Event #2 began with 288 players, including many of the top players living in Las Vegas. When the dust settled, it fell to two California grinders to battle for the biggest payday either had ever seen.
While children around the United States hunted for Easter eggs, players at the Bellagio were stacking chips as quickly as they could find them. Brandon Cantu shot to an early lead, only to be passed by John Phan soon after. The first five hours was fast and furious, leaving only 43 players at the end of Level 7. Some of the notables falling by the wayside included Amarillo Slim, Joe Sebok, David Pham, Michael Mizrachi, Barry Greenstein, Erik Seidel, and David Williams. Pham had a particularly tough exit. Steve Diano reraised Pham to 4k pre-flop, and Pham called along with another player. The flop came A-2-4, and Diano bet 3k which Pham called. The turn was a 5, and Pham checked to see Diano bet 5k. Pham moved all-in, and Diano instacalled, flipping over pocket aces for top set. Pham showed 6-3 for the nut straight, but Pham's nightmare card hit the river when the 4 hit the felt, filling up Diano and sending Pham out short of the money.
One of the hottest players on the tourney circuit today is James Van Alstyne, and his presence, deep in the tournament, was a signal to all players to beware. His results over the last twelve months have been spectacular, with four six-figure finishes plus a couple of other sizable cashes. That's somewhere around $1.3M for those keeping score. He had a roller coaster end here in Event #2. First, he doubled up when his aces ran into Quinn Do's aces. Van Alstyne held the and four flushed to double up to 60k. He caught aces again ten minutes later, only to run up against and a three-club flop. Van Alstyne made it into the cash and through the dinner break, but he was knocked out by Brandon Cantu. Van Alstyne moved in on the turn holding and a board of . Cantu called with , and a blank on the river sent Van Alstyne home short this time (21st, $3,200).
Men "The Master" Nguyen made it through Day 1, coming back from the brink of elimination to survive the day. Nguyen was down to his last 2k after his ran into pocket aces. Over the final ninety minutes of Day 1, Nguyen turned that 2k into 127.5k, good for 4th chip position heading into Day 2. When the final thirteen players sat down to finish the event, Event #3 $2.5k NLHE had started. John Phan couldn't resist jumping into Event #3 and had to be pried away to join Event #2.
As quickly as Phan sat down, the first player was lost in Paul Kim (13th, $5,330). Phan knocked out Jean Gaspard, a lively player at any table, to get down to the Final Table (11th, $6,400). No one was sorry to see Phan leave; crippled when Tommy Hang doubled through Phan after Hang checked his set of jacks on a flop of J-9-4. Phan dutifully shoved all of his chips into the pot with only K-Q, and he couldn't catch his gutshot. He was gone the following hand (9th, $8,530), clearing the table of one very dangerous player.
Two more tough players quickly followed, as Paul Lee's pocket kings held up against Men "The Master" Nguyen's pocket jacks (7th, $13,330) then Brandon Cantu's pocket eights couldn't chase down Mohamed Ahmedin's pocket kings. Cantu had been a force throughout the tournament, but in the end it was only good enough for 6th ($18,665).
Ahmedin sent Peter Rho packing with a deep chip call. Rho moved in for his last 86k with and Ahmedin called with . Two queens hit the board, sealing the hardened Rho's fate (5th, $23,995). Paul Lee chased down Tu Huynh and his pocket jacks, with Lee flopping a queen holding . Tu Huynh's 4th place finish was good for $31,990, by far the best cash of his young career.
Tommy Hang had nursed a short stack masterfully through the final table, and he quickly doubled through Ahmedin twice to give himself a fighting chance at taking down the top prize. It looked like he very well might take this event down until a shocker of a final hand. Paul Lee bet 100k on a flop of , and Hang made the call. came on the turn, and Lee moved all-in. Hang looked confident, calling immediately with . It looked like Lee would be hung with trips and a bad kicker with his , but Lee's money card of hit the river, giving him a full house and completing Tommy Hang's day (3rd, $55,990).
Heads-up play lasted only a few minutes between two players with very similar backgrounds. Mohamed Ahmedin and Paul Lee have built their game the hard way, Ahmedin gaining his experience in $100 and $200 buy-in tourneys in the San Francisco Bay area over the last eight years while Lee was doing the same in the Los Angeles card rooms. Ahmedin's runner-up check for $111,975 was triple his largest poker payday. For Paul Lee, his victory gave him his 69th cash, with only last year's WSOP Circuit event at Caesar's Palace a five figure finish. Most of his cashes came in LA and were in the hundreds or a few thousand dollars. The Bellagio handed him $206,795 and a seat in the $25k WPT event in a few weeks. Ahmedin and Lee will savor this ending for quite awhile, understanding just how tough a big payday like this can be to grab.