Trumping the Art of the Deal

By Andrew N.S. Glazer, "The Poker Pundit"


Soon after the 422 starters in the 2003 World Series of Poker's inaugural "open" event, the April 16 $2,000 Limit Hold'em tournament, saw that first prize was going to be $290,420, third was only going to be $74,560, and the 10th place final tablist would earn a mere $9,420, most of them felt pretty sure that some kind of deal would be struck sometime at the final table.

If you're not familiar with tournament "deals," know that they are fairly common happenings in today's tournament world, for two reasons.

First, the players are competing entirely for money they have put up themselves: if and when corporate sponsors start adding money, deals will have to go away.

Second, a prize structure that puts such a high percentage of the prize pool into the first few places (and even then, such a high percentage to first place) often makes it quite economically sensible to strike some sort of arrangement that reduces the money fluctuation.

Nonetheless, those predicting a deal here would have been wrong…although it wasn't for lack of trying by many of the final tablists. Whether or not the players wound up being happy with their proposed stances on the various deals proposed is something I'll save for the finish.

When play commenced at the final table, the starting positions and chip counts were as follows:

Seat Player Chip Count
1 Tuan Nguyen $18,000
2 Joseph Coreli $36,000
3 Jon Brody $105,000
4 Adam Schwartz $88,000
5 Richard Brendel $24,000
6 Mohamed Ibrahim $196,000
7 Danny Qutami $58,000
8 Todd Ostrow $104,000
9 Jay Helfert $120,000
10 Farzad Bonyadi $95,000

There were $844,000 in chips in play, and starting at Level 13, $2,000-4,000 blinds, playing $4,000-8,000, under the new WSOP blind structure that entails much more luck at the tournament's start (the blinds double each of the first three levels) and much less at the end (the blind increases are tiny, as you'll see), it was pretty easy to predict a long final.

NOW, IF ONLY I COULD PREDICT THIS WELL WHEN PLAYING…

I wish my predictive powers weren't so good. The new system is wonderful if you are playing but it makes coverage much more of a marathon. Don't worry: I'm not going to detail a large percentage of the nearly 400 hands that were played here tonight. I'm going to trade off some hands for more atmosphere and analysis, as this new format requires. In all the time I've been covering final tables, I've never covered one that involved this many hands, and it was the very first event here. I won't be surprised if some events approach 500 hands.

The diminutive Nguyen, from Richmond, CA, didn't have to stick around for much. He started with the shortest stack, caught a bad break in a random draw that gave him the big blind right out of the box, and after losing two thirds of his chips on the first hand, lost the other six when Schwartz's pocket jacks held up in three-way action. Ten-way deals are quite unusual, and no one was talking any this early, especially with three tiny stacks out there, so Nguyen had to settle for $9,420, and the consolation that as long as it was going to be painful, it was at least surgically swift.

Qutami, a South San Francisco resident against whom I'd played a fair amount during my Northern California days, got in trouble on the tournament's sixth hand, when he flopped bottom pair and hung in through betting on the flop and turn, found himself all-in two hands later, when Bonyadi opened for a raise to 8k, Coreli went all-in with a raise to 12k, Brendel made it 16k, and Qutami made it 20k with an all-in bet from the small blind.

NO RESPECT AT ALL

Bonyadi, who must have been nominating his initial raise for the Rodney Dangerfield "I don't get no respect" award, threw his hand away, and when Brendel called, everyone was now all-in, so we got to see the hand from start to finish. Qutami turned over Q-Q, Coreli, who'd clearly been hoping to isolate one player and couldn't have been happy when he saw he was going to get two or three opponents, turned over 6-6, and Brendel turned over A-K.

Everyone whiffed as the board came down Jd-10c-3c-4h-2s, and the pre-flop leader was the post flop winner, with Qutami eliminating both Brendel and Coreli on the same hand. Brendel was awarded 8th based on starting the hand with more chips than Coreli, and what had been a tightly packed 10-player table was now seven-handed only eight hands into the final.

Maybe the final wasn't going to take so long after all…not.

I'd observed Ibrahim building his stack happily the night before when the four-table hand-for-hand battle began. He knew this was a fine time to steal chips from players who were trying to hang on for the money, and he did it, and he retained that very aggressive style in the early going, pushing his chip total near 300k before the 20th hand. He did just what you're supposed to do, push until they push back, and the one time someone did push back, he made the nut flush on the river.

