Mike Sexton, best known for his work on the World Poker Tour, set the stage for the best World Series of Poker ever, and bested 26 stars from the World Series of Poker to win the Tournament of Champion's title and a cool $1,000,000. His battle with Daniel Negreanu, heads-up for almost seven hours, will go down as one of the epic contests in the history of poker.
Day 1 started Sunday with three tables of nine players invited to this precursor to the WSOP. The collection included winners from WSOP circuit events, as well as members of last year's Main Event final table. Andy Black, 5th place in last year's Main Event, quickly lost half his stack, only to double through Main Event champion Joe Hachem's pocket queens with his own pocket aces. This same starting hand held up again, with Chris "Jesus" Ferguson sending Phil Hellmuth to the rail when his queens were no match for Ferguson's aces.
Joe Hachem survived four all-in challenges while short stacked, but the fifth would not be a charm. He and last year's Main Event runner-up, Steve Danneman, walked out of the room together, compliments of Daniel Negreanu. Negreanu hit an ace on the flop with A-Q, sending Hachem's Q-Q and Danneman's 8-8 to the rail. By the dinner break, they were down to two tables, with only the top nine cashing in this freeroll. Tex Barch knocked out short-stacked Darrell "Gigabet" Dicken when Barch's 5-5 held up over Dicken's 3-3.
Aaron Kanter knocked out the legend himself, Doyle Brunson, when queens finally took a pot, dominating Texas Dolly's and bringing the field down to a dozen players. Scott Lazar faced a race with Kido Pham, to Pham's pocket queens. The ladies held up, and Pham brought the end of the evening one step closer. They played to ten, and Aaron Kanter's misfortune was everyone else's gain. Andy Black must have felt good getting his money in after the flop on a board of , as he held . Andy Black was way ahead with , and Kanter was out in 11th place.
Day 2 was set up to be a great final table, with ten players playing for nine cash spots. Play started at 2:00 PM with the participants finding their stacks increased ten-fold, all the better to sound more exciting. There wouldn't be a winner for fourteen more hours. Gus Hansen was either going to have to get lucky or wait for other players to knock each other out to have a fighting chance. The Great Dane is not a waiter, and his didn't improve against Black's pocket nines. Hansen was the bubble boy, and they were down to nine.
The clash of the Daniel's brought them down to one Daniel at this final table. Daniel Bergsdorf would have to be satisfied with the million he won at last year's Main Event, as Daniel Negreanu played his hand beautifully. On a flop of , Bergsdorf came over the top of Negreanu's re-raise, thinking his pocket kings were golden. Negreanu played his brilliantly, and Bergsdorf was out in 9th place.
Kido Pham quickly followed in 8th place when Andy Black picked off his all-in move, calling with . He was pleased to see Pham's , which never improved and further built Black's chip stack. Chris Reslock, WSOP Circuit winner from Harrah's Atlantic City, doubled through Black, flopping a set of deuces that turned into quads. Reslock was short stacked, so it was a minimal dent to Black. Black sent more chips to Negreanu's straight a few hands later. These two battled over the biggest pot of the night, with Negreanu taking a monster chip lead doubling through Black, when Negreanu's black kings held up against . After over two hours, they were down to six.
Ferguson pushed all-in pre-flop, only to see Gigabet come over the top, all-in to isolate him. Gigabet's pocket eights dominated Ferguson's sixes, and the former Main Event winner was out in 7th place. Four hours played, four players eliminated.
The next two and a half hours cut that number in half. Gigabet was quickly knocked out in 6th place by Mike Sexton, when Gigabet couldn't catch his flush draw.
Five minutes later, Mike Matusow sent Andy Black to the rail. All the chips were in before the flop, with Matusow's dominating Black's . Black caught a great flop of , but the next two cards of left Black out in 5th place.
Chris Reslock's raise was called by both Sexton and Negreanu, and he moved all-in, after the others checked, the flop. It was a $182k call for Sexton into a pot of a bit over $260k, and after a few minutes Sexton indeed made the call with . His read was solid, as Reslock turned over . There was a chance that Sexton's great call would blow up in his face when the on the turn gave Reslock an open-ended straight draw. The fell harmlessly on the felt, and Reslock was going home in 4th place.
