The Hand that Rocked the Tournament Cradle

By Max Shapiro

Binion's Horseshoe
World Series of Poker
Limit Omaha
$1,500 Buy-in
120 Entrants
$167,400 Prize Pool


I had originally planned to call this report the Phil and Men show. Phil Hellmuth and Men Nguyen, two of the two most colorful, expressive, unpredictable superstars on the tournament circuit, were seated next to each other in the $1,500 limit Omaha event, and sparks and fireworks seemed all but inevitable. As expected, for much of the evening the two engaged each other in animated dialogue, often friendly and jocular and accompanied by high-fives, but at other times…well…somewhat less than friendly. It also seemed likely, as they exchanged chip leads, that one or the other would add another bracelet to his collection (four thus far for Men, eight for Hellmuth).

Then came…The Hand. It is one that will be debated for a long time. No, it wasn't a movie-type hand like the draw-out, draw-out, draw-out classic that ended the recent World Poker Tour event at the Bellagio. It was a quite mundane hand, but it caused instant controversy, and, beyond that, led to a chain of events and an outcome that nobody could have imagined. Do I have your attention now? OK, let's proceed with the report, and no fair jumping to the end.

IT'S CORONA TIME

Oh, one other thing. Much of Men's boisterous behavior was fueled by steady consumption of his beverage of choice: Corona beer. It gets boring just keeping track of the hands (hand one, hand 15, hand 297), so I decided, as sort of a public service, to also keep track of the Coronas brought to and consumed by him.

THE FINAL TABLE

Phil started with a slight chip lead while Men was an unpromising third-from-last. The counts were:

Seat

1 Dan Nissanoff $21,600
2 Eddie Scharf $34,900
3 Larry Hughes $2,500
4 Steve Zolotow $16,600
5 Tony Cousineau $9,900
6 Dave Colclough $25,500
7 Phil Hellmut $36,000
8 Sandy Blecker $10,800
9 Men Nguyen $8,800
10 Bruce Van Horn $7,400

We started at level 9 with $400-$800 blinds, playing with limits of $800 $1,600, and with 26 minutes remaining at that level. There were $180,400 in chips in play. There were also two doctors in attendance, oral surgeon Sandy Blecker and pathologist Bruce Van Horn. This led Steve Zolotow to quip: "With two doctors, we may need a second opinion."

It was also startling to discover that another player, Dave Colclough, writes a humor column in a monthly magazine called Poker Europe. He described the column on his bio sheet as "Max Shapiro with attitude." The bad news is that this puts my title as "The World's Foremost (and only) Poker Humorist" in jeopardy. The good news is that I have a new venue to steal material from.

Larry Hughes, making his first WSOP cash-in, started lowest-chips with $2,500 and was down to $1,300 after taking his blinds. On hand eight he raised all in for his last $1,300 with A-A-J-2. Hellmuth raised to $2,100, Men called and when the board came 8-5-4-Q-9, the Master won with top two, queens and nines. Tenth place paid $2,700. A hand later, Colclough took a pot with four kings. "Now you know how he won all those tournaments in Europe," Zolotow explained. Steve, a New York bar owner with a bracelet in Chinese poker and 23 cash-ins, is also a columnist for Card Player magazine.
A few hands later, Van Horn went all in for the first time and stayed alive when he made a spade flush on the river.

CORONA NUMBER 1

At 2:55 p.m., Men was served his first Corona. Nearly an hour? What took him so long?

Meanwhile, Tony Cousineau hadn't found much of anything worth playing. His friend Tom McEvoy stopped by and asked if he could do a chant for him. "You'll be singing a long time before you see me in any action," Cousineau replied. Indeed, Cousineau was destined tonight to pretty much follow in the tracks of "Broomcorn's uncle," a legendary, super-tight character in Doyle Brunson's book who anted himself away.