It's FUN to be the chip leader. Much more fun than it was to be in Qutami's seat, especially after his "Two with one blow" chips blew away on hand #18 and he found himself raising UTG on #26, with only 4k left. Bonyadi decided to isolate with a re-raise, and Qutami called.

A-9 for Qutami, who couldn't have felt very comfortable with that as an all-in hand until Bonyadi turned over 6-6. At least he had two overcards, and bang, the first card off the deck was a nine as the flop came 9-7-2.

IF YOU ANNOUNCE IT, IT WILL COME

With tournament Co-Director Matt Savage manning the microphone (the crowds this year are in for a real treat: not only is Savage doing a good job announcing, calling out bets clearly and chip counts regularly, but the final table area has been moved to the section of the room usually reserved for the Championship final, and two plasma screens treat viewers to excellent shots of the table and the board), a ten hit the turn, and Savage immediately noted that Bonyadi had picked up additional outs, because an eight would make a straight.

Eight it was, the 8s to be specific, and Qutami exited seventh. A little while later, after hand #48, I did a chip estimate, and had the field at:

Brody, 121,000
Schwartz, 150,000
Ibrahim, 258,000
Ostrow, 105,000
Helfert, 125,000
Bonyadi, 85,000

Bonyadi's fortunes immediately headed south, losing one pot when his Q-8 got outkicked by a Q-9, and another when he ran into a mere quad fives. Most of the rest of his chips vanished when he took A-J against J-10 and played it very strongly all the way into a board of Ad-Kd-Qd-Qs-3s. His flush draw never got there and his aces were no good against a flopped straight. He lost his last 2k when he tossed it in from the button, with the blinds calling and checking him down the whole way; sure enough, the board came 4-4-5-3-7, and the two checking blinds, Brody and Schwartz, each had a seven.

HALF THE FIELD GOES IN 59 HANDS…MAYBE THE WHOLE FIELD IN 118?

Brody's 9-7 edged out Schwartz's 8-7, and Bonyadi exited sixth. We'd eliminated half the field in 59 hands. It was going to take a lot longer to eliminate the rest. Two hands later, the players asked if they could take a break, and I sensed deal talk coming.

The players returned from a quick trip out of the room to discuss a deal. A calculator came out, with the chips at

Brody, 90,000
Schwartz, 244,000
Ibrahim, 280,000
Ostrow, 105,000
Helfert, 125,000

The trailers proposed a deal wherein the two leaders would take $140,000 each, the three trailers $100,000 each, with $16,000 left in play. After a fairly lengthy discussion, Ibrahim vetoed the deal, even though $140,000 was almost second place money.

Two hands later, the discussion began again, this time with the offer at $145,000 for Ibrahim and $135,000 for Schwartz. Second place was to pay $149,140 in this event, but Ibrahim still wasn't buying it, even though he would now really be locking up almost second place money and could still take another $16,000.

Table discussion wandered back and forth about the deal and other money matters over the next few hands. Helfert said "I'll play nine ball with any of you for any amount, you pro gamblers, money doesn't mean anything to you."

Ibrahim responded that "It means a little," and Helfert, jovially enough, said "Yeah, bullets. I used to be a pro pool player, and money was bullets for me then."

(By the way, out of respect for everything that has gone on and is still going on in Iraq, I seriously considered eliminating all of the usual poker metaphors about battles, ammunition, and the like from all WSOP reports this year, but finally decided that that's the language used in the poker world and would stick with it here.)

ONE OF POKER'S GREATEST ROLLER COASTER RIDES BEGINS

Meanwhile, Ostrow shortly thereafter proved how quickly fortunes can shift even in a limit tournament - one of the reasons why many players want to deal near the end.

On hand #71, Brody made it 8k from the cutoff seat, Schwartz cold-called from the button, Ibrahim called from the small blind, and Ostrow made it 12k from the big blind, with all three players calling: four players in for 12k each before the flop.

The flop came 10c-Jc-4d, Ibrahim checked, Ostrow bet 4k, Brody passed, Schwartz made it eight, and got two callers: three players in for 8k each on the flop, putting 72k in the pot.

