John Murphy, a 22-year-old northern California poker player, and Freddy "the twin" Lavassani were virtually tied in chips when they got heads-up. Then, five hands into the match-up, Lavassani sensed weakness when Murphy, last to act, checked a board of 10-7-6-10.
A king rivered. With just J-9, Lavassani bet the $88,000 pot. After some hesitation ("Just making you sweat," he told his opponent later), Murphy called with K-10. Murphy now had a 5-1 lead in chips, and five hands later he had them all.
Murphy won $78,000 for the $485 buy-in, Pot Limit Hold’em tournament in the Los Angeles Poker Classic XIV at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Lavassani, with his second runner-up finish, moved into the lead in the all-around points race with the $40,000 second place award.
A total of 226 entrants generated a prize of $210,975 in the seventh event of the Poker Classic.
Murphy, who has been playing full time since out of school, finished 13th in last year’s World Series championship and won a $2,000 Mirage Showdown event. Usually a fast player, he said he tried not to risk his chips in this event and gradually built them up. "I played well, and everything went well."
When the $485 pot-limit event got four-handed, Murphy had the lead with 159k to 116k for Lavassani; 98k for Saul Eskin; and 68k for Men "The Master" Nguyen. They made a deal for all but 10k and agreed to play winner take all. But when it got heads-up, Murphy and the twin modified it to 6k-4k.
Final table blinds started at $1,000-$2,000 and soon went to $1,500-$3,000. On hand 12, Vinh "David" Truong opened for 10k with pocket 7s, and Eskin called with A-J. A flop of 10-9-8 gave both men straight draws, though Truong’s was the "ignorant" end. Eskin put Truong in for 3,500 chips and completed his straight with a river queen.
Eskin, a sculptor with a no-limit win at the Hustler last year, started lowest chipped. But after his pocket queens beat Jay Yu’s pocket 7s, he moved into a small lead. When blinds went to $2,000-$4,000, Murphy had moved ahead with about 91k to Eskin’s 85k.
A few hands into the new limits, Minh "Scorpion" Nguyen was all in with A-10 against Eskin’s Js-Jc. An ace flopped, but then four spades gave Eskin a flush to take the sting out of the scorpion.
As more hands were played, Men "The Master," getting respect for his raises, gradually moved into contention.
Travis Green plays hockey for the Boston Bruins. A hand after blinds went to $3,000-$6,000, Nguyen raised to 20k with Ac-6c, and Green re-raised all in with pocket kings. An ace flopped and Green went to the sidelines in eighth place
Steve Dunning of Anchorage, Alaska, playing his first pot-limit tournament, hadn’t been in many hands and was next out. He had pocket jacks and lost to Nguyen’s A-K when a king flopped. He was soon followed by Jay Yu, who is in computer sales and has a couple of wins at Hollywood Park. Yu raised to 21k with K-Q and Murphy put him in with pocket 9s. Yu missed a straight draw when the board came J-6-3-10, and now five were left.
The colorful Mickey "Mouse" Mills was less fortunate with his pocket 9s. With blinds now at $4,000-$8,000, he made it 28k to go. Lavassani, with A-K, re-raised and the mouse put in his last 3k. One ace flopped, another hit the river, and Mills was done for the night.
The four remaining players now made their winner-take all deal for the final 10k, and play resumed. "It’s wide open now," Lavassani proclaimed.
The Master isn’t often bested in table conversation, but Eskin managed that feat. "What are you trying to tell me?" the Master asked when Eskin raised 12k. "If you’re smart you’ll throw your hand away, and you’re very smart," was Eskin’s reply. Men threw his hand away.
Still, Eskin was next out. Holding J-10, he had a pair and straight draw on a flop of Q-10-9 and called all in for about 70k when Lavassani moved in. The twin had A-Q and the paired queen prevailed.
Lavassani now was in front with about 210k to 190k for Murphy and 40k for Nguyen.
Nguyen lasted only two more hands. On hand 72 he raised to 16k with K-J and Murphy, holding Q-10, put him all in with a re-raise. For once, the Master was outdrawn when the board
came 10-7-2-5-4, and the match was heads-up. Murphy had a very slim lead. The two now decided to do their 6-4 chop and play continued.
Hand 77 was the decider. Murphy opened for 24K and Lavassani called. The flop was 10h-7s-6h. Lavassani checked and Murphy bet another 24k. When a 10d turned, both players checked. Lavassani was sure that Murphy had nothing, and that’s when he made his fatal $88,000 mistake, betting out on the river when a king hit. Murphy how had 373k in chips to only 77k for Lavassani.
Blinds went to $6,000-$12,000. On the final hand, Lavassani raised to 36k with Qs-7s, and Murphy put him in with pocket treys. Murphy flopped a set and filled on the turn, and the 22-year old had his win.