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Day Three

$10,000 No-Limit Hold'em World Championship, Day Three: "And the Aces Shall Inherit the Chips"

Gasp.

Sir Lawrence Olivier, one of the greatest actors of this or any other generation, once gave a truly magnificent performance on stage, and friends found him distraught afterwards.

“Lawrence,” they asked, “how can you be upset? You probably just gave the best performance of your life?”

“I know!” replied the angry, frustrated Olivier. “I know it was the best performance I ever gave!”

His friends were confused. “Then what’s the problem?” they asked.

“I DON’T KNOW HOW I DID IT!” came the reply. “I don’t know what I did, so I don’t know how I can repeat it!”

Sir Larry, move over.

In one of the most spectacular and dramatic third days in the history of the World Series of Poker, 45 put on the performance of their lives, and I’m not sure how the six survivors (Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Jim McManus, Roman Abinsay, Steve Kaufman, Hasan Habib, and TJ Cloutier) can hope to match the show they put on for 13 hours today when we tee it up again at noon PST.

Of course, the six finalists probably aren’t too concerned with the show. They’re staring at $3,736,360 in prize money left on the table. Even the last and least of this mighty sextet will take home $195,600.

I’ll walk you through the final days adventures more or less chronologically, but it would be impossible to write about today without starting at the end, with the stunning final hand that turned the balance of power completely on its end.

Ferguson, the chip leader as the result of a 1.7 million dollar dustup with Jeff Shulman only a few minutes earlier, brought the hand in for $90,000, a raise of $60,000 from the $30,000 big blind.

Habib and McManus tossed their hands away, and Cloutier raised it $300,000. The $390,000 he put in the pot represented just under 3/5 of his stack. Roman Abinsay lost interest rapidly, and Shulman, without much in the way of deliberation, moved his roughly $600,000 all-in.

Ferguson mucks, you think. In fact, one player at the table even waved “bye-bye” at him. Nope. After only the briefest of hesitations, Chris muscled up and moved his remaining 1.6 million in.

Cloutier looked like he’d been hit between the eyes. If I’d been in his chair, I’d have probably mucked pocket kings. TJ did throw his hand away, later saying very credibly that he’d had two jacks.

Shulman asked the appropriate rhetorical question to Chris, “You got the aces because I’ve got the kings,” and Chris nodded. They turned the hands up, and indeed it was aces for Ferguson and an incredibly unfortunate pair of kings for Shulman.

The flop came down 3h-10c-8h, giving Jeff some slight added hope because he had the king of hearts in his hand. But the turn and river came 4c-3s, and the final table was set. Only Cloutier’s wise caution kept this hand from knocking out two players simultaneously and leaving us five-handed for tomorrow.

When the dust settled and the crowd and players recovered, here were the chip counts for the final day:

Seat 1, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, $2,853,000

Seat 2, Hasan Habib, $464,000

Seat 3, Jim McManus, $554,000

Seat 4, TJ Cloutier, $216,000

Seat 5, Roman Abinsay, $521,000

Seat 6, Steve Kaufman, $511,000

The prize money for which the super six will battle will be

First, $1,500,000

Second, $896,500

Third, $570,500

Fourth, $326,000

Fifth, $247,760

Sixth, $195,600

Kinda makes you want to get out a deck of cards and practice, doesn’t it?

While no one who was in the room will ever forget the final hand, we did play 13 hours of poker to get there. So let’s go back to the beginning and see how we reached this dramatic conclusion.

When we started play at noon, we had $5,120,000 in play, and 45 players, an average stack was $113,779. The players and tables were:

