Last Friday, Bellagio held one of their regular $1k NLHE events. Several players wandered over for a change of scenery, looking to change their luck a bit. Kevin Ho from Gainesville, Florida made it into the money but was knocked out in 14th. Ho was long gone when the winner was crowned, John Gale from England. A week later, the two sat an $8 cab ride away at the ESPN Final Table in the Rio, battling for a World Series Bracelet. In their way stood last year’s king of poker and a kid ready to premier as the youngest bracelet owner ever at the World Series.
Five-hundred-sixty two players started in this three-day event, and they reached the money in the first day after twelve hours of play. Day 2 started in an unusual fashion, with Alex Jacob, John Gale, Ariel Schneller, and Theo Tran seated together at Table 118. It looked like a photo op for the top four in chips, but they never left the table. All those chips started together among the chip leaders. On an adjacent table, Daniel Negreanu left early (38th, $3,878). Lee Watkinson, fresh off of his $5K PLO win earlier at the World Series, exited in 30th ($4,524). Watkinson followed Matt Matros (34th, $4,524) in the checkout line. When they reached three tables, the buzz shifted about the sharp Aussie making a move, Joe Hachem. Hachem’s improved from his victory last year, with one final table already and more learned at the high-stakes cash games. The PokerStars team was elated as he made his second final table this year.
John Gale and Kevin Ho got involved in a big pot as they tried to get down to the final table. They raised and reraised each other until all the chips were in the pot, with Gale’s ahead of Ho’s . The cards were harmless to the best hand, and Gale doubled up to $120k with Ho down to $115k. When Ho knocked out Aaron Bartley (10th, $14,219), the other big story was that of Maros “Premier” Lechman. Three weeks removed from his 21st birthday, he had a chance to knock Jeff Madsen off his mantle as the youngest bracelet owner in WSOP history.
Alex Jacob held the chip lead with $524k when action started, with Kevin Ho at $287k and no one else over $140k. Ho knocked out Greg Alston on the first hand (9th, $25,852), and with so many smallish stacks, play would continue to be hot. Jeffrey Robson doubled through Lechman, then John Gale doubled through Ho when Gale’s turned good against Ho’s when the hit the turn. After Lee Grove caught a runner-runner full house vs. Ho’s flopped set of eight’s he must have wished he’d pulled a Hellmuth and skipped an orbit or two. Ho may have tilted a bit as he raised with K-2 only to see Lee Markholt move over the top with A-7. Ho made the call, caught a deuce, and eliminated Markholt (8th, $38,778). More importantly, he reversed the slide that the first 11 hands had brought to him.
Ho picked up aces and took down Jeffrey Roberson (7th, $51,704), and his stack was at $627k to Gale’s $320k. On the other end of the chip count was Lee Grove who only had $12k, not much less than Lechman’s $53k. It would be easy to underestimate Lechman, as there isn’t a bar in America that would believe this baby-faced young man was really 21. This was not someone looking to wait it out and move up a place or two. He plays as if he’s been coming here for twenty-one years. After Joe Hachem eliminated Grove (6th, $64,630), Lechman found a suitable hand to move in his last $35k, , and Ho made the call with . An 8 hit the board, and Lechman doubled up. He doubled through Ho’s 7-4o steal attempt on the next hand, and Lechman was safely out of the woods for now.
Lechman boiled the waters at the table as action heated up from the flurry of activity already seen in the first 40 hands. Gale doubled through Alex Jacob by flopping a flush. Hachem doubled through Ho catching a queen on the river with vs. Ho’s pocket fives. When Hachem’s pocket queens eliminated Jacob a few hands later (5th, $77,556), Lechman had returned to the short stack with $70k, significantly behind Gale with $590k, Ho’s $516k, and Hachem’s $228k. As Lechman waited for the right time to attempt to get back in the race, a key hand developed.
Hachem raised to $38k from the small blind, and Gale called. The flop was , Hachem bet $76k and was called. The followed, and Hachem made his stand with his remaining $90k. Gale called with bottom pair with his , but his read was off as Hachem held for a pair of kings. The crowd groaned and moaned as the hit the river. Hachem, always the champion, graciously walked away, out in 4th ($90,482).
Lechman turned his $52k into $200k on successive hands at the expense of Ho and Gale, and he was back in the hunt again. Ho raised on the button only to be reraised up to $115k by Gale and called. The flop came , Gale bet $200k and Ho moved all-in, instantly called by Gale who showed . Ho had brought it all down to an open-ended straight draw with his , but blanks followed. Kevin Ho was finished (3rd, $103,408).
It might appear that the young internet pro here on a lark was up against the grizzled poker veteran, but both of these players had been playing tournaments for a relatively short time. Lechman was at a 5:1 chip disadvantage, $208k to Gale’s $1.2M, but Lechman had been here before, many, many times playing in tournaments on PokerStars. They played heads-up almost 100 hands. Lechman caught a gut shot straight to double up then took the chip lead on an incredible hand. Gale held and flopped top two pair with , but all the chips didn’t get in until the and Lechman pushed all-in. Lechman had , and both players were stunned to see the other player’s cards. Lechman’s better two pair held up. Lechman moved the chip advantage up to $1.1M to Gale’s $600k before Gale doubled up when his two pair held up in the face of Lechman’s flush draw.
Lechman steadily moved back to $1M in chips and held that advantage for over an hour. Gale finally got the chip lead back after calling Lechman’s reraise. Gale’s pocket 8’s held up vs. Lechman’s pocket 4’s, and they headed to a dinner break. Gale never relinquished the chip lead. The end was almost an anticlimax after such a great battle, as Gale took the last six pots. He flopped a pair that Lechman reluctantly had to call with an ace and a gut shot straight draw. Maros “Premier” Lechman had made a stunning debut (2nd, $197,768). John Gale put his dress rehearsal at the Bellagio last Friday to good use, taking down his first WSOP bracelet and the added cash of $374,849.