24-year-old Prahlad Friedman Rides
Roller-Coaster to Pot-Limit Victory

By Max Shapiro

Binion's Horseshoe
World Series of Poker
Pot-limit Hold'em
$1,500 buy-in
212 Entrants
$295,740 Prize Pool

"It was a roller-coaster," was how Prahlad Friedman described the sixth event of WSOP 2003, pot-limit hold'em. Indeed it was. He started as final-table chip leader with $85,000. With four players left, he had amassed some $190,000 of the $327,000 of chips in play with relentless raising, blind-stealing and bluffing, sometimes showing his successful bluffs, hoping to get an opponent steaming. But some 30 hands later he had managed to lose the lead to Hov Ung. Then, with two players left, he had his final opponent out-chipped at one point by 327k-45k, and managed to lose that lead as well. But after that he surged ahead to take down first place and $109,400 along with not only his first bracelet, but his first WSOP money finish as well.

He declined to make a deal when he was heads-up with Bernig "Bernie" Rygol of Munich, Germany. "He wasn't gambling enough where I felt it was necessary to chop," Friedman explained. If he was gambling and raising and re-raising, then it would be a crap shoot with those blinds. But he was playing too passive."

Friedman (no relation to Perry Friedman, who won a $1,500 Omaha hi-lo event here last year) is a 24-year-old ethnic studies student at UC Berkeley who plays side games in the northern California area at limits up to $400-$800. Last year he chopped a $3,000 no-limit tournament at the Bellagio, taking home 150k. A social activist who's considering law school to practice civil rights or environmental law, he took advantage of his moment in the spotlight following his victory to take the microphone and make a brief anti-war statement and plea for peace ala Michael Moore at this year's Academy Awards.


The final table included two WSOP poker millionaires, Mel Judah and Brent Carter, along with the formidable John Juanda and Hans "Tuna" Lund, who was making his return to tournament poker after playing but one event since 1997. Lund himself was just shy of the million-dollar mark in WSOP cash-outs, needing to place fourth to reach that milestone. Interestingly, these four "name" players were among the first five players to depart.
There was also no shortage of nicknames at the final table. Besides Tuna, there was Bernie "Grandmaster B," who holds a European stud championship; Friedman, who likes to call himself "John Q"; and Oregon logger Dennis Waterman, with a logjam of final table finishes, who goes by the handle of "Swami."


Here's how the starting chip count stacked up at the final table:


1 Bernie Rygol $30,500
2 John Juanda $16,000
3 Paul Vinci $37,500
4 Hov Ung $55,500
5 Mel Judah $6,500
6 Hans Lund $19,500
7 Brent Carter $17,000
8 Dennis Waterman $38.000
9 Prahlad Friedman $85,000
10 Mark Wilds $17,000

With each player given $1,500, the count should have been $218,000. But there were a few extra thousand chips on the table because of un-played stacks that were blinded off at the start. Chip leader Friedman had to struggle to stay alive at the outset of the tournament. He arrived a half-hour late, then made an admittedly bad call with kings when an ace turned. He lost to aces-up and was down to $300. "A lot of people would have given up," he said, "but I remained patient." He began making a comeback when he went in with pocket 8s and made quads. In the later stages he picked up a mass of chips by pounding Marcel Luske of the Netherlands (who finished 13th) and taking most of his $60,000.

The final table started with blinds of $1,000-$2,000, playing 90-minute rounds, with 57:10 left. On the first hand, Ung opened for 7k with pocket 6s and Judah moved in for his 65k with Ah, Jc. When the board came K-9-5-7, Mel was one card away from being eliminated. But then he exclaimed, "Yes!" as a river ace saved him and he zoomed from $6,500 to $16,000 in one hand. Juanda, a triple-draw bracelet holder and two-time Player of the Year in Card Player magazine's rankings, finished 10th for a $3,540 payout. On hand five, Friedman opened for 6k from the cut-off seat with A-7 and Juanda moved in for $12,500 from the big blind. The board came all rags, and "John Q" busted him with ace-high.

