Once In A Blue Moon

The 2009 World Series of Poker was celebrated as the 40th running of the grand poker tournament. There was now a total of 56 preliminary tournaments leading up to the main event, although some of the buy-ins and prize money offered in these tournaments were nothing to sneeze at. The $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. Championship continued, a format increasing in popularity, and as was the case the year before as well, a couple of smaller buy-in tournaments were added for it to go along with the big one. David Bach took home the title for the main H.O.R.S.E event that year, collecting over $1.25 million for his efforts

Not to be outdone, No Limit Texas Hold’em also had a bigger buy-in tournament added this year, which was set at $40,000 a seat. 201 players sat down to compete in it, and it was won by Russian Vitaly Lunkin, grabbing the first place prize money of over $1.8 million. The number of entrants to this one was over twice that of the big H.O.R.S.E. tournament in fact, and some considered it to be the real professional world championship, since the field was pretty much limited to pros given the large buy in and the lack of satellites to it.

As for the main event, among the former champions that competed in this year’s finale, the previous year’s former winner, who was of course Peter Eastgate, outlasted them all. However, in spite of the still large field of 6494 entrants, combined with the relatively small group of former champions, overall these 20 players as a group managed to do very well this year.

Doyle Brunson, Huck Seed, Tom McEvoy, Chris Moneymaker, Jerry Yang, and Jamie Gold all excited on the first day. Original WSOP player Amarillo Slim made it to the second day, as did Berry Johnston, Johnny Chan, Scotty Nguyen, and Robert Varkonyi. 1993 winner Jim Bechtel and 2001 champion Carlos Mortensen made it to Day 3, as did Greg Raymer. Phil Hellmuth and Chris Ferguson lasted even longer, until Day 4. Bobby Baldwin, the 1978 World Champion of Poker, made it all the way to day 5 and finished in 352nd place. Dan Harrington, who also made it to Day 5, went out later in 252nd.

This left Joe Hashem and Peter Eastgate left standing among the former world champions at the start of Day 6. Hashem went out first, almost cracking the top 100, in 103rd. Eastgate, who the year before had been the youngest player ever to win, lasted a little longer and went out 78th.

So after the conclusion of play on this day, the November Nine was set once again. Players all received the ninth place payout of $1,263,602, and then waited the several months to prepare for the big game where they could win much more. For many of the players, this was a significant amount of money, and once again it allowed some of the less experienced players to work on their game and improve to try to better their standing and finish.

Logger and amateur player Darvin Moon won his seat by playing a $130 satellite tournament at his local poker room, and now had a huge chip lead on the field, with almost 59 million chips. Moon had been struggling financially and in fact was not only in debt but had been convicted of several crimes including forgery and theft, which he was forced to commit in order to try to keep food on the table for his family. There was probably no one more needy in the history of the WSOP, and at the very least his share of the prize money, whatever that ended up being, would certainly get him back on his feet to say the least.

Sitting in second place was professional poker player Eric Buchman, with over 34 million in chips. Amateur Steven Begleiter sat in third with almost 30 million. In fourth with over 19 million was Jeff Shulman, editor of Card Player Magazine and son of Card Player founder and CEO Barry Shulman. Jeff had finished in seventh place in the 2000 WSOP main event, and he was certainly one of the most experienced players of the nine finalists. He also became rather infamous for some disparaging comments he made about Harrah’s, and among other things, said that if he won the bracelet he would throw it away. Needless to say, the management of the WSOP wasn’t exactly rooting for this to happen.

In fifth spot with over 13 million chips was 21 year old Joe Cada, who was looking to beat Peter Eastgate’s record, set in last year’s event, as the youngest player to ever win the championship. In spite of his young age, Cada had been playing poker online for 5 years, starting when he was only 16. Once he was 19, he was then old enough to play live poker across the border in Canada, and picked up some valuable experience there. He had also had developed a name for himself as an online tournament player by that time as well. Now 21, he was now old enough to play at live events in the U.S. as well, and with two in the money finishes already to his credit in this year’s series, he was going for more, a lot more.

