The Legends of Poker series at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles is the first time that many pro poker players return to the tables after a post-WSOP break. Vacations have been taken, bank statements have been balanced, and the excitement for tournament poker has returned. And with that, players came to Los Angeles for the $10K buy-in World Poker Tour Legends of Poker main event.
Last year, the tournament was won by “Action” Dan Harrington in a hard-fought defeat of David “The Dragon” Pham. This week, as the final table neared, it had the potential to be a pro-filled one, but names like Layne Flack, Matt Keikoan, Maria Ho, and Allen Cunningham were sent to the rail. However, the final table still boasted of familiar live and online players, as well as those who made their mark with this filmed WPT appearance that will later be aired on Fox Sports.
The final table began just past 4pm on Thursday, August 28th, with the following seating assignments and chip counts:
Seat 1: Trong Nguyen 980,000
Seat 2: Amit Makhija 3,225,000
Seat 3: Paul Smith 1,130,000
Seat 4: John Phan 2,415,000
Seat 5: Zach Clark 2,025,000
Seat 6: Kyle Wilson 1,425,000
Play began at a slow pace, with no hand going to the flop until the 19th hand of the final table. And in that hand, action changed the make-up of the table.
John Phan came in for an initial raise, and Zach Clark made a reraise. Kyle Wilson pushed all-in from the big blind for his remaining 995K, and though Phan then folded, Clark called with . Wilson showed , but the board didn’t help that pair. It came , and Clark’s pair of Aces with the fives won the hand. Wilson was eliminated in sixth place for $176,035 in pocket change.
Going into five-handed play, Clark was closing in on chip leader Amit Makhija, both with over 3 million in chips. But only two hands later, Makhija took a sizable pot from Phan to climb up near the 4.5 million chip mark. It clearly wasn’t going to be easy for anyone to catch him.
Trong Nguyen tried to take a stand and chip up when he looked down at pocket sixes. Makhija called with A-K offsuit, and it was off to the dealer’s cards that came J-10-2-10-6. Nguyen successfully doubled up to about 1.3 million. In the very next hand, he got involved pre-flop with Makhija again by calling the raise from the big blind. After seeing on the flop, Nguyen led out and Makhija called. And the on the turn prompted an all-in move from Nguyen with , but Makhija called with . The river of the did nothing for Nguyen’s King high, and he was out in 5th place with $211,245.
Makhija came out of the tangle with a dominating chip lead, his 5,725,000 in chips towering over the other four players. He was comfortable to sit back and watch a subsequent hand play out between two of the shorter stacks. Paul Smith took his short stack all-in from the small blind, and Phan considered his options until the clock was called, then called with pocket eights. Smith turned over the A-7 of spades, and the flop was perfect for him with 9-7-7. The trips held up through the 10 on the turn but the 6 on the river gave Phan the straight. Smith took 4th place and $246,450 in prize money.
The next 50 hands would not see a terrific amount of action. Makhija stayed out in front while Phan and Clark battled it out for second spot on the leader board. Phan took a huge pot early on in that segment of final table play to put Clark in a somewhat desperate position, but Clark battled back and chipped back up to get even with Phan.
On the 92nd hand of the night, Phan was ready to move. He found his spot when Makhija raised from the small blind; Phan pushed all-in with pocket Aces, and Makhija had to show pocket tens. The board held up for Phan with Q-9-7-5-5, and he received a much-needed double-up and overtook Makhija for the chip lead for the first time at this final table.
That, however, would be a very short-lived situation. On the very next hand, Makhija limped from the button, Phan did the same from the small blind, but Clark came over both of them and moved all-in for just under 2 million from the big blind. Makhija called, and Phan exited the hand. Makhija showed , and Clark turned over . The dealer produced , and Aces were good to put Makhija back in the chip lead. Clark was sent away in 3rd place with $281,645.
Heads-up play started with hand #94 and the following chip counts:
Amit Makhija 6,440,000
John Phan 4,760,000
Action was fairly reserved for the first ten hands of the duo’s battle, but on the 12th hand, tensions were high. Makhija made the initial raise, and Phan reraised. Makhija came over the top all-in with , and Phan called with . The board looked to be on the chip leader’s side as it came , but the river card of saved Phan’s tournament life. Not only did Phan double up, but he moved into a dominating chip lead with 8,940,000 to Makhija’s new low stack of 2,260,000.
John Phan continued to increase his lead until the 108th hand when Makhija made his move with A-6 and was called by Phan’s Q-9. The board of K-Q-J-2-A kept up the suspense until the end when Makhija was able to obtain a much needed double-up. Several hands later, Makhija won another sizable pot and came close to Phan, making the counts almost even.
By the 131st hand, Makhija had become short again and moved with on a board, but his spade draw faced Phan’s two pair when he showed . The turn and river of and gave Makhija the runner-runner straight, and the chip lead once again. But only ten hands later, Phan had taken it back.
After three and a half hours of very intense heads-up play, it came to the 157th hand after 1:30am. Makhija pushed all-in for a little over 2 million with , and Phan called with . The board slowly came , and those pocket threes held up in the end. Amit Makhija was forced to accept 2nd place after a hard-fought battle, and he received $563,320 for that fight.
John Phan, who has had a tremendous year with two World Series of Poker victories and two previous WPT final table appearances, finally clinched his first WPT title. He was awarded $1,116,428 and a WPT bracelet for his long-awaited victory.
(Thanks to WPT Live Updates for specific hand and chip count information.)