Â Â In a spectacular, made-for-TV finish, Mel Judah captured the $1.5 million Legends of Poker Championship — a World Poker Tour event — last week at the Bicycle Club.
Â Â Judah did it by breaking Paul Phillips, straight versus straight. When the board showed A-6-3-5-4, Judah, with 9-7, had the high end while Phillips, with J-2, had the ignorant end. Phillips started the final day with a huge chip lead of 657,000 while Judah, second lowest with 143,500, had dipped down to 32,000 at one point before starting his comeback.
Â Â The six finalists, playing on the WPT special sound stage, started with $500 antes and blinds of $2,500-$5,000. There was little action until the next round, with $1,000 antes and blinds of 4-8k. On the first hand, Laak, whose nickname is “The Unabomber” because of the hooded sweatshirt he favors, was bluffed out of a $120k pot by Phillips, who showed a jack-high busted flush draw. “Don’t open your mail,” someone in the audience shouted, referring to the real Unabomber’s mail explosives.
Â Â Hand 24 was the last one for Laak and a turning point for T.J.Cloutier, the Bike’s all-time money winner. Laak raised pre-flop with pocket sevens, T.J. moved in with A-10, flopped a 10, relieved the student from Ireland of about 100k and came close to doubling up. Phillips still led with about 757k, but now T.J. was closing in with around 451k. The other approximate chip counts were: Fred Bonyadi, 152k Judah, 118k and Chip Jett, 67k.
Â Â Judah then began to fade. On hand 44 he was down to 32k when he looked at pocket queens. After T.J. raised to 24k, Judah, in the small blind, moved in and his ladies held up.
Â Â After blinds went to 6-12k, with $1,500 antes, Fred Bonyadi cashed out fifth on a bad beat holding J-9 to T.J.’s J-7. A flop of J-10-7 gave him top pair and a straight draw, but also gave T.J. the winning two pair. The first of several chip-lead changes came on hand 54. On a flop of Jc-6c-2d, Phillips bet 100k and T.J. called. When a 9c turned, T.J. bet 200k into the 280k pot and Phillips folded. “I’m either an idiot or a genius,” he said, a determination to be made when the hole cards are shown on TV next year. On the next hand, Jett, short-stacked all the way, finally departed. He had Ks-9s to Phillips’ K-Q, couldn’t help and ended up in fourth place. Three-handed, T.J. still had a slight lead over Phillips, but both had 10 times the chips of Judah’s 70k.
Â Â Mel now started moving up. On hand 61 he moved in and wasn’t called. On hand 63 he moved in again, this time with K-10 against T.J.’s pocket treys and won when the board came 10-9-5-8-A. A few hands later, after T.J. raised to 30k, Judah again moved all in. Again he was the underdog, K-J versus A-10. A jack on the river saved him, and he relieved T.J. of 116k. And then, on hand 73, Phillips bet 40k into a board of J-10-3-2 and once more Judah moved in, this time for $148,500 more. Phillips folded and Judah showed A-2.
Â Â By the time blinds went to 10-20k with $2,000 antes, Phillips had retaken the lead and Judah had slipped back. But then Judah doubled up again by making a full house against
Â Â Phillips, who moved in with a straight draw. Judah took the lead on hand 99 when his A-Q held up against Phillips’ K-Q and he doubled up to 658k versus 440 for T.J. and a bit over 300k for Phillips. On hand 114, Phillips, who had moved ahead of T.J., broke him with a truly horrendous bad beat. With antes of 3k, and blinds now at 15-30k, T.J., all in with J-J against Phillips’ 7-7, was a 10-1 favorite on the A-5-2 flop. He busted out when a seven hit the turn. Phillips led again, 901k to 645 for Judah. After time out for a ceremony where a unicyclist brought in the prize money on a silver platter, play resumed. After Judah moved in several times without being called, he took over the lead again. On the final hand, Phillips raised to 90k pre-flop. Then the board was checked down to the river which resulted in the two straights. Phillips later said he had to call. “There was already $200,000 in the pot. If I had folded, I would have been in very poor chip position.”
Â Â Mel Judah was born in Calcutta, India, and now lives in London. He is married and has two children. A former ladies hairdresser who started playing poker with friends when he was 14, he has been traveling the international tournament poker circuit for years. Judah has had numerous World Series cash-outs, with two bracelets. He narrowly missed getting a third this year when he came in second to Men “The Master” Nguyen in a $5,000 7-card stud event.
Â Â He said players were stealing his blinds and he knew he had to make a move soon. Fortunately, he got pocket queens just in time, made a stand and he was able to move up after winning that hand.