The action at the Rio never seems to stop coming during this year's World Series of Poker. The Amazon Room was packed as the second day of the second largest poker tournament of all time, the $1000 No Limit event, was working its way down from an astonishing 2800-plus players to the final table on its second day and the $2000 Pot Limit Hold 'Em event started up its action. By far, though, what captured the attention of all on Tuesday was the final table of the $10,000 Pot Limit Omaha event, number sixteen on the World Series calendar.
Only 218 players took part in this high dollar event, but there was definitely a high caliber roster of poker players that took the seats around 2:45 on Tuesday afternoon to decide the champion of Event #16. The players came to the felt in the following positions:
Seat 1: Finnish poker player Jani Vilmunen, chip leader at 485K
Seat 2: Tournament pro Mark Dickstein, 212K
Seat 3: Longtime WSOP veteran Mickey Appleman, 102K
Seat 4: Australian Michael "Mick" Guttmann, 283K
Seat 5: Another Finnish poker pro Thomas Wahlroos, 168K
Seat 6: Professional player Hasan Habib, 349K
Seat 7: Defending champion of this event Rafi Amit, short stacked at 99K
Seat 8: Veteran poker pro Lee Watkinson, 276K
Seat 9: England's Nick Gibson, 207K
There was certainly a predominance of foreign players at the table and for good reason. Pot Limit Omaha is a very popular form of poker in many of the card clubs and casinos of Europe. It also is a game where the "all in" move is severely restricted by the level of the pots, forcing players to have the ability to play after the flop. In a drawing game such as Omaha, however, this allows the pots to rapidly build and create the action that the ESPN cameras were there to capture.
The audience in attendance didn't have to wait long for the first bust out of the final table as Mickey Appleman decided to double up or go home on the first hand. With the blinds at 4K/8K, Appleman and five players limped in to see the flop of 10-3-6. After chip leader Jani Vilmunen bet the pot, Appleman called and only the two of them saw the turn card of the four of hearts. Jani bet enough for the rest of Mickey's stack and he put it in and displayed a 9-8-8-7 for the open-ended straight draw with a pair of eights. Vilmunen had him dominated with J-J-6-3 for two pair. One of the unique things about the game of Omaha is that, on the river, there are still many opportunities to take a hand. Unfortunately, the deuce on the river was not one of Appleman's and he was out of the event in ninth place.
Vilmunen continued to try to bully the table but had less success than he had against Appleman. He doubled up Mark Dickstein, and then entered into a three way all in pot with Thomas Wahlroos and the defending champion of this event from 2005, Rafi Amit. All the money got into the center pre-flop surprisingly, with both Amit and Wahlroos all in and Vilmunen looking to eliminate two opponents and take command of the match. Amit's A-K-J-10 paled in comparison to Wahlroos' A-A-6-5 and was ahead of Vilmunen's 8-7-6-4. When the flop came 2-5-J, Rafi had caught one of his cards to gain on Wahlroos and, with a King on the river, passed the Finnish professional to triple up and get back into the event.
All of this action occurred within the first eight hands of action, stunning for the normally sedate pace of a Pot Limit tournament. Wahlroos, who picked up only 50K in chips from the side pot of the triple up of Amit, was left without bullets for battle and was the next man to depart the Amazon Room. Amit made a pot bet of 22K and Wahlroos moved in for the last of his chips. Amit made the call and turned up the lead hand with A-Q-9-10 to Wahlroos' K-10-8-4. The flop hit Thomas hard with two pair as it came up 10-4-7. In the game of Omaha, though, it is more than likely that if you are leading on the flop, by the river you will be the worst. "Give me a nine," said Rafi as the dealer burned and gave the turn of not a nine but a Queen, making Amit the leader now. When the river blanked off with a five, Amit had eliminated Wahlroos from the event in eighth place as the table took a break from play.
With the blinds moved up to 6K/12, the already breakneck pace of the event ratcheted up another notch. Lee Watkinson decided at this point to take command of the table and was able to slowly chip up until he surged into the lead after doubling up through Vilmunen and cripple the Finn to less than 100K. Amit was adamant about defending his title and pursued Watkinson closely as the table moved through the level.
What was additionally interesting about watching this final table was viewing the reactions of newcomers to the game of poker. Many of them had never seen an Omaha tournament before and were very confused by the players having four hole cards and the exact nature of this discipline of poker. Once the game was explained to them, however, they came to appreciate the nuances of the game and perhaps there will be more converts to the Omaha style of poker.
Mick Guttman and Jani Vilmunen provided a demonstration on how to eliminate an opponent as our next competitor left the event. Vilmunen had been aggressive early in the event and it had cost him his chip lead to where his stack was under 100K. After Jani raised a pot to 24K, Guttmann reraised the pot to 100K which, if he called the bet, would only leave Vilmunen with three 1000 chips. He made the call and saw the flop of 5-K-K before he chucked his final chips in and Guttmann called. He turned up an excellent Omaha draw hand of 10-8-7-6 but was way behind Guttmann Q-Q-6-5. An unnecessary Queen on the river locked the hand up for "Mick" and our second Finnish player, Vilmunen, was gone from the event in seventh place.
