"A Two-Tier Beginning And a Memorable Ending"
By Max Shapiro With Andrew N.S. Glazer, "The Poker Pundit"

Binion’s Horseshoe
World Series of Poker
Event #10
1/2 Limit Hold’em-1/2 Seven-Card Stud
$2,000 Buy-in
89 Entrants
$165,640 Prize Pool

“I’ve never seen a final table like this,” guest announcer Vince Burgio remarked as he examined the line-up for the 1/2 limit hold-em-1/2 seven-card stud finale. “There should be one table for the short stacks and another for the big ones.” This was indeed a two-tier table for the rich and for the poor. Four of the players had between $4,000 and $8,700 and the other four had between $32,300 and $48,400. In other words, the shortest of the big stacks had 25 percent more than all the little ones combined. It seemed like an easy table to handicap, at least for the early stages, and for the most part it went that way. But there were lots of surprises, twists and turns in this exciting event, capped by a 51-hand heads-up match between …

No, wait! Andy Glazer has reminded me that many readers prefer to be kept in suspense and not have their fun spoiled by being told that the butler did it in the headline and first sentence. So I will forego my usual style and, while I may not be able to match the substance and in-depth analysis that Andy offers in his inimitable reports, I will at least attempt to follow the format. Actually, this is a tag-team effort. Andy stopped by the tournament area toward the latter stages, was mesmerized by the final match-up and added a “special bonus coverage” located at the end of this article.

THE RICH AND THE POOR

Here is the starting line-up for this initially mismatched match.

Seat  
1 Dean Shulman $4,000
2 Thor Hansen $32,300
3 Kevin Song $38,100
4 Diego Cordovez $8,700
5 Andrew Hallenbeck $7,000
6 Jimmy Cha $6,000
7 Humberto Brenes $33,800
8 Chris Ferguson $48,000

OK, five bracelet-holders including a world champion and 10 bracelets total. Not a bad field. We started at level 10. The first game was seven-card stud, with $200 antes, $300 low-card bring in and $1,000-$2,000 limits, 16:56 remaining and $178,300 in play. The first hand saw three-way action. Kevin Song folded on fifth street and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson dropped out on sixth when Diego Cordovez bet with a board of 6-10-7-2. “The D Train” picked up a 16k pot, and while he hadn’t joined the rich folk yet, he wasn’t poor anymore either. Call him middle-class.

ONE GONE QUICKLY

On hand three, businessman Jimmy “Jimmy Jimy” Cha looked at pocket kings. Starting lowest-chipped with $6,000, he hadn’t much choice but to push his hand all the way, and that’s what he did. He put his last few hundred in on sixth street and never helped. Humberto Brenes of Costa Rica, 28th WSOP all time, with 21 money finishes, went in with 5-8/A, paired his 5 on fourth street and made a second 7 on the river to cut the field to seven. Cha took home $4,960 for eighth place.

Hand eight was only the second one to go to the river when Dean Shulman’s split queens held up to beat Kevin Song’s two queens. This was the 10th money finish for Song, a WSOP limit hold’em winner, who was returning to action after a year’s hiatus to take care of personal business.

On hand 11, the game reverted to hold’em, with $1,000-$1,500 blinds, playing $1,500-$3,000. On hand 13, Andrew Hallenbeck, making his first WSOP cash-in raised, Ferguson raised and Shulman three-bet it with K-K. With a 9-9-7-2 board, Hallenbeck bet and Chris folded. Andrew picked up a 16.5k pot and Chris lost his starting chip lead to Brenes. But Jesus rose to regain his lead on the next hand by winning a $25,000 pot against Song. Chris had 7-7, Kevin A-J. Chris opened for 3k and Kevin three-bet it from the small blind with A-J. A board of 10-9-3-8 gave Chris a straight draw and Kevin a higher straight draw. Kevin also had two overcards, but a jack would have given Chris the straight. On the other hand, a 7 would have given Chris a set, but Kevin a straight. Anyway, Chris was about an 80 percent favorite and his 7s held held up when the board paired a 9.

D TRAIN IS NEAR DERAILEMENT

An eyeball count two hands later showed Chris hanging onto a slight lead over Humberto, while D Train was nearly off the tracks with 8k.

