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Poker News | World Series of Poker | WSOP2007

Hoang "Johnny" To Wins Lake Tahoe's WSOP Circuit Event 1

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Down 11 to 1 heads-up, California real estate appraiser enjoys exciting reversal of fortune

Stateline , NV - At approximately 6:00 pm on a crisp Saturday night at Harvey's Lake Tahoe, Hoang To, who goes by "Johnny," was in a serious jam. Two hours earlier, he had arrived at his first tournament final table ever with a sizable chip lead, only to see those chips gradually disappear and be divided amongst his eight opponents. Now, down to a heads-up duel, Johnny To's conservative strategy had backfired, enabling Elmer Fulgencio to flaunt a seemingly insurmountable 11 to 1 chip lead.

For Fulgencio, first place seemed but a single hand, a card, and a fleeting moment away. Ten minutes later, Fulgencio remained on the crest of victory, although Johnny To had closed the gap to about 6 to 1 in chips. Twenty minutes later, the two rivals were about even. After another half hour, Johnny To won the final hand of the night and won the most unlikely to roller-coaster tournament victories, one which left even the most experienced tournament observers stunned and bewildered. In essence, it was the perfect ending to a two-day event that was nearly a record-setter.

The World Series of Poker Circuit stormed into Harvey's Lake Tahoe this week, marking the fourth consecutive year the casino-resort has hosted the world most prestigious poker tournament series. The first of ten scheduled events, a $340 buy-in no-limit hold'em tournament, attracted a whopping 484 players, making it the second largest tournament ever held at Lake Tahoe. Only the first event of the inaugural season had more entries (with 542).

After 475 players had been eliminated on the first day, the nine finalists returned to the feature table on day two. It was an all-California final table, as each player dwelled in The Golden State. A packed standing-room-only gallery was treated to a dramatic ending and made the final table every bit as exciting as any million-dollar event shown on television. Johnny To enjoyed a significant chip advantage when play resumed, with 364,000 in his stack - which represented about a quarter of all the chips in play. His closest rival was "Brazilian Dan" Araujo, with 209,000. Blinds started at 6,000-12,000. Players and chip counts began as follows:

Seat 1: Bryan Powers 160,000
Seat 2: Chris Lambert 101,000
Seat 3: Ronald Matsuara 100,000
Seat 4: Johnny To 364,000
Seat 5: Bob Medlyn 176,000
Seat 6: Jake Thomas 29,000
Seat 7: Brazilian Dan 209,000
Seat 8: Rich Orchid 143,000
Seat 9: Elmer Fulgencio 170,000

Players were eliminated in the following order:

9th Place - Jake Thomas arrived with the lowest stack, and predictably went out quickly. He doubled up on the third hand of play but was eliminated quickly thereafter when his A-6 was crunched by Elmer Fulgencio's pocket jacks. Thomas, a 46-year-old contractor from coastal Monterey, CA nailed down $2,253 for ninth place.

8th Place - A few hands later, Bryan Powers was getting short-stacked and moved all-in with A-8 offsuit. He failed to make a pair and ended up as the eighth-place finisher. Powers, who works on the railroads, steamed off with $3,098 in prize money.

7th Place - Next, it was Rich Orchid's turn to wilt away. He took a tough beat when his A-K was poisoned by Brazilian Dan's pocket aces. Orchid picked up a few extra outs when the flop came J-10-9, which presented an inside-straight draw. But two blanks on the turn and river sealed Orchid's fate. The construction manager from Chico, CA - who has made final tables at previous WSOP Circuit events - had to settle for seventh place this time, good for $4,225.

6th Place - Despite being involved in several key hands, "Brazilian Dan" Araujo was unable to generate the momentum necessary to become a force. On his final hand, he was low on chips and lost to a pair of aces, held by Ronald Matsuura. Dan was born in Brazil, hence his nickname. He now lives locally in South Lake Tahoe and plays regularly inside the Harvey's poker room. Sixth place paid $5,635.

5th Place - Despite winning a few key pots, Ronald Matsuura's finally luck ran out when he lost to Dan Medlyn's straight. That put Matsuura, who had started the day eighth in chips, out as the fifth-place finisher. He earned $7,184 in prize money.