Table 47

1, Ramon Adams, $4,000

2, Roger Hellums, $72,500

3, Cary Long, $38,000

4, Roman Abinsay, $18,000

5, Steve Meyerson, $78,500

6, Marvin Lang, $98,000

7, Samuel Arzoin, $34,000

8, Tom Jacobs, $229,000

9, Glenn Beebe, $129,000

Table 48

1, Barney Boatman, $282,000

2, Alan Boston, $51,500

3, Kathy Liebert, $283,500

4, Stan Goldstein, $153,500

5, Mark Edwards, $59,500

6, Jeff Shulman, $115,500

7, “Captain” Tom Franklin, $113,000

8, Bruce Yamron, $118,500

9, Humberto Brenes, $101,000

Table 54

1, Barry Greenstein, $141,500

2, Michael Davis, $20,000

3, Annie Duke, $187,000

4, Hasan Habib, $256,000

5, Laith Salem, $113,000

6, Buddy Pitcock, $216,500

7, Gregory Alston, $89,000

8, Ty Bayne, $114,000

9, Mike Sexton, $130,500

Table 55

1, Anastassi Lazarou, $125,000

2, Ron Stanley, $74,000

3, Mickey Appleman, $6,000

4, Steve Kaufman, $42,500

5, Angelo Besnainou, $64,000

6, Jim McManus, $276,000

7, Larry Bellfuss, $121,000

8, Day Kim, $127,500

9, Meng La, $197,000

Table 62

1, John Shipley, $17,500

2, TJ Cloutier, $146,000

3, Steve Beam, $49,000

4, Paul McKinney, $103,000

5, Mel Judah, $139,000

6, Mehul Chaudhari, $90,500

7, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, $183,500

8, Mark Rose, $107,500

9, Eric Schulz, $500

If you bothered to look through the tables for the starting chip positions of our six finalists, you might have noticed

Roman Abinsay, $18,000

And

Steve Kaufman, $42,000

That’s right, two of our six finalists came from WAY below par to make the finish. But it gets even more dramatic than that, because Kaufman was down to $8,000 early in the day… and because Mickey Appleman, who was a story yesterday because his survival with his last $1,500 in the big blind with 7-3 offsuit against two opponents who were going to check him to the river gave him a payday but gave McManus a chance to go from $140,000 in chips to $276,000 in the final minutes, became a story himself today.

Appleman started with a lowly $6,000, not even close to enough to play a full round with $1,500-3,000 blinds and $500 antes. But Appleman doubled, and redoubled, and redoubled, and redoubled, and, well, you get the idea. Appleman at one point hit a high water mark of about $600,000, and made the final table with about $240,000 of it left, only to run out of gas at the finish and exit 9th. So much for hanging on for a $15,000 payday. Appleman earned $74,980. Remember that the next time you blithely toss your last few remaining chips into a tournament pot.

Kathy Liebert had entered the final day as the chip leader, although McManus, the poet and novelist who came to this World Series to write a story and instead became the story, cost her some of her lead with his rush in the waning moments of Day Two. Liebert still looked very much a candidate to be the first woman ever to win the Big One, but she ran into trouble in the form of former riverboat pilot “Captain” Tom Franklin.

Liebert raised a pot $20,000 from late position, and Franklin, in the big blind, popped her back all-in, a raise of $104,500. Liebert called without much hesitation. Q-Q for Kathy, K-K for Tom, and the board never got threatening. In one unfortunate stroke, Liebert had lost almost half her stack.

This happened just about one hour into the day’s play, and by this time Appleman was already over $100,000. The blinds moved up to $2,000-4,000, with $1,000 antes. Nine-handed, it would now cost $15,000 to watch a round go by, and Appleman soon doubled through Larry Bellfuss when his pocket fives hit the A-A-5 perfectly enough to ruin Bellfuss’s A-9. Appleman was over $200,000 and had passed Liebert, even though only 70 minutes earlier, he’d starting out trailing $283,500-6,000. Tomorrow’s finalists, staring at Ferguson’s millions, probably won’t forget how quickly this reversal occurred.

Liebert didn’t just sink, though. She had plenty of fight left in her. England’s Barney Boatman raised a pot to $47,000 and Liebert came over him for her last $99,000, with Boatman mucking.

Meanwhile, Jeff Shulman had been accumulating chips with a solid, aggressive style of play. He’d pushed a lot of small pairs, and so far they had been holding up. He didn’t gather many of his chips by calling, but his stack had grown so large that when Stan Goldstein moved his last $65,000 in on him, Jeff shrugged and said, “Call, probably a stupid call but what the heck.”

