The final table of Event #2 could have gone one of two ways. It could have been exciting with some familiar names fighting for the second World Series of Poker bracelet of 2008, or it could have been exciting to see some new faces and first-time final tablists compete for more money than they’ve ever seen at one time. Luckily, this provided a little of both.
The $1500 no-limit hold’em event was the second of the 2008 WSOP and the first one to ever be divided into two Day 1’s to maximize participation. It worked in that 3,929 players were able to enter, and it became the fourth largest poker tournament in the history of poker. And when the fields were combined for the second day of the tournament, the 447 players still in it comprised the largest restart, outside of a main event, in WSOP history. Records all around.
Despite the thrill of Day 2 and the bursting of the money bubble that enabled the final 378 players to finish in the money, it turned out to be a marathon that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. The plan, according to the ESPN and Harrah’s staffs, was to play to the final nine, then return ten hours later to film the final table. That, however, was becoming more and more unrealistic when there were 95 players left at 11pm, 45 players at 2:30am, and still 20 players just after 5:30am. Realizing that exhaustion was setting in and action could continue quite a few more hours, players took a vote to decide what to do. Some players did not vote, and those who did wanted to play on. However, not long after when 18 were left, another vote took place. This time, a majority of them voted and decided to suspend play.
As instructed by the tournament staff and ESPN consults, the final 18 returned to the Amazon Room at 1:30pm today to play down to the eventual winner. Aaron Coulthard was the chip leader, followed closely by Theo Tran. Also in the pack of 18 were Perry Friedman, Chris Ferguson, David Bach, and Minh Nguyen.
Eliminations took place as follows:
18th place – Elia Ahmadian by Theo Tran - $30,569
17th place – Brandon Blake by Grant Hinkle - $30,569
16th place – Frank Sinopoli by Aaron Coulthard - $30,569
15th place – Matthew Kearney by Jeff Wiedenhoeft - $41,295
14th place – Eric Hicks by Jeff Wiedenhoeft - $41,295
13th place – Josh Engerdahl by Melvin Jones - $41,295
12th place – Minh Nguyen by James Akenhead - $52,021
11th place – Perry Friedman by Theo Tran - $52,021
Amidst the player departures, Chris Ferguson was playing quite aggressively and doubled up several times. At one point, he was down to 7,500 chips when blinds were 4,000/8,000 with a 1,000 ante, but he never gave up and simply waited for his spots and pushed when required. After Friedman’s exit in 11th place, Ferguson pushed again, this time after Tran opened the pot, but it was Aaron Coulthard on the button who reraised to push Tran out. It was a race between Ferguson’s pocket 9’s and Coulthard’s A-K of spades, but no spades or Aces or Kings came on the board, and Ferguson got in position for the bracelet run.
Though the final table was supposed to be played nine-handed, the thought of losing Ferguson – the most well-known player at the table by far – may have played a role in the decision to make the TV table ten-handed. Players were sent on a dinner break at approximately 5pm, and the two-hour break would also be used to tape ESPN interviews. When they returned, the final table chip counts were as follows:
James Akenhead - 1,995,000
Aaron Coulthard - 1,510,000
Theo Tran - 1,420,000
Mike Ngo - 1,375,000
Melvin Jones - 1,280,000
Chris Ferguson - 1,235,000
Jeff Wiedenhoeft - 880,000
Joe Rutledge - 785,000
Grant Hinkle - 680,000
David Bach - 675,000
On the first hand under the ESPN lights, Wiedenhoeft raised, and Ngo called. Wiedenhoeft put it all in on the flop of and Ngo check-called. But when the cards were turned up, Ngo was ahead with , and Wiedenhoeft was left with and looked stunned. He admitted to his family in the audience that he read his cards wrong and was utterly disappointed in himself. The turn and river were and , and Wiedenhoeft was sent home, tail between legs, in 10th place for $52,021.
The next elimination was a little over a dozen hands later when Joe Rutledge pushed with a low stack with pocket 6’s and Ferguson called with A-9. The board came A-10-8-Q-7, and Rutledge was gone in 9th place with $83,127.
Action slowed a bit as the money jumps increased, as did the pressure. On the 28th hand of the night, David Bach started the hand with a raise, and Tran and Ferguson called from the blinds. Upon a flop of K-9-5 rainbow, players checked around. The turn was a 3, which prompted Bach to move all-in. Tran reraised all-in to successfully push Ferguson out, and cards were showed. Bach had 7-6 for the straight draw, and Tran had J-9 for middle pair. The river was a 2, and Bach was the 8th place finisher for $117,987.
