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  • WSOP 07 : The Endgame

    By Anthony Holden

    So it’s true. Psychological savvy helps. For the superstitious (like me), it was also his commitment to giving 10% of his winnings to charity that saw 40-year-old psychologist Jerry Yang from Laos, now resident in California, arrive at the final table with by far the punchiest karma.

    When play began at noon yesterday, Yang held the second smallest stack, in eighth place out of nine with just 8.45 million in chips out of the 130 million in play. Sixteen hours later, at 4 a.m. this morning, he was the new world champion of poker, winning £8.25 million and a secure future for his large extended family, including a wife and six children.

    At the most international final table of all time – four Americans, three Europeans, one South African and one Canadian – the youngest 22, the oldest 63 – Yang dominated from the off.

    Within the first two hours, he had busted out three players, including two of the most fancied, and leapt into a massive lead with 62 million, almost half the chips in play. Over the subsequent 14 hours he would slip down as low as 40m, but never lose the lead. Yang played super-solid poker throughout; but there were times he was helped by his opponents’ remarkable recklessness.

    First to go, astonishingly (& commiserations, Conrad), was the chip leader when play began – Philip Helm, the Dane of Polish descent who lives in Cambridge, England. Helm managed to lose $20m in two consecutive hands. After barely an hour’s play, in only the 14th hand of the day, he took his first dive after calling two bets totalling $5.5m from Yang before and after a flop of Ah-10d-8s, then folding when Yang went all-in on the turn, 3-d. In the very next hand, Hilm himself went all-in when 5d-8d brought him bottom pair and a flush draw, only to be called by Yang with a paired 8 that stood up.

    Barely ten minutes later it was Yang’s A-9 versus the all-in A-7 of Lee Watkinson, the experienced pro from Washington (who might have been expected to think twice about that move). Again, Yang’s hand survived, and Watkinson was a goner. Few had expected action of this scale so soon. But it was not over yet. Next to go, after another half-hour on Hand 28, was Lee Childs, the 33-year-old wrestler from Virginia – and again Yang was the executioner. When Childs raised 720K from the small blind, Yang went all-in from the big. After a long think, with 5 million left, Childs called, showing Kh-Jc to Yang’s Js-8s. After the flop of 6c-4c-4d, Childs had Yang dominated. But the turn brought the 8c, giving Yang top pair and Childs a long-shot flush draw. The river was the 9d. For the third time in an hour or so, Yang ran to his jubilant Laotian relatives for a mass hug on the rails.

    At the first break, Yang has won 12 of the first 28 hands. His 62.3 million gives him a lead of 42 million over Canada’s Tuan Lam in second place. As play resumes, and the blinds rise to 150,000 and 300,000 with 40,000 antes, the pace slows for an hour and more before Yang dispatches his next victim. When Yang puts in one of his routine chip-leader raises to 1.5 million, this time from middle position, he gets his first action in a while from short-stack Hevad ‘Rain’ Khan, who raises from the small blind to 6 million. With Khan left holding just 3.5m, Yang calls – and Khan sets himself in blind, before the flop. It comes Kc-4c-2d. Yang calls, and shows Jh-Js to Khan’s As-Qs. The turn brings the 3c, giving Khan a gutshot straight draw. But the river is the 3s, sending an exuberant Yang back to the rail for more celebrations – and Poughkeepsie’s all-singing all-dancing Khan to the rail for good, out in sixth place, winning $956,243. All five survivors will now become dollar millionaires.

    As play resumes, Yang has 74 million, or 57% of the chips in play. Just four hands later, the 60th of the day, Britain’s John ‘Skalie’ Kalmar decides it is time to make his fist big move. With Yang on the button, South African sexagenarian Raymond Rehme raises to 2.7 million and Kalmar goes all-in on the big blind – another 13.25m. Rahme calls, showing Jd-Js to Skalie’s As-Kh. The board comes 10c-9h-6-h, 3c, 3h, and ‘Skalie’ is poker history, eliminated in fifth place, with a prize purse of $1,255,069 to take back to Chorley.