On hand 25, Phil had Q-8-10-3 in the small blind and flopped two pair with A-8-3 came. He put Blecker, holding A-J-10-5 all in for $1,500, but then Blecker doubled up when a 5 turned. "Phil needs a doctor, Matt Savage announced, "and Sandy is a doctor. "I don't need a doctor," Men called out, starting to liven up. "I need a Corona." A bit later, the issue of penalties came up. Men offered to lay Savage odds of 1,000-200 that he would never get a penalty. Taking the bet, Savage reminded him that he was the tournament director and promptly laid a penalty (in jest) on him.

Soon after, Men and Phil had a bit of unpleasantness. Phil had aces in his hand, but Men, with two kings, outran him when a king flopped. After winning the pot, Men uttered his taunting trademark, "Nice hand, sir," and made a gesture as if he were shoving in all his chips. Phil snapped back, and Men chastised him, reminding him that he is a world champion who should behave himself. "Where's Matt?" Phil demanded. Matt was away from the final table on business at that moment and could not intercede. Instead, Phil jumped up and walked over to his wife, who quickly calmed him. A bit later when Men made a straight with 6-3 in his hand after a 8-5-4-Q-2 came, he said, "Play bad, get lucky," and thanked Van Horn for giving him chips.

DOCTORS DO A CHIPECTOMY

Later, after a short-chipped Van Horn had gone all in a couple of times and won, Zolotow announced a medical miracle. "How could the two doctors stay alive with no chips?" he wondered. He then asked Van Horn his specialty. "Pathology," the good doctor replied. "I thought it was drawing out on Men." Zolotow said. Men, however, was more than holding his own. He was playing a lot of junk, getting called, hitting hand after hand and picking up blinds with aggressive raising. Two hours into the final table, he had run his initial chip count of $8,800 into a substantial lead of about $55,000.

CORONA COUNT

At 4 p.m. Men started working on his second brew.

On hand 39, Zolotow surgically removed Doc Blecker from the final table. Zolotow had Q-Q-10-10 to Blecker's A-K-J-7 and flopped a set of 10s. Blecker was paid $3,300 for his ninth-place finish. Two hands later, New York executive Dan Nissanoff called for his last $1,000 with A-A-J-9. Colclough played his 9-7-6-3 only because he was in the big blind, but made a straight on the turn to leave Nissanoff in eighth place, which paid $4,200. The chip count now stood at:

Men Nguyen $60,000
Dave Colclough $36,000
Phil Hellmuth $28,000
Eddy Scharf $26,000
Steve Zolotow $16,500
Bruce Van Horn $8,500
Tony Cousineau $ 5,000

Soon after limits went to $1,500 and $3,000, Cousineau made his last stand. Hellmuth raised and Cousineau called from the small blind. The flop was 8-6-3. Hellmuth bet, Cousineau pondered, and finally, unhappily, tossed in his last chips. He turned over K-10-9-9. Hellmuth showed K-Q-J-2. Until the river, Cousineau's two 9s had the lead, but then a king blew him away. Seventh place paid $5,000. Ten hands later Colclough raised from the button with K-K-6-2 and Van Horn called all in with Q-J-10-8. A board of K-Q-3-J-Q gave both men a full house, but Dave's was bigger, and the second doctor, who finished second in the 1996 championship event, put $5,900 for sixth place in his little black bag and departed.

CORONA ALERT

Time: 4:50. Corona number 3. Men seemed to be sticking to a rather disciplined schedule of one brew an hour. Getting more loquacious, he announced to one and all that "There's no fun without me." "Oh, I had fun today," Hellmuth replied sourly. "I make him talk," Men persisted. "Do it in a nice way," Hellmuth instructed him. "I always do it in a nice way," Men answered innocently.

Later, Men said that the money in today's event wasn't that important, but the bracelet was. Phil agreed, saying he still hadn't picked up the $140,000 for the event he won earlier, but he grabbed the bracelet right away.

