In the longest final table of this year’s tournament, living poker legend Johnny Chan outlasted the final nine players and ran away with $224,400 ”” which included his eighth gold bracelet, in winning the $5,000 buy-in, No Limit Hold’em event at the World Series of Poker.
The final table for the WSOP’s 15th event lasted just over 11 hours ”” a veritable marathon of no-limit poker action which featured an astounding 326 hands and a masterful performance by Chan, demonstrating why he’s widely-regarded as the world’s best all-around poker player.
The close of the event added yet another twist to what has become "the battle of the bracelets," between three former world champions. Coming into the 2003 World Series of Poker, Doyle Brunson was slightly ahead of Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth in the number of bracelets won ”” with Brunson at eight bracelets versus Chan and Hellmuth’s seven.
However, Brunson and Hellmuth have both added to their jewelry collection recently, as each player has already won an event at this year’s tournament.
Just when it looked as if Johnny Chan was about to be left behind in the dust, "The Orient Express" steamrolled down the tracks and won one of his own. Chan now has eight gold bracelets (tied with Hellmuth), and is one win behind Brunson.
Chan is also ranked first in all-time money winnings in World Series of Poker history, with a staggering $3,315,894 in prize money, to date. Not bad for a former cook, who once played poker while wearing his apron after his shift was over.
Johnny Chan was born in Hong Kong and came to the United States where his parents opened a number of restaurants. Chan discovered his passion for poker over 20 years ago and began playing in low-limit games in Las Vegas during the late 1970s.
By 1983, Johnny Chan was entering World Series of Poker events. Two years later, he won his first gold bracelet in the $1,000 buy-in limit hold’em event. That would be the start of what was arguably the most dominant interlude in poker history.
Chan won the world championship in 1987, 1988, and came within one card of winning the 1989 championship, as well. He won two more gold bracelets in the 1990s, then another two in the last couple of years before winning number eight on this night.
At this final table, 1996 world champion Huck Seed came in with the chip lead ($118,000). Chan was second in chips ($92,000). Short-stacked Barbara Laux and Layne Flack were the first two players to be eliminated, followed by two Englishmen ”” Jason Gray and Carlo Citrone.
Don Barton has made many final tables in his storied poker career, but went out next in sixth place. That left David Singer as the next player to make an exit (5th) ”” although it should be noted that Singer is one of the few players who has now made two final tables at this year’s tournament.
Down to four players, Amir Vahedi looked to be in good shape, but then ran into a buzz saw when he got into a confrontation with Englishman Surinder Sunar. Vahedi and Sunar both moved in, as Vahedi showed the A-K of spades to Sunar’s 4-4.
The flop was an absolute disaster for Vahedi, which came 4-2-2. Vahedi was essentially drawing (almost) dead and bounced out of the tournament in fourth place, good for $35,400.
With Sunar holding the chip lead at $300,000, one of the most interesting hands of the night developed when Sunar tried to make a move with a club draw, which was crushed by Johnny Chan’s pocket aces.
After the flop came 3-5-6 (and two clubs), Chan was "all-in," and was covered by Sunar. A club would have put Chan out of the tournament and perhaps, more importantly, given the win to Sunar. But it wasn’t to be. The aces held up and Chan was suddenly the chip leader.
Perhaps what was most interesting about the hand was seeing Huck Seed quietly pulling his hole cards out of the muck as the audience watched (Seed folded his hand pre-flop) and showed 2-4 for the nut hand.
But poker champions are not made by calling raises with 2-4 offsuit. Seed ran card cold over the next hour and was finally forced to commit his chips with K-Q against Sunar’s A-7. Seed caught a beautiful flop of K-Q-10, good for top two pair. However, a crippling jack fell on the turn giving Sunar the nut straight. Seed could not catch another king or queen and thus was eliminated in third place, good for $55,550.
With the tournament entering its third consecutive day (the tournament started at noon on Tuesday; the final table began on Wednesday at 2 pm, and ran past midnight), Chan chipped away at Sunar hand by hand, minute by minute, and hour by hour. It was classic Chan, waiting out droughts of cards and never giving his opponent an extra chip or a loose call when he was convinced he had the worst of it.
Sunar played masterfully, but was unable to muster any momentum shift away from the former champion. Perhaps had Sunar faced any other opponent, he might have won on this night. But overcoming Chan at a chip disadvantage was next to impossible.
Interestingly, when play became nine-handed, Sunar had knocked out every player at the final table. He had one opponent to go. But Chan would not cooperate. The final hand of the night came when Sunar was short-stacked and committed his final chips with J-10. Chan covered the bet holding A-10. The board showed no pair for either player, giving Chan the final pot of the night with ace-high.
Johnny Chan had done it again, making it look easy. Meanwhile, one of Europe’s best players, Surinder Sunar has yet to win a gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. Incredibly, Sunar has won just about everywhere else in the world, but still hasn’t broken through at the Series. No doubt, his day will come.
"Honestly, the bracelet and the money doesn’t mean to me as much as enjoying the game. I play because I enjoy the game," Chan said afterward. "No-limit hold’em is the most skillful poker game, and that’s why I enjoy playing it the most."
Chan also pointed out he was fortunate to win one key pot where he was all-in against Sunar with A-A, against Sunar’s club draw. "If a club had come from the deck, he’d be sitting here right now, not me," Chan said.
When asked to reflect back on his 20 odd years of being at the top of the poker world, Chan was more introspective. "It’s a tough business," he said. "A very tough business."