Chris Ferguson: $44,000
Humberto Brenes: $40,000
Thor Hansen: $35,000
Kevin Song: $25,000
Dean Shulman: $24,000
Andrew Hallenbeck: $3,500
Diego Cordovez: $8,000

A few hands later, Hallenbeck went all in before the flop for $1,400 in four-way action, flopped a set of queens and got to stick around for a while.

BACK ON THE FAST TRACK

Suddenly the D Train, who had picked up a few chips a few hands before, shoved in the throttle all the way.

Hand 22: Against Thor Hansen, the pot is three-bet. Diego bets the flop of K-K-10. A jack turns, Diego bets, Hansen folds.

Hand 23: Diego opens for 3k, Humberto three-bets. Flop is 10-10-6. Diego bets. Turn is an 8. Humberto bets, Diego raises, Humberto folds.

Hand 24: Flop is 10d, 8h, 9s. Diego bets, Chris raises. Turn is 9s. River is As. Chris checks, Diego bets, Chris folds.

Hand 25: Diego raises, Humberto makes it $4,500. Flop is Q-A-7. Diego checks, Humberto bets, Diego check-raises. Turn is an 8, second club. Diego bets, Humberto raises. River is a 10. Diego has K-J for the nut straight. He checks, but Humberto with A-K of clubs, has missed his flush and isn’t biting.

The D Train, now going about 150 mph, wins five hands in a row and takes the chip lead with about $55,000.

On hand 26, Song opened under the gun with A-K. Hallenbeck, who never had many chips, called all in for $1,400 and so did Hansen, holding K-K. The board of 9-4-2-A-6 was checked down, and Song’s paired ace won. Hallenbeck, mucking without showing his hand, settled for seventh place and $6,620 in his first WSOP cash-out. On the next hand, Hansen, who hadn’t been able to do much, got drawn out again. He had A-K to Brenes’ K-J. The flop was K-Q-2, leaving Humberto dead to a jack or a back-door straight. A jack turned and Humberto, going all in on the river, doubled up.

HOW DID PHIL GET INTO THIS?

At this point, announcer Burgio mentioned that when Ferguson won his third bracelet, he fastened all three together to make a gold hatband for his black western hat (no doubt the world’s most valuable hat band). With his fourth bracelet this year, he might make a belt, Burgio suggested. What, he wondered, could be made with five linked bracelets? “A headband for Phil Hellmuth,” someone in the audience cracked, breaking everybody up. Hellmuth may or may not be the world’s best poker player, but he’s certainly poker’s best comic straight man.

A couple of hands later D train threw some more coals on the fire. On hand 35, Shuman opened for 3k from late position, Song raised from the button and Cordovez made it 4.5k from the small blind. On a 8-6-2 flop, Diego bet and got two calls. He bet the turn-card deuce and Shulman called. He got another call on the river and took the pot with pocket queens. On the next hand, Shulman went all in for $1,700 with 6d, 5d. A flop of 9-6-4 gave him a pair of sixes, but Cordovez had pocket 7s and won again. Shulman finished sixth for $8,280, and Diego, one of the original short stacks, now had close to 80k and a sizeable lead.

ONLY BRACELET HOLDERS ALLOWED

The five players left are all bracelet holders. In addition to Ferguson, Hansen holds two, Song and Cordovez have one each and Brenes has two.

Meanwhile, Hansen, the likeable pro from Oslo, Norway, had been quietly going downhill. On hand 35, when Chris opened on the button for 3k, Thor decided to take his chances with 9-7 of diamonds and called for his last $2,500. D Train, with lots of chips, also called from the big blind with Q-2 offsuit. A queen flopped, Diego’s paired lady won and Thor collected his $9,940 for fifth place.

A rough chip count now showed:

Cordovez: $82,000
Song: $42,000
Ferguson: $32,000
Brenes: $24,000

DIEGO KNOWS HOLD’EM

Diego’s specialty is limit holdem, and a few hands later he demonstrated his ability to read opponents. Song, on the button, held Q-J and had an open-end straight draw on a flop of K-10-5. When a 3-2 then was dealt, he tried a bluff bet on the end, but Diego picked him off with just A-high. He won yet another pot against Brenes when he flopped a king to his A-K, but then …

THE TRAIN SLOWS

The rushing D Train hit his first big red flag on hand 48. Ferguson, who had been playing rather conservatively, hoping, he later explained, to last as long as possible, now began to open up. On hand 48 he button-raised with just K-2. Kevin and Diego called. He bet the flop of A-7-2 and Diego, holding an ace, check-raised. A 3 turned and Chris bet with just a paired deuce against Diego’s aces. The river brought what seemed to Diego a safe deuce. He bet, Chris raised and showed a startled Cordovez his three ducks.

