Thursday afternoon brought the crowds to the Amazon Room in the Rio for what turned out to be one of the more star studded final tables that you will see in Event #9, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold 'Em. Unfortunately, it isn't an event that ESPN had chosen to tape for broadcast when their 2006 coverage takes place in the fall. That's very unfortunate because it almost resulted in history being made and, as it was, it was a pretty damn good poker tournament itself.
The players came to the felt at 2PM on Thursday to decide the champion of the first "big dollar" event in this year's World Series. As the players took their chairs, imagine if you looked up and saw the following faces staring at you:
Seat 1: Pro poker player Vinnie Vinh, the chip leader at 784K
Seat 2: Popular female pro Isabelle "No Mercy" Mercier, 301K
Seat 3: Veteran tournament pro Eugene Todd, 240K
Seat 4: "The Flying Dutchman" Marcel Luske, 458K
Seat 5: First time tournament player Jeff Cabanillas, 275K
Seat 6: Tournament professional Douglas Carli, 273K
Seat 7: Dan Smith, short stacked at 117K
Seat 8: Thomas Schreiber, 200K
Seat 9: 1989 World Champion Phil Hellmuth, 461K
As you can tell, there was a wealth of professional talent who made their way through the 622 player field to get to this point and the stands surrounding the final table were packed with people there to potentially see history in the making. Hellmuth, as most know, was looking for his record tying tenth World Series bracelet but he would have a tremendous task ahead of him with the talent around the tables.
The tournament started with twenty two minutes to go with the blinds at 8K/16K with a 2K ante and there was obvious signs that Dan Smith, our short stacked player, was going to have to double up to stick around. While he moved in on Hand 2, he got no action. It was another player, first time tournament poker player Jeff Cabanillas, who got the first early key double up when he moved in with his K-10 against Phil Hellmuth's A-Q and proceeded to flop a King. It wasn't to be the last time that phrase would echo through the stands during this event and between those two men.
After the blinds were raised to 10K/20K with a 3K ante, the first major change to the leader board occurred. Marcel Luske and Vinnie Vinh went to war after Vinh raised the pot to 61K, Luske moved all in over the top and Vinh called the Dutchman down. Luske had the best of this hand with his Big Slick against Vinh's A-J and, after the board came up completely blank, Vinh's chip lead now switched to the hands of the ever popular Luske.
There were many other double ups as the level moved along, but there was only one elimination. Dan Smith had come to the final table with the short stack and was never able to get anyone to assist him in the double up parade. Instead, once he was all in against the blinds of Hellmuth and Vinh, he only found his way out of the tournament. After the two veteran pros checked down a board of 7-5-2-7-A and Hellmuth turned up his K-10, both Vinh and Smith mucked their cards and Smith was gone from the tournament in ninth place.
One thing apparent from the early action was that Vinnie Vinh was not going to be pushed around by anyone at the table. He had possibly made a loose call against Marcel when he lost his chip lead and was soon to lose his seat when he stood up to a hefty raise from Phil Hellmuth. Hellmuth turned up an A-10 off suit and Vinh once again possibly made a bad move with his K-Q of diamonds. Phil caught an Ace on the flop but Vinnie caught two diamonds to give a glimmer of hope. The board blanked out and the Houston, TX resident was knocked off the final table in the eighth place position.
The win over Vinh gave the 1989 World Champion ammunition as he moved past Luske to take over the chip lead. Another player that was making some nice moves up the board was Jeff Cabanillas. The first time tournament player, who plays in the ring games at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, CA, was taking a page out of the "Kill Phil" playbook and moving all in preflop, preferring to play the assorted professionals at the table then rather than get into decisions post flop. He did this to tournament veteran Douglas Carli, who decided to look up the young poker player with a J-9. Cabanillas had the hand to take on Carli with a Q-8 and, with an unnecessary Queen on the river, Cabanillas had eliminated Carli from the tournament in seventh place as the table took a break.
Hellmuth continued to be the table captain as the blinds moved up to 12K/24K with a 4K ante and the field attempted to catch the nine time bracelet winner and prevent him from getting a tenth. Luske was content to sit back and let the others at the table battle it out and there was plenty of action between the competitors (but it also led to his stack slowly shrinking as the event continued). Cabanillas and Schreiber hooked into battle with a classic race situation of Tom's pocket sevens against the A-K of Jeff. With a flop of Q-10-4 rainbow, Schreiber couldn't feel too comfortable with so many outs available to Cabanillas. After a blank on the turn, Schreiber's tournament was ended once the unfortunate Jack came on the river, giving Cabanillas a straight and giving the sixth place check of $146,170 to the unlucky Tom Schreiber.
