It was with a bit of melancholy that I stepped into the ESPN final table arena on Sunday for Event #31 on the World Series schedule, the $2000 No Limit Hold 'Em event. I had started this tournament on Friday with 2049 of my fellow competitors and beat half the field. Problem was there was still another half that were left when I went out.
Along with this final table there was plenty of action around the Amazon Room on Sunday. The Razz event (being watched by my colleague Stephen Noh) was going to play to a champion as well on Sunday and the $5000 Pot Limit Hold 'Em event was in full swing also. Much of the attention was on Event #31, however, as ESPN had the cameras in place for one of the events that you will see during their broadcast of the World Series. The final table was filled with quality players, most of who have been great successes at the preliminary events but were looking to make their first significant mark in the tournament world. The final table shaped up like this:
Seat 1: Professional player Carl Olson, 301K
Seat 2: Tennessee's Nathan Templeton, 832K
Seat 3: Making his second 2006 WSOP final table, Bob Bright, 324K
Seat 4: Jason Johnson, 174K
Seat 5: Professional Farzad "Freddy" Rouhani, short stacked at 133K
Seat 6: Greg Glass, 267K
Seat 7: Online player (and his first WSOP cash) Josh Wakeman, 319K
Seat 8: Massive chip leader Justin Scott, 1.5M in chips
Seat 9: The entertaining Bryan Micon, 224K
Starting the tournament at 3PM was none other than the 2004 World Champion Greg Raymer, as he served as the Grand Marshall for today's final table. He issued the call to "shuffle up and deal" and many in the crowd wondered if Scott could maintain his mountainous chip stack. He had his closest competitor by almost a two to one edge and was a five to one leader over everyone else. With over forty eight minutes left with the blinds at 10K/20K and 3K antes, however, it would be awhile before the action would truly get started.
One of the phrases that became almost commonplace in the early going was "So-and-so doubles up to stay in the game". On Hand 4, one of the most impressive maneuvers of staying in the event took place when Freddy Rouhani, looking to get back in the game, was facing a raise from Nathan Templeton and an all in reraise from Jason Johnson. In what would become a template for his future actions, Rouhani spent many agonizing minutes over his decision before deciding to push the last of his chips in the center. Templeton called as well and the three players turned up their cards: pocket nines for Freddy, pocket Kings for Jason and a simple Qs-10s for Nathan. The flop was innocent with 6-8-6, then lightning struck for Rouhani when a nine came on the turn. Once the commotion died down, the dealer gave the river card of the case nine, making quads for Rouhani and tripling him up (with Johnson taking the side pot from Templeton).
Another heartbreaking hand came up on Hand 10, when the monster chip stack of Justin Scott raised to 75K. Bryan Micon, who seemed to be having the most fun at the final table, first stood up and pulled an LED wand out of his pocket. He waved it quickly through the air and the word "DONKEY" appeared for the ESPN audience. The gathering broke out in laughter as he theatrically motioned he was all in. It folded around to an amused but serious Scott, who called. Micon had been lying with the "DONKEY" wand; he turned up a solid pocket Kings to Scott's A-K and the two went to war. The flop ended any drama when an Ace hit, then added a second on the river to give Scott trips to take the hand. The entertaining Bryan Micon was out of the tournament in ninth place, but guaranteed you'll see his elimination when it comes to television time!
Once the levels were raised to 12K/24K with a 4K ante, the double ups came more frequently. Bob Bright, making his second appearance at a World Series final table for this year, doubled through Carl Olson, then Rouhani pulled the triple up again to pump up his stack and doubled up again five hands later. It wasn't until Hand 32 that our next elimination would take place.
Jason Johnson raised the pot to 75K and, as he had on many occasions, Justin Scott used the power of his chip stack to make a huge raise to one million. This easily had Johnson covered and, possibly because of the size of the reraise, read that Scott was on a steal attempt and called. There was no steal attempt being made as Scott displayed A-K once again and Johnson could only manage A-Q. The board went even further against Johnson when it came up all hearts, J-9-2, and Scott held the Ace of hearts. Once the turn and river brought no Queen for him, Jason Johnson was eliminated in eighth place.
Another blind increase came (to 15K/30K and 5K antes) came and another player found his way to the door of the Rio. In a battle of the blinds, Greg Glass pushed all in from the small blind and was greeted by a call from Josh Wakeman in the big blind. Wakeman had caught Glass in a steal attempt and had him dominated with A-J to the Qd-7d of Glass. The flop in poker, however, sometimes seems to ignore these preflop odds and came down Q-Qc-8c. Another club on the turn (the three) gave some light to Wakeman, as he had the Jack of clubs, but that light was snuffed when an insignificant deuce came on the river, ending the night for Josh Wakeman in seventh place.
