The Prince takes firstWPT event

Jan 30, 2006 4:18 AM

After several World Poker Tour final table appearances, Scotty "the Prince" Nguyen finally broke through and won the 2006 World Poker Open at the Gold Strike in Tunica, Mississippi. Mike "The Grinder" Mizrachi was the runner-up in a wild finale.

Poker tournaments are won and lost not necessarily at final tables and in front of television cameras. What the public rarely sees are the hundreds, if not thousands of mind-numbing hands played out on previous days leading up to the crescendo.

Nguyen’s most fortunate moment came on Day Three, with four tables still to go. Nguyen, like 326 others in this event, had put up his $10,000 entry hoping to win the nearly $1 million first prize.

With many in the field already eliminated, Nguyen was sitting comfortably with about 100,000 in chips when he looked at his two hole cards and saw pocket queens. Nguyen moved "all in" at the worst possible time. His opponent had been dealt pocket aces.

Both hands were turned face up, and it appeared Nguyen would be eliminated ”¦ 38th place paid about $15,000. Not bad, but not Scotty Nguyen-type prize money.

As luck would have it, four diamonds were dealt out matching his queen of diamonds. Nguyen’s eyes glanced over to the black aces. The diamond flush was good. Nguyen had not only dodged a bullet (two of them, actually), but he had doubled up into serious contention with over 200,000. That proved to be the turning point. It was, in fact, a flush that netted Nguyen $950,000 in extra prize money.

Four hours later, Nguyen had over a million in his stack and was the chip leader. A day later, "the Prince of Poker" took his seat at the final table with over two-million in chips. The World Poker Open championship finale was set and the Scotty Nguyen Show was about to begin.

The poker table is not the place to find justice. However, it was most fitting that the final two players in the 2006 World Poker Open happened to make it to the final table last year, as well. Ultimately, both were disappointed with their results back in 2005 — Mizrachi getting crushed by a one-outer on the river, and Nguyen going out a disappointing fourth. Now, it was time for redemption — at least for one player.

Spectators prepared themselves for what promised to be an epic poker duel. Both players had enthusiastic cheering sections, and each had over three-million in chips.

When heads-up play began, Scotty Nguyen had a slight chip lead — 3,340,00 in chips to Mizrachi’s 3,210,000. It seemed the match might go long into the night.

Instead, the Nguyen-Mizrachi poker duel lasted exactly one hand!

Nguyen was dealt A-Q of spades. He raised 300,000 in the small blind. Mizrachi, with A-J offsuit, re-raised up to 1,200,000. Nguyen pushed "all in" and Mizrachi called instantly.

"I knew I had the best hand," Nguyen said later. "If he had a big hand, he would try to trap me. He would not make a raise like that (pre-flop). I had A-Q suited, and I did not hesitate to move in."

Nguyen’s read of the situation was dead on. Mizrachi was dominated. "We have known each other for a long time," Nguyen added. "I could feel it. I could taste it."

The board made things more interesting. The flop came K-9-2 (with one spade), leaving Nguyen in the lead. The ten of spades came on the turn, giving Nguyen a spade draw. However, Mizrachi had a possible straight if he managed to catch one of three remaining queens. The crowd rose to its feet. Nguyen and Mizrachi shook hands. The final card was dealt. The eight of spades on the river completed Nguyen’s flush, purely for dramatic effect. The crowd roared. Mizrachi was out and Nguyen was the winner.

Michael "the Grinder" Mizrachi made it to two WPT final tables last year, and won one (LA Poker Classic). He also earned $3 million overall in tournaments for 2005. Mizrachi sets incredibly high standards for himself and accordingly, was disappointed with the end result, despite his impressive payday totaling $566,352.

Mizrachi was quick to congratulate his rival Nguyen. "He played terrific," Mizrachi said. Of the final hand (A-J versus A-Q) he said, "You have to gamble to win, and I did some gambling to get here. That’s just the way it goes sometimes."

At age 25, Mizrachi certainly has one of the brightest futures of anyone in the game. It’s only a matter of time before he wins another WPT event.

Scotty Nguyen’s win proves he is in a league all his own when it comes to playing poker or exhibiting his unique personal flair. The 1998 World Series of Poker champion — and four-time gold bracelet winner — has been in a dry spell during the past year. This marked his biggest tournament win in seven long years full of personal and professional ups and downs. It was his first-ever World Poker Tour victory.

"It’s so sweet, baby," Nguyen said.