These three had eaten dinner a couple hours before, and what a combination platter we had in Mike Sexton, Mike Matusow, and Daniel Negreanu. Matusow showed his heart and the roller coaster that is his play, coming over the top of Sexton's raise to take down an early pot, only to lose a big part of his stack a few hands later. Finally, with blinds at $5k/10k, Negreanu raised another $25k and Sexton called. Matusow came over the top for his last $170k from the big blind, and Sexton called after Negreanu folded. Sexton's pocket 7's held up to Matusow's baby Ace, and Mike the Mouth collected $250k for 3rd place. It was close to midnight at the Rio.
This was a match-up of two very different players. Mike Sexton had his first WSOP cash in 1984 and won his only WSOP bracelet five years later. Sexton may look like everyone's favorite uncle, but inside burns a fierce warrior. Many of the railbirds assumed he would be no match for Negreanu heads-up, but it is Sexton who has won a heads-up championship, taking the 2003 European Heads-Up Championship. For Negreanu, 2004 will always be remembered as one of the dominant years in poker. He took a 2nd and a 3rd at WPT events leading up to the WSOP, cashed six times at the World Series including taking his third bracelet, and won two WPT events after the WSOP. Viewers have seen Negreanu's play constantly on television, never afraid to mix it up with any two cards.
The two played fairly conservatively in the beginning, exchanging blinds, Negreanu taking a raised pot with queen high. Sexton was extremely focused and avoided Negreanu's monster hands. Four times Sexton folded to Negreanu's pre-flop raises when Negreanu held pocket aces. No action four times, heads-up, holding pocket aces had to concern Negreanu. Negreanu took down a pot, raising on the button, then catching two pair with 4-2o. Sexton eased into the chip lead calling with bottom pair and a gut shot, holding on a board of . The on the turn was checked, and Sexton caught trips with the on the river. Sexton may have been good the whole time, as Negreanu mucked to his river bet. Negreanu took a pot with a heart flush on the board, his playing and Sexton calling on the river.
In the fifth hour heads-up, Negreanu took a big pot away from Sexton. On a flop of , Negreanu check/called Sexton's $60k bet. The hit the board, and Negreanu acted first this time, sending $120k into the pot. Sexton made the call. The river brought another ten, the . Negreanu bet $250k into the pot of almost $400k. Sexton deliberated, taking his time, then finally went with his read and mucked his hand. Negreanu flipped over for a monster bluff. Sexton was still in the chip lead, but the match was absolutely still a tossup.
Sexton raised half an hour later to $45k and Daniel called. The flop came , and Sexton bet $60k after Negreanu checked. Negreanu called and the turn brought the . This time, Sexton bet $125k after the check, and again Daniel called. The river brought the , followed by a check from Negreanu. Sexton eased $300k in chips into the pot, and was called reluctantly by Negreanu's A-Q. Sexton played his pocket fives beautifully after flopping a set, and he moved further into the chip lead.
Sexton bet at another pot to push Negreanu away from more chips, only to then lose $425k to Negreanu's A-J, giving Daniel top pair, top kicker. Negreanu moved into a slight chip lead. After six incredible hours, an action hand hit this final table. Negreanu raised to $56k, and Sexton reraised another $56k. Negreanu called to see a flop of . Sexton bet $255k, Negreanu raised the same, then Sexton shoved all-in. Negreanu called with a flush draw to Sexton's top pair. The and were blanks to complete the board, and Sexton was in a big chip lead.
A few hands later, it was over. Sexton limped from the button, Negreanu raised it another $64k but was raised another $180k. Daniel called, and the flop brought , and Negreanu moved all-in. He was quickly called, and Negreanu was in bad shape with the giving him a gut shot straight draw. Daniel may have thought his over cards were more outs, but Sexton turned over . The , on the turn, actually helped Negreanu, giving him more outs; one of four kings would complete his straight in addition to four nines that would get him there also. The river brought an ending an epic battle. After over 16 hours of play, Mike Sexton took the title of Tournament of Champions winner and with it the biggest paycheck of his career for $1,000,000. Negreanu showed he is back and a force to be reckoned with, taking home 2nd place and $325,000. If this is any indication, we're in for the wildest WSOP ever. And be sure to tune into PokerWorks for all the action.