Everyone was settled in Friday afternoon for a long evening of poker for the contestants at the World Series of Poker. Plans for the day included the first two final table day in this year's event and in two disciplines that are known for having long playing sessions. While Event #12, the $5,000 Omaha Hi-Lo tournament, still had some work to do to reach its final table, the $1,500 Seven Card Stud tournament (Event #10 on the schedule) was set for action on the center stage in the Amazon Room.
478 players started the event two days previous to Friday and were looking to pull down the $163,118 first place prize and the gold and diamond World Series of Poker bracelet that went with it. The final eight men were all well decorated and tournament tested as they came to the felt in this order:
Seat 1: Triple WSOP bracelet winner "Miami" John Cernuto, 86K
Seat 2: 78 year old World Series veteran Jack Duncan, 106K
Seat 3: Mitchell Lewis, in his third appearance at the WSOP, 43.5K
Seat 4: 2004 Championship Event runner-up David Williams, 142K
Seat 5: Matt Hawrilenko, 32K
Seat 6: Ivan Swertzer, also in his third appearance, with 118.5K
Seat 7: 1987-88 World Champion Johnny Chan, short stacked at 26.5K
Seat 8: Chip leader and tournament veteran John Hoang, 170K
After the excitement the previous evening of Phil Hellmuth's run at a tenth bracelet, there was a similar buzz with Chan looking for the opportunity to take his eleventh. With the shortest stack at the table, however, even "The Orient Express" had his work cut out for him as the event started on Friday afternoon.
There was only one minute left in the level before they were due to rise and only one hand was played. Once they moved the level up to a 1K ante/1K bring-in and 3K/6K betting limits, the action truly started to get rolling. David Williams was very active early and it allowed him to work his way up to challenge Hoang for the chip lead. This was even after doubling up the short stacked Chan when Johnny hit a Jack high straight on Fifth Street to take down a pot between the two combatants.
Williams and John Hoang continued to battle it out for the chip lead until Williams was responsible for sending our first competitor home from the event. He crippled Matt Hawrilenko, putting the Philadelphian on life support with only 2000 in chips. While he folded the next hand, he was all in on the blinds for the following hand against Hoang. While he held the high card with the King, all he had in the hole was a J-10; Hoang had him dominated with hidden Kings underneath his Jack up card. Once the remainder of the streets were dealt out and no help came for him, Hawrilenko was eliminated from the tournament in eighth place.
This started a span of events like haven't been seen at a Seven Card table in some time. Normally a seven card event is a very drawn out affair, with the players mixing it up very little and chips flowing like molasses between the stacks. The players in this year's tournament decided from the start to gamble frequently, however, which led to a very fast paced game with quick knockouts.
After Ivan Swertzer was able to double on Chan, Chan went on a back to back run of double ups to stay alive in the tournament. He wasn't able to make it three in a row against "Miami" John Cernuto though and the dream of an eleventh bracelet went down with Johnny Chan in seventh place.
Cernuto, who has captured three World Series of Poker bracelets in his professional career, was cheered on by his mother and father, who had flown in from Florida the previous day to watch their son compete in the World Series. The senior Cernuto, who is in ill health, wanted to see his son battle for a bracelet one last time so, with friends and family by his side, he watched with pride as his son battled valiantly at the final table. The gratitude was also evident in the eyes of Cernuto as well as he came over on many occasions to talk to his father and make sure all was well.
David Williams was continuing to dominate the field as the table played on. Swertzer couldn't make the double up against Chan work for him and he was eliminated by Williams in sixth place in the tournament. The dream of John Cernuto was ended by the skillful play of Mitchell Ledis, who was rolled up with sevens and all "Miami" John could collect by seventh street was a pair of Jacks, sending him to the rail in fifth place just before the first break of the day.
