Part II

This is the second part of an unusual two-email delivery of a long wsop report. If you have two emails from us and are reading this first, please read the other (part one) first, and then return here.


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


SOME NEWS JUST CAN’T RESULT IN A GOOD FEELING

That’s what Chan did: let it go. Brody, though, looked like he’d just been informed he needed prostate surgery (i.e., scary and disturbing news no matter how well things turn out). He sat with his head in his hands for a long time. He only had about 20k himself, and having spoken to him during his many final table appearances this year, it was pretty easy to figure out what was running through his head.

Brody’s had lots of final tables, and has made lots of money, so he wasn’t worried about a ladder climb. He wanted to WIN this tournament, and I saw him torn between understanding that if he wasn’t already trailing he was probably up against one and possibly two draws that could finish him off, assuming he had a made hand.

If he had a draw, he could easily be worried he was up against a bigger draw, and if he just got out of the way, it was going to be tough to win owning only 20k; this hand represented a chance to more than triple up.

I knew that his desire to win would eventually lead him to decide to play, and sure enough, he finally called. Williamson couldn’t be hurt by playing along for another 16k, but he made sure that Sebag didn’t to hang around for an accidental ladder climb by raising the last $500. Sebag tossed the chip in, of course, and we got to see where everyone one was. Remember, the flop was Qh-4c-10c.

Williamson turned over Ac-9c for the nut flush draw, and Sebag immediately said “Oh, I’m in trouble, I misread my hand, I thought I was drawing to nut flush.”

THE POKER WORLD IS RULED BY SKEPTICS

The claim was plausible, because Sebag did have an ace in his Qc-8c-Ah-7d hand, but I’m too cynical to believe it, and I guess cynicism is going around the poker world, because four different people asked me if I believed the “misread hand” comment, and when I told them “no,” they all said “Nope, me neither.”

Brody, meanwhile, was in better shape than the agonized pre-surgical looks had indicated: his 10-10-6-4 gave him middle set, and that two opponents were drawing at flushes made it less likely that either would get there.

The eight of hearts hit the turn, giving Sebag two pair, but a whiff for both flush draws, and because Sebag’s two pair were queens and eights, hitting an eight wouldn’t help: that would give him eights full of queens, while Brody would have tens full of eights. It had to be one of the short-supply clubs, or a queen.

You know where this is going, I assume. The Qd hit the river, and Sebag, who’d been running a very poor third on the flop, had made queens full by hitting runner-runner. A club would also have finished Brody, but I got the feeling that losing to someone who was drawing to two outs hurt worse.

WHEN IS APPLAUSE NOT APPLAUSE?

Brody gazed dejectedly at the huge pot that had almost been his, but stood and left quietly, acknowledging the applause that just doesn’t register when you have to stand up from a table you don’t want to leave.

My chip estimate was now:

Immanuel Sebag $79,000
Johnny Chan $175,000
Robert Williamson III $140,000
Maurice Atlani $31,000

We hadn’t been hearing too much from Atlani, certainly not on the big pots. He was more of a subscriber to the Chan plan, but not owning the chips or opponent-reading abilities that allowed Chan to grab the free ones. We finally heard something on #105.

Atlani and Williamson managed to get Atlani’s entire small stack in on the 8s-6c-4s flop: Williamson checked, Atlani bet, Williamson moved him in, and Atlani figured he had enough to call. Williamson had two pair and a straight draw with 10-8-7-4, while Atlani had K-K-5-6, an overpair, a lower straight draw, and an oh-by-the-way small piece of the flop with the six.

Pre-flop, Atlani had probably not even noticed his 5-6: he’d figured most of his equity lay in those two kings. He hit the rotten part of his hand again on the turn, but not only were his two pair lower than the two Williamson had flopped, the five gave Williamson a straight, which ended the K-K’s usefulness.

CONTEXT MIGHT BE KING, BUT IN OMAHA, REDRAWS ARE EMPEROR

Another six hit on the river, though, and that ignored little 5-6 now counted as a full house. “Two Pair – Straight – Boat” doesn’t have quite the same pizzazz as the earlier trifectas, it was another dramatic example of what seasoned Omaha players know – that having lots of redraws winds up being the key in this game more than most people think.

The players voted down the concept of the scheduled dinner break, saying they’d think about it after the next level, but they did take a short break that allowed for a more precise count:

Immanuel Sebag $75,000
Johnny Chan $174,000
Robert Williamson III $113,000
Maurice Atlani $63,000

The new blinds were $1,500-3,000, allowing the first raiser to bet anywhere in the $6,000-$10,500 range.

