Is this the new Stu Ungar?

Jul 31, 2006 4:04 AM

The unthinkable happened on July 22, when 21-year-old Jeff Madsen won his second gold bracelet within a week. Even more remarkable is the fact that Madsen turned 21 just six weeks ago.

This was Madsen’s third final table at this year’s World Series of Poker, presented by Milwaukee’s Best Light. He is one of only two players to hold such a distinction. Madsen now has two firsts and one third-place finish on his WSOP resume.

No player has ever skyrocketed to the top of the poker world so quickly, or so effortlessly. Not Stu Ungar. Not Johnny Chan. Not Phil Hellmuth.

At 21, Ungar was still hustling gin games in New York. Chan was washing dishes in his parent’s restaurant. Hellmuth was a University of Wisconsin student, playing in $20 buy-in hold’em games.

Contrast those memoirs with Jeff Madsen, who already has two gold bracelets and $1,401,881 in WSOP winnings. And, here’s a notion that should make the poker world shake and shudder — he’s not finished yet!

The $5,000 buy-in Short-Handed No-Limit Hold’em world championship attracted 507 entries. The tournament was played six players to a table. After 498 players had been eliminated over two long days, finalists took the final table on the Rio poker stage.

The six players comprised a tough lineup, most notably two former gold bracelet winners — "Captain Tom" Franklin and Jeff Madsen. Noted tournament professional Erick Lindgren was also competing for his first WSOP win.

When play began, Jonathan Gaskell enjoyed a comfortable chip lead. Jeff Madsen was dead last in the chip count coming into the final table. That would certainly not be the case seven hours later, when the tournament ended and history was made.

Paul Foltyn had a rough time at the final table. He was eliminated about two hours into play after taking a number of tough beats that left him severely short-stacked. Foltyn, a 22-year-old college student from England, was forced to play a weak hand and missed completely. He collected $83,402 for sixth place.

Proving that having chips at the start had no bearing on the outcome, the early big stack Jonathan Gaskell was the next player to go bust. Gaskell, another English player, experienced his Waterloo when his pocket kings were cracked by Erick Lindgren’s ace-king. Lindgren certainly didn’t like the view when the cards were tabled. But agony turned into ecstasy when an ace rained down on the river, giving Lindgren a monster-sized pot and the chip lead. Meanwhile, Gaskell was aghast and hit the rail in fifth place, good for a less-than-satisfying payout totaling $119,145.

Tony Woods went out next. The 41-year-old poker pro from California lost with ace-king to Erick Lindgren’s pocket jacks. Woods failed to hit his pair, which meant a fourth-place finish and $150,123 in prize money.

This was "Captain" Tom Franklin’s second final table appearance this year. Franklin, a Vietnam veteran turned poker pro from Gulfport, Mississippi, went card dead at the worst possible time of the tournament. His two opponents — Madsen and Lindgren — applied relentless pressure, forcing Franklin into repeated folds when he could not call a large bet or a raise after missing the flop. Franklin’s final hand came when he hit top pair, but was out kicked by Jeff Madsen. Franklin’s queen-ten lost to Madsen’s king ten, after a ten flopped. The Captain was saluted for his third-place finish, which paid $214,461.

Normally, a player in Madsen’s unique position would be a huge crowd favorite, when heads-up play commenced. But this was not the case. Erick Lindgren, described by many of his peers as "the best poker player not to have won a WSOP gold bracelet," attracted a rowdy cheering section. For a time, it looked like Lindgren would not disappoint his legion of fans. The Vegas poker pro enjoyed the chip lead during most of the duel, but then suffered a horrendous turn of events that left everyone in a stunned state of disbelief.

After taking a few beats and losing coin flip situations (Lindgren’s pocket eights losing to Madsen’s ace-king when an ace flopped completely changed the momentum of the contest), Lindgren lost his final hand of the night holding ace-jack suited versus Madsen’s queen-nine. The final board showed K-Q-2-5-3 — good for a pair of queens for Madsen.

Erick Lindgren could not have been more disappointed with a $357,435 payoff. No amount of consolation could ease the painful sting of defeat. However, like Gentleman John Gale the previous year — who lost a WSOP tournament in the most dramatic way possible, only to come back and win an event this year — Erick Lindgren’s day shall come.

The question everyone is now asking is — what will Jeff Madsen do next? He will be competing for what could be a record-third gold bracelet over the next week. Madsen will also play in the main event, which begins on July 28. But beyond that, what does a 21-year-old college student do with $1.4 million and two WSOP titles?

Demonstrating maturity and composure far beyond his years, Madsen said he expects to return to college in the fall for his senior year. The Cal State-Santa Barbara film student still wants to pursue a career in movies. Perhaps Jeff Madsen’s first film should be a remake of "Kid Millions."