Only three more hands went by before a second player hit the bricks, and once again John Q did the honors. He made it 7k to go. Mark Wilds, a forklift operator from Biloxi, Mississipi, who started the final table tied with Brent Carter for last place, moved in. This time Friedman was about a 70 percent favorite with A-Q off to Wild's Kd, Qd. Mark took the lead with the board came Q-9-2 with one diamond, but runner-runner diamonds came to lift the forklift operator out of his seat. He collected $4,740.


Friedman, with two quick kills, was getting pumped up. "Every hand, baby, I'm gonna raise," he warned the table. He went after Carter on hand 15, but Brent, who returned to action as a harness-racing driver with two track wins last year, stayed several lengths ahead. Friedman put him in for 12k after Brent raised under the gun with A-8. Brent then flopped two pair to easily outrace Prahlad's K-J. On the next hand, Judah, the two-bracelet Australian-born Londoner, couldn't make a getaway . He moved all in for l0k from the big blind with K-10 and Rygol called with pocket 9s. Mel flopped an inside straight draw but couldn't catch a 10 and lost to Rygol's set. He settled for $5,920.

A batch of hands went by, pretty much all of them open-with-a-raise-and-take-it. On hand 26, Friedman raised to 7k with two 10s and the redoubtable Tuna moved in for 22.5k on the button with two 5s. The board came K-8-8-A-7 and John Q reeled in Tuna to claim three of the four players knocked out so far. Seventh place paid $7,400.


Hov Ung, a liquor store owner who plays low-limit in Colorado, was thrilled to be at the final table in his first-ever WSOP event. He had chopped a satellite, invested additional money to enter this event and had been, in his own words, "just playing for fun and trying to get my money back." Now he was playing patiently, laying a lot of hands down, and trying to see how far up the payout ladder he could go. (Friedman later said he noticed his opponents would often look at the payout board, figured they were just trying to move up a notch at a time, and that gave him the incentive to raise on almost anything.) On hand 27, Hov, who was getting low on chips, had his chance when he flopped a big hand. John Q, still pounding away, bet 8k into a flop of Q-J-7 holding Q-9 and Hov, who had made two pair holding Q-J, shoved in all his $22,500, winning when a 9 and ace came. Suddenly in contention, Hov then moved into a slight lead when John Q lost a pot to Bernie seven hands later.

The blinds went to 15 and 30k a few hands later. At this point, Friedman had inched back into the lead with 93k to Ung's 90k. Rygol had $48,500 and the other three players had between $27,000 and $37,000.
The next 16 hands were relatively tame. Then, on hand 16 Brent Carter, owner of two bracelets, was down to 12k when he found pocket 7s in the small blind and moved in. Friedman called with pocket 6s and claimed his fourth victim when he flopped a set. The harness driver went to the payout window to pick up $10,340.


Friedman now had about 130k and moved up to 140k a hand later when Ung opened for $10,000 and John Q muscled him out with a 21.5k raise. Rygol and Ung now had about 60k or so each, Waterman about 35k and Paul Vinci, owner of an Italian restaurant, trailed with 24k. On hand 54, Paul opened for 10.5k with Ad, 9d and Bernie put him in with a raise holding two jacks. On the turn, Paul picked up a flush draw but missed and took home $13,300 for fourth.

Hand 69 offered a textbook example of how Friedman's experience and calculated recklessness was running circles around a cautious, inexperienced tournament player like Ung. The liquor store owner had opened for $10,000 on the button and Friedman had called. The flop came 7-6-5 and John Q bet 21.5. You could hear Ung talking half-aloud, asking himself, "What does he have? He called $10,000," and you could see his fingers moving as he appeared to be counting. He finally folded and showed a paired 7.

