Ireland's Alan Smurfit nursed a short stack masterfully then battled Qushqar Morad for five hours and 167 hands to take down the $1.5k PLO w/Re-Buys.
The PLO w/Re-Buys was tailor-made for the top, gambly pros, and the top players in poker turned out for the three-day event. After 880 re-buys and add-on's, the prize pool created by the 293 entrants stood at a whopping $1,684,305. Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, John Juanda, Robert Williamson III, Josh Arieh, Sam Farha, Gavin Smith, Mike Matusow, Andy Bloch, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson -you name them, they were either in the event or deep somewhere else.
Michael Binger was third in chips after Day 1, continuing a very strong WSOP this year. Forty-nine players made it into Day 2, with the top twenty-seven cashing. The last out on Day 1 was Josh Arieh, the chipleader until the last two hours.
Chau Giang came back from the brink to make the Final Table. He was all-in pre-flop with Dave "El Blondie" Colclough. Colclough showed to Giang's . Giang caught a diamond flush on the turn to double up then ran with the chips to make the last nine players. Johnny Chan wanted his eleventh bracelet, but Julian Gardner took him midway through Day 2.
Those making the money but falling short of the Final Table demonstrate the level of quality in this field:
10 Erick Lindgren ($21,054)
12 Rafael Perry ($21,054)
15 Michael Binger ($19,370)
18 Allen Cunningham ($17,685)
19 Julian Gardner ($16,001)
22 David "Devilfish" Ulliot ($16,001)
24 David Williams ($16,001)
Breaking the ten players down to a final nine was an exciting process. First, Chris Bjorin and Chau Giang got all their chips in the middle. Both held aces and chopped the massive pot. Then Alan Smurfit moved all-in for 32k, and Giang and Van Marcus called and checked down the hand. Smurfit showed to triple up. It was a foreshadowing of the Final Table as Smurfit showed he knew how to nurse a short stack. Qushqar Morad knocked out Erick Lindgren to stop play for the evening. The Final Table had lost its brand names and replaced it with a host of terrific players:
Qushqar Morad (995k)
Chris Bjorin (605k)
Brandon Adams (500k)
Chau Giang (360k)
Hilbert Shirey (335k)
Van Marcus (220k)
Robert Fellner (210k)
Sunny Nijran (195k)
Alan Smurfit (95k)
The man from Afghanistan had the chip lead. This was his second Final Table, his second cash, and he hoped his second victory. He won the 2002 $5k Seven Card Stud ($172,960), and it would be a real coup if he could match that with another bracelet.
Blinds were 10k/20k, and one player left on the second hand. Hilbert Shirey raised UTG, and Morad called from the CO. The flop came , and Shirey led out with an all-in bet. Morad called and showed to Shirey's , but a ruling was required because Shirey in fact had overbet the pot. The tournament director determined that they were all-in, and Hilbert Shirey was gone in 9th ($30,317).
Smurfit was all-in against Giang and dodged a gutshot and turned spade flush draw to double up with his . Nijran doubled through Morad, then Marcus doubled through Bjorin. All this action in the first fifteen hands, and it looked like it would be a short Final Table with everyone attacking anything that moved.
Morad busted Sunny Nijran in a hand that shows why PLO is such a sick game. On a flop of , Nijran moved all-in on Morad's pot-sized bet. He had against Morad's . did nothing but the lowest card of the deck, , sent Sunny Nijran to a cloudy demise (8th $42,108). Giang then caught a Broadway straight to bust a short-stacked Robert Fellner (7th $57,266). Smurfit again doubled through Morad, a couple who would dance through the night.
Chip counts with six players remaining:
Qushqar Morad (1.15m)
Alan Smurfit (630k)
Brandon Adams (565k)
Van Marcus (410k)
Chris Bjorin (370k)
Chau Giang (365k)
In another sick hand, Morad got all of Adams' chips in the middle on a flop. Morad showed [ and Adams had . The spiked was a brutal blow, and Brandon Adams finished in 6th ($75,795). He took another scalp when he flopped a Broadway straight that held up against the set of tens of Chau Giang (5th $96,005). He left with his three WSOP bracelets in tow, and the last four had Qushqar Morad solidly in the lead (1.72m), with Alan Smurfit (770k), Chris Bjorin (660k), and Van Marcus (395k) in pursuit.
Maybe pursuit is not the right word. It looked more like how kudzu attacks a roadside in Northern Alabama. Play reverted to Limit Omaha, with blinds folded to raises, buttons limped, big blinds receiving walks. It was a stark departure from what most PLO tables look like today, with pot-pot-pot. The three wanted to chip away at Morad, and they did bring him down to 1.4m at one point. He then ramped up to 2.18m, and the short stacks of Marcus and Bjorin tangled.
