In only its fourth year, the $50K H.O.R.S.E. tournament has become one of the biggest attractions - for players and fans alike - at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Not only are the fields inclusive of the most recognizable and popular names in tournament poker, but the prize pools usually soar into the multi-million dollar range and allow for the winner to take home well over $1 million.
The 2009 event had a bit of a twist. Registration was low, much lower than the previous three years and lower than any of the tournament staff anticipated. There were 143 players in 2006 and 148 players in 2007 and 2008. And though factors like the economy, lack of ESPN coverage, and drained bankrolls from the $40K NLHE tournament, were on the minds of everyone, it was still a bit of a shock to see that only 95 players entered the 2009 $50K H.O.R.S.E. event. The tournament staff indicated that they were not truly disappointed with the turnout, and in fact, the prize pool still soared to $4,560,000 with a first prize of $1,276,806.
Only 16 players would be paid, though. That meant that 75 of the players who bought in to the tournament for $50,000 would leave without any compensation for their work. Players started the event with that notion in mind, and by the end of Day 1, only four players exited the event. Day 2 found the field thinned down to 53, and Day 3 took it down to 19 players.
Day 4 looked to hit the money right away, but Todd Brunson and Brett Richey were not meant to take home any money. And Frank Kassela had the dubious honor of being the tournament’s bubble player, as he succumbed to Ray Dehkharghani on the bubble to be ousted in 17th place. The money finishers for the remainder of that day, as they approached the final table, were:
16th place: John Kabbaj ($72,914)
15th place: Steve Billirakis ($72,914)
14th place: Freddy Deeb ($83,630)
13th place: Tony Guoga ($83,630)
12th place: David Chiu ($99,590)
11th place: Ray Dehkharghani ($99,590)
10th place: Mike Wattel ($123,895)
After the last nine players took their seats at one table, they looked to eliminate one more player in order to find the eight finalists. Ultimately, it was Gus Hansen who got involved in an Omaha-8 hand with Chau Giang and Vitaly Lunkin on a flop. Once the turn brought the , Lunkin got out of the way and Giang showed , and his trip kings were certainly good against the hand of Hansen. An on the river sent Hansen packing in ninth place, along with $123,895, and the final table was then set for Tuesday, June 30, as follows:
Seat 1: Ville Wahlbeck 645,000
Seat 2: Erik Sagstrom 3,675,000
Seat 3: John Hanson 1,700,000
Seat 4: Huck Seed 1,380,000
Seat 5: Vitaly Lunkin 2,490,000
Seat 6: David Bach 2,345,000
Seat 7: Erik Seidel 965,000
Seat 8: Chau Giang 1,075,000
The final table action started predictably slow, but it was Seidel that found himself struggling the most to stay alive. In a stud-8 round, Bach took a pot from Seidel, and Seed scooped a pot that involved Seidel and Giang. That led Seidel to become committed on another stud-8 hand.
Initially, Lunkin and Bach joined Seidel, and the three called Lunkin’s bets all the way down to the river. But it was after the river that Seidel was forced to make that call for the rest of his chips, which he did with and three unknown down cards. Bach showed () for trip eights and the high, and Lunkin showed () for the seven low. Erik Seidel was gone in eighth place with $162,382 to show for it.
Very soon after, in the hold’em round, Chau Giang got involved with Sagstrom to see the flop come . The betting led to raising, and Giang reraised all-in with . Sagstrom called with and the better kicker to the pair of queens. The turn brought the and more outs for Giang, but the on the river only solidified his exit in seventh place with $184,087.
The final six players started their action with Sagstrom in the lead but Lunkin pushing to catch up. Seed and Wahlbeck were the shortest stacks, both under the 1.2 million mark and needing to gather chips soon.
Over the next two hours, all of the players refused to go. And it was Lunkin who became very aggressive and took a significant lead over the pack with more than 4.7 million in chips. Sagstrom and Hanson were holding in second and third, with Wahlbeck following. Seed had fallen to 900K, and Bach was on the shortest stack with only 795K.
Play slowed tremendously. After Giang was eliminated at approximately 4:20pm, it took hours - nearly five of them including a dinner break - for another elimination to occur.
It was Wahlbeck who had been struggling to stay alive. Not afraid to move all-in as the night went on, he chopped pots several times to stay alive. But finally, he got involved with Bach to see a flop. More betting led to the on the turn, at which point Bach bet enough to put his opponent all-in, and Wahlbeck called with . Bach showed . Wahlbeck was unable to hit any of his outs on the river, and Ville Wahlbeck was eliminated in sixth place with a $219,655 consolation prize.
Next up was Huck Seed, who was down to 195K and all-in from the big blind as Lunkin, Sagstrom, and Hanson came along for the ride. All three stuck around for the flop, turn, and on the river, at which point Hanson showed for top pair. Lunkin and Sagstrom folded, and Seed mucked his unknown cards to accept a fifth place exit and the $276,610 that went with it.
Another few hours of action led to the eventual downfall of Lunkin, who found his three opponents chipping away at him and leaving him on the short stack. Lunkin got involved with Sagstrom in a stud-8 hand that led to Lunkin reraising all-in on sixth street with (), but the trip eights were no good when Sagstrom showed (). Lunkin’s last card was the , and Sagstrom received a , which ended Vitaly Lunkin’s run at another bracelet in fourth place. He received $368,813 for the effort.
Players then saw Sagstrom lose his grasp on the lead over the next few hours and fall into an Omaha-8 hand for the last of his chips. All three remaining players went to see a flop, at which point Hanson bet and Sagstrom pushed all-in. Hanson reraised, and Bach called. More betting between Hanson and Bach came after the , but after the on the river, the two players checked. Hanson showed two eights in his hand, which turned out to be the best hand, and Erik Sagstrom was gone in third place with $522,394.
Heads-up started at approximately 3:30am with both players exactly even in chips - 7.1 million each. David Bach and John Hanson looked tired but were prepared to battle it out for the title.
And battle is what they did. They played for hours, and no matter who took the lead at any particular time, the other always came back to even the score.
It wasn’t until nearly 10am that David Bach pushed ahead. And just before then, the two played the 485th hand of the H.O.R.S.E. final table, which beat the record for the 2008 WSOPE main event. But Bach soared ahead on the Omaha-8 round, taking a substantial lead over Hanson and relegating him to less than one million chips.
The last hand came in razz, where Hanson started with showing, and Bach had . After Hanson brought it in and Bach completed, more raising led to fourth street, and Hanson finally committed the rest of his chips at that point. After all of the cards were dealt, Hanson had ()(), and Bach showed ()(). Bach’s 9-7-6-4-A was the winning hand, and Hanson had to accept second place and $789,199 for a valiant effort.
David Bach became the 2009 $50K H.O.R.S.E. World Champion, receiving $1,276,802 and the Chip Reese Memorial trophy for the feat. Congratulations!