When the Los Angeles Poker Classic’s No Limit Hold’em tourney got down to two, John Phan had only about 160,000 chips to more than one million for Tobias Persson, a 23-year-old poker player from Sweden. Phan immediately went to work, moving in and winning four times in the next six hands. He kept the pressure on, took the lead after 14 deals, and two hands later had all the chips and a victory in the 22nd event of $2,425 buy-in event at the Commerce Casino.
The win, his biggest ever, was worth $300,578. A total of 335 entrants challenged for the $812,000 prize pool.
It was a grueling final table that lasted more than eight hours, with the chip lead changing countless times. The pace was also maddeningly slow, with the clock called for about nine times along the way. Phan was especially deliberate, time and again endlessly separating and then riffling a stack of chips whenever he had a close decision, either out of habit, or simply to distract his opponents. Whichever it was, it worked.
Phan, a Long Beach, California pro, won two bracelets at the Jack Binion World Poker Open last year, only the third player to do so in one year. He also had a second at the LAPC in 2004.
His young opponent, who also played extremely well, is one of a contingent of 10 Swedish players, nine men and a woman, who arrived here together. One of them, William Thorson, finished fifth tonight. "This is the way poker should be played," said noted pro Thor Hansen, watching the action. He emphasized that even though Persson and Thorson are friends, they played very hard against each other.
This was the final event before the start of the five-day championship/WPT tournament. It is expected that over 600 players will have bought or won a seat, with a prize pool in excess of $6 million that would shatter all Commerce records. It was also the final day of the $50,000 all-around player competition, with Paul Darden Jr. taking first place, worth $22,500.
The final table started with $2,000-$4,000 blinds and $500 antes, 38:07 remaining. Only nine players arrived because Max Pescatori knocked out two at once at the second table. His pocket aces beat Sam Grizzle’s pocket jacks and Eulises Sandoval’s A-K, the pot giving him a starting lead with 227,500 chips.
Veteran player Bill Henson was second in chips, but not for long. He moved in with a straight flush draw on fourth street, losing to Phan, who started with 5-2 and flopped trip 5s. Phan now had about 225k, while Henson was down to 60k.
Hon Le lasted 11 hands. The Kamikaze Kid made the mistake of slow-playing pocket aces, then moved in when the board showed 10-9-3-K. By then, the king had given Thorson, with Q-J, a straight, and he hauled in a pot of about 300k.
With blinds at $3,000-$6,000 with $1,000 antes, Thorson had a big lead of about 340k. A few hands into the new level, Ben Johnson went out when he tried raising all in with 8h-5h and lost to David Cai’s A-J. Then Henson went broke when he had A-Q and raised all in for 120k. After thinking for about five minutes, David Cai called and knocked him out with A-K. And, just before blinds went to $4,000-$8,000 Chris Bell went out chasing a straight draw against Persson’s two 9s.
Eventually dropping down to 32k, Phan went all in a couple of times, then bluffed a big pot, showing jack-high. "I guess I can’t bluff no more," he said.
The next player didn’t go out until well into the next level, $5,000-$10,000 with $1,000 blinds. Thorson’s lead evaporated when he flopped kings and lost to Persson’s pocket aces. He busted out, again to Persson, when he raised to 90k with A-9. Persson, with pocket jacks, re-raised and took his remaining chips. The Swede now had a commanding lead with 520k, followed by Cai, 380k; Pescatori, 205k; and Phan, 65k. Persson lost the lead to Cai when he bet 160k into a board of a board of J-10-8-10-Q, tossing in his cards as soon as Cai called. Cai showed a king for a straight..
Play continued with limits of $6,000-$12,000 and $2,000 antes. Pescatori, losing about $135,000 in a pot against Persson, was soon down to 8k. He made a remarkable comeback, winning six pots in the next 16 hands and bouncing back to over 200k. Next it was Phan, all in several times, who climbed back. By the time he beat Persson, making a full house with J-10 on a board of 3-3-3-10-9, he had the lead with around 550k. This dizzying exchange of chips continued when blinds went to $10,000-$20,000 with $3,000 antes. At that point, the rough chip count was: Phan, 660k; Cai, 270k; Persson, 160k; and Pescatori, 105k; Faltering, Pescatori finally moved in for his last few chips with A-2. Phan had K-Q and won by flopping a queen.
The tournament continued to crawl along, each hand taking an average of three minutes to play, far different from the bang-bang action of Patty Gallagher and her fellow players the night before..
Cai finished third. He opened for 60k with pocket queens and Persson raised him all in for a total of 350k with pocket 6s, both nearly equal in chips. Cai had the misfortune to see a 6 flop, and he was out in third place.
Persson seemed a lock with his huge lead until Phan went on the attack. With blinds finally at $15,000-$30,000 and $5,000 antes, Phan took the lead when Persson bet 100k into a flop of K-4-3, then folded when Phan moved in. On the final hand, Persson, with Q-3, bet 100k into a flop of 7-4-3. Phan, with A-7, moved him and that was the finale to eight long hours.
Here are the tournament’s top money winners: