Event #36 $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em, at the World Series of Poker, featured two monumental comebacks, plenty of bad beats, and nine players each seeking their first WSOP title and bracelet. In the end, both valiant rallies came up just short. Jesper Hougaard, who started the day as the chip leader and dominated the final table most of the night, held off a furious charge from Cody Slaubaugh to take first place in the $1,500 buy-in event at the Rio and its top prize of $610,276.
The Copenhangen, Denmark native ended the 31-hand heads-up match by finding a way to get all the money in preflop with Q-Q to Slaubaugh's A-10. Another queen in the window of the flop all but sealed the win for Hougaard, who had Slaubaugh covered by just 25,000 after starting heads-up play with an enormous chip advantage.
Slaubaugh, from Rugby, North Dakota, made $389,128 for outlasting every player but one from the starting field of 2,447. It was his fourth WSOP cash of 2008, and he turned in a memorable final-table performance.
Slaubaugh faced a seven-to-one chip deficit at the start of heads-up play but received a needed boost on the first hand, doubling up with A-10 against Hougaard's Q-10. But the momentum really turned in Slaubaugh's favor a few hands later. Hougaard raised preflop and followed up with a continuation bet of 375,000 on a flop of K-10-3 with two clubs. Slaubaugh moved in for 1,200,000 more and a frustrated Hougaard eventually mucked, flashing an ace in the process. Slaubaugh then turned over Q-9, much to the delight of his supporters.
Slaubaugh continued to take down big pots and eventually overtook Hougaard for the chip lead by about 2,000,000. But just when the match had turned in his favor, play was halted for the dinner break. Hougaard regrouped and, when play resumed, he took down a couple of big pots to bring the players about even in chips. They stayed that away until the final hand of the match.
Third-place finisher Aaron Kanter, who finished fourth in the 2005 Main Event, made a comeback of his own as he battled back from the short stack into serious contention. It looked as though it might be short day for Kanter when he moved all-in on the first hand for his last 163,000 and found his A-7 dominated by Slaubuagh's A-J. The board delivered blanks until a seven spiked on the river, giving Kanter the card he needed to stay alive.
He nursed his stack the rest of the day through a series of well-timed raises and reraises, moving in over initial raisers several times without getting called, and winning valuable rounds of blinds and antes each time he was the first in the pot with a raise.
Kanter's stack was up to 755,000 when his fateful blow was delivered. Holding Q-Q from the small blind, he moved in over the top of Hougaard's opening raise of 150,000 and Hougaard deliberated a while before calling. Kanter was in great shape against Hougaard's K-J, and he was in even better position when the board ran out 3-4-A-7. However, this time Hougaard nailed the three-outer when a king fell on the river, spoiling Kanter's comeback bid and eliminating him in third. Kanter took home $258,862.
Kanter wasn't the only player to take a bad beat on his final hand of the day. Danny Wong was eliminated in fourth place after his K-K fell to Hougaard's , which flopped the nut flush. Wong had come over the top of Kanter's initial raise of 130,000 with his last 380,000. In an effort to isolate, Hougaard re-popped it from the big blind and went heads-up against Wong's cowboys. The board didn't pair on the turn, leaving Wong drawing dead, and he was left with a fourth-place finish worth $217,110.
Hougaard started the day as the chip leader and took command of the final table early on, building up a formidable chip stack while the other players battled in out whenever he wasn't in a hand. At one point, he won eight uncontested pots in a row with a preflop raise.
Five players were eliminated in the first 63 hands; it took 61 more before Wong exited in fourth place. On hand No. 14, WSOP veteran John Shipley was the first to go. He put the last of his chips in with but did not improve against Slaubaugh's J-J. Shipley's 12th career WSOP cash netted him $56,782.
Owen Crowe went out in eighth place six hands later, falling to a brutal beat at the hands of Wong. With the board reading A-9-8-A after the turn, with two clubs showing, Crowe bet out 225,000 only to find himself re-raised all in by Wong. Crowe called, showing A-7, and Wong's semi-bluff with the appeared to have backfired. However, the struck on the river, completing Wong's flush and sending Crowe to the cage for a payday of $81,833.
The next three players eliminated were each making their first WSOP money finish and final table. Rick Solis of Austin, Texas, went out in seventh place. Hougaard slow-played the nut flush against Solis, who put all of his money in with two pair on the turn. Solis made $106,884 for his showing.
Justin Wald of Redmond, WA, fell victim to a flush after flopping trip jacks. He led at the flop and was called by Wong, who caught a diamond flush on the turn. All the money went in on the river and Wald was out in sixth place. Wald's first WSOP cash was good for $140,286.
Doug Middleton went out on hand No. 63, failing to improve his A-Q in a race against the 3-3 of Hougaard, who had plenty of chips to fade an all-in call. Middleton pocketed $177,028 for fifth.