Earlier, Diego had picked off an attempted bluff by song. Now, on hand 53, Song returned the favor. Kevin had A-5 in the small blind, Diego 9-6 in the big blind. Diego raised a flop of Q-3-2, bet a turn-card queen and then a river trey. Puzzled, Song finally called with his winning ace-high.

A few hands later, Chris got unexpected dividends from overplaying his K-2 earlier. With a board of 8h, 7h, 4h, Kc, Song had a king and the best hand. But he checked because, he later explained, he remembered Chris’ hand and feared he could have anything. What Chris had was Ad, Jh, and a river heart gave hi a winning flush. Right after that, Cordovez folded when Song bet into a Q-9-2-4-K board and lost his lead as Ferguson edged past him. The approximate count was:

Ferguson: $61,000
Cordovez: 56,600
Song: 47,300
Brenes 12,800

BACK TO STUD

Stud now came in on hand 58. Antes were $300 with $600 bring-in and $2,000-$4,000 limits. Six hands went by without a contested pot. Finally, Chris, showing 3-5-J-Q against Diego’s 8-7-K-K, made jacks and fives to move up to $84,000. Song had taken over second place with 46k while Cordovez had 37k and Brenes was down to 12k. But the Costa Rican got well again on hand 69 in what began as a three-way pot. Song had started with A-K/10, had a flush and inside straight draw on fifth street but missed everything. Brenes, starting with split jacks, made two pair on that same fifth street, went all in on the river and won.

Chris then proceeded to win hand 75 with aces and 9s against Kevin, and again with the same cards two hands later. On that hand, Kevin was Down to $1,500 and went all in with a door-card 8. Diego and Humberto both folded on fifth street, and the remaining hands were turned up. Kevin had 10-7/8, Chris K-9/A. Chris caught a 9 on fifth and an ace on the river while the best that Kevin could do was pair his 8. He got $11,580 for fifth.

Chris now had a monster lead of about $110,000 to roughly $33,000 each for Diego and Humberto.

WHO’S TONY CURTIS?

There was a stir of excitement as Nolan Dalla, who’s handling press relations, report writing and broadcasting duties for Binion’s, announced that actor Tony Curtis had strolled onto the premises, reportedly looking for a $4-$8 game. But there were more important things at hand, and attention immediately returned to the ongoing battle, now three-handed. In a few more hands it became two-handed. On hand 85, Brenes, showing 10-3-K-8, sighed and folded with Chris bet out showing 8-7-J-6. Chris then sent him away on the next hand. Humburto had A-Q/A-5-4 and went all in. Chris had J-8/8-4-A. Once again Chris drew out by hitting a two-pair jack on the river while Humberto died with his split aces. He took home $19,860.

THE MARATHON BEGINS

Heads-up, Chris held a 2.4-1 lead, 132k-55k, but Diego had no intentions of lying down for Jesus. The first action hand came on hand 98 when Diego bet the river showing 10-6-3-4, Chris raised whoing 8-7-2-9 and Diego folded with about $23,500 left.

The count hadn’t changed much when it went to hold’em, $3,000-$6,000 limits. Four hands later, on the 106th hand, Chris had A-K, Diego A-A, and the pot was five-bet before the flop. (The only time unlimited raising is allowed is when only two players are left.) Chris was close to drawing dead on a flop of J-4-3. Diego bet blind for fourth street and the river, going all in, and won a pot of close to 40k. Chopping away relentlessly, Chris had his opponent down to $15,000 on hand 128 by check-raising a flop of K-Q-2 and getting Diego to fold.

By hand 142 Diego was back up to 30k when Chris tried a check-raise bluff into a Q-9-5 flop, then folded when Cordovez bet out after a king and three were dealt. Diego probably saved some chips a few hands later when Chris made a flush on the river. Chris, holding 10h, 9c, flopped a straight when the board came 8-7-6 with two clubs. But then two more clubs fell and Diego folded when Chris bet.