    Not bad for a man who had been running so badly this WSOP that he wasn’t going to play in the ‘main event’. When he learnt that changing his airfare home would cost $600, ‘Skalie’ decided that the very last satellite might just be a better investment. He was right.

    So it took just six hours and 60 hands to get rid of five players. But it would be another seven hours and 107 hands before the next one fell.

    By 1 a.m., and the 100th hand of four-handed play, Yang was bleeding chips. At one point, he had held 60% of the chips in play; now he had slipped to 33%. He had won 63 of the 166 pots – but small ones compared to the few biggies he had lost. He was still the chip leader, but sexagenarian Raymond Rahme of South Africa was only 11 million behind him. After a rare burst of momentum the Russian, Alex Travchenko, had again fallen silent. Then, on Hand 167, came Travchenko’s moment of truth.

    With Rahme on the button, Kravchenko raises from the small blind to 2.1 million, Yang pushes from the big blind, and Kravchenko quickly calls all-in for almost 20 million. Yang shows 8c-8h, and Kravchenko As-Kd. It’s a coinflip, which Kravchenko must win to stay alive. The flop comes Qd-9h-8s, sending Yang’s fans crazy as he flops a set of eights. Kravchenko needs runner-runner – but the turn brings the 4c, leaving him drawing dead. The river is a meaningless 3s. Alex Kravchenko of Moscow – the first Russian ever to reach the final table of the WSOP ‘main event’– is eliminated in fourth place, Yang’s fifth victim of the day, earning $1,852,721. There is a jump of $1.2m between Kravchenko’s fourth place and third.

    Now Yang is back to holding more than half the chips in play. Two hands later, at 1.45 a.m., he raises from the button to 2.6 million. Raymond Rahme, the 63-year-old who is showing understandable signs of weariness, re-raises from the big blind to 8.6 million. Yang calls, bringing the pot to 17.725m. After a flop of Ad-Jh-8h, Rahme checks, Yang bets 10 million, and Rahme moves all in for 27.35m. Yang goes into the tank for several minutes, and the crowd falls silent, before he quietly says, "Alright, I call." When Rahme shows Kh-Ks, an ecstatic Yang rolls over Ac-5s for top pair. The turn brings the 3s, the river the 2d. Yang jumps for joy and runs off the stage for yet more hugs with his family and friends and family. Tuan Lam walks over to Rahme to offer his congratulations, then Yang returns to give the old-timer a hug. On Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday, third-placed Raymond Rahme is going home to South Africa with $3,048,025.

    As the heads-up begins, Jerry Yang has 104.5 million and Tuan Lam just over 23m. After seven hours of four-handed play, Yang has busted out two more players in just three hands. He has won 67 of the day’s 169 hands, and holds 81% of the chips. Nonetheless, it will take him another 36 hands, over three hours, to win.

    The 2004 WSOP head-to-head between Greg Raymer and David Williams lasted three hands. The 2005 heads-up between Joe Hachem and Steve Dannenmann took six. The 2006 endgame between Jamie Gold and Paul Wasicka was all over in seven.

    This one would take 36. At 2.11 a.m. Yang becomes the first player in poker history to amass more than 100 million in chips. Then, just before 4 a.m., on hand 205 of the day, Yang raises to 2.3 million from the button, and Tuan Lam moves all in for 22.2 million. Yang doesn’t think long before calling. He shows 8c-8d to Lam’s Ad-Qd. It’s a race, which Yang is winning. Two-thirds of the crowd chants "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!", the rest "Canada! Canada!"
    The flop comes Qc-9c-5s, bringing bedlam as Tuan Lam takes the lead with top pair. He’s a big favorite to double up, and get himself right back in there. Yang needs an eight or runner-runner for victory. The turn is the 7d, giving Yang a gutshot straight draw. And the river comes… the 6h, giving Yang an unlikely straight and the 2007 world crown.

