The $2k Pot Limit Holdem was in the minority of this year’s World Series. As a two-day event, the winner would not have to wait long to resize the bracelet for his wrist. Fifty-four players cashed by the end of Day 1, including Men “The Master” Nguyen and Daniel Alaei . The blinds were high heading into Day 2, so action was fierce. Most eyes were on Joseph Hachem, 2005 WSOP Main Event Champion. Hachem has had a series of solid runs, showing that he won’t be staying down under anyone’s radar screen anytime soon. He overplayed his pocket fives, as he called Jeff Rothstein’s all-in with kings. When Rothstein later knocked out Hachem (15th, $9,664), Eric Kesselman busted Kiril Gerasimov (14th, $9,664), the familiar names were gone except for one: James McManus.
In the spring of 2000, McManus had an assignment from Harper’s to cover the World Series of Poker. He had always played poker, but with this assignment he decided to jump in and try his luck. He was a religious user of Wilson Turbo software, a simulator that dates back before online poker existed. He quickly got down to $2k from his original $10k, and it looked like his tourney would be over before it started. He scrambled and clawed his way to finish the day with $36k. By midnight of Day 3, he sat on almost $400k in chips. McManus had read several books to prepare for the World Series, including one by T.J. Cloutier. He had virtually committed it to memory, and he threw it out the window in a huge hand against Cloutier. With Cloutier betting the 5-4-2 rainbow, McManus called with A-K. A 7 came on the turn, and Cloutier announced an all-in move. McManus made the call and was still ahead when Cloutier showed the A-9. The river brings a jack, and McManus survived with a monster pot. “I’d bet on that boy,” said Cloutier, “He’s got the heart of a cliff diver.”
McManus ended up out in 5th, winning a quarter of a million dollars. Positively Fifth Street chronicled his experience, a must read for any poker player. Cloutier finished second to a young professor from California, Chris Ferguson.
His performance in this year’s World Series has been the best since, with two 14th place finishes prior to this event. With no poker rock stars at the final table, most railbirds were pulling for McManus. He doubled through Eric Kesselman early, his good against Kesselman’s . After Henry Thomas left (9th, $21,476), it became clear what this final table was about. Blinds were $6k/12k, the average stack at $130k with the biggest stacks around $240k. Poker as a crapshoot, blinds so high that players were reduced virtually to two moves: fold or shove and hope for a race you’ll win.
Chris Black (8th, $32,214) lost his race against Chris Viox vs. . Hyon Kim won a race against Kesselman to double up. Kevin Ross doubled through Jason Sagle with a better kicker to go along with his ace (Jack vs. 9). Kesselman then brutally took out Dustin Holmes (7th, $42,952). All-in pre-flop, Kesselman caught a flush on the river with to Holmes’ . Ross again doubled up, this time flopping an ace vs. the pocket fours of Viox.
With blinds up to $8k/16k, eight consecutive hands were folded to a raiser, as players had to find cards to work with. Viox raised and this time there would be a flop, called by Kesselman. The flop came -3d[d], and Kesselman check/called a $30k bet from Viox. The turn brought another diamond, , and this time Kesselman led with $50k to be called by Viox. The river was a scare card, . Kesselman bet $70k, and Viox raised enough to put him all-in. Kesselman looked at the board, looked at Viox, decided he didn’t have a boat, and called showing . Viox mucked, and Kesselman had doubled up.
McManus next came over the top of Kim, who called with to McManus’ . An ace flopped, and the run of McManus was one short of his 2000 finish (6th, $53,690). Jason Sagle ran into a couple of tough hands against Kesselman, being re-raised all-in, he mucked only to see Kesselman show pocket aces. On the next hand, his pocket fives were no match for Kesselman’s sixes, and he was gone (5th, $64,428). Kevin Ross then ran into a nightmare hand with Kesselman. Ross had pocket kings, the second best starting hand in NLHE. You probably know what the best hand is, and Kesselman turned the pocket aces over again to knock Ross out (4th, $75,166). The three players took a ten minute break, which was ironic. That’s how long play lasted before a winner was crowned.
Kim and Viox did the raise/re-raise waltz, but they had a lot less than the last hand that knocked a player out. Kim, with pocket sixes, had Viox covered. His never improved, and Viox was looking for some pain relief (3rd, $85,905). It was over on the next hand. Kesselman raised it to $60k, Kim made it $120k more, Kesselman re-raised, then Kim pushed all-in. Kesselman called, and what a surprise they showed. Kesselman had , a beast next to Kim’s . The flop gave Kim some runner-runner hope, which arrived with the . He didn’t look great, but now he had outs: a club, a 10, even another 8 or 2 would chop the pot. The wasn’t on that list, and the Seoul native was runner-up ($164,291). Eric Kesselman gave up his life as an attorney to chase a dream playing poker professionally. With his first World Series bracelet and $311,403, he’s now on solid footing.