In a rough-and-tumble no-limit hold’em contest where "all-in" was the order of the day, David The Dragon" Pham marched to a different drummer. His opening raise invariably was the same, three times the big blind, so that nobody could guess where he was at. The strategy came through as he took the lead in the late stages and went on to victory in the seventh event of the 2004 Cal State Poker Championship, $500 no-limit hold’em, held at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles.
"Big or small," I bet the same, he said. "That’s how I play. That way, nobody knows what I have, and if they come over the top I can get away from my hand without losing much."
No-limit is Pham’s best game. To win, he had to battle 450 other players who contributed to a $225,000 prize pool. The successful pro said he was very confident even though he was getting low chipped at the third level when every time he raised, someone would move in and he had to fold.
Pham was Card Player’s "Player of the Year" in 2000, won a WSOP bracelet in S.H.O.E in 2001 and also won $450,000 in a $1 million guaranteed event at the L.A.P.C.
The final table got there in dramatic, made-for-TV fashion. James Donchess moved in for $27,000 with 10-10 and was called all in by Shawne Pillar, who had K-K. Donchess took the lead by flopping a set, Pillar turned a bigger set and then ”” that’s right ”” quad 10s for Donchess!
The final table of nine started at level 14, with $500 antes, blinds of $1,500-$3,000, and 12:02 left. Incredibly, 39 hands went by before there was any play after the flop. Until then the only flops that were dealt came when a player was already all in.
Joe Lim arrived with a substantial chip lead of $146,500, twice anybody else’s. He tried to bully the table with frequent all-in raises. It worked some times, but he got nailed enough times to bleed off chips and ended up fourth. He began going downhill on the third hand when he raised to $12,000 and David Kelsey moved in for $64,500. After a long agony of indecision, Lim gave it up.
D.J. Kim finished seventh. He called all in for $28,000 with K-K after Binh Ta moved in from the cut-off seat. Binh Ta had A-3 and rivered an ace. Chiricosta, a retiree, wasn’t as lucky with his A-3. He raised with his last $9,000 and was virtually dead when Binh Ta called with A-Q and flopped a queen.
James Donchess, an attorney, went out two hands later. He moved in for about $36,000 with pocket 10s. Binh Ta again had A-Q and this time flopped an ace. Only 20 hands had gone by and already five players were gone. By now Binh Ta had taken over the lead with about $180,000 while Lim had dipped to around $120,000.
After blinds went to $4,000-$8,000, the chip count now read: Binh Ta, $172,000; Pham, $169,000; and Kelsey, $112,000.
As the new level started, Pham picked up the antes and blinds with a raise and once again eased into the lead. Then came the decisive hand. Pham raised to ”” yes ”” three times the big blind and Binh Ta moved in. Binh Ta had A-J and Pham, a 2.8-1 favorite with A-K, won when the board came A-9-2-10-4.
Pham and Kelsey were now heads-up, but not for long. Pham had $355,000 to $98,000 for Kelsey, and the match-up lasted only three hands.
Pham, with pocket 9s, made his usual raise, then bet $30,000 into a flop of 8-6-4. Kelsey made a futile all-in raise with Qs-2s, couldn’t hit, and Dragon roared.