The 7h hit the turn, everyone checked to Schwartz, who bet 8k and got two callers again; it was now a 96k pot. The 2s hit the river, it was checked around, Ostrow turned over his pocket kings, and the opposition mucked. With none of the draws getting there on the turn or river, Ostrow may have missed a bet or two, but he still collected a big pot. Schwartz's raise on the flop saved him some money later.

My next chip count came at hand #76, when the players took the scheduled ten minute break after the 90 minute round ended:

Brody, 77,000
Schwartz, 220,000
Ibrahim, 287,000
Ostrow, 160,000
Helfert, 100,000

NOT EXACTLY THE OK CORRAL

When the players returned, the game jumped from $2,000-4,000 blinds, playing 4&8, to $3,000-5,000 blinds, playing 5&10. It was only going to cost 2k more to sit out a round, and the betting structure only increased 25%. Plenty of play left for the more skilled players, and far less of a shoot-out than historically would have been the case.

Brody couldn't have been happy. Not only was he trailing, and not only had his attempts to lock up $100,000 cash failed when he was in a better chip position, but on the break he told me that he considered the relatively unknown Schwartz (a Maple Ridge, British Columbia resident) one of his two most dangerous opponents, regardless of chip counts; Ibrahim, who had a very successful tournament history until a dry spell the last two or three years, was the other.

Ostrow again showed us he was playing a bit "snug," as those players who don't like the word "tight" tend to say, on hand #106. Brody opened with a raise to 10k, Ostrow made it 15k from the small blind, and Brody called.

The flop came 8d-7d-6d, Ostrow bet out, and Brody called, a scenario repeated when the 10d (not merely a fourth diamond but one that made another straight flush possible) hit the turn. The 9s hit the river, putting a straight on board, Ostrow checked, Brody bet 10k, and with 75k in the pot (and hence half of 85k available if he called and split it), Ostrow let it go.

A GREAT LAYDOWN? AN OBVIOUS LAYDOWN? OR WAS THE PLAY TOO TIGHT?

It might have been a great laydown - heck, I wouldn't argue with someone who called it an obvious laydown situation, because Ostrow was only going for a split, that's pretty clear. It's hard to imagine him laying down a diamond, and either a diamond or a jack beat him - but given the aggressive play we'd been seeing, I was surprised he let it go.

Maybe this is just a case of "when you know the player, you call it a great laydown, and when you don't, you think he's inviting attack," but we'd seen before and would see again other instances of Ostrow playing conservatively, and with him checking the river, I'm pretty sure Brody would have bet with any two cards.

At hand #115, the latest chip estimate was

Brody, 200,000
Schwartz, 125,000
Ibrahim, 379,000
Ostrow, 90,000
Helfert, 50,000

Ostrow wasn't the only player who was a bit cautious. On #118, Brody raised from the button, and Ibrahim, as he probably did at least 90% of the day, defended his big blind. He checked and called when Brody bet the 4s-8d-5h flop, and check-raised Brody when the Jh hit the turn; Brody only called the check-raise, and only flat called when Ibrahim led out for 10k on the river.

BRODY'S TURN FOR UNDUE CAUTION

I say "only" because Brody turned over pocket jacks for a set on the turn, a point when only a 6-7 could have been beating him, and while the river seven meant any six would have beaten him, a mere call seems shy. Some players might ask "What would Ibrahim call with except a six, had Brody raised the river," but I can imagine quite a few calling hands - any smaller set, an overpair (unlikely with the mere call pre-flop), two pair, or even one pair.

I think that if Ibrahim is playing pocket sixes or 6-7 you just pay him off, especially given how clearly he had been the aggressor all day long, but hey, it's a lot easier from the sidelines. I suspect Brody just called on the turn planning on raising the river and the seven scared him off. He's too good a player to seriously consider that the aggressive Ibrahim really had 6-7 on the turn.

Meanwhile, the pool-playing Helfert was probably indeed wishing the game was nine ball and not limit hold'em, because he'd lost half his meager stack on hand #117, and then on #119, he raised and got a call out of Ibrahim from the small blind. Ibrahim bet out on the 8c-8d-4c flop, with Helfert calling, and then Ibrahim check-raised Helfert for his last 20k when the 7c hit the turn.