UP AND DOWN – AND THEN OUT

As action continued, Cordovez climbed to $68,000, then plunged back down to $28,000. The back-breaker came on hand 155. Chris raised with 8-6, Cordovez played back at him with just 5-4. A flop of 10-7-6 gave Diego an open-end straight and Chris a pair of 6s with an inside straight draw. Pushing his draw, Diego bet and was called. A deuce came on the turn. Still pressing, Diego bet, and Chris, trying to represent a big hand, three-bet on his semi-bluff draw hand. A nine on the river gave Chris his inside straight. It was also a third diamond, and could have made a higher straight, so when Diego tried one last desperation bet, Chris only called.

Still, the damage was done because Diego was now down to just $13,000. On the next and last hand, Chris held Kh, 9d to Diego’s Ah, 7s. The pot was three-bet before the flop. When the board came K-Q-8, Diego bet, and then bet all in on a turn-card 7. Only an ace could now save Diego. A trey came on the river, and Chris had bracelet number five, his second in WSOP 2003 to date. Asked to answer Vince Burgio’s question about what he could make with five of them, he replied, “I’m planning on a sash – we’ll see.”
He played tribute to Cordovez as one of the greatest hold’em players in the world. “There are no chinks in his armor,” he said.

Asked whether the split-game format bothered him, he said that while he had trouble with mixed games such as H.O.R.S.E.that required frequent switching of gears, half stud and half hold’em didn’t bother him. While hold’em drew the greatest players in the world, he explained, he felt that he would be a bigger favorite in the stud end, giving him, on balance, an edge.

As for an overview and analysis of the tournament, let’s leave that to Andy.

"Nice Guys Don’t Finish Last"
An Addendum by Andrew N.S. Glazer, "The Poker Pundit"

In the boring (to everyone else) and painful (to me) saga of my back woes, I had to pass both on covering the entire final table in the ½ Hold’em, ½ Stud Event here at the WSOP and on playing the $2,500 no-limit event.

Nonetheless, a little voice in my head told me to go downstairs at about 6:50 pm, to see that all was well with Max and his story, and my eyes opened wide when I saw the two finalists (I hadn’t even known who was going to be at the final table).

As you’ve already seen from Max’s story, I saw Diego Cordovez taking on Chris “Jesus” Ferguson for the title, and pain or no pain, I had to stay to the conclusion.

Why “had to?” Because I immediately realized that if I were creating a list of the nicest people in the poker world, these would be two of my top three picks. Before I made it a top three, I realized I needed to make it a top four, with Erik Seidel and John Juanda the other two.

THAT’S A LOT OF BONES

This doesn’t mean I’m not close friends with many others, or that I don’t consider others “nice” (the word that I hated to hear when dating). There are a lot of other wonderful people in the poker world. In fact, I’m probably closer with Phil Hellmuth than with any of these four. It’s just that Phil, like me and the others I care about, can slip occasionally. It’s just that these four don’t appear to have a mean bone anywhere in their bodies, and if my anatomical memories are correct, that means zero for 824 bones.

I could have entered my feelings about this match-up in the dictionary under “ambivalent,” because I couldn’t stand the thought of either of them losing.

You’re probably more familiar with Ferguson, the 2000 World Champion who is probably better known outside the poker world by his sobriquet, “JESUS” (he feels it should be capitalized). One look at his hair and face will tell you from whence the nickname sprung.

Ferguson won two bracelets in 2000, and another one in 2001. Coming into this year’s WSOP, though, he’d been “running bad,” as the adverbially adverse poker crowd says.

(“Badly” would be grammatically correct, just as “playing well” is correct rather than “playing good,” but you’ll rarely hear either of the correct expressions from anyone in poker. It’s not a matter of education or not knowing what’s right: it’s just the lingo.)

You already know that Chris won, his second bracelet of this WSOP, and in the aftermath, I wanted to know more about the winless streak and the turnaround.