At that point, Theo Tran sat very near the chip lead of James Akenhead but not too far ahead of Mike Ngo. Then Tran’s roller coaster ride began. On a board of 10-6-3-J-Q against Ngo, Tran was faced with an all-in call and folded what he said were pocket Aces. Thusly, he was bothered when Ngo showed pocket 4’s. Next, Coulthard doubled through Tran when his pocket 7’s found a set on the flop and cracked Tran’s pocket Aces.
Tran came back to double through Melvin Jones though, when his pocket Queens held up against Jones’ A-J offsuit. Jones was then short-stacked and moved all-in on the very next hand for his last 445K with Q-10. Tran called with pocket Aces (again), and though Jones flopped a Queen, he couldn’t improve and was eliminated in 7th place for $158,211.
Two players became very aggressive – Grant Hinkle and Chris Ferguson. Once the final table passed the 80th hand, Hinkle had taken a massive chip lead and sat with 3,650,000, while Ferguson was second in chips with 1.8 million. The tables had turned, so to speak.
Aaron Coulthard, who came to the final table with the chip lead, had sunken to short status. In a pot that began with Akenhead raising initially, Coulthard came over the top with . Akenhead called with . The board showed , and Coulthard was sent home to get some sleep with $211,841 to put under his pillow for his 6th place finish.
Soon after, chip leader Hinkle raised from the small blind, and Ngo reraised all-in for 1.6 million with A-K, and Hinkle called with A-J. The board came Q-5-3-8-J, and the river gave it to Hinkle. Ngo was in a bit of shock but had to leave in 5th place with $268,154 in prize money.
Tran boarded his roller coaster again, and in the 90th hand of the night, he pushed all-in for 1.5 million from the small blind. Ferguson came over the top to get Hinkle, the initial raiser, to fold. Ferguson showed pocket 8’s, and Tran laid out A-K. The dealer showed J-10-3-K-6, and Tran skyrocketed to nearly 3 million.
Only a few hands later, Tran and Hinkle tangled. Hinkle raised pre-flop, and Tran called. On the flop, Hinkle bet, and Tran check-called. When the turn brought an , the same action took place. And an on the river brought a check from Tran, all-in from Hinkle, and quick call from Tran. Tran showed for trips with a good kicker, but Hinkle had for the full house. A disappointed Theo Tran was gone in 4th place with $327,148.
Ferguson has been crippled to about 225,000 from his loss to Tran, but he soon moved all-in and found himself up against Akenhead. Ferguson was the underdog with K-8, Akenhead with A-Q. The board came K-6-2-7-5, and Ferguson doubled up to stay alive. And he doubled up again soon after with A-8 against Hinkle’s Q-J, putting him second in chips.
That was temporary. Akenhead doubled through Ferguson with pocket Aces against Ferguson’s J-7 of hearts. Then under a million in chips, Ferguson looked for his spot and found it with , but Akenhead called with . The board was disappointing to the crowd and Ferguson with , and he was forced to depart in 3rd place with $388,287. (This was Ferguson’s 48th career WSOP cash, putting him in 5th place on the all-time list, and his 27th WSOP final table, putting him 4th on that list.)
Heads-up action began on hand #106 with the following chip counts:
There were no all-in hands for awhile, but Akenhead was very persistent and tried to slowly but surely chip away at Hinkle’s chip lead. After nearly 40 uneventful hands, Akenhead took a bit of a lead but Hinkle wasn’t having it. He started pushing and putting the pressure on his opponent and finally took his chips back.
With Hinkle in the lead again, it was hand #160 that took place after 4:30am – 13 hours after play began the day before. Hinkle raised from the button, Akenhead reraised, and Hinkle moved all-in with to be called quickly by Akenhead who had . Hinkle’s bluff paid off when the flop unbelievably came . The turn and river were and respectively, and Hinkle won the hand with quad 10’s!
James Akenhead finished the tournament in second place for a prize of $520,219.
Grant Hinkle won the $1,500 no-limit hold’em event, the second tournament of the 2008 World Series of Poker. He won $831,462 and the coveted gold bracelet for his endurance, patience, and willingness to take a risk. Congratulations!