THE CHIP LEAD CHANGES

As play continued, Hellmuth pulled up roughly even with Nguyen. Then, on hand 66, Men raised under the gun and Phil called. Men bet the flop of K-2-3, Phil called again. Same thing when a 3 turned. An 8 hit the river. Hellmuth, now with Ks and 8s, bet, the Master folded, and Phil took the lead. The count was now:

Hellmuth: $60,000
Colclough: $46,000
Nguyen: $40,000
Scharf: $30,000
Zolotow $12,000

A hand later, Men raised when Phil bet a flop of 9-9-4. Men bet the turn, Phil mucked and now Men had the $60,000 and the lead again. On hand 68, Zolotow raised with J-J-10-10 and got called by Nguyen and Eddy Scharf, a pilot for Lufthansa Airlines who won this event two years ago. A flop of A-J-5 gave Zolotow a set. Scharf, with 2-3-4-7, had a wraparound straight draw. He bet, Zolotow raised. A deuce on the turn gave Scharf his straight. He check-raised to put Steve all in. Zolotow couldn't fill, finished fifth and collected $5,900.

BEER BREAK

It's now 5:15. Men is stepping up the drinking pace as he begins working on Corona number 4. But this isn't slowing his playing pace. Eventually his chips mount to nearly $90,000. When Phil finally beats him in a pot with a pair of 8s, Men pretends he has an overlooked straight, and the two laugh and do a high-five. At 5:45, Corona number 5 arrives. Right after that, he and Scharf tangled in a big pot. On a flop of 8-6-3, Scharf bets, Men raises, Scharf makes it three bets. On the turn Men bets and Scharf calls, and on the river Men bets and Scharf folds. Men shows just two fives. "Good," says Scharf. "I just had a wrap." Two deals later, The Hand came down.

THE HAND

Colclough has the button with Phil in the small blind, Men in the big blind. Pre-flop, Scharf raised and both Men and Phil called. The flop is Q-9-6 with two diamonds. Phil bets, Men folds, giving Phil credit for a good hand, and Scharf raises all in for his last $2,500. The hands are turned up. Scharf has K-J-10-7 for a wraparound straight draw. Phil has 8-7-5-3, giving him an open-end straight draw, but just an 8-high. When an ace and four come, Scharf wins with king-high. "WHAT?" screams Men, who obviously had a winner. Phil and Men now begin arguing over what happened and whether Phil should have bet. "Maybe you guys should go outside to work it out," Scharf suggests. "We're only discussing tournament strategy," Phil replies. "I know, I know," Scharf answers.

At the time, it didn't seem like a very big deal be because when the players broke for dinner three hands later, Men still had a good-sized lead of $71,000 while Colclough had $52,000, Hellmuth $41,000 and Scharf only $16,000. The real problem now was trying to guess how many Coronas Men would consume during the next hour. Some observers said one, others two. Since he wouldn't submit to a blood-alcohol test when he came back, let's compromise and credit him with one and a half additional brews.

THE COMEBACK OF THE YEAR

The limits now were $2,000-$4,000. On hand 95, Scharf picked up a pot with a bet on the flop. On the next hand, he raised pre-flop, then raised again when Men bet a flop of J-7-4. He bet a turn-card 4 and then again, with just $2,000 left, when a queen came on the river. Men folded and Scharf now had more than $30,000. A hand later he won with three deuces and moved up to 42k. A few hands later, Hellmuth became the lowest-chipped when he made two pair but lost to Colclough's trip 6s. Hand 102 started off with four-way action. With a board of J-6-6-10, Phil bet, Scharf raised and Phil folded. Suddenly, the airline pilot who was down to $2,500 before the dinner break now was flying high as the chip leader with $60,000. "Thank God we took a dinner break," he said.

A hand later, Men bet a board of J-4-3-4-A. Scharf raised and showed A-A-J-7 for aces full, moving up to $87,000, nearly half the chips on the table. Men finally had become quiet. "How many times has he had aces?" he asked glumly.

