Cream Rises to the Top and so do the Top Players

By Max Shapiro

Binion's Horseshoe
World Series of Poker
No-Limit Hold'em
$5,000 Buy-in
127 Entrants
$590,550 Prize Pool

As World Series 2003 approaches the halfway mark, a trend is becoming evident. With extended rounds at the final table, the game becomes much less of a crapshoot, giving an even greater advantage to the best players. Consider: Doyle Brunson has already won his ninth bracelet, Phil Hellmuth his eighth, Erik Seidel his sixth and Chris Ferguson his fifth. And in event number 15, $5,000 no-limit hold'em, you have two world champions coming to the final table number one and two in chip position. Huck Seed started with $117,900 and Johnny Chan, the "Orient Express," was close behind with $91,900. Chan, already the all-time WSOP money winner, playing only his second event, was looking for his eighth bracelet.

With a line-up that also included such name players as Layne Flack, Surinder Sunar, Amir Vahedi, Don Barton and Carlo Citrone (winner of British and Australian championships), Andy Glazer was avidly looking forward to covering this event. Therefore, you can imagine how badly he was hurting when he had to put in an emergency call to have me cover for him again after only about 35 hands had gone by. (With Phil Hellmuth the chip leader going into the second day of the limit Omaha event, let's hope he isn't forced to pass on that one as well.)


Here's how the beginning chip counts measured up:


1 Surinder Sunar $51,400
2 Carlo Citrone $85,900
3 Amir Vahedi $46,200
4 Huck Seed $117,900
5 Barbara Loux $32,600
6 Johnny Chan $91,900
7 Jason Gray $58,700
8 Layne Flack $48,300
9 Don Barton $59,300
10 David Singer $43,300

We began playing at only level 11, with $300 antes and 1k-2k blinds, with $635,000 in chips in play, 38:24 left at this level. The first notation that Andy made on his pad was that this should be a long night, and he sure got that one right. In fact, it took some 330 hands and, at just 10 minutes shy of 11 hours (including a one-hour dinner break), it was the longest event thus far, ending just before 1 a.m.


First, I'd like to thank Rich Korbin, marketing dirctor for Poker Stars, and Binion's media director Nolan Dalla for their assistance. It took a while for me to get to the tournament room after Andy called and left, and Nolan and Rich were kind enough to fill me in on much of the missed action. Second, Andy would like to make a correction. In last night's report he had Seed holding Kh,Js when he made a flush to leave Rodney Hurlbut in 11th place. Typo. Layne's hand was Kh,Jh. Third, if this report seems a bit shorter than usual it, is, because has suggested holding down the writing to under 3,000 words.

On hand four, Citrone took over the lead. Seed had earlier lost a pot to David Singer, and when Citrone forced Chan out by betting into a flop of 9-6-6, he passed both men. Barbara Laux, one of the very few women to make a final table thus far, didn't make it past the sixth hand. After Flack opened from early position with pocket 8s, she moved in with pocket 7s and he called instantly. A board of J-10-3-K-Q didn't change anything and she cashed out 10th for $9,400. On hand 9, Singer hit Huck a second time. Huck bet 31k on a flop of 8-7-5, then folded when Singer came over the top for 33k more.


An amusing exchange came about a few hands later. Tournament co-director Matt Savage, noticing that Chan had a banana and Jason Gray an orange, commented that there was "a lot of fruit on the table." Added Flack: "And we've got Huck." "We've got Huckleberry," Matt repeated. "What's that supposed to mean, that I'm a fruit?" an irritated Huckleberry Seed grumbled. "Layne said it," Savage replied defensively. "I forgot Huckleberry's a fruit," Huck said. "Look at Matt, we've got him scared," Layne laughed.

Just before the first break, Jason Gray, one of three British residents (along with Sunar and Citrone), doubled up and the approximate count was:

David Singer $100,000
Johnny Chan $98,000
Carlo Citrone $97,000
Jason Gray $94,000
Huck Seed $74,000
Surinder Sunar $49,000
Don Barton $48,000
Layne Flack $38,000
Amir Vahedi $35,000

It was now nearly 3 p.m. and the players returned from a 10-minute break with $400 antes and blinds of $1,200-$1,400. About a half-hour later, Flack moved all in pre-flop with K-9. He was in very bad shape when Sunar clled with A-K. The flop came A-J-10, and about the only hope for Flack was a queen, which would have made a straight for both players. It didn't come and Layne, who has three bracelets, all in no-limit, picked up $11,800 for ninth spot.