We turned ‘em over. 9-9 for Goldstein, A-Q for Shulman. The flop was harmless enough, 3-8-6, but a queen hit on the turn and Goldstein pounded the table in frustration. It hadn’t been a stupid call, just a reasonable 50-50 on someone who was getting a bit short, but Stan had to be thinking that “what the heck” was a heck of a way to end his World Series dreams.

Jim McManus had been playing with a guardian angel behind him for more than two days. Other than some beats early, when he got down to just $2,000 on the first day, pretty much all of the big hands he caught held up, and he’d caught, by his own admission, quite a few. It had been fun to watch his enthusiasm for the game grow as his stack did, and now we were about to learn how the Chicago writer could handle adversity.

Dealt K-K in the big blind, McManus quickly called Ron Stanley’s all-in bet of $28,000 from the small blind, and a grim-faced Stanley turned over K-10. But the Q-9-3 flop gave Stanley life, and once again the turn was unkind to a leader, as a jack fell to give Stanley a straight. It was a classic one-undercard bad beat, and now we were going to find out if McManus could handle the tough part of poker as well as he could handle la dolce vita.

He could handle it just fine, it turned out. Although McManus was still talking about the hand a half-hour later—“I can’t get it out of my mind,” he said—I didn’t see any deterioration in his play. He just kept turning pages in the album of family photos he’d brought out the day before, just as he went on his rush, and kept toying with a variety of jackets, hats, and talismans.

“Everyone else here is sitting around trying to figure out pot odds,” said Jim “Superstitious? Not Me” McManus. “I’m trying to figure out if it’s the hat or the pictures.”

We moved on up to the $3,000-6,000 blind, $1,000 ante level, and not long thereafter, one of poker’s most dangerous players got hold of some chips.

Tom Jacobs raised a pot to $20,000 before the flop, and TJ Cloutier called. The flop came down Ah-8h-4c, Tom bet out $30,000, and TJ smooth called pretty quickly. The 3h hit on the turn, putting a possible flush out, Jacobs moved all-in and Cloutier called like a shot. A-8 for Jacobs, pocket fours for TJ, and bottom set had doubled through the top two pair. TJ had about $400,000 and Jacobs a major cooler.

McManus applied the finishing frost only a few hands later, when he raised a pot to $25,000 and Jacobs moved all-in for his last $95,000. McManus called quickly with Q-Q; Jacobs turned over 10c-Jc, and although the Ad-7c-Jh flop brought a little hope, the 6h-2d finish ended Jacobs’ ladder climb in 19th place, one spot off the next money move, and we had two tables at 7:00 p.m.

Then the fun REALLY started.

In one of those unfortunate situations where there are no clear-cut right answers, Habib and Anastassi Lazarou hooked up in an all-in situation where Habib had A-9 and the short-stacked Lazarou A-6. The flop came 5-5-K, the turn was an eight, and the river a jack. 5-5-K-8-J.

“Split pot,” said Phil Hellmuth in a soft tone. He was standing right next to me and no one else seemed to hear. I had been looking at the other table and hadn’t been looking at the board, but I did see Lazarou stand to exit, and the dealer push the pot to Habib. Lazarou’s cards went into the muck, and he walked by Hellmuth.

“Split pot,” repeated Hellmuth to Lazarou, and he immediately understood what Hellmuth had meant. He returned to the table (he hadn’t gotten more than five feet from it), and said, “the pot was a split, give me my money back.”

Although no one at the table had said anything when the dealer failed to call the hand correctly, memories seemed sharp enough when the dealer and Tournament Director Bob Thompson tried to reconstruct the hand. Everyone agreed on the cards. The dealer had missed the hand, the player had missed the hand, and Thompson, who had been over at the other table and who had only come over just as Lazarou was exiting, hadn’t seen what he wasn’t looking for.

Lazarou was given his money back, and sat back down. “At the Series, you can’t have a player go out that way,” Phil said to me. Cloutier turned around and confirmed this sentiment. “Definitely,” he said. “That was the right thing to do, his cards were face up on the table.” Lazarou thanked Hellmuth, whose face started to grow concerned.

“Oh, boy, they are going to barbeque me for this on the Internet,” Hellmuth said.

“Why should they, you’re a hero,” a bystander said. “The wrong thing was about to happen and you fixed it.