Bjorin was the most experienced player at the table after Chau Giang left. He's won two bracelets and almost had a third at the $2.5k HORSE event (3rd $83,249). Marcus raised UTG, and Bjorin called from the big blind. He checked the flop, and Marcus bet the pot. Bjorin called for his last 125k in chips with . The top pair had a lot of work ahead as Marcus showed for a flush draw, a gutshot straight draw, and three overcards. was safe, but gave Marcus the flush and Chris Bjorin the 4th place finish ($129,691).
Morad had a monster chip lead, but Smurfit eased up to 1m over the next dozen hands. He limped from the small blind, a pattern that he rarely changed unless he mucked. Marcus checked, and the flop came . Marcus said, "Pot." Smurfit said "Pot." Marcus said "All-in," then turned over to Smurfit's [. The case six was the only hope of survival for Van Marcus, but ended by far his best run ever (3rd $190,326).
Qushqar Morad (2.21m)
Alan Smurfit (1.3m)
These two players would become very familiar with the 3.5m chips in play, because each of them would have a chance to hold almost all of them. It was a 167 hand, five hour grudge match. Morad had his six railbirds to cheer him on, and Smurfit's six included Dan Alspach and JJ Liu. It was actually 6 ½ as Liu looked ready to pop out a seventh any minute. Eskimo Clark almost died during a Final Table, and Liu could have given birth as it looked like these two would play for several days.
At one point early on, Smurfit got to 1.6m to Morad's 1.9m. "Let's chop up the prize money 50/50," Smurfit said. "60/40," replied Morad. It was the last they would speak of a chop.
It was hand after hand of limped, checked-down pots. Pre-flop raises happened rarely, probably less than 10% of the time. Folded blinds were more common than pre-flop raises. Smurfit particularly showed extreme patience, checking down K-K on a jack high board once. Smurfit hovered in the 1m range then gradually dropped to 500k. He made a stand with vs. Morad's . were dealt, then Smurfit said, "Another five, please. was good enough to double him up. He stayed behind for the first sixty hands then took the chip lead.
Smurfit limped, then Morad raised to 240k. He called, and the flop came . Morad checked, and Smurfit bet the pot of 480k, which Morad called. came on the turn, and Morad checked. Smurfit put in his last 185k, and Morad called with to Smurfit's . gave Smurfit a full house, the pot, and 1.84m to Morad's 1.68m.
Morad quickly took the chip lead back and built his stack over 2m again. Smurfit showed no signs of flightiness nor impatience. The blinds move up each level reaching 80k/160k, and still he took his precious time with his precious chips. He grabbed the chip lead only to see Morad do the same. Smurfit finally jumped up to 2.57m by check-raising pre-flop-raised pot on a flop of and watching Morad fold after some time. Morad got down to 650k but climbed back, hand by brutal hand. Finally, after 116 hands, they were even again, with Smurfit up by 15k in chips.
Smurfit went on another big run to build a 2m chip advantage only to see Morad double through yet again. He limped for 120k, Smurfit raised to 320k, and Morad called. The flop came , and Smurfit checked. Morad bet 300k, Smurfit bet pot, and Morad called for all of his chips. Smurfit flopped a straight with , and Morad had two pair and a straight draw with . meant a turned full house to double up and leave Smurfit with only 500k, which he doubled to 1m on the next hand.
Smurfit took a 480k pot then re-potted Morad's button raise for 1m to take the chip lead back. Straight over two pair, two pair beaten by a flopped baby set, three queens on the board with the fourth lady underneath. You name it, these two had it. Put David Williams and Josh Arieh in these two seats and the table would have been over literally fifty times over.
The last hand couldn't have been scripted any better. Smurfit limped, Morad checked, the flop came , Morad potted, Smurfit potted, and Morad called. He had for a straight draw and a pair of nines. Smurfit showed for jacks and eights. gave Morad trip sixes, and now Smurfit needed a jack or an eight to fill up. Suckout, re-suckout when hit the river.
"He got very lucky when he was so short," said Qushqar Morad. His runner-up finish for $279,595 could have been more if he'd chopped with Smurfit four hours earlier.
Alan Smurfit made his money from the family packaging business until the company was sold to Stone Container to create Smurfit-Stone. Rather than retire, the Irishman has pursued poker as his next thing to master. He's played for the last three years mainly in Europe, winning tournaments in both NLH and PLO. Like his fellow competitor, this win was his first cash (1st $464,867).
He showed incredible patience. "Yes that's the word, patience," he said with JJ Liu, Dan Alspach, and his friends standing nearby. "I just had the desire to win and did not want to lose. I played my game regardless of my chips or my situation. I just always tried to wait and get my money in the best position." That and the patience of Job was just enough to give him his first WSOP bracelet.