Being a successful tournament poker player can be a gut wrenching existence, filled with cash bubbles, bad beats, bad reads, and near misses. There are many terrific players who never hit a big score in big tourneys, while sometimes a combination of luck and cards brings a neophyte a trophy and life changing cash. Then there are the few tournament players who hit a string of success that forever change their lives and mark them as someone to fear in any tournament. Gus Hansen grabbed the tourney spotlight, seemingly coming out of nowhere in 2003. In 2004, Daniel Negreanu was the hot player, winning four tournaments including two million dollar checks. Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi took the mantle in 2005 as he grabbed two WPT titles plus a runner-up in a twelve month period. Jeff Madsen and Bill Chen grabbed two bracelets at the WSOP, but JC Tran is clearly the top tournament player since the World Series ended last year.
238 players entered the $3K NLH event, and the field is filled with quality players. Whereas many WSOP leader boards are filled with unfamiliar names, the top chip counts here are a roster of the very best online players, tournament regulars, and top cash game players literally from around the world. Barry Greenstein, Thomas Wahlroos, Joe Cassidy, Miami John Cernuto, JC Tran, and Scotty Nguyen all had the chip lead during the afternoon and into the evening. Eighteen players cashed, and JC Tran held the chip lead with 276k as Day 1 ended with fourteen players remaining. John Little (198k) and Thomas Wahlroos (163k) were the only others with more than 100k in chips, and everyone anticipated plenty of action on Day 2 as they headed to their rooms at 3:30AM.
Seasoned tournament players know it's not about cashing, it's about going deep, and John Phan knows you have to accumulate chips to win. Unfortunately, he ran into Scotty Nguyen's A-K on the first hand to go out in 13th ($7,340) as Howard Bregman busted at the other table (14th, $7,340). JC Tran stretched his chip lead by knocking out three successive players.
After Al Barbieri's departure (11th, $8,005), the Final Table was set. Immediately, Tran tangled with Thomas Wahlroos and Steve Diamantas. Tran raised to 17k, and then Wahlroos moved all-in for 37k total. Diamantas came over the top for a total of 94k, and Tran called with . Wahlroos showed and Diamantas looked likely to triple up with his cowboys, . The board came , keeping everyone alive but with Diamantas strong to take the pot. The on the river gave Tran the set and two fewer players (Thomas Wahlroos 10th, $8,005 and Steve Diamantas 9th, $10,675).
Tran's action continued as he doubled up Marco Johnson, then Tran took out Michael Tait (8th, $13,340). When the dust settled, Johnson had the chip lead (330k) and Tran was the short stack (135k).
The next two hours was a flurry of chip movement as every player doubled up at least once. A wild ten minutes saw Tran spring into action as he knocked out Jimmy Diep (6th, $23,350), Norman Contreras (5th, $30,020) and Brian Wolfe (4th, $40,015). Scotty Nguyen was next to go (3rd, $73,380), as the WSOP Main Event Champion moved all-in with a gutshot straight draw that didn't get there when Jonathan Little flopped top two pair. Little had had his own nice run in the last year. He cashed four times in his first WSOP, and then took 5th and $317k at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. His runner-up finish here ($146,760) is a great payday in a very tough field, and he'll be another new face to watch in 2007.
But the face of poker for now is JC Tran (1st, $272,320). Add that to his results the last six months, and he's up to $3.8M in tournament winnings alone. He is the favorite in the WPT Championship as well as any tournament he enters right now.