Amateur player Kevin Schaffel was in sixth place with 12.3 million, followed by world famous pro Phil Ivey in seventh, with 9.7 million. Many people were excited to see a name they recognized at the final table, as it had been quite some time since a player this popular had made it that far. Ivey was pretty short stacked compared to the big stacks at the table though and certainly had his work cut out for him. In eighth was another amateur, Antoine Saout, with 9.5 million, followed by English pro James Akenhead, bringing up the rear with only 6.8 million chips to his credit.

Akenhead and Schaffel were the first 2 to go be sent home. First, Chaffel hit a full house on the river to bust Akenhead by laying a bad beat of sorts on him, then he had Buchman do the same to him a little later. Akenhead, with pocket aces, got Buchman all in with his pocket kings, meaning that Buchman had to hit one of the two remaining kings in the deck to win. He not only hit one of them though, he hit them both, and sent Akenhead packing with his quads.

Phil Ivey did his best as far as being aggressive and stealing blinds, and at one point doubled his starting stack at the table. He was then dealt AK and got Darvin Moon to call him all in with AQ. So it looked like Ivey was set to double up again. The fans went wild and started chanting Ivey’s name. As has been the case in big hands over the last few years at the WSOP, lady luck is a queen, and she showed her presence once again, sending Ivey packing in seventh place, to the dismay of the crowd.

AQ was once again lucky for Moon later on, and although once again he got this hand in dominated by another player, this time against Begleiter’s pocket queens, he was able to pull off another big suckout to send another player home, with Begleiter exiting in sixth place. There were now just 5 players at the big table, with a minimum total payout of almost $2 million, so the stakes just kept increasing.

Jeff Shulman got his pocket eights all in with Antoine Saout, who held A9. So it came down to the proverbial coin flip, which came up heads, meaning Shulman’s head, which bowed in disappointment. This undoubtedly delighted everyone at Harrah’s, the tournament host, as he had seriously disrespected their organization with his comments and they now got to see him limp off.

Buchman was next to ride the roller coaster, and what a roller coaster it was. In just three hands, he went from being crippled, to doubling up, to busting out. This left just three players: Saout, who had the chip lead, Moon, the self proclaimed working class stiff, and Cada, the young kid. Cada shoved his pocket two’s preflop, which Saout instantly called with his pocket queens. Cada needed to see one of the remaining twos in the deck to survive, and a moment later, one more bad beat was in the records.

Cada and Saout went head to head once again a little later, with each player having about a 50/50 chance to win, but this time it was Saout who was the one going out if he didn’t get lucky. Once again though, the luck was on Cada’s side, and he emerged to take on Darvin Moon for the title. Saout collected close to $3.5 million for his third place finish.

So it was the logger against the kid heads up for the 2009 World Championship of Poker and the first prize money of over $8.7 million. So the action moved to the next day, with Cada holding a huge lead in chips, 136 million to Moon’s mere 59. Cada was easily the more accomplished and experienced player of the two, and with such a big chip lead, Moon certainly had his work cut out for him. However, he’d been pretty lucky so far, but could this luck continue?

During the final showdown, Moon ended up evening things up, and then worked his way up to an enormous 3:1 chip lead. All he had to do is take out Cada with a single hand and he would win it all. Cada though wasn’t going to be going so quietly, and picked up the quality of his play to work his way back into the match. Then finally, things came down to another coin flip, but this time it was for all the marbles. Moon had QJ to Cada’s pocket nines. One more time, thought Moon, as he needed one of his cards to hit, a straight, or a flush. This time though, none of them came, leaving Moon with just queen high.

Moon did manage to make some pretty good money and certainly enough to move out of his trailer and not have to steal to make ends meet anymore. Winning over 5 million dollars would do just fine here. Cada got paid almost 3 and a half million more, had the bracelet, and the record as the youngest player ever to win the championship.