Jason Gray was crippled when he went all in with A-K and Vahedi met him with pocket aces. The board came 10-9-3-4-2 and Jason was left with just $2,300. Sunar soon gobbled that up, though nobody could recall the precise hands for me. In any event, eighth place paid $14,800.


Blinds were now $1,500-$3,000 with $500 antes. On hand 77, Sunar made a small trap raise to 12k from late position and Citrone moved in with A-J. Sunar called and turned up two aces. The board was 8-5-3-7-6 and Citrone cashed in for $17,700 in seventh place. Sunar, who had knocked out three of the four players eliminated, now took the chip lead with about $175,000. Amir wasn't too far behind with about 160k.

Hand 91 was the last one for Barton, who is in real estate and was making his 16th WSOP cash-in. Vahedi had A-K and raised 16k. Barton had only 12k left and called all in with Q-J. When the board came K-Q-5-3-7, five were left and Barton picked up $20,700 for seventh place.

Eight hands later, Vahedi had a tough call to make. He and Sunar called
Singer's 8k raise. The flop came K-7-5 and Sunar moved in for about $108k. Vahedi pondered for about four minutes until Sunar brought the clock in, and Vahedi finally folded just as time ran out, saying he held K-Q.


After 13 levels, the five finalists were reasonably close:

Vahedi $146,000
Seed $137,000
Chan $123,000
Singer $116,000
Sunar $113,000

Antes were now $500 with blinds of $2,000-$4,000. Everybody was raising to take the blinds, and when Vahedi got his first walk on hand 111 in the big blind, he shouted "Halleluiah!" The action turned cautious now, with very little calling of raises. By the time it had gotten to hand 154, the count was:

Seed $175,000
Vahed $133,000
Sunar $125,000
Chan $110,000
Singer $75,000

Sunar laid another trap, claimed another victim and took over the chip lead on hand 178. He raised to 10k holding K-9 and was called by Singer. When the flop came Q-J-10, he had a straight. He made a small bet of 9k and Singer, holding K-Q, giving him top pair and a straight draw, check-raised all in. A 5 and 8 came, and Sunar now had about $190,000 in front of him.
Singer's payout came to $23,600.


A few hands later, Sunar knocked out yet another player. This time he moved in with pocket 4s and got a quick call from Vahedi, who held A-K.
A flop of 4-2-2 gave Sunar a full house. Vahedi departed with $35,400 for fourth. At 9 p.m. the limits went to $2,500-$5,000 with $500 antes. Sunar held the bulk of the chips with $299,000, guarded by a small, gold, coiled cobra lucky charm. Seed had 172k and Chan, 164.5k.


The irrepressible John Bonetti at this point took over the mike for duties as a guest announcer, and soon had the large audience, numbering about 100, in constant laughter. On one hand, when Sunar raised to 21k and Chan moved in for $139,000, Bonetti announced that Sunar "gives it up. Nice fella." "Where have you been?" Chan asked. "You make everybody laugh." As the hands dragged on, Chan leaned against the corner of the padded railing, much like a boxer between rounds. "Come on and fight," he challenged.

Next, Bonetti tried to give a chip count. "I'd like to, but I can't count that high," he said. "How much you got?" he asked one of the players."

As Chan chopped away, picking up the blinds with moderate raises, Bonetti described the tactic as "picking up driftwood. Get enough and you can build a house." "I'm building a barn, not a house," Chan replied. Warming to his emcee duties, Bonetti said, "Look at all the happy faces. All the drinks are on me. When quite a few spectators took him up and requested bottles of water, Bonetti said, "Suddenly everybody's thoisty." He then laid a very generous toke on the cocktail waitress.

By hand 225 the chip count was $325,000 for Sunar, $190,000 for chan and $140,000 for Seed. Sunar increased that lead to about $360,000 after he turned 5-6 into a straight on a flop of of 7-3-4, relieving Chan of about $25,000. Continuing his routine, Bonetti reported that Chan is sending his two boys to college. "I sent my kids to work when they were 13" he added. Later, he praised Matt Savage and Jim Miller as the best tournament directors in the business, "even though they gave me a penalty yesterday." "You're lucky it was only 10 minutes," yelled Men "the Master" Nguyen from a nearby table.

When blinds went to $3,000-$6,000 with $1,000 antes, the chip counts, remarkably, were virtually the same as they were 55 hands earlier, right after the field was cut to three. Sunar now had $298,000, compared to $299,000 then. Chan had $174,000 compared to $164,500. And Seed had $164,000 compared to $172,000.