As if to prove that 6-7 might have been a reasonable hand to watch out for the previous hand, Ibrahim turned over 5-6 for a gutshot straight hit on the turn, and Helfert's pocket queens needed an eight or queen to hit the river. The 2s didn't qualify, and Helfert exited fifth, the first victim of the non-deal in collecting "only" $35,320.

SCHWARTZ NEXT TO FEEL THE UNDEAL

Schwartz looked like another likely victim. Ever since he'd hit his high water mark near 250k, he couldn't make any hand hold up and with Ibrahim playing sheriff on most raises, he couldn't steal much of anything. He had only 27k left when we reached hand #123, and all that went in pre-flop and on the flop when he took his pocket nines up against Ibrahim's K-7.

The nines were a nice favorite pre-flop but zing, 6-K-6-A-2, and the likeable Canadian was gone, not merely out the 100k that the trailers had been trying for, but the 140k or 135k that all said Ibrahim were willing to grant him and his big stack. Instead, he collected $47,100.

Ostrow continued with his snug play and as the game grew more and more shorthanded, this approach proved less and less successful, with Brody and Ibrahim taking turns attacking him. He had only 10k left when we hit hand #129, when Brody raised from the button, and Ostrow called all-in from the big blind.

GUESS WE SHOULD HAVE PUT A FORK IN HIM

He was winning, too: Ac-Qc vs. Kd-7d for Brody, but the flop came 3h-7c-10c. Brody had paired, but Ostrow was plenty live with a flush draw and two overcards - actually, he was about a 7:6 favorite with that draw, but it probably didn't feel that way until the Qs came off on the turn.

Still the way back seemed impossible, even after he picked up a couple more chips: the counts were

Brody, 310,000
Ibrahim, 500,000
Ostrow, 30,000

Ostrow won a couple of small pots, though, and then doubled through with pocket queens: suddenly he had almost 100k, and his opponents were probably wishing they'd taken his unreasonable offer (before the double-through) of $120,000 for his spot. With third place guaranteed $74,560, I'd figured he was worth about 90k, and on a break Brody mentioned the exact same figure.

Six hands later, Ostrow put in every bet and raise he could, and Ibrahim paid him off the whole way on the J-9-9-2-6 board; pocket kings were good, and Ostrow, who'd had 10k and a draw on hand #129, now had 145k after hand #142.

I'VE HEARD OF SHOTGUN WEDDINGS, BUT THIS WAS TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT

Eighteen hands later, Ostrow got everyone's heart pumping almost as fast as they had been when they carried the actual payoff money in a couple of minutes earlier; it wasn't the money that caused the adrenaline surge so much as the guard carrying the shotgun (aimed, fortunately, at the ceiling) that did.

Ibrahim made it 10k from the button, Ostrow made if 15k, Ibrahim went to 20k, and Ostrow made it 25k. Zounds! Ostrow bet out and was called all the way as the board came 4d-5h-5d-kh-5c, and was so excited that he announced "aces full" on the showdown as he turned over his pocket rockets.

"It's actually fives full of aces," corrected Savage, but that hand was good enough. He'd had every short-chipped player's dream: Q-Q, K-K, and finally A-A, getting action on each hand and finding each hand holding up. When we hit the dinner break, the chip count was

Brody, 339,000
Ibrahim, 330,000
Ostrow, 175,000

Ostrow wasn't quite in the penthouse, but he sure wasn't residing in the outhouse, either. It was truly anyone's tournament, and each player had an hour to figure out how to make it his.

As the players assembled before the restart, I started asking our Las Vegas mystery man a little about his tournament history, starting with if he could ever recall a comeback like this.

IT TURNS OUT TODD OSTROW HAD STEPPED UP JUST A BIT IN CLASS…

"Nope, not like THIS," he said, clearly full of joy, "especially when you consider what's at stake. I usually play the small buy-in events at the Mirage or the Orleans, with my best result about $700. This is my first WSOP event ever, and obviously it's going to be worth a bit more than my previous tournaments!"

Yep, I'd call two orders of magnitude a reasonable step up in class, and of course, he had a shot at still more as play continued with the blinds moving from $3,000-$5,000 all the way up, in one jump, to $3,000-$6,000. Golly gosh darn, it was going to cost a whole $1,000 extra to sit out a round, and the stakes had leapt up by a non-dizzying 20%.

