The New Millenium

2000 saw the main event grow significantly, and it not only broke 400 players for the first time, it also broke 500. Some of the old timers continued to boycott the tournament in protest of Jack Binion being squeezed out by his family, although this didn’t include T.J. Cloutier, who was still pursuing his first ever world championship. It had been 15 years since he first finished in the top 2, way back in 1985, and once again found himself in that spot, needing only to beat Chris “Jesus” Ferguson to finally claim what he had sought to much over all these years.

On the final hand, Cloutier managed to get Ferguson all in pre-flop, holding AQ, which dominated Ferguson’s A9. The flop came down 2K4. Cloutier only had to avoid a 9 hitting the board on the turn or river. The turn card was a K. Now he only needed to see something else other than a 9 on the river, There were only 3 nines in the deck out of 44 cards, so things looked excellent for him. The river card was dealt…..there it is, 9 of hearts, and Cloutier bowed his head in disappointment as yet another championship had slipped away. Ferguson raised his arms in triumph, and raked in the world championship and a million and a half dollars of prize money. Cloutier had to settle for $896,000 and no bracelet.

2001 saw the final table grow from the 6 it had been throughout thehistory of the WSOP, to the 9 handed where it stands today. 613 entrants sat down to the championship event, each throwing in $10,000 into the pot for a shot at glory. This year saw one of the most interesting hands ever played, pitting Phil Hellmuth against Reagan Silber. Hellmuth had pocket kings, and Silber raised from first position. Hellmuth gladly re-raised, putting Silber to a big decision. Siber then pushed all in. Hellmuth thought for a while, then tossed his KK. “Show me your aces,” demanded Hellmuth, and Silber turned over his cards….AA. Hellmuth’s laydown was one of the finest in poker history.

This and other well played hands catapulted Hellmuth to the final six, against longtime participant Dewey Tomko, who won his first WSOP bracelet all the way back in 1979, Phil Gordon, who went on to become one of the world’s most famous players, Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, who staked 1998 WSOP winner Scotty Nguyen, along with relative unknowns Carlos Mortensen and Stan Schrier. Mortensen started out by laying a big bluff on Matusow, which ended up crippling The Mouth, who soon was out of the running. Carlos also caught several of his opponents bluffing, and generally played very good and aggressive poker throughout.

One by one the opponents dropped off. Hellmuth, the 1989 world champion of poker, was next to go, followed by Phil Gordon. Stan Schrier bowed out next, leaving only veteran Dewey Tomko between Mortensen and the title. In the decisive hand, Mortensen was dealt KQ of clubs. Heads up, this is a very strong hand of course, and Carlos was more than happy to get his money in with it. He started with a $100,000 bet, which Tomko called.

The flop came down JD 10C 3C. Carlos now had an open ended straight draw and a flush draw, a nice hand indeed. Mortensen bet $100,000 again, after which Tomko raised it up to $400,000. Carlos pushed all in, looking to fold out Dewey, but still having at least 17 outs with 2 cards to come if called, making him the favorite regardless of what Tomko had. Tomko called the all-in and turned over pocket aces. So now he needed to avoid any club, an ace, or a 9 to win.

The turn card was the three of diamonds, and now Dewey became the favorite. No club, 9, or ace, he prayed. The river card was dealt, and just like the final hand of last year’s championship, it was a nine. Carlos had his straight, and Tomko’s pocket aces were only good enough for second place. Mortensen thus became the first Hispanic player to ever win the World Championship of Poker.

This was also the second year that first prize had been bumped to a million and a half, instead of the million that had been awarded in the several years prior, and coincidently, both ended with a 9 on the river. Tomko did manage to cash in for over a million dollars himself, which turned out to be his highest finish ever in the main event, although he did manage to win a total of 3 bracelets over the years in preliminary events.

Back in 2000, Julian “The Kid” Gardner had an excellent run of cards on the first day of his very first main event, working his way up to becoming the chip leader of the tournament part way though the day. However, it wasn’t in the cards for him that year, and in spite of being ahead of everyone else at one point, by the time the day was done he was busted out. The next year, he failed to make the trip over from England to participate in poker’s biggest event, but in 2002 he decided to take another shot at it.

This year, he would not only survive the first day, but he was still around when the top 9 players sat down at the final table to decide the championship. His chances looked fairly good, and although he certainly wasn’t a big name, playing in only his second WSOP ever, there weren’t any big names at all at the final table. One by one, Gardner watched his opponents bust out, until there was only two players left, himself and fellow amateur and investment banker Robert Varkonyi from New York.

So the battle was on, once again pitting England against the United States, as it was in the Revolutionary War. Would England reclaim the glory this time, or would the USA come out on top again? Varkonyi was an intellectual genius and thus certainly was no slouch. However, he was such a newcomer that Phil Hellmuth agreed to shave his head if Robert won the tournament. Down to 2 players, Hellmuth’s hair was certainly in jeopardy.

In the decisive hand, Varkonyi was dealt QD 10S. He raised to $90,000, and Gardner called him with his JC 8C. The flop came down QC 4C 4S. This gave Varkonyi top pair, decent kicker, with Gardner having only a flush draw. Gardner checked, looking to get a free look at the turn card, but Varkonyi was having none of that, sitting with a made hand with two of a suit on the board. So Robert bet, but his bet was a very small one, only $50,000, only about a quarter of the pot.

So Gardner was left to a tough decision. Should he just call, being given the proper odds to do so now? Or should he raise and look to take down the hand right now, and have some outs if called? He chose the latter route, and shoved his chips in the middle. Varkonyi did indeed call him, and it came down to the last 2 cards.

Gardner was hoping for a club on the turn, but it was a 10 of diamonds instead, pairing the other ten on the board. There was still one more card to come and was still looking for a club to hit his flush and save himself. The river card was dealt…..a club! Yes! Wait a minute….it’s a 10! So he hit his flush as he was looking to do, but this card also made Varkonyi a full house, and handed him the world championship of 2002. The Americans win again!