Atlani had finally made a move, and two hands in the new round, catching a strong hand but perhaps playing it too softly before the flop and maybe a bit too aggressively on it.

A GOOD HAND, BUT WAS IT BET CORRECTLY?

Chan opened for 7k from the button, and Atlani, who could have raised as much as $15,500 (a total of $22,500 going in), raised only 9k, pricing Chan into the pot with almost any hand. In a money game, this might be right, but in a tournament, you probably need to move a little more strongly with Ac-Ah-10h-9s.

Chan called, and the flop came Ks-4c-Qs; Atlani, though we didn’t know it yet, had flopped an overpair and a gutshot straight draw. The flop, though, was very coordinated; it would have been easy for Chan not only to have flopped a set, but also some kind of wraparound straight draw and/or a flush draw.

Nonetheless, Atlani went for the jugular, moving his last 43.5k all-in, and Chan called with not quite as many possibilities as he might have, but still some reasonable equity: he turned over Kd-10c-9c-8d. He had top pair, a backdoor flush draw, a gutshot straight draw (that he didn’t want to hit, as it would have given Atlani a better straight)…and a few random redraws.

Oh, heck, you already know what that last part means. The 9d hit the turn, sending Chan into the lead with two pair, and he added a king on the river for emphasis and a full house. Pair-two pair-full house, you gotta love those redraws. Atlani was out fourth, only moments after he’d acquired some chips and some hope for the first time in a long time.

“I’LL GET OFF AS SOON AS YOU STOP BREATHING ENTIRELY”

Now that he had a big lead, Chan performed the poker equivalent of sitting on his opponents’ chests and not letting them breathe. He pushed harder at pots, and did more re-raising, but he must have been reading like a baseball player with 20-10 vision, because his opponents rarely played back, and when they did, Chan usually let it go rather than try to mix it up and gamble when he didn’t have to.

Actually, Chan looked like he could have been a baseball player. I’ve never seen him in bad shape, but it appears he’s stepped up his workouts, and looked pretty buff under his black t-shirt.

A few hands later, at hand #118, I guessed the chip count was about:

Immanuel Sebag $40,000
Johnny Chan $260,000
Robert Williamson III $115,000

All kinds of interesting tactical considerations come up when one player has a big lead in a three-way freeze out (and by the way, a deal was never one of them – I never heard even a whisper about a deal either three-handed or heads-up).

Most of those considerations involve who finishes off player #3. If player #1 does it, player #2 has a long uphill climb. If #2 takes out #3 (or #3 becomes #2 and then takes out his opponent), the trailer is usually in position to make a game of it.

THE TWO TRAILERS FIGHT FOR THE HONOR OF ATTACKING THE LEADER

At #132, #2 and #3 went at it big time Sebag was still loitering around the 40k mark, but Williamson had lost a little ground and was below 100k.

Williamson limped in from the small blind, but Sebag raised it 6k, and Williamson pushed back, re-raising 18k. Sebag called, and 60% of his chips had gone in pre-flop.

The flop came As-3s-5h, and Williamson led out for 9k. Sebag called, but curiously neither player made a move for or with Sebag’s last 7k when the board finished 3-6. Williamson turned over K-K-9-5, and Sebag A-J-10-10.

“I knew that ace was trouble!” said Williamson. Now players two and three were pretty close, making it impossible for either to scare Chan but extremely possible to scare each other.

The next real scare came on #145. Williamson limped in from the button, but Sebag popped it seven more from the small blind (ten total). Williamson called.

I KNEW THERE WAS A REASON THEY MADE IT NON-SMOKING

The flop came 5h-3h-Kh, and Sebag came out firing. “Pot,” he said, which was a bet of 23k and not a request for something to smoke that would have cut the tension (this is a non-smoking tournament, anyway).

Continuing a tradition we’d already experienced about ten times this day, with various culprits contributing, Williamson said he was all-in, which was at least a legal bet here, because he could legally bet enough to put Sebag all-in.

Sebag saw that he had about 37k left (it turned out to be 37.5, which should be a clue to those who are still alert), and called, turning over Ah-Ad-Js-10s, which translated to an overpair, no flush or straight draw, and slightly better than random redraws, since his cards did at least have the king surrounded.

Williamson, on the other hand, turned over something quite similar to the cheesy one that had busted Juanda but doubled Brody: K-8-7-6, which was top pair, no kicker, no heart draw, a gutshot for a straight draw, and only random redraws.