While Ledis was hanging around with the table, Jack Duncan was attempting to drive to his second WSOP bracelet to add to the one he earned in 2002. He took a huge pot off of Hoang and continued to be a feared competitor at the tables. It was not uncommon when he entered a pot for a raise for the table to respect the 78 year old veteran and fold to his strength. This allowed him to continue to be a force as the levels increased.
With an ante of 1.5K with a 2K bring in and levels of 5K/10K, the four men left at the tables went to battle again. There wasn't any checking down of pots or passive play. The gentlemen continued to press the action tremendously and helped speed along the pace of the play as we entered into our third hour of action.
Ledis couldn't keep up with the pace of the action and was the next final table player to leave the Amazon Room late Friday afternoon. He took the battle to Williams and had a formidable hand with his Kings but it was nowhere near strong enough to overtake Williams' trip sevens. In fact, Ledis didn't even turn his seventh street card up, sending it to the muck in surrender to the 2004 WSOP Championship Event runner-up and taking home the fourth place prize of $45,673 for his short time in the Rio on Friday.
Three way action started with the chip stacks looking like this:
One thing that was apparent as the three men went to action was that the veteran Duncan wasn't just going to let the youngsters take the tournament away from him. He doubled up through Williams not once but virtually twice as he spread the chips around the table more evenly. He couldn't stand up to rolled up Aces from David Williams, however, and his chip stack took a downward turn that eventually led to his elimination from the event in third place by Hoang just before the players took their second break of the tournament. It was still a tremendous performance for the 78 year old, however, and a performance that he could be proud of.
The final table of the normally sedate $1,500 Seven Card Event had eliminated six players in exactly three hours of play! This was an amazing feat, as these final tables in years past have been epic marathons. Our two survivors came to the table to decide who would take home the championship with the chip stacks shaping up as such:
The twosome squared off with the antes at 2K with the bring in also at 2K and the betting levels of 6K/12K. It soon became apparent that the constantly aggressive Williams was not going to let Hoang work his way back into the matchup. They faced off with flushes, with a pot of over 100K sliding to David's Ace high club flush taking the pot over John's Jack high diamond flush. While Hoang was able to bring the two closer together at many points during this level, Williams constantly was chipping Hoang down and making it difficult for Hoang to build any momentum.
By the time the two men had reached the end of the level, the mountainous chip stack that Williams had built up brought the two men to decide to forego the traditional dinner break and complete the event. At this point, Williams had built a twelve to one lead over Hoang (675K to 45K) and it seemed to be only a matter of time until the event was completed. John Hoang thought differently, however.
Hoang doubled up twice to put his stack back over the 100K mark with the antes at 3K, the bring in at 3K and the betting levels of 8K/16K. While he was able to postpone the coronation of Williams (who was being cheered on by Mike Matusow from the Limit tournament and Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi from tableside) as the champion, it was obvious that it was only a matter of time. Hoang drew support from Men "The Master" Nguyen, but it wasn't enough to stave off elimination as he and Williams got the chips to the center after only six hours of play. It only took a baby pair of fours for Williams to claim his prize but it was enough as Hoang's seven cards blanked and Williams captured an elusive World Series of Poker bracelet of his own.
1. David Williams, $163,118
2. John Hoang, $110,920
3. Jack Duncan, $71,772
4. Mitchell Ledis, $45,673
5. "Miami" John Cernuto, $35,886
6. Ivan Swertzer, $29,361
7. Johnny Chan, $22,836
8. Matt Hawrilenko, $16,312
It was a well deserved bracelet for Williams in his third year of trying to take one home. He was the runner-up to Greg Raymer in the 2004 Championship Event and in 2005 only earned one cash during the entirety of the event. As he has also pulled in the championship of the only previous mixed games event on the WSOP Circuit (at Caesars in May of this year), he has to be looked at potentially a favorite for the big $50K H.O.R.S.E. event that takes place next week. For now, though, Williams can be comfortable in the fact that he is finally a World Series of Poker champion.
Ed Note: Stop H.O.R.S.E.ing around, and sign up at Poker Stars today.