOP cash
Seat 4: WSOP First Timer Brent Roberts, short stacked with 260K
Seat 5: 2001 WSOP World Champion Juan Carlos Mortensen, 337K
Seat 6: Chip Leader Brandon Cantu, 773K
Seat 7: 1997 WSOP Championship Event final tablist Ron Stanley, 283K
Seat 8: Psychologist Dr. Drew Rubin, 573K
Seat 9: Las Vegas poker veteran Don Zewin, 337K
The early going was almost like a heavyweight prizefight, where the combatants square off, jab and feint to see what their opponents will do. There was quite a bit of this as the table worked off the remaining 54 minutes from the level. After the break and a raise in the stakes to 10K/20K with a 3K ante, the real action began to develop and one of the first victims was completely unexpected.
Carlos Mortensen entered day two of this event with the chip lead and built it up at one point to a nearly two to one margin over his closest opponent. When they reached the final table on Wednesday evening, however, it took two all in double ups to get him to his precarious position for this battle. It seemed that the fortunes decided it wasn't to be the night that "El Matador" earned the third bracelet of his career.
On Hand 27, Mortensen called the all in of Don Zewin and went to the races with his A-Q against the pocket tens of Zewin. The board was dry for the Spaniard as he doubled up the Las Vegas poker veteran. Only four hands later, Mortensen was racing again with the AQ, only this time against the pocket Jacks of Drew Rubin. Another failed race left the former World Champion on life support and, on the very next hand, he attempted to take the other end of the race against Mark Ly. Mortensen's pocket fours were racing Mark's purely pot odds call of Q-9 and a Queen on the river ended the evening for the charming Spaniard in ninth place.
This type of aggression was a hallmark of the tournament from start to finish. There was rarely a hand that didn't go without at least a raise and sometimes raising wars broke out before any settlement of the score. Because the players were close in chips, the chip lead swung between pretty much every player at the table at one time or another during final table play.
Mark Swartz was one of those players who moved up and down the ladder and on Hand 53 he swung the chip lead to Drew Rubin when the two hooked up in a million dollar pot. He hung on for another fifteen hands before he met one of the most aggressive players in the tournament (and that's saying quite a bit) in Brandon Cantu. Cantu and Swartz squared off for a race with Cantu's pocket tens leading Swartz' K-J. Once the board brought no paint for World Series newcomer, Mark was dismissed in eighth place for an $88,668 payday.
Cantu, from Vancouver, WA, is a recent signee onto Team Absolute Poker and demonstrated that he has learned quite a bit from their two leaders, Mark Seif and Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi. "He really is a powerful player," Seif said to me during one of the breaks. "He reminds me of me, to be honest! But he's a great young player and we're real proud to include him on the team."
Cantu seized a commanding lead after the elimination of Swartz, but there was much more work ahead. In one of the most exciting hands of the match on Hand 71, World Series veteran Ron Stanley moved his short stack all in, only to be met by Don Zewin on the button hitting him with an all in over the top. In most cases, everyone would clear the way after this but Lee Padilla saw an opportunity to eliminate two very worthy and dangerous opponents in one swing. Padilla (with As-Js) had the edge on Stanley (Ac-9c), but both were way behind the pocket eights of Zewin. It seemed to be destined that it was Padilla's hand to take as the flop brought two spades, the turn a Jack and the river a blank, bringing the first double elimination at the final table in 2006. Stanley left the Rio with seventh place and Zewin was left with six and wont for wonder what would be if Padilla had stayed out of the hand.
"I never could get a hand all night," said Stanley, the man who battled Stu Ungar in 1997 before succumbing to the legend for his third (and final) title. "When I did get in position to be able to make some moves, the aggression of the table took that move out of my hands. Overall, though, I never had the stack and just had to do the best I could."
