So how did Jamie Gold do it? How did he beat the biggest field ever for a live poker tournament at an astounding 8,773 players, knocking out 7 of the last 8 players on his own, including 2005 WSOP player of the year Allen Cunningham?
To even a casual observer watching the action on Thursday night, it was obvious what Jamie Gold was doing and what he was going to continue to do until someone forced him otherwise. Gold came into play at the beginning of the day with a sizeable chip lead, and played the big stack beautifully to pick up every single pot he possibly could. He played more hands than anyone, bet and raised more than anyone, and consequently induced far more folds than any other player at the table, raking chips at a very high rate. When he came into a pot, everyone knew he was going to bet the flop to try and take it down - no one could do anything about it, though.
The rest of the players at the table rarely took a stand against him and when they did, Gold woke up with monster hands. Twice at the final table, players came over the top of Gold's customary preflop raises with pocket jacks. Both times, Gold woke up with pocket queens. Once, a player pushed Gold preflop with pocket kings – and saw Gold flip over the other two kings! Every time one of Gold's opponents finally picked up a hand preflop to push all-in against, Gold simply folded the small investment he had in the pot or just happened to have a slightly bigger monster hand.
The popular strategy amongst the players then, with Gold betting almost every single flop, was to try to trap him – however, the trapping hands never arrived or when they did, Gold was either smart enough or weak enough to get away without much damage.
Doug Kim, who finished in 7th, explained, "He's got a big stack and he can push me around, so my strategy was to trap him with a hand. I couldn't do that and the one time I caught queens up on him, he folded."
Most players who win major tournaments find themselves all in a few times, needing to get lucky or avoid their opponent catching a miracle card to eliminate them. Gold was so dominant on the night that he never found himself all-in for more than half his stack even once. Throughout the day, he kept on adding to his chip lead to the point that when it got heads up, 2nd place finisher Paul Wasicka barely stood a chance.
After the match, many were left wondering - What happened to Allen Cunningham? Before the first hand was dealt, poker experts were debating the seemingly-inevitable heads up battle that Gold as the chip leader coming into play and Cunningham, second in chips and probably the most skilled player at the table, would face. The wheels fell off for Cunningham quickly, however, due to some bad luck and a few key hands.
Cunningham and Gold sparred throughout the match, with no clear winner established. About halfway through the match, Cunningham made a monster call on Gold with only ace-9 high after Gold tried a big bluff on the river, and it seemed like Cunningham had Gold's number. However, Cunningham lost some big coin flips and was bluffed out of a huge $10.5 million pot by Paul Wasicka after Wasicka re-raised Cunningham's raise all-in on the turn with nothing but king-high and a gutshot straight draw. When play got down to four, Cunningham was battling on the short stack and pushed all-in with pocket 10's, while Gold called with a K-J suited. A king came on the flop, and Cunningham was dejectedly sent home in fourth.
With Cunningham out, it did not take long for Gold to eliminate the other two players. In what will most likely be the most discussed hand for the next year, Gold actually had a chance to knock out both players in one fell swoop.
Paul Wasicka and Michael Binger were the two remaining players left to battle against Gold, and all three ended up seeing a flop in a raised pot preflop. On the flop of 10c-6s-5s, Wasicka checked, Binger made a hefty bet, and Gold moved all-in. Wasicka, who could have tripled up and taken almost half the chips in play if he won the pot, thought for a long time, repeating over and over, "This is sick." He finally folded and revealed later that he had 7s-8s for an open-ended straight flush draw, while Binger showed top pair top kicker and Gold had the dummy end of the straight draw. Gold ended up hitting his card on the turn to fill his straight and Wasicka would have won the pot had he called with the flush being completed on the river. As it stood, Binger was knocked out and Wasicka stood little chance against Gold with his monster chip lead. Wasicka has already come under hefty criticism by some for his fold, and will probably continue to be questioned for many months to come.
It is an undeniable fact that Jamie Gold got a number of lucky cards throughout the last few days of the tournament. 5th place finisher Rhett Butler called it the most amazing string of cards he'd seen in 20+ years of playing poker, while 3rd place finisher Michael Binger simply deemed it "incredible." However, the rest of the competitors gave credit where credit was due, complimenting Gold's game as well as his luck.
Rhett Butler echoed the sentiments of many at the final table when he stated, "People perceive him as not a good card player, but he plays a style that is very difficult to read. He gets cards – and I've never seen any run like it – but he forces people to make plays."
It will be interesting to see if Jamie Gold will be a universally well-liked and respected World Champion. When ESPN debuts its coverage, many people, upset that fan-favorite Cunningham couldn't win, will simply deem him an extraordinarily lucky and wild player. However, as someone who watched the entire tournament hand-by-hand, the television coverage will edit out what made up the majority of the tournament – Jamie Gold wielding his stack like a huge club to beat the living daylights out of anyone who tried to get in his path. There is a reason that Johnny Chan chose Gold to mentor, and it's because while Gold did make some questionable decisions, he knows a bit about how to play the game and is incredibly skilled on the big stack. 3rd-place finisher Michael Binger called him "a vacuum cleaner – he picks up all of the pots that no one wants."
Gold will be under constant scrutiny throughout the next year to prove that his bracelet and $12 million in prize money was more than just a fluke. Asked if he was up for the challenge of defending his title next hear, he enthusiastically responded, "Unless I'm in a hospital somewhere, I'm going to be here. I can't wait to play again."
Ed Note: Play again, and again, and again at Poker Stars