Orient Express rollin’ on!

May 13, 2003 6:06 AM

Poker history was made once again, as living poker legend "The Orient Express," Johnny Chan, claimed his second title at this year’s World Series of Poker, and ninth overall bracelet since 1985.

The win ”” first place in the $5,000 Buy-in Pot-Limit Hold’em event ”” put him into a virtual tie for first place with Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson. Chan also bolstered his position as the all-time leading money winner in World Series history, with $3,473,994 in lifetime earnings.

Indeed, the final table of the $5,000 buy-in Pot-Limit Omaha event was arguably one of the toughest lineups of all time. There were no less than 21 gold bracelets spread amongst five players ”” including two former world champions, and the defending champion from last year.

The final table also offered a collective mix of N.A.T.O. nationalities, from the United States, England, France, and Germany. But it was Hong Kong-born Chan who took the gold bracelet and collected $158,100 for first place.

Phillip Marmorstein from Munich, Germany was the first player to be eliminated, going out in 9th place ”” good for $7,900.

The next key hand occurred ten minutes later and completely altered the complexion of the finale. Huck Seed got into a raising war with Johnny Chan after the flop came K-J-4 (two diamonds came on board). Chan held K-K-x-x and had Seed "all-in" drawing to the nut-diamond flush, with the A-10-x-x (diamonds). With $55,000 in the pot, Seed caught his much-needed diamond on the turn and just as it appeared he would win the big pot, a four came from the deck and paired the board ”” knocking Seed out of the tournament and catapulting Chan into the chip lead for the first time. Seed, the 1996 world champion, was out in 8th place.

Seeing Johnny Chan accumulating chips is certainly not a welcome sight, especially if one is sitting on the opposite side of the table. Chan’s stack continued to grow as he used his position effectively to win a few more pots without getting called, and was up to $130K exactly one hour into play.

Next, Robert Williamson got into a big hand with John Juanda when the flop came Q-6-3. Juanda bet out $14K (with A-A-x-x ”” which amounted to a pair of aces) and Williamson made a bold over-the-top pot-sized re-raise with Q-9-8-7 (top pair was all he had at the time). Juanda called with the better of the two hands, and was distressed to see a 9 come on the turn, giving Williamson two pair. When the final card brought a 10, Williamson had a straight and Juanda was out of the tournament in 7th place. He received $13,800.

Jon Brody pulled off a stunning double-up hand when he moved "all-in" with top set (queens) after the flop came, and was called by Robert Williamson with top two pair (queens and sevens). Incredibly, the turn made Williamson a straight and just when it looked like Brody would be eliminated, he caught a lifesaving backdoor heart on the river to make a heart flush. Instead of hitting the rail, Brody moved close to $100,000 in chips, while Williamson was left with $60,000.

An hour went by before the next key hand of the final table. Williamson made a spade flush against Immanuel Sebag, leaving the Englishman down to $25,000. But spades would pay back Sebag nicely a few hands later when he made a spade flush and knocked-out Erik Seidel, who was desperately short-stacked and was never able to generate any momentum at the final table. For those hoping for another classic "Chan-Seidel match," they would have to wait until another day. Seidel took home $17,800 for 6th place.

Williamson gradually recovered from his early setback and overcame Chan in chips ($170,000 vs. $140,000) about three hours into play. The three other players ”” Sebag, Atlanic, and Brody ”” were slowly grinded down one orbit at a time until it became critical that each had to double through to stay in the tournament.

Sebag did precisely that when, incredibly, he misread his hand and still managed to win a huge pot. After the flop came Q-10-4, three players moved "all-in" ”” Sebag with just a pair of queens (he thought he had a flush draw ”” but was mistaken with A-Q-8-7), Jon Brody who flopped a set of tens (10-10-6-4), and Robert Williamson on the nut flush draw (A-Q-9-9). Amazingly, Sebag caught two perfect cards to make queens full of eights, as an eight and queen fell on the turn and river, respectively. Brody, with tens full (a loser to the higher full house) went out in 5th place and received $21,700.

A few minutes later, with Chan the chip leader, he went after Maurice Atlani who was short-stacked, and knocked out the Frenchman in 4th place when his two pair bested Atlani’s missed draw. Atlani collected $27,750 for 4th place as Chan held a 2-1 chip lead over both of his two remaining opponents.

The three finalists battled for over 90 minutes before a hand of major significance took place. Sebag made a pot-sized bet with A-A-J-10 and Williamson came over the top for an "all-in" raise holding K-9-8-6 after seeing the flop come K-5-3. The last two cards came Q-3 giving Sebag a $150,000 pot with two pair ”” aces and threes.

Now, it was Williamson who was in big trouble. The part-time tournament pro from Dallas moved in with his last $11,000 when he was dealt Q-Q-7-3. Chan called Williamson’s final bet of the night and made two pair, aces and fours to win the pot. Williamson, showing his customary class and sportsmanship, shook both of his opponents’ hands and wished the two finalists the best. Williamson, the defending champion in this event, collected $47,400 for third place.

The last hand of the night came just moments later and it was memorable. Chan was dealt 8-6-5-2, normally not much of an Omaha-high hand, but was delighted to see the final board show 9-4-3-Q-2. Sebag had K-Q-Q-J (double-suited) and announced he was betting the pot with trip-queens on the river. Chan wisecracked, "I guess I’ll call with the nuts." That effectively ended it, which meant Chan had moved beyond the farthest horizon by joining legendary Doyle Brunson with nine lifetime World Series of Poker wins.

Immanuel Sebag, from London, was clearly fortunate to be in a position to take second-place. He comes from a highly-competitive player base of pot-limit specialists from the U.K. But no amount of poker acumen could derail "The Orient Express" in what was yet another masterful performance. At no point EVER at this final table was Chan in danger of going out or jeopardizing any sizable portion of his chips. With nine events yet to go at this year’s World Series of Poker, it remains to be seen if Chan can be the first poker player ever to win ten gold bracelets. Based on his performance to date, it’s really not so much a matter of if, but when.