Hey, when you get three-handed, you don’t always need full houses, flushes, straights, or sets to win. Shorthanded Omaha often shifts to a game of pairs and kickers, although you don’t necessarily want to play huge pots with those kinds of hands.

WILLIAMSON RUNS OUT OF GAS

The board finished Q-3, changing nothing, and in two confrontations with Sebag, Williamson’s daylong solid chip position had vanished. He was riding on fumes with only 13k, and probably doing a little fuming himself.

The issue of who took out player #3 was no longer significant, because #3 didn’t have enough chips to swing the play.

By hand #151, Williamson had 8k left, and he pushed them all-in from the button. Chan took him on from the big blind. Williamson had found a reasonable enough hand for a last stand, Q-Q-3-7, but Chan had an ace in his hand, and that was the first card off the deck.

Nothing else hit that ever gave Williamson any hopes, and the Brian Saltus Award Winner (don’t consider that a non-achievement: it takes a lot of respect from one’s peers to get the award named for the TOC’s third winner, the then-multiple surgery survivor who passed away about a year later) was out third.

Sebag had about 152k as heads-up play began, while Chan had 273k. The heads-up battle was intense and full of dramatic moments, for the entire hand it lasted.

Chan had the small blind on the button, and opened for a raise to 9k; Sebag called. The flop came 3h-4d-9s, and Sebag bet the full 18k sitting in the pot. Chan flat called.

FINALLY, CHAN SEEMS WILLING TO GAMBLE…WHY?

The Qc hit the turn, and Sebag once again bet the pot, now 54k. For literally the first time since the hand #13 confrontation with Seed, Chan slung some chips around without a cold, hard grip on the pot. The crowd gasped as Chan flat-called. What kind of hand could warrant that big a call, but not a raise?

Think about it a little longer than the gasping crowd, because possibly the most unflappable player I’ve watched doesn’t panic or space out at moments like this. Got it? Good.

The 2s hit the river, leaving the board 3h-4d-9s-Qc-2s, and Sebag pushed the rest of his chips into the pot. Wouldn’t you, with a queen having come on the turn, your own hand Qs-Qh-Kh-Js, and half your stack already in the pot?

I guess it would depend on what sort of hand you might think Johnny Chan would call $18,000 and $54,000 bets with, when he hadn’t gambled in five hours.

WHEN YA GOTTA, YA GOTTA

Chan simultaneously turned his cards over and announced with a broad grin “I gotta call with the nuts.” He turned over 8d-2d-6s-5s. The 5-6 gave him the nut straight, but his hand had more closely resembled a wrap, because the 2-5 meant an ace would have given him a wheel, and he also had two backdoor flush possibilities on the flop.

It was all over, and the turning over his cards while announcing the call brought to mind that scene we’ve all seen over and over in Rounders, when he turns over the straight at the end.

Johnny Chan had his second bracelet of this WSOP (the first time he’s ever won two in one Series), and now those of you who hadn’t suspected know why I rattled on so much about The Magnificent Seven and when describing Chan’s career accomplishments mentioned two world championships and six other bracelets, rather than mentioning the total of eight. I was trying for some misdirection. Did it work?

We truly did start with a Magnificent Nine, but the first and most important meaning of this report’s title springs from Chan’s record-tying ninth bracelet. He’s now gone past Phil Hellmuth and caught Doyle Brunson, while simultaneously stretching his career WSOP winnings to almost 3.5 million dollars.

CHAN’S PERFORMANCE A TRUE CLINIC

Not only that, but it truly was a “magnificent” #9. It’s really hard to appreciate his play without having seen it or without access to my hand-by-hand notes, where his clinical dissection of eight great players really did come in almost entirely risk-free fashion, save for the one hand at the start (and he flopped top set in that one) and the one hand at the end (where he already had $90,900 in real money locked up and still would have had plenty of chips even if he had lost).

Given his aversion to gambling, I wanted to know why he was willing to go with that hand, even if it did amount to 12 outs twice and lots of other little bits of equity here and there.

“If we’re not two-handed, I don’t even call the first bet,” Chan said. “Heads-up, the values change a lot, and I had both a lot of ways to win and a lot of money already locked up. I was going to have enough chips to play with if it went badly, too.”