4th Place - As play entered only the second hour, more than half the final table had vanished. As blinds increased and players busted out, Bob Medlyn, Jr. gradually shifted into overdrive and seized the chip lead. In one the biggest hands of the tournament, Medlyn made a courageous call which resulted in the elimination of one player, and give him the chip lead over his remaining two rivals. Medlyn was dealt A-9 and called a pre-flop raise by Chris Lambert, holding K-K. The flop came A-Q-6. The turn brought a J, and Lambert moved all-in. Staring at three big cards and holding a pair of aces with a questionable kicker, Medlyn thought for a long time and revealed his hand to try and get a reaction from his opponent (an act that resulted in being slapped with a penalty after the hand was completed). He eventually announced, "I call." Lambert meekly revealed pocket kings, and failed to improve his hand. That meant a fourth-place finish for the Sacramento poker player, worth $9,719 in prize money.

3rd Place - Incredibly, those chips would not remain with Medlyn very long. Just as it appeared Medlyn might run away with the top prize, he got into a huge confrontation with Elmer Fulgencio. On what turned out to be a deadly hand for Medlyn, he made the nut flush only to lose against Fulgencio's full house. In a single hand, Medlyn had gone from the prohibitive favorite to a disappointing third-place showing, worth $14,508 in earnings. Medlyn, a 28-year-old resident of Grass Valley, CA took the defeat in stride, which set up an epic battle to follow. It took two hours to get to the final two players. Heads-up play went for 40 hands and nearly an hour.

2nd Place - Up to this point, Johnny To had been eerily silent much of the time. He had rarely played a hand and avoided getting involved with any of his opponents. The upside was that Johnny To had coasted into (at worst) second place. The downside was that Johnny To appeared hopelessly outchipped and nearly out of the game. One might have thought Johnny To was content with his runner up status and over twenty grand in guaranteed prize money. But such an opinion would prove premature. Something happened at about 6 pm on this night. Before the eyes of hundreds of spectators and an increasingly flustered chip leader named Elmer Fulgencio, Johnny To turned into a fire-breathing dragon guided by an omnipotent force. Although at a grace disadvantage during most of heads-up play, he flat out did everything right in what was a stunning display of poker skill.

Down about 11 to 1 in chips, Johnny To won his first crucial hand by moving all-in after the flop. From his body language, it was apparent that Fulgencio wanted to call in that spot, but decided to fold instead. Who knows how the final results might have differed had Fulgencio made a crying call at that moment. Of the three dozen or so key hands that were played in the duel, two stood out. Fulgencio unintentionally put his opponent back into contention when he moved all-in with A-Q and lost to Johnny To's A-K. It was a very bad break for Fulgencio, as the cards could have been reversed and the outcome of the tournament would have been quite different. Both players managed to catch an ace, but Johnny To's king played as the higher kicker. Several hands later, Fulgencio decided to gamble aggressively by moving all in after the flop with a spade flush draw. It proved to be a case of bad timing, as Johnny To had flopped two pair on the hand. A spade failed to rescue Fulgencio, which meant Johnny To had regained the chip lead after wallowing in obscurity during the first two-thirds of the finale.
The final hand of the night was dealt after Johnny To had continued to apply steady pressure and was able to gain a 3 to 1 chip lead. Fulgencio (10-6) made a pair of sixes when the final board showed Q-9-8-6-5, but Johnny To (8-6) made two pair and stole the tournament away from Fulgencio. As the runner up, the San Francisco State University student collected $21,832 in prize money.

1st Place - Johnny To played possum before transforming himself into what turned out to be an unstoppable force. He earned $35,634 for first place. This marked the first tournament victory ever for the 31-year-old real estate appraiser from Elk Grove. Cheered on by his wife throughout the second day, Johnny To proved that patience can indeed be a virtue in tournament poker. Tournaments are not won in the early or middle stages, but many are certainly lost. His impressive comeback victory once again demonstrates that no chip lead is ever safe. The only thing that is certain at the poker table - is the uncertainty.

For more information, please contact:
Nolan Dalla -- WSOP Media Director at (702) 358-4642
Or visit our official website:

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