The powerful play continued with the five players left at the tables. The chips flowed between them before and after the dinner break. For the most part, Cantu was the instigator of many of the attacks, but there were points where the other players were battling just as aggressively. On Hand 93, Lee Padilla raised from the cutoff only to have Brent Roberts (who, at the age of 21 years, three weeks was attempting to become the youngest ever WSOP bracelet winner) move all in over him. When Cantu called, Padilla got out of the way and the race was on again for Cantu's A-Q against the pocket sevens of Roberts. There would be no new record holder for youngest bracelet winner; a flopped Queen immediately gave the edge to Cantu and, after all was said and done, Brent Roberts went home in fifth place.
Four handed play featured the revival of Mark Ly. Down to barely over 300K in chips at one point, he was able to double through chip leader Cantu when he hit quad Queens, then continued to step on the gas and move up the ladder. This allowed Ly to eliminate Padilla on Hand 114 when, in moves befitting the aggression of the table, Ly's Ace-10 was able to defeat Padilla's A-3 and send Padilla home for the night in fourth place.
With play three handed, there was a strategy definitely apparent as the stacks looked like this:
Cantu 1.840 M
Ly 1.725 M
It became obvious that the large stacks wanted to wait out and eliminate the good Doctor and get to action heads up, but the psychologist wasn't willing to go into that good night. He went all in on one occasion and powered over raises from his opponents to attempt to climb back in the game. While he was doing that, Mark Ly was falling back to him as, on Hand 127, he hooked into a raising war with Cantu on a board of 10-5-A. Ly bet 300K, only to have the Absolute Poker member fire back over him with a 500K raise which Ly responded to by surprisingly folding his hand.
"I had A-Q on that one," Ly said to me during the break that came after that. "I was sitting there and I saw that the eight seat (Rubin) just wanted me to move in on it. I put him on two pair quite honestly and I figured that I still had chips if I lay down and more chips than the eight seat still so, after fighting that long, I wanted to at least get it heads up between me and him (Cantu)."
With the blinds raised to 20K/40K with a 5K ante, the stakes finally caught up with Dr. Drew. He had weathered several raises from Cantu during the short handed play and, after another raise from Brandon on Hand 136, Drew fired 200K into the pot. Cantu responded all in and Rubin chose the wrong moment to call as Cantu's pocket eights had his A-6 dominated. When the board blanked out on him, the psychologist from Hollywood, FL left the Amazon Room in third place.
Heads up, Cantu held a small lead over Ly (2.4 million to 1.7 million) but over the next twelve hands the two fierce combatants moved closer and closer together. On Hand 150, Cantu continued his attack with a raise to 140K which was called by Ly. The flop came Jc-Ac-6d and, after a check from Mark, Brandon blasted another 200K at the pot which was called by Mark. A seven of diamonds put two potential flush draws on the board and once again Ly checked. Cantu upped the stakes to 450K, bringing an all in response from Ly. Cantu called and had read his opponent correctly: his Big Slick dominated Ly's surprising hand of Jh-4h (second pair, no kicker). When the board brought no relief for Ly, it was up to the tournament staff to count the chips to see what would happen.
Brandon Cantu hid his face as the chip counting was done twice by the Harrah's staff. He looked to his friends in the stands as they shouted their encouragement. When the count was announced, we would get a test of one of the eternal poker proverbs "a chip and a chair"; Ly had exactly one 10,000 chip remaining.
A "Treetop" Strauss comeback was not to be however. Ly did double up on the next hand but was eliminated in second place on the hand following that. It was the crowning of a new champion in Brandon Cantu at the World Series of Poker and perhaps an "Absolute" star has been born!
1. Brandon Cantu, $757,839
2. Phong "Mark" Ly, $416,816
3. Dr. Drew Rubin, $226,597
4. Lee Padilla, $176,579
5. Brent Roberts, $151,507
6. Don Zewin, 126,940
7. Ron Stanley, $107,614
8. Mark Swartz, $88,668
9. Juan Carlos Mortensen, $71, 617
Friday marks the second $1,500 event of the early going at this year's World Series with the Pot Limit Hold 'Em tournament coming to the felt. It should be another excellent display of poker as the game requires the ability to play after the flop because of its pot restrictions. The 2PM start will allow the players to have rested well before another exciting day at the 2006 World Series of Poker.
Ed Note: We have a Team PokerNews WSOP seat still up for grabs at Pacific Poker