Eleven hands into the post-dinner action, Ostrow hit Brody, a friendly Davie, Florida resident who has, by his own admission, "way too many final tables and not nearly enough wins," (a syndrome with which I can empathize) with a right and a left worthy of the YOUNG version of George Foreman.

On hand #171, Brody made it 12k from the button, Ibrahim made it 18k, and Ostrow made it 24k, with everyone calling. The flop came 10c-7d-3s, Ibrahim led for 6k, Ostrow made it 12k, Brody made it 18k, and Ibrahim said "no mas" while Ostrow called.

Ostrow check-called when the 8h hit the turn, and when the 9c hit the river, he checked, Brody bet again (not shy at all here), and Ostrow made it 24k. Brody looked like the guard might have gotten careless with that shotgun, and almost threw his K-K away, but called, seeing exactly what he expected: J-J and a gutshot straight for Ostrow.

DID ONE BAD TURNS DESERVE ANOTHER?

Heck, it's only one hand, right? Enter hand #172, where Ostrow limped in from the SB on a rare non-Ibrahim raise, and he and Brody saw a cheap flop of 8d-7c-Js. Ostrow checked, Brody bet 6k, and Ostrow called. The 5c hit the turn, Ostrow checked again, Brody bet again, but this time Ostrow popped it to 24k, with Brody calling.

An irrelevant-looking 2s hit the river, Ostrow led out for 12k, and Brody called. Ostrow turned over 8-7, two pair on the flop, and Brody sighed as he turned over 8-5, two pair on the turn.

Ostrow, the $10,000 man not so very long ago, now had roughly 300k and a clear lead over Brody, who had sunk near the 200k mark. Brody was shaking his head, muttering to himself, and trying to laugh as a means of recovering his composure.

Meanwhile, echoes of a favorite old science fiction story, "All the Way Back," by Michael Ansarra, started reverberating around in my head.

Greg Hopkins, a friend to both Brody and Ibrahim, was on the rail and tried to break the tension by saying "It's good to have some adversity." Brody agreed, although wasn't sure this was the precise moment to endure it. Meanwhile, Ostrow had his fist pressed against his forehead as he was shaking his head, obviously in some measure both stunned and thrilled, and probably trying to calm himself enough to play.

EASY COME, EASY GO

The chips started leaking back just a few hands later, on #188, when Ostrow called a 12k bet on the end staring into a board of 8d-4s-Qc-Jc-Qs, and couldn't beat Ibrahim's eight.

Hands #191, 192, and 193 also each gouged into Ostrow's stack, and while he lost more money on #191, #193 probably hurt more, because in a three-way limp pot, everyone checked the flop and the turn on an A-5-4-9 board. The 3s hit the river, Ostrow finally led out, and Brody just called with his 8-2 (a straight), probably fearing a backdoor flush. Ostrow flipped over 9-4, a reasonable enough checking hand on the flop, but two pair on the turn and a self-trap, giving Brody yet another free card with a hand on which he never would have called any bet.

Half of that 300k was gone, much to Ibrahim but some to Brody, who had now pulled back into second at 240k.

Ostrow's chips kept melting away, as steadily as light snow on a hot sunny day. He'd fallen to 90k by #206, and to 44k by #211. His anguish and disappointment were as visible on his face as his excitement had been what seemed like only moments earlier.

By #219, he had 13k left. He'd run 10k into 300k and now was back almost exactly where he'd started.

EASY GO, EASY COME

He tripled up on the next hand, and an eerie déjà vu feeling started working its way around the room (is there any other kind of déjà vu?)

By #224 it was 60k. By #226 it was more than 100k. I took particular note of #227 because as soon as I glanced up from my note-taking, I realized the button hadn't moved. I frantically but silently tried to get Savage's attention. I was a railbird, albeit one allowed inside the rail. It wasn't my place to say anything to the players, but I felt it was OK to say something quietly to the director. By the time he noticed me, Ostrow was just about to drag a very small pot, and it really was too late to do anything.

It was, oddly, time for the next dealer to come into the box, and so the former dealer was standing next to us as I showed Savage my notes, that had tracked the button every hand. No question, it hadn't moved, and the dealer confirmed this. "I was about to move the button," he said, "but the other two players (Ostrow, SB, and Brody, BB) had already posted their blinds, and I thought maybe I'd missed something."