YOU CAN’T CONTROL THE CARDS, BUT YOU CAN CONTROL HOW YOU PLAY THEM

“I never felt that I was playing badly,” he said, stunning me with the correct grammar, “but the cards just weren’t running the right way. I hadn’t won a tournament in a year and a half before I won six days ago. That’s more than a hundred tournaments. Lately it’s been even worse: coming into the Series, I’d probably made only one final table in the last 30 events I’d entered. But if there’s one place to turn the way you’re running around, it’s the World Series. I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d want to win as much. There are a lot of other big money tournaments on the circuit these days, but the World Series is unique.”

Had he changed anything about the way he was playing – after all, zero wins in 100+ tournaments, and suddenly two in six days, and at the WSOP, no less….

“I don’t think I’ve changed anything,” he said. “It’s possible, I suppose, but I really made an effort to play my best even when the cards weren’t there. I’ve seen a lot of people’s games deteriorate when they aren’t getting the cards and then they aren’t in a position to take advantage when the cards finally come back around. I might be a little more focused here, but mostly I think I’ve just been hit with the deck.”

DÉJÀ VU, ANYONE?

Chris had raised his arms in victory in almost exactly the same fashion as when he won the Big One in 2000, and he was quite emotional in the aftermath, hugging many friends and supporters. “It just means so much to win here,” he said. “A fifth bracelet is really special.”

Another reporter wanted to know if Ferguson thought he could tie the record by winning a third bracelet at this Series (the record is indeed three, curiously enough set and tied in the same year, 1993, by Phil Hellmuth and Ted Forrest).

“It’s at least possible now,” he said. “I’d never predict a win, but you can’t get three until you have two, and I’d love to see it happen.”

HE GOT LUCKY…IT WAS A BAD BEAT…OH, HECK, HE WAS JUST BETTER

I’d first met Chris when we were opponents in a heads-up match-play tournament in Los Angeles, well before he was famous, and he’d told me then, in the aftermath of his (grrr) comeback win, that he’d practiced heads-up matches quite a bit with one friend. Was he still practicing that way?

“A little,” he said, “but I get almost all of my heads-up practice playing online. It’s so easy to find opponents and stay in tune that way. It’s pretty hard to get heads-up practice in actual tournaments – you have to get to the final two to do it!”

He’s done pretty well in his heads-up duels at the WSOP: he’s been in that situation six times and won five.

“I’d like to mention one other thing,” said the computer science Ph.D. “I want to mention my ‘professional sweater,’ Perry Friedman. He’s sweated (sat and rooted for) me for every one of my bracelets. Annie Duke even paid him to sweat Erik Seidel the other day when he won. Perry was going to leave yesterday, but I offered to pay for his room if he stayed, and he’s coming along to a very nice dinner celebration tonight.”

SO THAT’S WHY HE GOT THE DOCTORATE

So much for the coolly analytical Ferguson being above superstition!

Cordovez isn’t exactly an unknown – he already has a bracelet, as did each of the top five finishers, which made for some tough competition, and he won the most money anyone has ever won in a limit hold’em tournament when he took down more than $561,000 at the Commerce last year, and was the cover boy for Card Player Magazine.

(Kathy Liebert “technically” won a million dollars at the Party Poker Million, but between the 8-way deal made at the final table, the 4-way deal made later, and the percentage owed to her backers, her actual take home number was less than $250,000 – possibly less than $200,000.)

Cordovez also has a storied heads-up history. Until last year, when he lost to Johnny Chan (on a bad beat) in the semi-finals of the “bracelet-holders only” heads-up match play at the WSOP, he literally had not lost a heads-up match in ten years. Whenever he got to the final twosome, he’d prevailed.

LET’S GET THIS STRAIGHT…THIRD IS BETTER THAN SECOND?

“Second place is the worst,” he told me. “Third place is fun and fine. You’ve had a good run, won a lot of money, and gotten your name up there. Once you get to the final two, though, especially at the World Series, you really want the title. Chances to win tournaments don’t come along that frequently and when you get that close you want to finish the job.”

I’ve often said that I’ve found my ideal job because I love writing and I love poker, so I’m making my living doing something I’d continue to do if I suddenly became independently wealthy. Cordovez is now involved in something similar, although he put it more eloquently.

“I’ve just started a company in the last two months, called Advanced Gaming Applications,” he said. “Our goal is to produce the finest Internet gaming and poker software and payment system in the world. I’ve spent many years in the business world and many in the poker world, so this is an ideal job for me, getting to combine my vocation with my avocation.”