The pace continued to be fast as the players really seemed to want to gamble at this final table (another constant at this year's World Series final tables). Only twenty hands later, we lost our English representative at the table in Nick Gleason. Nick never was able to get anything going in all of the action at the final table and, as the blinds sped around the table, found himself short stacked. After Amit made a pot bet of 45K, Gleason called to see a flop of K-9-6. Gleason moved the rest of his stack into the center of the table and, almost as quickly as Nick's chips hit the center, Rafi called him down. With an A-K-J-2, Amit had hit the top pair and Gleason only had a gutshot draw with his Q-J-J-10. After the turn gave Rafi two pair with an Ace, the river blank ushered another player from the tournament in the form of Nick Gleason in sixth place.
One thing that was very odd about this tournament was the play of Hasan Habib. The poker professional is normally very active when he plays in tournaments and especially at final tables. In this one, however, it was odd to see him stay out of the action. This didn't help his situation as he slowly was chipped down until he was the short stack for the event. While he was able to not only double up once but also triple up after the blinds raised to 8K/16K, he couldn't sustain the drive as the tournament continued. He was able to limp into a pot with Rafi Amit and Mark Dickstein and saw a flop of K-10-9, which was good enough for Hasan to bet the pot. Amit reraised the pot over him and, once Dickstein got out of the way, Habib put his tournament life on the line. With K-7-5-3, Habib had hit two pair but Amit had a better two pair with his K-J-10-4. Far behind in the hand, Hasan Habib didn't catch anything to help him on the turn or river and was gone from the Rio in the fifth position.
Watkinson, an excellent professional who has been (for lack of a better way to put it) the bridesmaid several times in major events but never has taken one, continued to captain the table as the players shifted blinds for the rest of the level. After they came back from the dinner break, the chip stacks of the remaining four men shaped up as such:
Watkinson was able to firmly establish himself when he hooked into a pot with second place Rafi Amit on Hand 104. Watkinson raised preflop to 70K, which brought a pot raise from Amit. Watkinson smooth called him and the two saw a flop of K-10-9. Amit called all in and Watkinson had caught exactly what he was looking for and quickly called with his nut straight of K-Q-J-2. Amit could only muster the top pair with K-10-9-8 and was looking for the board to pair the King or the ten to redraw on Watkinson. The turn and river provided no help and our defending champion was eliminated from the event in fourth place for a payday of $143,444.
At this point, Lee was in firm control of the tournament as he held over 70% of the chips in play. He decided to sit back and let the two smaller stacks, Mark Dickstein and Michael Guttman, battle it out to see who would face him. Guttman crippled Dickstein when he doubled up through him and Watkinson cleaned up the debris when, on the next hand, he forced Mark all in and turned up As-Q-Js-4. Dickstein held the lead preflop with an A-K-J-9 but, when two spades came on the 8-9s-6s flop, had to be concerned about the number of redraw opportunities that the chip leader had. A seven of spades on the turn had Dickstein drawing dead and, after the river was routinely run, he left the tournament in third place.
Down to heads up competition, it seemed that it wasn't a matter of who would win, but how long it would take:
I was informed by none other than the reigning World Champion, Joe Hachem, not to sell his fellow Aussie short, however. "Mick's an excellent Pot Limit player," the champion said to me as he checked out the action during a break from his participation in the Pot Limit Hold 'Em event going on next to the final table. "He's won several tournaments in Australia and we call him "Sticky McGee" because once he sticks his chips in the pot, he won't leave them," Hachem said with a smile as he viewed the action.
Sure enough, the World Champion's viewpoint was an excellent one. Guttmann stuck tough as the two men entered heads up play and, on Hand 121, was able to double up to draw almost even with Watkinson. "Sticky" tenaciously clung in the game and gave Lee everything he could handle, but it was to be for naught. With the blinds at 15K/30K and after forty hands of heads up play, Watkinson bet the pot and was reraised by Guttmann to 150K. When the flop came 5-4-3, Guttmann made the aggressive move of going all in, which a more than willing Watkinson called down. His A-Q-6-5 gave him an excellent hand with top pair and the open-ended straight draw, but Guttmann had the edge at the moment with his J-J-10-8. As the fans rose to their feet, the dealer turned a gem for Watkinson in the seven of diamonds to leave Guttmann drawing dead. When the meaningless river hit the table, Lee Watkinson had captured his first major championship of his career.
1. Lee Watkinson, $655,746
2. "Mick" Guttmann, $360,659
3. Mark Dickstein, $184,428
4. Rafi Amit, $143,444
5. Hasan Habib, $122,952
6. Nick Gibson, $102,460
7. Jani Vilmunen, $81,974
8. Thomas Wahlroos, $61,476
9. Mickey Appleman, $40,984
With this victory, not only has Watkinson kicked the "major win" monkey off his back, he also has pulled in Team Full Tilt's fourth bracelet of this year's World Series. After victories from Rafe Furst, Mark Vos and Allen Cunningham, how many more can the awesome squad from Full Tilt pull down with a month to go? It will be one of the interesting questions to answer as the World Series of Poker rolls along.
Ed note: Lee finished 2nd to Doyle in a WPT event. The reason we mention this is so you know that Doyle plays at Doyle's Room