Seidel vs. Hennigan
The Taj Mahal in Atlantic City sure knows how to run a poker tournament. The staff there is friendly and accommodating-“Miami” John Cernuto asked them (on behalf of the players) to change their structures and they did. While speaking about “Miami” John, let me say congratulations to him for winning the $4,000 buy-in Seven-card Stud Championship at the Taj Mahal’s United States Poker Championship (USPC)-and the $156,000 first prize. John is one of the best tournament Stud players in the world today. John-you deserved it!
Three days after the Stud Championship ended, the $7,500 no limit Hold’em Championship began. For three days the players slugged it out for the right to make the final six players, be on the Travel Channel, and win the $212,000 first prize. Personally, I was quite sad to be eliminated on the first day.
Three of the favorites on my list were left deep into the tournament: Howard Lederer finished 11th (Howard just won the $10,000 buy-in Foxwood’s Championship event the month before); John Juanda finished seventh (John finished 2nd in this very event the last two years in a row) to just miss the final day and the TV coverage; and Erik Seidel, who made the final day with the chip lead. The other five finalist were John “World” Hennigan (John is a known great player), Eric Buchman, “Charlie” Bae, Robert “Bo” Toft, and Tony Popejoy.
As the tournament moved on, Erik and John distinguished themselves from the rest of the field with their world class play, and soon they were the last two left standing-as many players, including me, had predicted the night before. They started with about $550,000 each in chips, and I have never seen a better heads-up match, or a swingier one. John had all the chips, then Erik had all the chips, the John, then Erik, and so it went until they were about even in chips when the following hand came up.
With the blinds at $5,000-$10,000 and the antes at $2,000 a man, John just called on the button with 7c-8c, and Erik checked in the blind with 9d-10s. The flop came down 10h-9c-4c, and now Erik bet out $15,000 with top-two pair, and John made it $55,000 to go with an open-ended straight draw and a flush draw. Erik then moved all-in and John quickly called. I saw Erik’s hand first as he waited a second before showing it, and I thought, as did Erik I’m sure, “Erik’s going to win this thing.” Alas, for Erik, John was drawing plenty live.
With $900,000 in the pot out of $1,080,000 in the tournament, the hands were too close too call. Without consulting a computer program, I thought Erik was a tiny favorite to win this pot (maybe 52%). Anyway, if Erik had won the pot, then Erik would have been the USPC Champion. The Js on the turn made John a straight, and the last card Kd kept his straight the best hand.
Erik now had only $180,000 left, but it turns out that this tournament was far from over. Eventually Erik came back to have almost $800,000, and back and forth the chip lead went. Both players were playing exceptionally well in my eyes, and I can rarely say that when I watch a tournament.
I thought that the key hand was when Erik bet $30,000 into a K-9-7 board, and John called from the button. By the way, there were no raises before the flop, and the blinds were now $10,000-$20,000 with a $4,000 ante. After a 4 on the turn both players checked. The river brought a 9, for a board of K-9-7-4-9, and Erik bet out $80,000. John thought for only about 10 seconds and called. Then Erik rapped the table and said, “You got it.” Whereupon John flipped up A-5! The old ace-high call down!
“Wow,” I thought, “what a great call that was.” Shortly thereafter another all-in pot was played when the flop came down 7-5-3, and John had 7-7, to Erik’s 9-6 (another un-raised pot before the flop). When I saw John’s hand first this time, I thought, as did John I’m sure, “John’s going to win this thing.” But alas for John, Erik was drawing live. When the final two cards were a 10 and a J, John “World” Hennigan had won himself the Taj’s Championship Event. Congratulations to John Hennigan for winning his first Championship event. I applaud both John and Erik’s head-ups play this day. By the way, when I ran into John right before the tourney started he said, “Phil, I’m not sure I’m going to play today.” Not only did John play, but John played great!
I hope that everyone enjoyed this weeks Hand of the Week. Good luck playing your hands this week.