We debated the format, cast our votes, watched it play out live at the Rio, and last night the revamped World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions finally had its premiere on ESPN. Poker fans determined 20 of the 27 members of the field, voting for their favorites on WSOP.com, five players were given auto-bids because of previous WSOP achievements (prior TOC winners Annie Duke, Mike Matusow, and Mike Sexton along with reigning WSOP and WSOP Europe Main Event champions Joe Cada and Barry Shulman) while two others received sponsor exemptions (online qualifier Andrew Barton and Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, who earned his seat in a WSOP Academy “playoff” sit-n-go with other top pros).
The two-hour broadcast picked up the action on the money bubble with ten players remaining: Johnny Chan, Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Howard Lederer, Jennifer Harman, T.J. Cloutier, Barry Greenstein, Huck Seed, Joe Hachem, and Duke.
A decorated group: The final 10 players boasted 41 WSOP bracelets and $32 million of tournament earnings among them. There were also 10 Main Event champions in the 27-player field: Chan, Seed, Hachem, Cada, Doyle Brunson, Dan Harrington, Greg Raymer, Chris Ferguson, Phil Hellmuth and Scotty Nguyen.
Sibling rivalry: Annie Duke has knocked her brother, Howard Lederer, out of three WSOP events in her career, as well as the 2004 Tournament Champions in which she won $2 million. Both Lederer siblings were cheered on at the final table by younger sister Katy and her boyfriend Ben Statz, who went on to finish in 16th place in the Main Event.
Right fold, wrong flop: After Chan opened for 5,000 from UTG+1 and Harman flat-called with pocket jacks in the hijack, Hachem found pocket aces in the big blind and three-bet to 20,000. Chan made the call, and Harman found the right fold, laying down her pocket jacks. The flop, however, came down — Harman would have hit top set and had a good shot at stacking Hachem.
Vote early, vote often, vote Harman: In a campaign for votes, Harman overcame her shyness and starred in several YouTube videos promoting her TOC candidacy. One featured Harman telling bad jokes at the poker table while another featured her chasing around her three-year-old twin sons.
Seidel bubbles: Down to 15,300 in chips, Seidel open-shoved from middle position holding , but ran smack into Harman’s pocket aces. When the flop came down , Harman making aces full, Annie Duke reminded Seidel that he was still drawing live to a royal flush. Play got interesting for a minute when he did pick up the royal draw with the on the turn, but the on the river sent the eight-time bracelet winner home on the money bubble in 10th place.
Cloutier cashes in ninth: Negreanu opened for 2,400, Cloutier called with on the button, and Duke came along from the big blind with . The action checked to Cloutier on the flop. He bet 12,000 with his middle pair, Duke gave up her hand, and Negreanu called with top pair. When the on the turn gave Negreanu a flush draw to go with his kings, he set Cloutier all-in and the two-time Main Event runner-up made the call. Cloutier was in bad shape and the on the river sent him to the rail in ninth place for a $25,000 score.
Why so glum?: Usually quite talkative at the tables, Annie Duke remained stone-faced throughout much of the broadcast, prompting this quote from Norman Chad: “I think Annie could really use a trip to Disneyland. Come on, Annie — smile!”
Use me, abuse me: One thing’s for sure after watching this broadcast — Johnny Chan had Daniel Negreanu’s number at this final table. That, and a few cold decks sent Negreanu from the chip lead to the short stack. In one hand, Chan opened aces on the button, then made a sneaky flat-call after Negreanu three-bet his from the big blind. Both players checked the flop. The turn brought the worst card possible for Negreanu, who turned top pair with the . He could hardly have known he was drawing nearly dead when he check-called Chan’s 30,000 bet. The river fell the , and after checking a third time, Negreanu folded to Chan’s 60,000 river bet. He finally figured out that he was beaten, but only after passing about 50,000 chips across the table, giving Chan the chip lead.
Negreanu was rattled by that hand, so much so that he ended up folding the best hand to Chan a short time later. Chan opened for 6,000 with and Negreanu called with in the small blind. Both players missed the flop and the action was checked around. Negreanu turned top pair when the fell, but played it slow, checking to Chan, who bet 12,000. Negreanu called. The river was the , a definite scare card. Negreanu checked and Chan bet 25,000.
“I think you rivered me. This time I think you got there,” Negreanu said as he folded the bets hand, allowing Chan to steal the pot.
There will be no repeat champion: Duke shoved UTG with , Greenstein overshoved for 50,300 with in the cutoff, and everyone else got out of the way. Duke had Greenstein dominated and her hand held up on the flop, as well as the on the turn. The , however, spiked on the river, Greenstein hitting his two-outer and eliminating Duke in eighth place.
“That was cold. I admit it,” said Greenstein as he stacked up his chips.