A new count had it

Brody, 334,000
Ibrahim, 409,000
Ostrow, 111,000

This comeback wasn't going to get to 300k, though. Ostrow started faltering, unable to find the big hands but even more important switching gears at exactly the wrong time. His earlier snug play would have avoided these troubles, but over the next few dozen hands he paid off far too many winners on the end, making calls with very little of his own.

Whether or not the calls were right isn't clear; three-handed, you don't need a lot. What was clear was that his timing was way off; he was calling when opponents had the goods, and given his earlier reluctance to play with anything other than real hands, he probably should have figured that if opponents kept betting into him after he'd called, they probably had something.

He found himself down to 15k by hand #257, and escaped with a split taking Q-3 against Q-4 when the first four cards came A-A-J-Q; there was no river card that could have avoided a split.

ANOTHER MONSTROUS BLIND JUMP

After #258, the blinds almost increased by a factor someone could notice: they went from $3,000-6,000 playing 6&12 to $4,000-$8,000, playing 8&16. Blinds and bets had each increased 25%, and it would actually cost $3,000 more to sit out a round.

On the first hand at the new level, Ostrow had to post 8k of his remaining 15k as the big blind, and Ibrahim wasn't the type to given anyone any breathing room. He raised from the SB and Ostrow thought long and hard. Obviously he had almost nothing, but the thought of dropping to 7k with 4k of it posted as the SB was too unappealing. He called, saying "I need help" and turned over 8-3.

He didn't need as much help as he thought, because Ibrahim had only J-2, but a jack hit the J-6-7 flop, and when a six hit the turn, "Ostrow the Unkillable" had finally been stomped out of the tournament. Two such great comebacks and such a big payday for a small tournament player will make for memories for a lifetime, though, and even if $74,560 wasn't as much as he might have made in a deal, he'd had a ride he - and many others - will long remember.

HEADS-UP…FINALLY

It was thus on hand #260 that the heads-up duel began, with Ibrahim leading 580k to 260k. Heads-up, the small blind goes on the button (SBB) and acts first before the flop and second after the flop.

Ibrahim made a strong statement on hand #263, a limp-in pot. He bet out at the 2h-7h-Ad flop, only to get called. Both players checked when the 3c hit the turn, and when the Kd hit the river, Ibrahim checked and then called Brody's 16k bet - even though the pot wasn't very large.

Brody turned over 8h-4h, a flush draw gone bad, and incredibly, Ibrahim turned over J-10 - jack high!

If that isn't enough to spook you into thinking your opponent has a read on you, I'm not sure what is. Nonetheless, it made a fair amount of sense. Neither player had acted like he owned a pocket pair, and it would be hard to value bet a king with an ace on the board. There was a reasonable chance that Brody was betting with exactly what he had, a flush draw that had no chance to win except with a bet. Figuring he could beat a stone cold bluff, he made a call I don't think I'm capable of.

Ibrahim kept firing at the undoubtedly shaken Brody, and worked his lead to 690k-150k, and then to 740k-100k. Just as it looked like we might be done, Brody almost doubled through on a hand he raised from the SBB - a tricky thing to do against an opponent who hadn't released many hands to raises, given that Brody had 3-5!

NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL A FLOP

The flop, though, brought fire and brought rain: Ah-4h-2d, a straight, though we didn't yet know it, for Brody! Each player checked the flop, but when the 4c hit the turn, Ibrahim checked, Brody bet 16k, and Ibrahim picked the wrong moment for a check-raise to 32k.

Brody just called, waiting, hindsight tells us, to use his position to trap Ibrahim on the river, and Ibrahim cooperated by betting out. Brody raised, got his call, and turned over his 3-5.

Four hands later, his stack was back to 225k, and by hand #308, it was 351k (Ibrahim thus at 493k). And here I was thinking that the best roller coaster in town was over at New York New York (actually, it probably is, but with the miserable shape my back is in, you won't catch me riding that THIS trip…right now it's 50-50 whether I go to the Bellagio tomorrow, or pass and have Max Shapiro cover it).

WE COULDN'T HAVE ANOTHER DEAL TALK GO AWRY, COULD WE?

At this point Brody brought up the possibility of a deal, and for the first time in a long time, Ibrahim - thus far completely vindicated in his earlier refusals - considered accepting. He was willing to chop according to the chips, which would have meant Brody would get about $183,000, but Brody quite correctly asked for some kind of premium on his shorter stack.