“I guess it would have been really bad,” said Hellmuth, “if the cameras caught the mistake later and they showed it on TV or something. You can’t have that in the World Series.” But he looked more and more concerned. “This isn’t good,” he said. “I’ve affected the outcome of the World Series from the rail.”

“You’ve corrected the outcome of the World Series,” I said. “How would it be if the guy who got the chips wrongly went on to win? That wouldn’t be good for poker either.”

The heat on this discussion got turned up a bit, because Lazarou doubled through Cloutier and then a few moments later doubled through Buddy Pitcock. In five minutes the resuscitated Lazarou had become a force, and had hurt Pitcock, who went out about 15 minutes later when he moved all-in with A-K on Cloutier when the flop came 8-Q-8.

TJ had a pretty easy call with two eights in his hand, and Pitcock went out in 15th position. As he left, Hellmuth apologized to him for correcting the hand that gave chips to a player who later hurt him.

“No, that’s perfectly OK,” said Pitcock. “You did the right thing, I’m glad to meet you.”

Lazarou was moved over to the other table shortly thereafter, and eventually exited 11th, an exit which, nothing personal, caused a few sighs of relief around the tournament area, because a final table appearance which had had its genesis in controversy wasn’t going to be good for poker.

In the interim, we lost Liebert when she moved all-in pre-flop on Mike Sexton, who called her K-10 with Q-Q, a tough whipsaw for one of poker’s great players; she’d lost a lot of her stack earlier when dealt Q-Q, and then got taken out by the same hand. Liebert was 17th.

We were down to 14 players and just before the dinner break when Q-Q also proved unlucky for the other star woman remaining in the field, Annie Duke. Annie raised from late position, Jim McManus re-raised from the blind, and Duke moved all-in. McManus called quickly with K-K, and had $450,00 just as we went to dinner.

When we returned, the two tables and approximate chip counts were:

Table One

Seat 1, Mark Rose, $223,000

Seat 2, Annie Duke, $130,000

Seat 3, Hasan Habib, $620,000

Seat 4, Chris Ferguson, $305,000

Seat 5, Jim McManus, $450,000

Seat 6, Steve Kaufman, $400,000

Seat 7, TJ Cloutier, $540,000

Table Two

Seat 1, Mickey Appleman, $540,000

Seat 2, Roman Abinsay, $330,000

Seat 3, Angelo Besnaimo, $70,000

Seat 4, Tom Franklin, $450,000

Seat 5, Jeff Shulman, $440,000

Seat 6, Anastassi Lazarou, $105,000

Seat 7, Mike Sexton, $385,000

The blinds were now $5,000-10,000, with $2,000 antes. Seven handed, a round cost $29,000 to play.

Besnaimo was next out, falling to Shulman, who had raised it to $35,000 in early position, only to see Besnaimo move all-in. Jeff thought a LONG time about his decision, so long that eventually a player called for a clock, and with about half the time gone, Jeff said, "You have a weak ace, I call."

Nice read. Besnaimo turned over A-6 offsuit, and suddenly Shulman’s A-10 didn’t seem so weak. He hit a ten on the flop to take most of the mystery out of it.

Rose fell next when he took re-raised with pocket threes against Kaufman. Rose didn’t have enough chips to make the re-raise threatening and Kaufman had a pretty easy call for the size of the pot with his A-Q. Once again the turn card did the damage, a queen, and we had a dozen.

The blinds moved up to $10,000-20,000, still $2,000 antes, and it was time to buckle up.

McManus raised a pot to $50,000 from early position, and Cloutier raised back $100,000 more. Jim called, and with $370,000 already in the pot, we saw a flop: 2c-5h-4d.

McManus checked, and TJ quickly bet $200,000. McManus paused for perhaps 20 seconds and announced he was calling. The 7d hit on the turn, and Cloutier moved all-in. Jim called, and they turned them over. A-9 for Cloutier, who had been trying to buy the pot with bets too big to call, and a spooky A-K for McManus, who had been unwilling to sell. The river didn’t change anything, and TJ shipped another $96,000 over to McManus, who had just won himself a $866,000 pot and the chip lead, goring the author of his favorite training book in the process.