Everything turned around on hand 256. For much of the final table, Sunar had held the lead as he knocked out one player after another. Now he made a disastrous move that cost him dearly. The flop was 6s,5c,3c. Chan, in the small blind, raised to 25k. Sunar, with Kc,8c, had flopped a flush draw and moved in. Chan called with pocket aces, the same hand that had crippled Gray and knocked out Citrone. A 7 turned, giving Sunar a straight draw along with the flush draw. He had 15 outs, still about a 2-1 underdog, and lost when a 3 came on the river. Suddenly Chan held a big lead of $370,000 to $145,000 for Seed, while Sunar had dropped into third place with $120,000.

"Three giants of the tournament world," Bonetti pronounced, as the three finalists kept at it. Reminiscing, he then recalled a time when he had made a full house and asked his opponent what he had. "A forest - four t'rees," his opponent replied. "I tell you, I meet them all," Bonetti complained. At one point, Chan said that Bonetti was making him laugh so much that he failed to bet his two pair. But it wasn't affecting his game that much, because he kept up a steady beat of raising in the 20k-35-k range, surgically removing blinds while avoiding confrontations when his opponents moved in.

By hand 281 he had amassed a huge lead of $490,000 to $75,000 for Seed and $70,000 for Sunar. When his opponents started to discuss a deal between themselves, he objected and was upheld by Savage, because a tournament deal can be made only when all players agree. As play continued, Sunar moved all in five times in eight hands without getting a call. As the count reached 290 hands, Flack strolled by again. "If I knew it would last this long, I would have played tighter," he said.


On hand 293, Huck moved in on the button for his last $41,000 with K-Q and Sunar called with A-7. A flop of K-Q-10 gave Huck top two, but then a jack on the turn gave Sunar a straight. Huck's only outs were another king or queen, but a 3 on the river left the 1996 world champion, three-bracelet, 11th all-time WSOP money winner, in third place, with a not-inconsiderable cash-out of $55,550.

Sunar now had increased his position to $165,000, but Chan had close to a 3-1 edge with $475,000. On hand 298, Chan picked up a $54,000 pot when his A-6 connected with an ace on the river, and his lead had increased to $503,000-$132,000. As his eighth bracelet, which would tie Phil Hellmuth, was almost within reach, Bonetti warned that "Phil won't like it."

Blinds were now $4,000-$8,000 with $1,000 antes. Continuing his patter, Bonetti introduced Kathy Liebert. "She went on a cruise and won a million dollars," he said. "I went on a cruise and all I got was seasick." He then introduced Benny Binion Behnen. "A great guy," Bonetti pronounced. "He gives me lots of comps."


As play continued, Sunar moved all in three times, and each time Chan let him have the pot. Asked about this later, he explained, "If you knew Sunar like I do, you would realize he doesn't bluff much." Chan, instead, was content to just keep chopping away when he sensed weakness. Finally, Sunar was down to just $21,000 in the big blind. Fatalistically, he pushed all his chips in before he was dealt his cards. The hands were turned up. He had J-10, and Chan had A-10. The board came K-6-6-9-8 and Johnny Chan now had his eighth bracelet, and had increased his all-time money lead to $3,315,894. Sunar, finishing second, took in $112,200.

Afterwards, he said that the bracelets didn't mean that much to him. "I just enjoy playing no-limit. It's my favorite game because it's the most skillful. Someone can move all in on a bluff or the stone nuts. It's up to you to figure out what it is."

Final Official Results

1. Johnny Chan Las Vegas, NV $224,400
2. Surinder Sunar Wolverehampton, England $112,200
3. Huck Seed Las Vegas, NV $55,550
4. Amir Vahedi Sherman Oaks, CA $35,400
5. David Singer White Plains, NY $23,600
6. Don Barton Pahrump, NV $20,700
7. Carlo Citrone Gateshead, England $17,700
8. Jason Gray London, England $14,800
9. Layne Flack Las Vegas, NV $11,800
10.Barbara Laux Findsville, PA $9,400

11th and 12th place, $9,400: Rodney Hurlbut, Denver, CO; "Eric Liebeler, Los Angeles, CA.
13th-15th place, $8,300: John Esposito, Las Vegas, NV; Alec Brenes, Costa Rica; Young Phan, Garden Grove, CA.
16th-18th place, $7,100: Annie Duke, Las Vegas, NV; Toto Leonidas, Glendale, CA; Harry Demetriou, London, England.

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