How do top pros get started in a NLH event? There is no one set rule, but in a relatively stouter field, patience can be a virtue and it can be irrelevant.
Nam Le burst onto America's poker consciousness with a WPT Final Table in 2004 $15k Five Diamond Classic at the Bellagio. He became known as the other Le, caught in the flurry of results by his good friend Tuan Le. Tuan Le took down the 2004 WPT at Foxwoods ($1,549,588) then did one better with a victory in the season-ending 2005 WPT Championships at the Bellagio ($2,856,150).
Nam continued to build his craft in the card rooms of Southern California, making final tables at the LA Poker Classic since 2004. He cashed three times in the 2005 WSOP, but his breakthrough year was 2006. He won the WPT Bay 101 ($1,198,300) then cashed five times in last year's World Series of Poker, including a runner-up finish to Mark Vos in the $2k NLH event ($204,579).
In the $2.5k NLH event, players started with 5,000 in chips with the blinds at 25/50. 1,013 players began, and each table seemed to have two-four tough known players. Nam's table included Young Phan (19 WSOP cashes, 4 final tables) in the 4s and Brad Berman (31st in 2004 WSOP Main Event, one WPT final table). Throw in a couple of young online players and a scattering of others, and it was a table that didn't terrify anyone but was tough enough.
A few things jumped out as the event started. Table 42 was very tight in the first round, and no one had any interest taking advantage of the fact. Raises were more likely to be a 100 raise to 150, and keeping pots small was the name of the game. No one regularly attacked blinds, and limping was the order of the day.
The first hand that Nam played was a call UTG+1, and the button brought the blinds into the pot. All four players checked the flop, then the big blind bet 150 after turn card. Nam led the other three in folding. Nam tossed two green chips into the big blind, and his stack was composed of two yellow chips, four light blues, eight dark blues, and six greens. Six players total limped into this pot, and all seemed indifferent as they checked to the river.
Nam folded nine consecutive hands from his button through his raised big blind. He limped with five others from the small blind, and the flop came , and Nam bet 150 into the 300 pot. Two players called, and Nam checked the turn card. The 1s bet 400 into the pot, and the button folded. Nam called, then they both checked the river. The 1s showed , but Nam turned over to take the pot with the rivered second pair.
Players made their way late into this tournament, and Scotty Nguyen sat in the 8s on the adjacent Table 36. Suddenly, his table is standing as he shoves on the turn and the 3s calls. Nguyen turns over A-K for top two pair, and the 3s calls for a diamond. The diamond hits the river, pushing all Nguyen's chips to the other end of the table. Scotty Nguyen: 40 minutes late, $2.5k buy-in, one hand.
John Phan then moved to the seat Nguyen vacated as Nam folds his button along with six of the next seven hands. Blinds moved up to 50/100 when Nam was in early position but then reverted to 25/50 after three hands. He limped from CO+1 and bet at a board. Young Phan called him from the big blind, and they checked down the board. Phan took the pot with Q-10o. He limped his blinds but folded to flop bets, then folded around to UTG+1 where he raised to 150. The 3s on the button called, and the flop came . They both checked, then came. Nam checked, the button bet 225, and he folded. He folded UTG, checked his big blind but check/folded the jack-high flop, then limped his small blind but folded to the big blinds raise.
The table played seven hands at the incorrect 25/50 blind levels, saving Nam a few chips in his raised hand. They reverted to 50/100 when he was in the cutoff, and he was in the midst of an eleven hand folding streak. In the cutoff, he called the 275 raise of the 4s only to see the small blind make it another 1k. Nam folded along with the original raiser.
For some reason, the table was using standard cards and not the WSOP decks. The 10s probably wished they'd switched decks as he busted on the . He held 8-10o, but the 3s showed for the rivered straight. Layne Flack then stumbled by, and he tried to give John Phan a Charlie-horse. Flack wasn't in the best of shape, his face uncharacteristically stubbled.
Nam raised to 275 from middle position and the big blind called. Nam bet 450 at the . The 2s asked for a count, Nam showed his chips, and took the pot as the cards hit the muck. He folded four more hands through his big blind, then completed from the small blind as the 3s limped along with the big blind. led Nam to bet 175, and the big blind folded but the 3s stayed with him. brought the check/fold button out as the 3s bet 350.
He grabbed the blinds with a 275 bet from the button then limped from the cutoff with the blinds. He took his second straight pot with a 150 bet on the pot. It was the last pot he would win.
He lost a few chips in the CO+1. The 5s raised to 250, and he called. The flop came , and the 5s bet 400, which Nam called. The 5s checked the turn, and he checked behind. hit the river, and the raiser again checked. Nam checked but mucked when the 5s showed .
He folded the next two hands then raised to 250 from middle position. The 9s, who had been very tight, reraised to 800 total. Nam called, and the flop came . Nam took his time then checked, and the 9s also checked. came on the turn, and Nam bet 575. The 9s raised another 1.7k, and Nam moved all-in for his final 1k. The 9s quickly called and showed for the gutshot straight draw with the nut flush draw, and Nam flipped over . The river brought , and the 9s said, "You shouldn't have slowplayed your aces."
. In 78 hands, he limped occasionally, played his unraised blinds, and raised three times. He was 1 for 6 in hands that reached a showdown, with the final one as always being the most painful.
Nam stood up, requiring no gathering of bags, iPods, or other paraphernalia. He simply ducked under the rail, made his way down the aisle, took a right down the aisle between the satellites and the cash games, left the Amazon Room, took a left, shook one of his friends hands who had walked up. "Are you all right?" asked the friend. Nam simply smiled, then turned to the right as he walked past the restrooms toward the exit