Last woman standing: After being crippled by Barry Greenstein when she ran pocket fours into his pocket aces, Harman looked at one card, the , and shoved for 19,600. Greenstein found pocket kings in the big blind and snap-called. Harman turned over the ace and then revealed her other card, the . Harman hit bottom pair on the , but the on the turn did not improve her hand any further.
“I think we need an ace on the river,” Negreanu said, referencing the title of Greenstein’s book.
There was no ace, only the , and Harman was eliminated in seventh place.
“I suck. I played like a goofball!” she said with a laugh as she gave BFF Negreanu a hug and exited the stage.
No mas Negreanu: Negreanu picked up two red aces and raised to 8,000 from UTG, and Hachem made the call from the small blind with . The flop was a disaster for Negreanu, Hachem snapping off his aces as he hit middle set. Hachem check-raised Negreanu’s 10,000 flop bet to 25,000, Negreanu jammed, and Hachem quickly showed him the bad news. The turn was the, the river was the , and Negreanu went out in sixth place after arriving at the final table as the chip leader.
Norman Chad quote of the week: “How is Daniel still ‘Kid Poker?’ He’s 35 now. Shouldn’t he be ‘Mid-life Crisis Poker?’”
Seed’s sick move: Huck Seed gave the table a lesson in power poker when he got Joe Hachem to lay down the best hand after putting in a massive check-raise. Seed held , and Hachem held on a flop. Hachem bet 18,000 with top pair and Seed raised to 71,000, more than half his remaining stack, with his straight and flush draws. Hachem mucked his top pair and Seed took it down.
Greenstein gone: Greenstein opened on the button for 15,000 and Lederer called from the small blind with . Lederer hit top pair on the flop while Greenstein picked up straight and flush draws. Greenstein led out for 20,000, Lederer shoved, and with only 15 big blinds left, Greenstein called.
“Barry’s got this ‘I can get home and watch Taxicab Confessions if I lose this all-in’ look to him,” Norman Chad quipped.
Greenstein missed his outs, the and the falling on the turn and river to eliminate him in fifth place. Lederer earned Greenstein’s traditional bounty, a signed copy of his book Ace on the River, and looked genuinely happy to receive it.
Aussie down: Lederer opened from the button, Hachem three-bet to 49,000 with , Lederer four-bet to 88,000, and Hachem called all-in. According to Hachem, it was his first all-in for the entire tournament.
Lederer kept his lead on the flop. The turn was the, no help to Hachem.
“Ace on the river!” called an Aussie from the audience.
“No!” Lederer said.
The river, though, was the and Hachem hit the rail in fourth place. He was the last player to finish with a $25,000 payday; the remaining three were guaranteed at least $100,000.
Poker television for advanced viewers: Once play turned three-handed, ESPN clued us in to some important stats on our remaining trio. Behold, the return of the VPIP-o-meter!
VPIP: Chan 30%, Seed 24%, Lederer 21%.
Aggression: Chan 68%, Seed 64%, Lederer 75%
The Professor bluffeth: Howard Lederer has a reputation as a tight, solid player, but this hand showed how that image can be used to pull off a successful bluff. Lederer completed the small blind with , and Chan checked his option with . Both players checked the flop. The turn fell the , and Lederer checked again. Chan bet 15,000 with his pair of sixes but folded to Lederer’s 50,000 check-raise.
What won’t Huck bet on?: Everyone knows that Huck Seed is a notorious prop bettor, but this one was news to us. Johnny Chan once bet Seed that he could not jump high enough to hit his head on the ceiling of a hotel room. Seed did it with a single jump, and Chan paid up.
Chan crippled: Chan made it 30,000 to go with on the button and Lederer defended his big blind with . Both players missed the flop and the action was checked around. The on the turn gave Chan a royal flush draw, and after Lederer checked to him, Chan fired out 45,000, Lederer shoved, and the decision was on Chan.
“I gotta gamble sometime,” he said, and made the call.
The river blanked out with the and Lederer doubled, leaving Chan with only three big blinds. Chan got the rest of his chips in on the next hand against Lederer who flopped top pair and eliminated him in third place.
Seed’s key double-up: Lederer picked up on the button and raised to 40,000. Seed defended his big blind with and hit top pair on the flop. Lederer’s tens were still good, and after Seed checked, Lederer made it 60,000 to go. Seed moved all-in and Lederer quickly called. Although Seed was a 3-1 dog with his tournament life at risk, he hit running cards to make a straight with the on the turn and the on the river. Seed doubled up to 670,000 while Lederer was left with 140,000 — about nine big blinds.
The final hand: Lederer moved all-in for 138,000 with and Seed made the call with . Seed’s ace-high led on the flop, but the on the turn gave Lederer a straight draw and Seed a flush draw. The river was, appropriately enough, the (an ace on the river!) and Huck Seed sealed up his TOC win, banking $500,000. For his runner-up finish, Lederer took home $250,000.
Ever the gentleman, Seed thanked everyone who voted for him in his post-game interview.
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