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Floodgate

When the November Nine were established back in July, the real test of patience began. And as Carmine Frisk found out, it was a move that paid off big time for one young Dane.

From my room in the curvaceous tower at the Rio, the walk to the Amazon Room is usually the most exercise I get when covering the World Series of Poker. Down the vanishing-point corridor, down the elevator—stairs? I think not—past the Masquerade Village, through the banks of slot machines, beyond Gaylord’s and Buzio’s restaurants on the right and São Paulo Cafe on the left, then hook a left down a gentle ramp, veer to the right, and then you see the finish line way in the distance near the Milwaukee’sBest Light girls, press rooms and, finally, at the gargantuan Amazon Room. Luckily for me, the brilliant minds at Harrah’s decided that because of the hype and hyperbole fuelled by the four-month hiatus in the Main Event, The Penn & Teller Theatre, just after the São Paulo Cafe, proved to be a more accommodating venue for the grand finale—and my weary legs.

It was also a good call to have it here since the Amazon Room is infamously known for not being very audience friendly, with a couple of rickety bleachers set up—an inadequate resource considering the demand. So Penn & Teller surrendered their eponymous theatre, which can comfortably seat 1,000, and 2007 Main Event winner Jerry Yang traditionally announced “shuffle up and deal”.

And appropriately, the most hyped final table in WSOP history also made another record first when Peter Eastgate surpassed Phil Hellmuth by being the youngest winner of the coveted Main Event Bracelet. At only 22, Eastgate, from Odense, Denmark, beat Hellmuth by two years as he was 24 when he won it back in 1989.

The nine players got the action going on—duh—November 9 and play was understandably tight and jittery. Dennis Phillips, the chip leader from St. Louis with 26 million in chips, certainly wanted to maintain his dominance, spurred on by a legion of supporters in the stands who wore his ceremonial white dress shirt and St. Louis Cardinals hat; most, especially the women, had to forego the beard. But Phillips supporters weren’t the only ones raising the roof. Every player had his own cheering squad. David Rheem‘s team certainly kept the dream alive. But as the first day wore on—where seven eliminations were guaranteed—the support gradually consolidated.

First out, in ninth place was not, in fact, short stack Kelly Kim but Craig Marquis from Arlington, Texas. Canadian Scott Montgomery made quick work of him after Marquis moved all-in with pocket sevens and was called by Canadian Scott Montgomery who had A-Q. The flop was equally fortuitous as Marquis made a set and Montgomery caught his ace. The turn and river, however, frowned upon Marquis as jack and king completed Montgomery’s runner-runner straight. He came in to win it, he said, and that’s why he played the sevens aggressively. From a numerical standpoint, he went in at 55 percent and lost. But he understands the game enough not to get upset when things don’t go his way because he played the percentages right. “When you flop a set, you expect to win the hand,” said Marquis afterward. “That was certainly unfortunate for me, but that’s why we play this game.” Gracious and aggressively gesticulating in defeat, Marquis was left to wonder how the rest of the table would unfold.

Then the seemingly inevitable happened as Californian Kelly Kim bit the dust on the very next hand. After getting pocket aces on the first hand of the night, he went all in but found no callers; too early to make any brazen moves. “Given my situation, this is what I thought of for the past three months,” he said. He then bided what little time he had to double up again, but the blinds as they were whittled his chances. On his last hand Kim had all but his last 150,000 pot committed, and when action came around, he went all-in and got calls from WSOP Europe final hero Ivan Demidov from Russia, New Yorker Ylon Schwartz and Indonesian-Canadian Darus Suharto. With all that weight against him, he simply got up and walked away once the river card was dealt. Despite the result, he got a boisterous standing ovation “The support was awesome,” he continued. “It feels good to show up and get something. There’s so much to play for, but I can’t complain.” Certainly not, especially considering he came eighth instead of the predicted ninth, therefore adding another $387,000 to his winnings.

And then the said raised roof came crashing down on fellow Californian Rheem in a way that should redefine bad beat. After going all-in with A-K and getting a call from Suharto with A-Q, Rheem could only watch in royal horror as another queen came down on the flop. When the turn and river yielded nothing constructive, Rheem deflated from a brutal smackdown on poker’s biggest stage and proceeded with painful interview duties. Maria Ho, last woman standing at the 2007 WSOP, then fielded the journalistic “don’t go there” question with “How do you feel right now?” with obvious results. “It feels like shit. What do you want me to say? I put my heart into it and now my heart’s broken.” Let’s hope the $1.7 million can help mend it.

Next on the chopping black was Suharto followed by fellow countryman Montgomery. As a matter of fact, Suharto was taken down by the meek Montgomery. After Montgomery opened the pot with a raise, Suharto went all-in for 8.5 million from the button, which made Montgomery pause for a second before calling. Suharto turned up A-8 without a whole lot of confidence and winced behind blackened shades when Montgomery flipped over A-Q. The flop showed three spades, simultaneously bolstering Montgomery’s As and eliminating one out for Suharto. Then with the 4s on the turn, Suharto bowed out. “I can’t lie. I feel pretty disappointed,” he said. A stern believer in hard work, Suharto will go right back to work as an accountant before weighing his poker career options.

And only 14 hands later, after donating nearly his entire stack to Demidov, Montgomery crashed out after being hit by a one-outer. Eastgate opened with a raise to 1.25 million and Montgomery went all-in. Eastgate called and showed pocket sixes while Montgomery threw down Ad-3d. The flop brought an ace for Montgomery and the turn brought another one. Things were looking good for the Ontario native. But wouldn’t you know it, the last six of the deck—Phillips admitted folding the 6c—came down on the river, thus drowning Montgomery with Eastgate’s full house. “I told myself to play tight until two people got busted and then I was going to loosen up,” he said afterward. I was behind when I got it all-in, so I don’t consider that a bad beat. I certainly wanted to finish better that fifth.” For his fifth-place effort, he scooped $3 million.

From there, the whole skill:luck ratio seemed to favour Eastgate as next in his sights was Schwartz, who went all in on the river with ace high, having no idea that Eastgate had another full house. After realising he earned $3.7 million, he was still in shock how the cards fell on that ultimate hand. He wanted to be more aggressive than everyone thought he was going to be at the beginning. So he came out guns blazing. But his fate was sealed when he ran into Eastgate. “It’s a miracle that he hit the five,” he said railside.

And then Phillips saw his starting chip lead evaporate to put an end to ceremonies for the first day of play. He got off to a rocky start when he lost a big hand against Schwartz. “I tried to push and he obviously had a big hand,” he said. “It put me behind the eight ball to start with.” Being crippled straight out of the gates didn’t affect him too badly overall, however, as he was able to fight back valiantly and amass a chip stack of over 20 million to put him back in contention. But on hand 169, Eastgate made a raise to 1,500,000 and Phillips made the call from the big blind. The flop came down Js-4d-3s and Eastgate lead out for 1.5 million, and Phillips moves all of his chips into the middle of the table. Eastgate immediately calls with pocket threes while Phillips showed a limp 9-10. With his three on the flop, Phillips resigned with an “Oh well!” The As turn and 9d river meant Phillips earned third place $4,517,773. And with head’s-up play to resume on the following day, the crowd dispersed and another chorus of the “Ooba Ooba” song from the Danes rang out.

So when play commenced on November 10, at 10pm (I think they were trying too hard with the numerical symbolism at this point), Eastgate and Demidov went at it with chip stacks at 80,300,000 and 56,600,000 respectively. All that cash provided a ridiculous distraction as well.

Play began with hand 170, but it wasn’t until hand 232 finished just after 1am when tournament Director Jack Effel announced that this final table officially became the longest Main Event final table in WSOP history, outdoing the 2005 Main Event where Joe Hachem triumphed after 14 hours, 10 minutes of play. But people, especially John Juanda if he were present, raised a point of contention as, technically, the longest final table in WSOP history happened just a couple of months ago in London when the WSOP Europe culminated after 22 hours of play and 484 hands, more than 200 of which were head’s-up.

But back at the action here, Eastgate went into what turned out to be the last break with a laughably disproportionate chip lead of 120,550,000 to 16,350,000. When they came back to the table, the blinds were still at a blinding 500,000-1,000,000 and by the time hand 274 came around, Demidov committed half of his 12-million stack to the pot after a 2d-Kh-3h flop and a 4c turn. Eastgate mulls it over for what seems like an eternity and then calls. When he does, everyone got on their feet. And when the 7s river came down, Demidov went all in and Eastgate snap-called. Adrenaline pumped here in the arena as Demidov showed 4h-2h for two pair. But Eastgate flipped over Ad-5s, making the wheel and rolling Demidov into second place and $5,809,595. But it was Eastgate’s day, as he finally cracked a smile knowing that he was just given $9.1 million, the bracelet and the keys to the most illustrious poker castle—and the youngest to do so. Naturally, his support group went wild and the Oooba Oooba song rang well in to the early hours.
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