    Chaos ensues, from which Yang eventually emerges to make a gracious speech thanking all concerned. Canada’s Tuan Lam takes home $4,840,981 for second place, and Jerry Yang $8.25 million for first, minus that 10 percent to the Make a Wish Foundation, Feed the Children, and the Ronald McDonald House.

    Having earned his $10,000 entry via a $225 satellite, I doubt Yang will be parting with his unique WSOP gold bracelet. He has earned himself – and Laos – a lasting place in poker history.

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    Comment from Richard
    Time: July 18, 2007, 10:37 pm

    I hear that during one of the later breaks, Yang got down on his knees (see previous blog) to pray to, or prey on, his god. (Must be keen considering the half-inch of swill in the men’s bathroom)

    If only the answer came ‘I’ll let you win this in ridiculous fashion if you promise to give up the game and do good things with the money’.

    I keenly await the result in the coming months with true Faustian interest.

    All The Best

    Comment from Anthony Holden
    Time: July 19, 2007, 12:03 am

    Yes – you’re right, Richard, the new world champ is indeed a man of god. Unlike some other poker pros, however, he made no mention of the Great Celestial Illusion in his victory speech – to the great relief of all those still standing in the Rio’s Amazon Room at 4am today.
    Well, I’ve already gone republican on this website. Might as well go atheist, too.

    Comment from Richard
    Time: July 23, 2007, 8:30 pm

    If Yang had been in touch with the master of the universe, the voices would surely have said “Let a PokerStars Man win, and then split the $10 million bonus”.

    After all, those measly misers of a certain other sponsor gave him only $750,000!

    Comment from Spencer J
    Time: July 25, 2007, 2:18 pm

    A god fearing winner of the WSOP was just what it needed imo, especially after the antics of Jamie Gold last year. At least the general public will see that it is not just debauched drinkers and hardcore gamblers who think the game is great. The more mainstream poker gets, the better chance we have of seeing some sensible legislation in America for it.

    I know a lot of people have flamed Yang for his poor play at the final table but he was the most aggressive and he pressurized his opponents perfectly when he had a big stack. He may not have played superbly – he is not a pro so it was unlikely he would have pro moves – but most of his opponents self destructed and that was hardly his fault.

    And thank God that ‘Rain’ Khan did not win. I am sure he was just nervous and is not quite as big a cock as he appeared on the broadcast. But I don’t think he would have been a great ambassador for poker either…

    Comment from John David Morley
    Time: July 25, 2007, 4:11 pm

    Really entertaining and thorough coverage, giving me a better general view of the WSOP than I had when I was there myself and watched Stu Ungar win it for the third time. Your indefatigable enthusiasm for poker — sixteen hours for this last round — is remarkable, your stamina still more so. Must have been cheering to see that sixty-something South African holding up the flag for other poker-playing oldies still nourishing their own championship ambitions. It interests me that two Asians, originating from an area of the world a lot smaller than Texas, were in the final field. And I predict that in another decade or maybe two, the slight dominance of the US versus the candidates fielded by the rest of the world will have been replaced by another. The faces round the table will reflect the breakthough of China in world poker, in step with the larger breakthrough of the Chinese GNP at the front of the world economy. Also much to your credit, A.H., is the graciousness with which you plugged the achievements of other Brits left in the field after you yourself had gone. I don’t know who else is out there on the Web consistently blogging the WSOP, but your account of it must be one of the best. Bravo !

    Comment from Anthony Holden
    Time: July 25, 2007, 4:30 pm

    Thanks for those kind words, JDM. I owe you (and Richard) a large drink – maybe a grappa or three? – if I ever get over the jetlag.

    Comment from Johnny Hughes
    Time: July 25, 2007, 4:32 pm

    The television editors will have a great deal of power in whether or not to play up the God angle. I’d wager it is more in the hands of the Beer company executives than it is in God’s hands. They will be switching back and forth from Beer to God to Beer to God. The word will come down from on high, “Edit God out.”

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