On November 5th, the night after the U.S. elected Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, poker players gathered in Mashantucket, Connecticut for the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods. They brought their own version of “hope” to the tournament tables as they looked to become the next World Poker Tour champion.
The first of two first days of play found a relatively small field of 162 players, and the notable player names seemed to be somewhat sparse as compared to past WPT events. In the crowd were Erik Seidel, T.J. Cloutier, Joe Sebok, David Pham, Josh Arieh, Chad Brown, Kathy Liebert, Vanessa Rousso, Tony Ma, Svetlana Gromenkova, Jonathan Little, and 2007 champion Mike Vela.
Names like Cloutier and Ma were among the first to go, as was Vela who would not be repeating as title-holder at Foxwoods. And when the WPT crew did their end-of-the-day report, only 99 players remained in the field. Jason Potter was in the top spot on the leaderboard with 183,825 chips, and other recognizable names in the top ten included Jonathan Jaffe in fourth, Kevin Saul in fifth, Jonathan Little in sixth, and David Pham in tenth.
As is often the case, it was Day 1B that produced a more substantial list of names as participants, including Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, Mike Matusow, Freddy Deeb, Men Nguyen, Ted Forrest, John Phan, Andy Bloch, Michael Binger, Chris Bell, Victor Ramdin, Chris Ferguson, David Singer, Matt Matros, Eli Elezra, Bill Gazes, Anna Wroblewski, Jason Mercier, David Levi, and John D’Agostino. When everyone had been counted, the total came to 250 for the second starting day, putting the entire field total at 412, significantly shy of the 2007 total of 575.
As the day progressed, Giang started off as the first elimination, and others like Phan and Elezra followed shortly thereafter. By the end of it, there were 151 players left with Phil Ivey as the day’s chip leader with 183,825, the exact same number as Potter from the previous day. Gavin Smith also made it into the top ten, as did Frankie Flowers, Dan Heimiller, Jason Mercier, and Chris Ferguson.
The official numbers for the 2008 World Poker Finals were in, and the aforementioned number of 412 players created a prize pool of $3,876,508. There would be 50 places paid, with 50th place paying $21,320, and the winner would receive $1,120,310.
A total of 250 players returned on Day 2 to compete for the chance at that prize pool, and as the day progressed, it was Jonathan Jaffe who emerged as the solid chip leader. He ended with 522,000, significantly more than Larry Greenberg, who held the second spot at the end of the day. Though the top ten was mostly a list of relative unknowns on the tournament circuit, there were a few recognizable names further down the list, like Freddy Deeb in 12th, Chris Ferguson in 13th, and Kevin Saul in 19th. Others still in contention were Phil Ivey , Daniel Negreanu, and Gavin Smith.
Day 3 began with 91 players, and the tension was high as it was going to be the day that the money bubble burst. Victor Ramdin, Anna Wroblewski, Allen Kessler, Dan Heimiller, and Michael Binger were all eliminated prior to the money, and with Toto Leonidas gone in 52nd place, hand-for-hand play began. Then it was Jonathan Little who took his pocket nines into battle against the pocket eights of his opponent, and the holder of the eights was the 51st place bubble player.
That made way for Joshua Flamm to cash in 50th place for $21,320, and others who followed were Chris Ferguson in 43rd place, Svetlana Gromenkova in 41st, and Michael Carroll in 37th. The elimination of Daniel Negreanu in 35th place wasn’t the kind of finish the pro was looking for but tied him with Erik Seidel, Barry Greenstein, and Lee Markholt for the most (17) cashes in WPT tournaments.
The day ended with Jonathan Jaffe maintaining his chip lead with 1.1 million, followed closely by Mike Matusow with 1,076,500 in chips. Rounding out the top five were Tom Nguyen, Carl Restifo, and Ron Kirsh. Still in contention were Little, Smith, Deeb, Ivey, Pham, and Saul.
Only 33 players returned for Day 4 for five levels of action or the determination of the last nine players, the former winning out in the end. The first bustout occurred early with Danny Shiff taking $21,320 for 33rd place. Eliminations continued with Freddy Deeb in 28th place, Will Failla in 25th, Jeff King in 24th, Gavin Smith in 22nd, and Phil Ivey in 21st place. After play stopped for a redraw, one hand was already in progress that resulted in the elimination of Kevin Saul in 18th place, which prompted the reseating of the final 17 players at two tables.
On the second hand of two-table play, Larry Greenberg was knocked out by Jon Friedberg in 17th place, which was when the rest of the players tightened up considerably. Bill Gazes was taking some chances and doubled up, then sent Richard Dabal home in 16th place and Patrick Kelly home in 15th. Gazes then went on a roller coaster ride when Little doubled through him but then doubled through Pham to stay alive. Finally, Gazes was relegated to 14th place, which was worth $32,950, at the hands of Matusow.
