John Friedberg joined Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, and Joseph Hachem as PokerStars qualifiers taking their first WSOP bracelet. Friedberg bested a record field of 2,891 players and entered the final table in 8th chip position but ended the day with the prize of $526,185. Michael Pomeroy started the day with a huge chip lead but the short stacks would start the festivities. Friedberg called an all-in raise of Thang Luu, his pocket kings holding up against Luu’s . Pomeroy doubled up, and Luu was left literally with a chip and a chair, down to his last $1k chip. It would have made a better story if he’d run it back to take the title, but he left on the next hand (9th, $49,722). John Phan caught a flush on the river to knock out Mike Halford on the next hand (8th, $61,561). Two hands later Humberto Brenes looked to double up against Pomeroy, all-in with to Pomeroy’s . The flop came , no ten or king came, and Brenes left the area (7th, $74,715). Pomeroy was over $2M in chips, almost as much as the other five players combined.
Corey Chaston moved in with a short stack a few hands later, called by Pomeroy and Kevin O’Donnell. O’Donnell took the checked down pot with A-Q high, and Chaston was out in 6th ($88,132). O’Donnell lost some of these chips to a post-flop raise from Tom Hawkingberry, and then he tangled with Friedberg. In the third hand Friedberg played, he defended big blind against a raise from O’Donnell. The flop came , and O’Donnell made a continuation bet of $75k. Friedberg barely had O’Donnell covered and moved all-in, hitting the flop for middle pair with his . This is a standard yet gutsy online play to push the continuation bet out, but the flop had hit O’Donnell hard and he called with his for a pair of jacks. It looked like Friedberg would have the chip and the chair when the came, but the river gave the pot to Friedberg and sent O’Donnell out in the toughest way (5th, $105,232).
Twenty-five hands, five players gone. If they kept leaving at this pace, the winner would have time to catch a matinee showing of Pirates of the Caribbean. Pomeroy sat at $1.9M in chips, Friedberg now had $1.1M, Hawkingberry sat on $960k, while John Phan held $340k in chips. After these twenty-five hands, everyone had moved up at least $70,000 in prize money, roughly $35k an hour for the first two hours of work. These four wanted more, and chips wouldn’t stay still for long.
Phan doubled through Friedberg with pocket fives holding up, then Friedberg would do the same to Pomeroy but under different circumstances. Friedberg raised to $65k and Pomeroy made it $200k from the small blind. Friedberg called, and the flop came J. First to act, Pomeroy bet half the pot and Friedberg moved his chips in. Pomeroy called with middle pair from his to Friedberg’s for an under pair and a gut shot. He caught it with the , and it held up to remarkably give Friedberg the chip lead and put Pomeroy fourth.
John Phan picked off Friedberg on a bluff with pocket tens to , and these two each sat at $1.5M in chips as Phan doubled up. Pomeroy then got off the bottom as he doubled through Hawkingberry. When the dust cleared, Friedberg steadily built a chip lead while Phan sat short with $350k. Phan doubled through Friedberg, again picking off his small blind all-in of by a big blind call with pocket eights. More pots changed hands until Pomeroy raised to $90k and Hawkingberry moved all-in. Pomeroy called with to Hawkingberry’s , and Pomeroy turned a flush for the nuts, with Hawkingberry catching his 4 too late on the river (4th, $122,596).
Friedberg held a small lead, $2.1M to Pomeroy’s $1.7M with Phan’s $750k below them both. Phan doubled up immediately through Pomeroy, calling a raise and then flopping a set of fives to Pomeroy’s over cards. He played his set beautifully, betting $120k into the pot of $400k to elicit an all-in move from Pomeroy’s . Friedberg then took pot after pot through aggression. Pomeroy finally made a stand in a limped pot from the small blind that Friedberg checked. The flop came , Pomeroy checked and Friedberg bet $40k into the $75k pot. Pomeroy smooth called, and the led Pomeroy to check again. Friedberg over bet the pot, counting out $400k to grab the $155k pot, but Pomeroy called again. The hit and for a third time Pomeroy checked. Friedberg moved all-in, and Pomeroy read a miss on all fronts. He called with middle pair of , and if he was right he’d have a monster stack again. Friedberg flipped over pocket fives. He’d flopped a set, made an unnecessary boat on the river, and Pomeroy had made the tough play with a bad read at the wrong time, out in 3rd ($157,322).
Friedberg now had $3.4M to Phan’s $890k. Phan wanted desperately to get some chips or cards, but Friedberg gave Phan all the decisions to make, constantly raising and pushing his chips forward. Phan finally pushed with a baby suited queen, and Friedberg called - ahead with . Phan never improved (2nd, $289,389), and John Friedberg had done it, besting the second largest field in the history of the World Series to take the $526,185 and his first bracelet.