Ibrahim was willing to consider $190,000 (leaving him with about $250,000) but Brody figured his stack might be worth more, and as he made his point, Ibrahim decided they should just play it.

All we needed was for Ibrahim to say "Play it, Sam, you played it for her, you can play it for me," but he was focused on movies, not Bogie and Bergman.

Ibrahim seemed to again have picked the right moment to just say no, because Brody couldn't make a hand over the next 60 hands. "I raised with every hand I had that I could raise with," he told me afterwards about that stretch, "but Mohamed called most of the raises, and then I could never hit a flop. I might have checked a few times when I should have bet (no argument here: it seemed like there were far too many hands where Brody raised pre-flop but gave up when he didn't hit a flop), but I couldn't move him and I couldn't hit."

By the time we reached the official break, Ibrahim lead 725k to 120k. The blinds skyrocketed again, from $4,000-8,000 to $5,000-10,000 - another 25% jump. If all men could be this gentle and this long-lasting when it came to sex, the world would be a much less troubled place, I think.

Ibrahim kept the pressure on, and had Brody reeling and down to about 90k when we reached hand #374. Ibrahim made it 20k from the SBB, Brody re-popped it to 30k, with Ibrahim calling. The flop came Ac-6d-3s, and Brody bet 10k, with Ibrahim calling again. The 10h hit the turn, and Brody again led out, with Ibrahim calling the 20k. A seven hit the river, Brody led out one more time, and again Ibrahim called.

NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL A RIVER

Brody flipped over his pocket sevens, a set on the river, and Ibrahim showed everyone his ace. The tournament would have been over, barring an Ostrow-like comeback from the 10k Brody would have had left. Instead, Brody had a real stack, and on the very next hand, his 5-9 caught a gutshot straight on the turn as the board came 2-7-8-6. In two hands, he'd moved from 90k to the low 200s.

Lady Luck can be a fickle partner, though. On the hand following Brody's gutshot, Ibrahim made it 20k from the SBB, with Brody calling. The flop came Q-3-A, with Brody leading out, Ibrahim raising, and Brody calling. A deuce hit the turn and a six the river, with Brody check-calling 20k each time.

Ibrahim flipped over 4-5, having turned a gutshot of his own. With all these belly wounds, I was wondering how anyone was going to be able to eat again. Maybe the security guard with the shotgun was targeting the cards.

While Brody recovered from a dose of his own medicine, Ibrahim shot 20k at an 80k pot with the board showing 8c-Qd-4h-Kh-Jd, and Brody let it go. Ibrahim turned over 10-3 offsuit, your more or less totally successful bluff and mind game rolled up into one.

Brody kept trying but sliding after that, and his stack eroded. Ibrahim won a never-bet limp pot on #392 after announcing "nine-high," leaving Brody with 40k.

On hand #393, Brody tossed half of his stack in as a raise from the SBB, and Ibrahim called. The flop came 3c-Kc-10s, Ibrahim checked, Brody bet, and Ibrahim raised Brody's last 10k. Brody wasn't happy but with that much in the pot and memories of the 10-3 hand no doubt still floating about, he called. Pocket nines for Ibrahim, Ac-Q? for Brody, who needed either a queen, ace, or running clubs.

LOTS OF OUTS LEAD ONLY TO AN EXIT

The 4c hit the turn. Brody was live to any club, any ace, or any queen. He said he'd gladly give Ibrahim a set if it came via the 9c, but the river card was one pip and one color off. The ten of hearts gave Mohamed Ibrahim his first ever WSOP bracelet, and complete vindication for refusing deal after deal after deal.

Brody is a successful stock trader, and while he wouldn't throw $140,000 out into the street, was quite sincere when he said the battle had been, for him, much more about the bracelet than the cash.

"Money spends," he said, "and I have enough money. I've played in maybe 65 WSOP events, cashed about 15 times, but have never gotten all the way. It's tough to come this close and lose."

How did he feel, then, if this was all about the bracelet? Not as badly as his first words would have had me guess. "I don't feel that bad," he said. "I mean I did just win a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and I did perform well, and got second place in a huge tournament. That's not a horrible outcome just because it wasn't my ideal outcome."

