The legendary Men "The Master" Nguyen returned to the winner’s circle after a year’s dry spell when he took down the first event of Legends of Poker 2005, $200 no-limit hold’em event at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles.
Nguyen racked up the victory after a 17-hand heads-up, lead-changing match with chess teacher/screenwriter Craig Berger. Nguyen had missed a chance to take a big lead in three-way action when he laid down the best hand, but made up for it with his usual adroit play, and also got lucky in two key hands.
Final table opening blinds were $3,000-$6,000 with $1,000 antes, 24:58 remaining. Three players were very close in chips: Raffi Soualian, $69,500; Berger, $65,500; Nguyen, $65,000.
On the second deal, Berger opened for $15,000 holding 9-8. Nghi Thong called all in with A-K. Marco Arevalo, a floorman, also called. The board came 9-4-3-6-Q, and Berger’s paired 9 held up, and Thong finished 10th. A deal was made for the bulk of the prize money, and play continued.
On the next hand, Arevalo moved in for $11,000. Daniel Auzenne, an insurance agent, called. Then Soualian, a business owner, raised and Auzenne called all in. The board came 8-8-7-4-J with four spades. Arrualo had 10-9 for a straight, Auzenne had Ks-Jh for a number two flush while Soualian, with pocket aces, had the nut flush. Auzenne, finished eighth, Arrualo ninth. Three hands later, retired Air Force colonel Jerry Simon moved in for $30,000 with A-Q. Berger called with 7-7, made a straight, and Simon cashed seventh.
The fifth player exited on hand seven. Alfredo de Los Santos bet all in for $39,000. Nguyen called, but then mucked pocket 8s after Soualian moved in for $143,500. Much to the master’s chagrin, de Los Santos turned up A-10 while Berger showed A-J. Nguyen, calling himself "chicken," felt worse when the board missed both players. De Los Santos finished sixth while Berger took the lead with about $195,000 of the $497,000 in play.
With blinds at $4,000-$8,000 with $1,500 antes, Nguyen outdrew Peter Lee to leave him in fifth place. Nguyen raised $15,000 with K-J, called when Lee moved in for about $50,000 with pocket queens, and then flopped a king.
At the next break, Berger and Soualian were both in the 175k range, while Nguyen had 98k and John Chow 41k. With blinds at $6,000-$12,000 with $2,000 antes, Chow, a CPA, went broke. He moved in from the big blind with 8d-7d. Soualian had J-4 and hit a jack. Soualian was now the leader, but lost most of his chips to Berger two hands later when he had 10-4 and bet $20,000 into a flop of 10-9-5. Berger, with Q-10, made a straight. Chips moved around some more when Nguyen doubled through with just jack-high when Berger missed his open-end straight draw.
Nguyen took the lead on hand 49. "Just what I waited for," he said, when he called Soualian’s all-in bet with Qh-10h. Soulian had way the best of it with Ah-9h, but Nguyen then caught two 10s to leave him in third place and get heads up with about 310k to 185k for Berger.
Berger got the lead back when he raised all in and Nguyen folded after betting into a flop of K-3-2. With blinds of $8,000-$16,000, Berger now led about 330k to 170k. But then Nguyen picked up chips in a couple of hands, once when he picked off a river bluff.
Finally, Berger was down to $13,000 when he had 10-5, bet $50,000 into a board of Q-10-4 and Nguyen moved in with Q-7. Nguyen then scooped up the last chips by calling blind on the next hand. He had 10-8 and hit two more 8s.
Men "The Master" Nguyen, a boat person escapee from Vietnam who formerly owned a dry cleaning business, has one of the most impressive resumes in the business. His clutch of titles includes six World Series bracelets in five different games: stud hi-lo, Omaha hi-lo, ace-to-five triple draw, limit hold’em and 7-card stud.
He said he tried very hard to win this event to end his dry spell. On top of his winless 12 months, he had a disappointing World Series. While he had six cashes for $86,000, he put in over $100,000. "Tonight," he said, "I played my best game ever." He said he played very conservatively and managed to hang onto his chips.