“TJ taught me everything,” Jim announced to the crowd.

“I didn’t teach you that, boy,” came the reply.

The fur really started flying. If I’d been McManus, I’d have sat on my hands for about 20 minutes for a reality check, but McManus almost immediately mixed it up, and lost $120,000 in a hand with Duke. She raised $60,000 from the button, and McManus’s inexperience cost him. He wanted to raise back about $150,000 with his big pocket pair, but let go of his chips without having said raise, and had only raised $60,000. Another in the game immediately called it a string bet.

“THIS IS THE WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME IN A TOURNAMENT,” shrieked Annie. “Let me call that myself, please, I would have been glad to let him go back to his stack for more.”

We found out exactly what Duke meant when the flop came down A-Q-8, Duke bet, and McManus folded. “I change my mind, I mean that’s the best thing that ever happened to me in a tournament,” Duke said, flashing her ace. She’d held ace-rag, and would have gotten off the hand for a big raise, but for just $60,000, she felt tied onto the hand, and called for a win she’d have otherwise missed out on.

Meanwhile, TJ was recovering from the McManus call of his three moves at the big pot. Habib bet $100,000 at a Q-2-3 flop, and TJ moved all-in, with Habib calling. Q-5 for Habib, 3-3 for TJ, and the set held up, putting TJ right back into action with $550,000.

We lost Tournament of Champions honcho Mike Sexton next, when Tom Franklin and Shulman tried to limp into a pot for $20,000, and Sexton raised it $100,000 out of the small blind. The big blind (Appleman) and Franklin mucked quickly, but Shulman moved his big stack all-in, and Sexton thought for a few minutes. There was a lot of money already in the pot, and finally Mike decided to call his last $170,000 for the pot odds. 4-4 for Shulman, A-9 for Sexton, and the pair held up. Lazarou exited only moments later, and we were ten.

McManus had asked me if I had any tips for him on the break, and I told him that I felt a little strange giving tips to someone who was on a roll like he was, but Jim repeated the request, so I went with the fairly safe “Just remember that the hand values change as you get short-handed,” I told him. “Seven-handed is different from nine, and five-handed is different from seven. And remember, not too much calling. You should be raising or folding mostly, not calling.”

I’m not sure if Jim was listening or not, because his next move seemed very much like he listed WAY too much to part one and not enough to part two.

Chris Ferguson brought the hand in for $60,000, McManus called, and Habib also called, a nice big pre-flop pot. The flop came A-Q-5, Chris moved all-in, and after a pause to study, McManus called. A-9 for both of them!!!

“I feel a little responsible for that call,” I told Hellmuth, explaining the “advice” I had given Jim.

“You almost busted your buddy out, if he called because you told him the hand values change!” Phil said. But I reminded Phil I’d also told Jim to watch the calling, and we both just shrugged and continued to watch the miracle unfold.

We lost a different kind of miracle not long thereafter. Any other time, seeing Annie Duke in the top ten at the World Series is no surprise. But Annie is in her eighth month of pregnancy. This tournament is incredibly grueling to people who are just trying to handle their own bodies or lives, and I can’t imagine how much tougher it would be carrying another person around with you.

Chris Ferguson had been noticeably picking up speed, raising a lot of the short-handed pots, and so when he raised a pot to $65,000 from early position, Annie seemed perfectly positioned to pick him off with an all-in move from the button. But Chris called like a shot, pocket aces, and Annie had A-9 of spades. The all-red flop pretty much ended a great performance.

The Dukes have already picked out a name for the baby girl, Lucy. I can just see her playing poker in about 21 years, when some old guy says to her, “Lucy, you don’t know nothing, I’ve been playing poker since before you were born.”

“Well, I got news for you, pal,” Lucy will reply, “I’ve been playing poker since before I was born, too.”

