Scotty Nguyen, who has accumulated a whole room full of trophies during his career , added yet another one and the $64,600 prize as he coasted to an easy win in the 21st event of the 2004 California State Poker Championship, $500 no-limit hold’em at the Commerce Casino in Southern California.
He arrived at the final table with a substantial chip lead of $66,900 and dominated it with his patented brand of nonstop laughter, confusing chatter and aggressive play. "I was in the zone, and when that happens they just give in to me," he said.
With five players left, the former world champion, who boasts a very high win rate once he makes the final table, owned most of the chips. He later took a 50k hit, but still had a good lead with three players left. A deal was then made and play ended.
This tournament replaced the scheduled $1,500 pot-limit Omaha contest, the third event to be changed. Once again a handful of players (11 this time) still wanted to play, so this third extra tournament was run simultaneously. Hasan Habib won the PLO, collecting $18,525. Also in the money were Avi Freedman, Jonathan "Doodle" Gallin and Charlie Shoten.
The remaining three Cal State events will be run as originally scheduled.
Play for the no-limit event commenced at level 10 with $200 antes, blinds of $600 and $1,200 and 29:20 left on the clock. With Kevin Song, Peter Costa and David Levi also in attendance, this was one of the toughest final tables to date. It was certainly the noisiest. Nobody could hold a decibel to Nguyen’s racket ("Ha! Ha! Ha! You call and it’s all over baby"), but David ("You play good") Levi did his best to sing chorus with echoing "Ha Ha’s."
Levi, who vowed he wouldn’t be first out as he was the day before, soon got short-chipped, but continued to survive a number of all-in situations. Instead, it was Lance Allred who left first. He opened for 4k and Costa made it 12.5k to go. Nguyen then moved in, offering to pay Allred $400 over and above tenth place if he called. Allred did call all in for a total of about 30k and Costa decided to fold his A-K. Nguyen had Q-Q, and Allred, with J-J, cashed out when the board came 10-4-2-5-8. Allred’s job is promotional advertising but Nguyen could probably give him some tips in that field.
With $200 antes and $800-$1,600 blinds, Song moved in for $17,500 with A-10 and Joe Lim covered him with J-J. Song couldn’t hit and finished ninth. Two hands later, retiree Joe Chiracosta, down to 1.2k, called all in with A-6 and lost to Hung La’s A-8. "I tried, but I wasn’t playing in their league," he shrugged.
Nguyen, meanwhile, had been punishing the table, raising close to every other hand, offering to pay players if they called but warning them of the dire consequences if they did, showing bluffs when nobody called. After blinds went to $1,000 and $2,000 with $300 antes, he paid Zavala off for about 13k when he lost with A-6 to A-K, but that didn’t make much of a dent in his stacks.
Joe Lim went out in seventh place after he raised all in for 14k with A-5 and got knocked off by Levi’s pocket queens.
The same pocket queens, this time held by Zavala, eliminated Greg Gayheart, who was all in from the big blind. Levi had raised to 11k and Zavala moved in for about 14k more. Just then his cell phone rang. Zavala answered it by asking, "Tell me what David Levi has." Levi was not amused and folded. Meanwhile, Gayheart turned up A-9 and the best he could do was pair his 9.
By the time blinds went to $1,500-$3,000 with $500 antes, Nguyen had lapped the field with 144k, followed by Zavala, 50.7k; La, 44.9k; Costa, 23k; and Levi, 10.3k.
Costa, aka "Peter the Poet," is a noted British pro whose many accomplishments include a win on the "Late Night" program shown on Fox TV. On the first hand of the new level, he moved in with Ad-7d. "A very bad time for you to do that," said Nguyen sadly, turning over pocket aces. A second diamond came on fourth street, but that was one shy and Costa finished in fifth place.
A hand later, Zavala pushed in about 50k with A-Q. Nguyen called with A-J. A jack flopped, and with a board of J-3-2-5, Zavala stood up and prepared to take his leave. "See you later, Frankie," Nguyen chirped. Not yet. A queen hit the river and Zavala sat down, doubled up to about 100k.
Two hands later, Levi finally ran out of escapes. He was in the big blind with just 5k left and pocket 8s. La, with pocket kings, put him in. The board showed A-Q-J-9-J, and Levi left the game in fourth place. Another six hands were played with not much change in chips while a deal was discussed on and off. Finally a chip count was taken and showed Nguyen with 121k; Zavala with 81k and La with 70.5k. Nguyen proved to be a fierce and astute negotiator. Zavala wasn’t too happy with what was offered but didn’t want to object because "each time I have, I ended up getting knocked out," he said.
Finally an agreement was reached. Zavala runs a sports information service in Las Vegas, and his wife does therapeutic massage, with a roster of top poker players as customers. Zavala then tried to talk Nguyen out of the trophy, explaining that he wanted it to present to their two young daughters. "I have eleven girls," Nguyen replied.
As usual, Scotty had the last word along with the last chips and got the trophy too.