Because of various comments the two players had exchanged about "adding another game" to the play, as well as various good-natured challenges about playing some high stakes Omaha later, I assumed that limit hold'em wasn't Brody's best game, and asked him if that were true.

THE BEST CRACK ABOUT LIMIT HOLD'EM YOU'LL HEAR THIS YEAR

"I don't think limit hold'em is ANYONE'S best game," he said with a smile. "It certainly isn't mine. It's very trying. You can't move chips or protect a hand. I'm probably best at Omaha eight-or-better, or pot-limit Omaha, or no-limit hold'em."

I don't have any regrets," he concluded. "I raced over here just after I busted out of the Bellagio main event, and got here at 11:45 (each tournament starts at noon). If I'd lasted 45 more minutes at the Bellagio, I wouldn't have been able even to enter this event. I played well, I think Mohamed played very well, and I had a great time."

When I was able to reach Ibrahim (it's pronounced eeb-ra-heem), the first thing I wanted to know was what was on his mind as he refused deal after deal.

"I felt very comfortable with the game," he said, "even though I knew anything could happen. There just wasn't going to be a deal that I was happy with, especially because the money was very important to me, bigger than the bracelet, because the money was big not just for me but for a lot of other people."

I wanted to know what he meant, because I knew just enough about Ibrahim's game to get myself in trouble. When I first met him and started playing against him four years ago, he was hugely successful and feared, and I hadn't realized there had been a long dry spell.

ACTUAL HONESTY AND ACCEPTING OF RESPONSIBILITY…HOW DID THAT HAPPEN IN POKER?

"I had a big loss in the pit games," he said, "and ever since that, I haven't been very lucky in tournaments. I've only been able to play tournaments lately because so many of my friends have supported me, either with loans or by backing me."

I was curious if Ibrahim would be willing to reveal the names of his supporters, and he was. When you read the folks he named, you'll quickly realize that he MUST be a very skilled player, because the list isn't exactly full of people lacking judgment.

"There are a lot," he began. "Allen Cunningham, and Ted Forrest, they have been big. Johnny Chan, and Gus Hansen, and Freddie Deeb, Lee Salem, Greg Hopkins, Hasan Habib…the list goes on, there are a lot more."

There was a reason for Ibrahim's turnaround, it appears - one that goes beyond his friends' faith in him.

"I quit smoking five months ago," he said. "In fact, over the last half year, I have been working hard at getting rid of all my leaks (bad habits). I haven't played any pit games, no blackjack or craps. I didn't even play any Bellagio events, because I didn't quite feel mentally ready yet. But I felt ready for this one. Choosing to get rid of my leaks has worked for me, at least so far."

In a community of players who so often blame everything except themselves for their failures, it was awfully refreshing to hear a talented player accept responsibility for his own hard times, and even more good to see that accepting that responsibility and choosing to DO something about it resulted in a big win. THAT'S a lesson far more important than any of the hands Mohamed Ibrahim played today, a lesson valuable not just in poker.

It was such a good lesson, and such a happy ending, it even made it worth sitting through 393 hands. I can't wait for the split-pot games to begin….

FINAL OFFICIAL RESULTS, $2,000 LIMIT HOLD'EM
422 ENTRIES, TOTAL PRIZE POOL $784,920

(7% withheld for Binion's overhead, profit, and tournament staff)

1. Mohamed Ibrahim, $290,420
2. Jon Brody, $149,140
3. Todd Ostrow, $74,560
4. Adam Schwartz, $47,100
5. Jay Helfert, $35,320
6. Farzad "Freddie" Bonyadi, $27,480
7. Danny Qutami, $19,620
8. Richard Brendel, $15,700
9. Joseph Coreli, $12,660
10. Tuan Nguyen, $9,420

11th-12th, $9,140 each: Ralph Grantham, Don Barton.
13th-15th, $7,840 each: Juha Helppi, Raymond Yee, Dat Tran.
16th-18th, $6,280 each: Perry Shenkman, Robert Drew MacGregor, Yuegi (Rich) Zhu.
19th-27th, $4,700 each: James Allen, Warren Karp, Frank Giammarinaro, Teresa McMillan, Nhut Tran, Phi Nguyen, Brain Cunningham, Kathy Liebert, Russell Hendricks.

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