Alex Bolotin took 13th place, followed by Carl Restifo in the 12th spot and Jon Friedberg in 11th. And not long after the remaining ten players took seats at one table, play ended for the day with Matusow as the chip leader and Jaffe in second place on the leaderboard.
Day 5 began with the elimination of Tom Nguyen in 10th place, courtesy of Dimitri Haskaris, but it then took quite some time before the next player hit the rail. Finally, Henry Doiban left the tournament in 9th, Haskaris was out in 8th, and Anthony Newman in 7th. With that, the final table was set for the following day as follows:
Seat 1: David Pham 2,038,000
Seat 2: Jonathan Jaffe 4,131,000
Seat 3: Jonathan Little 2,021,000
Seat 4: Charles Marchese 1,718,000
Seat 5: Jack Schanbacher 1,592,000
Seat 6: Mike Matusow 845,000
On November 11th, the final six competitors took their seats at the coveted WPT final table to play for the title and over a million dollars. Pham was clearly the most experienced coming to his seventh WPT final table, and Matusow was entering his fourth, both looking for their first WPT titles. Little was also counting this as his fourth final table, and his victory at the Season 6 Mirage Poker Showdown and title of WPT Season 6 Player of the Year gave him incentive to repeat. The others were amateurs in comparison, setting it up for an interesting table.
Slow and steady was the name of the game as the action got underway. It wasn’t until the 19th hand of play that a major change occurred at the table. Jack Schanbacher, after having lost ground since the start, doubled up to more than 2.3 million through Jonathan Jaffe. On the very next hand, Mike Matusow did the same - doubled through Jaffe to stay alive with a little over 1.2 million.
Finally, several rounds later, Matusow put himself at risk again. With just under 1 million in chips, he pushed all-in from the button. Jonathan Little called with pocket nines, and Matusow showed . The board didn’t help Matusow in the race with , and he was the first to go in sixth place with a $124,048 prize.
Next, Schanbacher again put his tournament life on the line, and he did it preflop for his last 800,000. David Pham called, but Little reraised from the small blind to 1.5 million. Pham folded pocket tens up, Little showed pocket queens, and Schanbacher turned over . The board brought , and it was over for Schanbacher in fifth place, which was worth $182,196.
Charlie Marchese suddenly became more active at the table, first doubling through Jaffe to get a bit more comfortable with more than 1.6 million. And four hands later, when Pham moved all-in for 740K, Marchese called with . Pham showed pocket deuces, and the dealer gave them . David “The Dragon” Pham was ousted from the tournament in fourth place with $240,344.
With three players remaining, play slowed tremendously. Marchese hung in there with the two big-stacked Jonathans for quite awhile, and finally chose to make a move with for his last 1.69 million. He was called by Little and his pocket queens, and they watched the cards come . Little’s queens held up, and Marchese was eliminated in third place, taking with him $337,256.
The two remaining players launched the heads-up match at the beginning of Level 25, with blinds of 40K/80K, a 10K ante, and the following chip counts:
Jonathan Jaffe 6,630,000
Jonathan Little 5,715,000
Just into heads-up play, Little took the chip lead, basically reversing the starting chip counts. Though Jaffe subsequently lost ground over the next almost 20 hands, Jaffe then doubled through Little to jump up over the 7 million chip mark. Jaffe continued to roll, taking a 3.15 million chip pot from Little a few hands later.
The double-ups continued, and the chip lead was exchanged numerous times over the course of the next few levels. Little seemed to have the most difficult time keeping up and keeping any sort of lead, but neither player could seem to get a lead that stuck for very long. And as the process continued, the two players beat the WPT record for heads-up action by playing more than 110 hands.
Though Jaffe seemed to have the upper hand late into the night by finally crossing into 10-million chip territory, Little made the ultimate comeback. With little more than 2 million in chips, he doubled through Jaffe with J-10 versus A-3, then again with K-5 against the pocket eights of Jaffe when he four-flushed on the river. Little then had the chip lead going into the final hand.
Little made the initial raise to 850K, and Jaffe pushed all-in with . Little called with and the dominating hand. The board ran out . Jonathan Jaffe was forced out in second place, and he received $670,636 for his amazing efforts.
After 170 hands of heads-up play, Jonathan Little won the WPT Foxwoods World Poker Finals, earning his second WPT title in only two seasons, along with another WPT bracelet, a trophy, and $1,120,310 in prize money.
(Thanks to WPT Live Updates for specific hand and chip count information.)