Duke’s exit set the final table:

Seat 1, Chris Ferguson, $800,000

Seat 2, Hasan Habib, $400,000

Seat 3, Jim McManus, $950,000

Seat 4, TJ Cloutier, $550,000

Seat 5, Roman Abinsay, $420,000

Seat 6, Mickey Appleman, $240,000

Seat 7, Jeff Shulman, $1,000,000

Seat 8, Captain Tom Franklin, $600,000

Seat 9, Steve Kaufman, $220,000

Appleman’s amazing comeback ended when Abinsay brought a hand in for $60,000 under the gun, and Mickey decided to call for his last $59,000, with the blinds approaching. A-K for Roman, A-10 for Mickey, and the improbable journey finally halted.

Only moments later, we lost the other short stack, Franklin, when he moved his last $118,000 all-in, and Ferguson called him with 10-10. The Captain had only 4-4, and left 8th.

Seven players isn’t a key point at most final tables, but at the World Series, only the final six play under the TV cameras for the Discovery Channel, so in addition to a big step up the pay ladder, the next step is for a place in media immortality, and unless your name is TJ Cloutier (who already owned a second, third and fifth place finish in the Big One), that had to be weighing on the minds of the participants. It took a long time before Ferguson’s A-A over K-K over J-J hand, and what a long strange trip it was.

The first hour or so was dominated by hands where someone would make a raise to $90,000 or $100,000, only to see someone else move all-in. Nobody wanted to go out seventh, and nobody called any of these all-in bets.

Jeff Shulman was one of the first to see this pattern, and started using his big stack to perfection. Someone would bring a hand in for $70,000, BOOM, $200,000 from Shulman, and “someone” would fold. With the blinds at $15,000-30,000, and $3,000 antes, each seven-handed pot had $66,000 in it before the initial bets, and Shulman was adding chips to his stack rapidly.

Whoops.

Shulman made one of his standard $200,000 raises, this time from the button, but this time, instead of releasing, Chris Ferguson moved all-in for about another $650,000 from the big blind. Shulman considered relatively briefly, shrugged, and called.

Jeff turned out to be wrong for the right reasons, or right for the wrong reasons, or maybe just unlucky. He turned over pocket sevens, a pretty surprising hand to risk another $650,000 on, but he turned out to have read it right: Ferguson turned over pocket sixes, and Jeff had way the best of it… until the flop came down 10h-3h-6h, giving Ferguson a set. Jeff had the 7h in his hand as a possible out, and when the 5c hit the turn, Jeff also had a straight draw, but the river was a blank, and suddenly Ferguson had reversed positions with Shulman. 1.5 mil in chips was now a below par $650,000.

It only took a few more hands for the monster three-way pot to send a disappointed but well-composed Shulman out in seventh, and to send Ferguson to the final table with more than half the chips. In ten minutes, Shulman went from the chip monster to the guy on the outside, and I can’t imagine many people handling it better.

As we saw today with Appleman and Liebert, big leads are not safe in no-limit, and short stacks are not necessary devoid of hope. The finale is basically Chris against four guys tied for second and the wily Cloutier trailing.

Chris certainly has the talent and the chips to bring this one home—even before he started in the Big One, I’d figured he and Mel Judah were in a tie for the best overall performance at this World Series—but we’ve seen so many miracles this tournament, I don’t think we can count anyone out.

Whether it will be as rock’em, sock’em tomorrow as it was today, who knows. But there sure will be six guys out there trying to do their best Olivier.

7th, Jeff Shulman, $146,700

8th, Captain Tom Franklin, $97,800

9th, Mickey Appleman, $74,980

10-12th, $52,160: Annie Duke, Anastassi Lazarou, Mike Sexton.

13-15th, $45,640: Mark Rose, Angelo Besnaimo, Buddy Pitcock.

16-18th, $39,120: Barney Boatman, Kathy Liebert, Mehud Chaudhari.

19th-27th, $32,600: Tom Jacobs, Ron Stanley, Glen Beebe, Cary Long, Sam Arzoin, Bruce Yamron, Humberto Brenes, Marvin Lang, Larry Bellfuss.

28th-36th, $25,000: Greg Alston, Meng La, Day Kim, Barry Greenstein, Alan Boston, Paul McKinney, Ty Bayne, Stan Goldstein, Roger Hellums.

37th-45th, $15,000: Steve Meyerson, Mel Judah, Steve Beam, Laith Salem, Mark Edwards, John Shipley, Ramon Adams, Eric Schulz, Michael Davis.