The table lost some of its looks when Isabelle Mercier was eliminated from the tournament in fifth place. After Hellmuth took a rather sizeable pot off her, there was a discussion about the displaying of the hands which seemed to rattle the French Canadian. She never seemed to get her head back into the game and moved all in for her last 130K in chips from the cutoff position two hands later. Cabanillas debated for a bit before deciding to call her with his pocket eights. Mercier surprisingly turned up a complete steal attempt of K-3. After the board failed to bring a King for her rescue, Mercier took home the fifth place prize for her night's work at the World Series.
Down to four players after the dinner break, the field shaped up like this:
With the blinds rising yet again to 15K/30K and a 5K ante, it was obvious that the field was going to have to get something going to attempt to catch Hellmuth. Marcel Luske made the attempt when he fired every chip he had but two into the pot and Hellmuth wouldn't go away. Hellmuth bet the remaining amount in the dark to put Marcel all in and, after the flop came 7-7-4, Luske called and showed a Q-J. Hellmuth had a hammerlock on the hand with his K-10 and, after the turn and river had nothing for him, "The Flying Dutchman" was flying out of the Rio in fourth place.
Cabanillas was able to take a chunk of chips from the "Poker Brat" (his UltimateBet hockey jersey even has that name on the back) in a highly skillful and aggressive play. On a Q-J-9-7-6 rainbow board, Jeff announced all in and sent Hellmuth into the think tank. Phil rebuilt the hand methodically before finally mucking it and, once the young player from California turned up a stone bluff with the A-K, sent his supporters (which included his mother and father) into a roar of hysteria and had Phil kicking his chair back from the table in disgust.
The hand pulled Cabanillas closer to Hellmuth on top of the leader board but Eugene Todd couldn't keep pace with the twosome. After Todd made a raise to 120K, Cabanillas smooth called from the big blind. They checked a 6-4-2 rainbow flop but, when an eight came on the turn, Todd check raised the 90K bet from Cabanillas by going all in. Once again, the young Commerce Casino player took some time to deliberate before calling and turning up pocket tens. Todd had only the K-8 and, once the river was dry for him, left the tournament in third place for the night.
Down to two players, we truly had what was shaping up to be a "David vs. Goliath" battle for the ages at the World Series:
In the beginning, Jeff attempted to play post flop poker with Hellmuth with unkind effects to his chip stack. Hellmuth chopped away at the lead that Cabanillas held and eventually was able to capture the chip lead. The poker legend couldn't deliver the knockout blow, however, as six times the two got the chips into the center and Cabanillas was able to survive through drawing out on Hellmuth. The chip lead itself went back and forth several times during their epic three hour, 120 hand battle and, over the time period, the budding poker player was able to work himself back into command of the match.
Hellmuth himself had to be wondering what it would take to put the kid away. He seemed to be distracted somewhat by the attention that his pursuit was drawing, as Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan (the two men ahead of Phil in the bracelet count with ten), his good friend John Bonetti (who was tableside for the match) and even "American Pie" star Shannon Elizabeth showed up to take part in the viewing. Phil also seemed to let the backers of Cabanillas get under his skin. There were some taunts from the Cabanillas supporters to the point that the tournament director was called in (by Hellmuth) to get control of Cabanillas' supporters. It wasn't the distractions which ended Helmut's "drive for ten" but yet another bad beat that Cabanillas put on him.
After Hellmuth limped into the pot and Cabanillas checked, the two took a flop of 6d-3-4d. Jeff fired a 60K bet into the pot, which Hellmuth responded to by going all in. Quickly the Californian called and flipped up a 5-3 of diamonds to have bottom pair with the straight flush draw. Phil could only muster a 5-4 off suit that gave him second pair and an open ended straight draw, but it was still the lead on the hand. The turn gave Hellmuth and even better hand when another four came along but, when the Jack of diamonds hit on the river, Goliath had been vanquished and there was a new name on the roster of World Series of Poker bracelet winners in Jeff Cabanillas.
1. Jeff Cabanillas, $818,546
2. Phil Hellmuth, $423,893
3. Eugene Todd, $233,872
4. Marcel Luske, $204,638
5. Isabelle Mercier, $175,404
6. Thomas Schreiber, $146,170
7. Douglas Carli, $116,936
8. Vinnie Vinh, $87,702
9. Dan Smith, $58,467
After the tournament concluded, the gracious Phil Hellmuth showed a kinder side when he took the microphone following the event and said, "Jeff played some great poker today and deserves to win. He will make an excellent champion." Cabanillas was mobbed by his family and friends and, after parting with them, shook the hand of his opponent and accepted the congratulations. While the night didn't end with a World Series of Poker history making win for Phil Hellmuth, it certainly did end with class being shown by both men and the crowning of perhaps a new name to watch on the tournament scene in Jeff Cabanillas.
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