A few years ago, John Hoang received some very bad news. The software engineer with Lucent Technologies was living in northern New Jersey and had just been fired from his job — the victim or corporate outsourcing.
Hoang was at a personal and professional crossroads in his life. He could either try and latch on to another job somewhere and compete with the other 60,000 unemployed ex-technology workers contending for entry-level jobs. Or, he could follow his dream to become a professional poker player.
Hoang packed his belongings and moved to Los Angeles, where he was destined to make his dream a reality. Hoang, who beat the middle and high limit Atlantic City games in his spare time back in New Jersey, found the action in California even better. His bankroll and confidence grew over the next year. Gradually, Hoang decided he wanted to start playing in more poker tournaments. And so, he arrived at this year’s Jack Binion World Poker Open. He was one of 369 entrants in last week’s $2,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em event.
On day one, 360 players were eliminated. Twenty-six of these players, places 10 through 36, received prize money. Nine finalists returned to the final table, where six were dispatched relatively quickly.
The excitement really started when the game became three-handed. John Hoang was the low-stack and was down to his last 9,000 at one point — in contrast to Davood Mehrmand’s 500,000 in chips. But Hoang held on and regained a comfortable stack size after picking up several critical pots. One of the key hands of the tournament occurred when Davood Mehrmand was dealt K-J and tried to steal the pot pre-flop, running into Martin Vallo’s A-Q. Merhmand was the all-in player and desperately needed help. No problem. A king flopped, and Vallo was severely crippled. Incredibly, he came back a few hands later with a huge triple-up hand: Mehrmand, A-9; Hoang, 7-7; and Vallo, 5-5.
Vallo and Hoang were both all-in. On the turn, the board showed 8-6-5-3, which meant all three players had outs. An ace would give Mehrmand the win. A blank fell instead, which meant Vallo was right back in the tournament and the chips were now about equally divided.
Mehrmand had just about everything go wrong during the last hour. He went from decisive chip leader down to the felt in a few key hands, one of the most painful when he lost with J-J to Hoang’s A-A. Mehrmand finally went out with Q-Q after Vallo made a pair of aces with A-9. This marked Mehrmand’s third trip to the final table this year — the only player so far to pull off the trifecta. Unfortunately, the victory eluded Mehrmand this time as well, and the Iranian-born ex-patriot now living in Germany collected $54,759.
When heads-up started, Martin Vallo enjoyed a slight 5-to-4 chip advantage. Hoang won a few early pots, and seized the chip lead. It only took a short time for the classic hold’em confrontation to close the evening — a big pair versus A-K, close to an even-money proposition for both players: Vallo, A-K; and Hoang, J-J. The final board showed Q-4-3-4-5, which meant the pocket Jacks was the winner. Martin Vallo, one of a talented contingent of Danish poker pros that includes the likes of Gus Hansen and Mads Andersen, was the runner up. He officially collected $109,519.
This was certainly the second most unbelievable comeback win at the Jack Binion World Poker Open. after Sirous B’s most improbable victory last week. Hoang had been down about 50-to-1 at one point when the action was at three-handed. But proving Yoggi Berra’s classic line, "It’s never over ”˜til it’s over," Hoang steadfastly never gave up and staged a remarkable comeback, worth a cool $212,187.
For a complete list of winners and prizes awarded, go to pokerpages.com.