That was true enough; even if Sebag had grabbed 81k from Chan if the river card hadn’t cooperated, it would have been practically an even match, and there wasn’t ANYONE watching who wouldn’t have made Chan a substantial favorite starting even in chips. Gold bracelet #7 was, after all, in last year’s special “bracelet winners only heads-up match tournament.”

You have to have a little heads-up ability to knock off five consecutive other bracelet winners (including two with strong heads-up records, Hellmuth and Diego Cordovez) in heads-up matches.

BONETTI OFFERS A USEFUL VISUAL AID

John Bonetti, another career WSOP millionaire who’d been watching, agreed that Chan had put on a clinic.

“He had this whole big collection of chip stacks,” Bonetti explained, using his hands to estimate the width and length of the collection. “But he played the whole tournament with just these two little stacks over here. He never had to touch any of the others. He never makes a mistake, never loses his cool.”

I wanted to know more about that legendary coolness, so I probed a little further, asking Chan how he managed such steady play.

“It’s a little like being that young Muhammad Ali,” he said, laughing and taking a step back to throw a jab. “It’s all about timing. I stay cool and if I read them as weak, I hit them, and then move away so I can’t get hit back.

Johnny Chan certainly isn’t as famous as Ali, who at one point was considered to own the most recognizable face on the planet, but they might have one thing in common aside from the “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” style.

Ali was known as “The Greatest” (in no small part because he liked to shout things like “I am the greatest of all time,” something that the confident but soft-spoken Chan wouldn’t do). Chan is #1 in bracelets, #1 in career earnings, and a big winner in the big side games as well, something that not too many tournament experts can say.

LOTS OF PEOPLE HAVE A GREAT “A” GAME: HOW OFTEN DO THEY USE IT?

Further, while there are several tournament stars whose “A” game rivals or perhaps even exceeds Chan’s, I can’t think of anyone who brings his “A” game to the table more frequently…and once he brings it, he keeps it, because he also possesses about as much invulnerability to tilt as anyone I know.

There might be players capable of attaining higher levels for sporadic moments. There might be younger stars who may yet improve enough so that 20 years from now, we’ll say “he or she is The Greatest.” There are certainly other current champions who are capable of shooting past Chan and the impressive records he holds.

Nonetheless, when you add up the accomplishments, the steadiness, the ability in multiple games, the ability in both tournaments AND money play, and the tilt-resistance, that buffed-out guy in the black t-shirt just might be, in May 2003, poker’s version of “The Greatest.”

There might have been greater players in the past, and I’ll probably be surprised if there aren’t greater players in the future, but right now, it’s pretty hard to argue with Johnny Chan’s full package. Not only that, he says he learns something new every day. The players who think they already know everything might want to sit back and take that in.

THE “PERFECT CRIME” IS ONE THE POLICE NEVER EVEN LEARN ABOUT

He played such a good game of what in baseball they call “little ball” today that there weren’t many single hands worthy of reporting. It was just a cool, calm, collected aggregation of a few chips here and a few chips there that if one didn’t keep an eye on his stack size, you might not have ever noticed what was going on.

I kind of “went on” a bit much about John Juanda the other day, probably making this great guy and great person out to be even more than he is. I don’t want to make the same mistake with Chan. I stand by what I saw today – a tournament win probably less influenced by luck than any I’ve ever seen – but Chan isn’t perfect, either.

He doesn’t open up to people easily, and even though it’s probably justifiable, his confidence sometimes borders on arrogance. I don’t know enough about him as a person to speak much about that side of him, and in the grand scheme of things, that side is more important than the poker side. He might be the world’s greatest person when you get to know him, or he might be among the worst. I just don’t know. I can only speak to what I know, and after what I saw today, I know a lot more about his poker.

Surrounded by a strong a collection of players as you’re likely to find at any one table, he played practically like a man among boys, and believe me, I’m keeping the notepad with every hand-by-hand blow. It was like watching a younger Michael Jordan dominate an NBA All-Star Game. I hope my undoubtedly inadequate-by-comparison efforts conveyed what a special few hours the spectators observed.

Final Official Results, $5,000 Buy-In Pot-Limit Omaha
85 Entrants, Total Prize Pool: $395,250

1 Johnny Chan $158,100
2 Immanuel Sebag $90,900
3 Robert Williamson III $47,400
4 Maurice Atlani $27,750
5 Jon Brody $21,700
6 Erik Seidel $17,800
7 John Juanda $13,800
8 Huck Seed $9,900
9 Phillip Marmorstein $7,900
   
Binion’s 6%: $25,500
Tournament Staff 1%: $4,250

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