(Between this vocation/avocation comment and Ferguson’s proper use of “badly,” I was getting grammatically overwhelmed. Given the success these two players have enjoyed in recent years, perhaps they’ll start a trend amongst poker players. Ah, to dream the impossible dream….)

Aside from the hypnotic fascination I experienced the moment I’d seen it was Cordovez vs. Ferguson, I wanted to watch this match-up for educational purposes. After all, each of them had such a tremendous heads-up record, I thought I could learn a thing or two hundred.

Ferguson had a substantial chip lead, which didn’t leave Cordovez with much room to maneuver. Still, he seemed the more aggressive of the two, and I asked him about that.

“JESUS” SPEAKS: GRAB A PEN!

“I’m not sure I was the more aggressive player overall,” he said (and I hadn’t seen the entire heads-up match, just the last half of it, so my impression could have been wrong). “I think I was the more aggressive player after the flop, and before the flop, Chris might have been more aggressive.” (Again, that wasn’t my impression – I only saw Cordovez limp in from the small blind on the button once or twice – every other hand was a raise or an occasional fold.)

I asked Ferguson about his take on the need for heads-up aggression. Get out your notebooks: his answer provided the kind of analysis that top players rarely give away for free.

“Tournament strategy changes at different phases,” he began. “Early in the tournament, the most important thing is to survive. You don’t want to take big risks, because what you stand to gain is rarely as much as what you stand to lose, at that stage.

“Later in the tournament, especially when you get heads-up, that strategy changes dramatically. It’s vitally important to push any small edge you have. You have to take risks, because you can’t wait around for big hands. Value-betting becomes much more important, and you really have to push hard if you think you have any kind of edge in a hand.”

Indeed, it was such a moment that probably decided the tournament, on a hand close to the end where Ferguson already had about a 5-2 chip lead. Cordovez had the 5h-4h, and found himself looking at a 10-7-6 flop. He had an open-ended straight draw, and he pushed hard, including a check-bet-raise-re-raise sequence later on the turn where Ferguson had to be wary of a straight or a flush draw.

It was about as big a push as you could make, but Cordovez had one problem: Ferguson already had the straight, so his “fear” was limited to the chance that he and Cordovez might have the same hand, or that Cordovez might be semi-bluffing with a flush draw.

DON’T RAISE WHEN YOU’LL ONLY GET CALLED WHEN YOU’RE BEATEN

“I almost re-raised him there, but the pot was already pretty big, and without another re-raise, I had a chance to get more of his chips on the river,” Ferguson said. “But then the flush card came on the river, and when Diego led out, I figured there was no point in raising. If he had the flush, I was going to have to pay off another bet, and if he didn’t have the flush or the straight, he probably wasn’t going to call. I guess there were some hands he might have called with on the end, like a set, but just calling there seemed like the best move.”

Ferguson was correct; Cordovez’s 5h-4h amounted only to five-high on the river, and he couldn’t have called a raise, while if he’d had the flush, Ferguson would indeed have suddenly been in rough shape, probably (I couldn’t count exactly) even trailing in the match.

Ah, the randomness of poker. Cordovez’s suited hand could just as easily have been the right suit instead of the wrong one, and had that happened, they might still have been playing even as I write this.

Instead, Chris “JESUS” Ferguson has his fifth bracelet, and Cordovez is left with the bittersweet taste of a rare second-place finish. No matter how the cards were going to fall, though, I felt like I’d been treated to a clinic in “give no quarter and ask for no quarter” poker, and the poker world got still more proof that you don’t have to be vicious to win.

Not that I didn’t like the other finalists – actually, I rather like several of the other players at the final table – but the two nice guys finished first. That’s the kind of story that makes my own vocation/avocation even more fun. Thanks for the lessons, guys, and even more than that, thanks for the memories.

Final Official Results

1 Chris “Jesus” Ferguson Pacific Palisades, CA
66,220
2 Diego Cordovez Palo Alto, CA
38,080
3 Humberto Brenes San Jose, Costa Rica
19,860
4 Kevin Song Hacienda Hts., CA
11,580
5 Thor Hansen El Segundo, CA
9,940
6 Dean Shulman Los Angeles, CA
8,280
7 Andy Hallenbeck Las Vegas, NV
6,620
8 Jimmy Cha La Habra, CA
4,960

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