John Q showed a J-Q for a total bluff. He now had half the chips on the table. A dozen hands later he again pulled off a brazen bluff, again against Ung. With a board of J-10-4 and two spades, he bet $40,000 into a $58,000 pot and, when Ung folded, he showed one card, a 3d. He later admitted he was trying to put his opponents on tilt by showing bluffs.
Continuing to pound the blinds, Friedman bulled his way to nearly 230k. He finally lost a hand when Bernie re-raised him on hand 86, going all in with for 20k with A-5, which held up against John Q's Q-4. By the time blinds went to $2,000-$4,000 on hand 89, the count was roughly:
Friedman $190,000
Ung 60,000
Waterman 38,500
Rygol 33,000


Some 15 hands later, John Q was still in the lead, but his count had dropped to about 115 k, while Hov with 90k and Bernie with 80k were playing catch-up, while Swami Waterman trailed with about $22,000. On hand 116, Friedman opened for $12,000, Ung came over the top for $26,000 more and Waterman went all in for $56,000. Friedman folded. Dennis showed A-Q, Hov had pocket 6s and the pair held up when the board came J-8-2-4-4. With about $130,000, Ung now had a slight lead, but John Q moved ahead of him again a couple of hands later.


A decisive hand came down on the 142nd deal. Friedman opened for 12k on the button with K-J, Ung popped it for 26k more with A-Q of spades and Friedman then moved him by raising about 55k. The board came K-9-6-5-10. Ung finished third, amazing himself with a $28,100 prize payout, and Prahlad now had a huge lead of about $260k to Bernie's 60k. Calling the action, tournament co-director announced that this was the boyish Friedman's first WSOP cash-out. "That's probably because he just turned 21," Matt cracked. "Let's see your ID," Bernie demanded.

Blinds now went to $3,000-$6,000. Bernie was all in on hand 155 with Qs, Js against Friedman's K-6, but "Grandmaster B" doubled up when he sucked out with a turn-card queen. On hand 158, everything turned around again. With a board of 10s, 8h, 4s, Rygol bet 12k with Q-10 of diamonds, Friedman raised 36k and Bernie moved in. Friedman turned up A-J of spades. First a 5 and then a king of hearts came, and Bernie's two 10s won. "I put him on a flush draw, Grandmaster B said, as he moved into a slight chip lead. When he picked up a few more checks on the next hand, he suggested a deal, but Friedman wanted no part of it.


On the next hand, Friedman pulled into the lead again when Rygol folded on the river. After that, everything seemed to go Friedman's way. Winning a succession of small pots, he gradually increased his lead. Hand 181 was the last. The flop was 7-6-3 of hearts. Rygol had top pair with Q-7, but Friedman, with 10h, 4h, had flopped a flush. Friedman bet12k, Rygol came over the top for 48k more and Friedman re-raised to put him all in and all out as a 5 and deuce came. The roller-coaster had come to a stop, and the confident 24-year-old had his first bracelet.

Official Prize Money

1. Prahlad Friedman Richmond, CA $109,400
2. Bernie Rygol Munich, Germany $56,200
3. Hov Ung Westminster, CO $28,100
4. Dennis Waterman Myrtle Point, OR $17,740
5. Paul Vinci Pismo Beach, CA $13,300
6. Brent Carter Oak Park, IL $10,340
7. Hans "Tuna" Lund Sparks, NV $7,400
8. Mel Judah London, England $5.920
9. Mark Wilds Biloxi, MS $4,740
10.John Juanda Marina Del Rey, CA $3,540

11th and 12th, $3,540: David Plastik, Las Vegas, NV; Marcel Luske, Netherlands.
13th-15th, $2,960: Tony Cousineau, Daytona Beach, FL; James Karamanis, Barrington, IL; Luis Santoni, Pembroke Pines, FL.
16th-18th, $2,360: Jeff Rothstein, New York, NY; Bill Gazes, Marina del Rey, CA; Dan Heimiller, Las Vegas, NV.
19th-27th, $1,780: Tom Duncker, Brooklyn, NY; Stephen Mills, Santa Fe, NM; Tom McCormick, Fargo, ND; Chris Bjorin, England; Richard Pipe, England; Stephen Rydel, Las Vegas, NV; Bryan Davidson, Southfield, MI; Roger Brestak, Norton, MA; Paul Westley, London, England.

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