By hand 111, Scharf had moved up to just over $101,000, without question the most dramatic comeback so far of any final table at WSOP 2003. And just because of that king-high hand that Hellmuth bet to force out Men. On the next hand, Men was down to $10,000 after folding when Scharf bet a board of J-7-5-Q. On the next hand, the Master went all holding A-K-K-J with the board showing J-8-7-6. Colclough, with 8-7-4-2, had flopped two pair. They held up and Men finished fourth, which paid an even 10k.

UP, UP AND AWAY

Two hands later the biggest pot of the night came down. In three-way action, at the end the board showed J-10-7-2-A. Scharf started with K-Q-J-9, made a nut straight on the river and now had about $140,000. There was no stopping him now. On hand 121, Hellmuth was down to the cloth and went all in pre-flop, in the small blind, holding A-Q-6-5. When the board came A-K-Q-10, Phil had aces and queens. But Scharf had J-Q-7-5 for the nut straight, and Phil picked up his $15,800 for third place.

It was now heads-up. Colclough complained that he was the world's worst heads-up player, finishing second in nine mostly European tournaments this year so far. He was out-chipped, $147,000-$33,000, but was ready to give it a go. As the two went at it, an overly enthusiastic announcer, who was doing narration for Binion's Webcast, began bellowing, making all sorts of wisecracks and urging the spectators to cheer on his fellow Brit, Dave Colclough. Dave was embarrassed by the spectacle and put his finger to his lips, but neither player seemed to mind or voiced an objection. This brought on a very funny line from Luke Grotano, a new Binion's dealer with a background in theater, who was doing fill-in narration. Both players, he said, deserved recognition for being masters of concentration.

THE END NEARS

The two finalists traded chips for some 22 hands with Colclough slowly losing ground. On hand 144, Scharf, holding K-Q-9-2, made a nut straight on a board of J-9-8-10-6, and Colclough was badly hurt. He was left with only 4k on the next hand, folding when Scharf bet the river. Two hands later it was all over. On a board of 7-6-6-2, Scharf raised to put Colclough all in. He had A-8-6-2 for 6s full, while Colclough had J-J-Q-5. Only another jack could save him, but a king came on the river, ending the match.

Finishing 2nd for about the 10th time this year, Colclough, who has had 31 money finishes on the European tour this year, was resigned to his fate and accepted his runner-up pay-out of $31,900. Scharf picked up $63,600 and his second limit Omaha bracelet, while Phil Hellmuth and Men the Master were left to ponder that fateful king-high hand.

Scharf is 49, was raised in Canada (accounting for his excellent English) and started playing poker when he was attending flight school in Phoenix in 1947. He's been playing semi-professionally since 1995. He likes tournaments rather than cash games and his preferred game is no-limit hold'em, though he hasn't had any tournament success in that arena. He's only been able to play two WSOP events this year, but might take a crack at the big one. He said he lost a lot of chips in early action with some poor plays, but added that he plays better when he has no chips. In Omaha, he added, no matter what you have, you're not that much of an underdog.

Asked his analysis of the king-high hand, he thought that some justification could be made for Hellmuth's betting and trying to put him all in, but on balance, he felt, Phil did make a bad play.

Final Official Results

1. Eddy Scharf Roesrath, Germany $63,600
2. Dave Colclough Stoke-on-Trent, Eng $31,900
3. Phil Hellmuth Palo Alto, CA $15,800
4. Men Nguyen Bell Gardens, CA $10,000
5. Steve Zolotow Las Vegas, NV $6,700
6. Bruce Van Horn Ada, OK $5,900
7. Tony Cousineau Daytona Beach, FL $5,000
8. Dan Nissanoff New York, NY $4,200
9. Sandy Blecker New York, NY $3,300
10.Larry Hughes Las Vegas, NV $2,700

11th and 12th, $2,700: Frank Schend, Solvang, CA; Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Pacific Palisades, CA.

13th-15th, $2,300: Ken Flaton, Henderson, NV; Tom McEvoy, Las Vegas, NV; Brad Peeples, Coffeeville, MS.

16th-18th, $2,000: Michael Jacobs, Los Angeles, CA; Jeff Duvall, Surrey, England; Brent Carter, Oak Park, IL.

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