Through the entire afternoon and early evening, Justin Scott seemed to have command of the table with his dominating chip stack. He didn't mix it up much but, when he did, the other players normally cleared out of his way quickly. He never even looked as if he was under any pressure (and you normally don't when you have the lead he did) but maintained his dominance of the table as the final table worked along.
The players went to dinner after this level and, once they came back to the table with the levels at 20K/40K with a 5K ante, it was obvious that some players had to make their moves now. On the very first hand back from dinner, Justin Scott put 120K into the pot from the button and Carl Olson called. After a flop of A-8-3, Olson pulled the stop and go move and went all in. Scott eagerly called and turned up A-7, which had the pocket sixes of Olson covered. Once the board blanked out, Carl Olson was done for the night in sixth place.
Only fourteen hands later (Hand 83), Justin Scott continued to wreak havoc on the table and ended the fortunes of another player. Nathan Templeton moved in from under the gun with his stack and, from the small blind, Scott made the call. Justin only held a baby pair of deuces but it had the lead against the Qc-10 of Nathan. The flop and river were nerve wracking for the two men in the hand and Templeton's girlfriend, who sweated him throughout the event, as it came 7-7c-Kc-Jc. Once the non-club six fell on the river though, Templeton was eliminated in fifth place.
If the play of the event seems almost glacial, it was. Upon Nathan Templeton's elimination, we had played for almost six hours and seen less than fourteen hands per hour. Much of this could be due to the deliberate play of several of the final table combatants but, in all fairness, there was an $842K+ payday for the first place winner. Still, there were some in the audience who wondered what would finish first, this event or the traditionally slow final table of the Razz event (taking place at the same time).
Action picked up with the short table, however, and on Hand 91 another place was determined in the standings. Greg Glass had battled valiantly to hang in the fight, but the mass of chips that Justin Scott held just was too much. After Glass limped in from the small blind, Scott fired a 250K bet into the pot and Glass decided to make a stand. Right idea, wrong moment; Scott once again held Big Slick and Glass could only muster up a K-10 to go to war. A King on the flop basically sealed the deal and, once the turn and river brought no ten, Glass left the Amazon Room in fourth place.
It took another sixteen hands for our third place finisher to be determined and it was quite dramatic in its turn of events. Justin Scott once again applied the pressure with a 200K raise from the button and the steady, solid Bob Bright moved all in for 80K more. Rouhani, knowing his only hope of having a chance of winning was to take THIS pot, called Bright's bet and, after deliberating temporarily, Scott called. Scott and Rouhani checked down a board of 5-J-9-9-8 and Bright turned up an A-6. Rouhani had him covered with an Ace-Queen to take the lead, but Scott stole the entire pot as his pocket threes gave him two pair and ushered the veteran Bright from the tournament in third place as the final two players went on break.
To detail the dominance that Scott had on this final table, the chip stacks looked like this as the blinds went up to 25K/50K with a 5K ante:
The two gentlemen were quite methodical over the first few hands back from break, however. Scott didn't make any moves for the first few hands, commenting once as he mucked his cards, "I'm running really badly right now." "I feel for you," deadpanned Rouhani back to him. While the mood was light, the body motions of the players told you all you needed to know: the upright, relaxed Scott, releasing an occasional smile versus the hunched over, cigarette chomping Rouhani, looking for a way to make a tournament out of it.
After seventeen hands, the outcome was finally determined. Rouhani, with his chip stack depleting, was finally forced to go all in from the button. Scott made the obligatory pot odds call and turned up Q-6. Rouhani saw a chance with his pocket eights but the flop took almost all chances away. The Q-6-A flop put a stranglehold on the hand for Scott (as he had carried for the entire final table) and, once the turn and river blanked, Rouhani was out in second and Justin Scott had captured the gold and diamond World Series of Poker bracelet.
1. Justin Scott, $842,262
2. Farzad "Freddy" Rouhani, $429,065
3. Bob Bright, $261,170
4. Greg Glass, $186,550
5. Nathan Templeton, $149,240
6. Carl Olson, $130,585
7. Josh Wakeman, $111,930
8. Jason Johnson, $93,275
9. Bryan Micon, $74,620
As Scott gathered with his friends and family to toast his victory with champagne, Rouhani was congratulated for his performance by his friend Amir Vahedi. All in all, it was a great kickoff to what should be a tense, action packed week before the Championship Event begins Friday at the World Series of Poker.
Ed Note: WPT host Mike Sexton proudly endorses Party Poker ...Can the Ambassador of Poker be wrong?