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WSOP09 $50K HORSE Final Table
CEO "Rocket Boy" 07.02.2009

This final table was stacked with enormous talent young and old, from all around the world. Perfectly appropriate, since HORSE comprises about as diverse a range of poker games as you can play in a tournament.

And it would be pretty hard to find a table full of tougher players. More than half of them have won one or more WSOP bracelets, for a total of 17. (If you must know - Erik Seidel: 8, Huck Seed: 4, Chau Giang: 3, Vitaly Lunkin: 1, Ville Wahlbeck: 1.) And the bracelet winners-to-be have some serious cred. John Hanson finished third in the 2007 $50K HORSE event, David Bach finished 11th in the event last year, and Erik Sagstrom is one of the most successful online players.

For the record, here are the players' seats and chip counts:

Seat Player Stack
1 Ville Wahlbeck   645k
2 Erik "Erik123" Sagstrom 3.68m
3 John Hanson 1.70m
4 Huck Seed 1.38m
5 Vitaly Lunkin 2.49m
6 David Bach 2.35m
7 Erik Seidel   965k
8 Chau Giang 1.08m

The start of final table play

Friendly Vibe

At the start of play, a casual observer might have thought that it looked like a home game. Plus a super-fancy table, minus booze and cigars. There was plenty of good-natured conversation and the players genuinely enjoyed talking with each other about whatever. You wouldn't think there was $1.2 million at stake for first place and a chance for one of their names to be literally etched into the stone of poker history.

But what else could you expect? These players all know each other, they respect each other's skill, and they have all proven that they're among the best in the world simply by being there.

Better luck next year, Erik. He was first out, finishing 8th.

Only one person's name is carved into the perpetual David "Chip" Reese Trophy each year, and this just wasn't Erik Seidel's year. He started next to last in chips, ahead of only Ville Wahlbeck. He couldn't overcome that kind of chip deficit and was knocked out first.

Random ESPN Observations

Last year, the TV production for the $50K HORSE included eight broadcast-quality HD cameras. On booms, hand-held, and on camera dollies. This year it was web-only on ESPN360.com, and there were two small cameras on a lightweight rubber track. There was a small boom with a small camera on it, but it was flimsy, letting the camera wobble around quite a bit.

As players busted, they were interviewed on another camera by a pretty Asian gal (who could pass for Leeann Tweeden's sister). I really wanted to watch the webcast live, but my iPhone 3G battery simply couldn't handle that plus shooting pix and tweeting them. And I was pretty busy shooting with the digital SLR too.

Chau Giang finished 7th (after twice declaring that he hates Razz.)

Chau was probably the most talkative player at the table during his relatively brief stay. He was 3rd lowest coming to the final table and although he won some hands, he couldn't keep the momentum going. He said, twice, that he hated razz, and tournament director Robbie Thompson announced this to the crowd.

Chau's departure left Huck Seed the sole multiple bracelet winner. And, arguably, the last of the old guard at the relatively young age of 40.

Ville Wahlbeck played a strong, well-rounded short-stack game but went out in 6th place.

Ville Wahlbeck came to the final table with the shortest stack by a large margin. But he wasn't desperately short stacked and somehow managed to pick his spots and win enough chips to outlast Erik and Chau. He did build his chips nicely and climbed up to mid-pack or possibly even the lead at one point. But he just couldn't keep it going.

Huck Seed played a tough high-variance game but in the end lost all his chips in 5th place.

Huck Seed had a chance at winning, with only four players left to beat, but the cards just didn't come for him. He survived several all-ins to stay in it (as did many of the players) but didn't catch the rush he needed.

Random Newbie HORSE Observations

Just a few observations from a total newbie HORSE player (me). The five games are so vividly different that they really do test all-around poker skill. You can't just fold to stay out of trouble in your worst game. You'd essentially be getting blinded off for 20% of the tournament, which would be fatal. No, there's nowhere to hide.

The number of hands played is increased by the high-low split games in the HORSE mix: Omaha/8 and Stud/8. Quite a few pots are chopped, minimizing the swings. Scooping is what you want to do to really chip up and to hurt your opponents. You win the maximum, and it takes less time since there's no pot-chopping work for the dealer.

It's possible to create enormous pots in the Stud-based games, even if there aren't any raising wars. First off, there are simply two more betting rounds than in Hold'em. Then there is the first-to-act double bet option on fourth through seventh streets, which can build a huge pot even if there aren't any raises. I didn't even know about the double bet until Gus Hansen mentioned it as he guest-announced some Stud hands. See? Total Omaha / Stud newbie here.

Vitaly Lunkin fell short of winning the two biggest buy-in events at WSOP09. He finished 4th.

Vitaly Lunkin played tough and was probably the quietest player at the table. He kind of has a "Russian Ted Forrest" vibe, and when he wants to he can ice down opponents with an almost Ivey-like glare. I think all four of the remaining players took the lead at one point or another. Vitaly had a chance to win the two biggest buy-in events this year, but it wasn't to be, and he busted in fourth.

Tournament Direction and Dealers

Robbie Thompson did an ironman by announcing nearly all of the 19+ hour event. And he managed to stay completely neutral, precise, and at times funny through it all. He only took a small break to let Gus Hansen guest-announce a few Stud hands. And another tournament director came in to finish off the last hour or so of the event.

I've never seen anyone drink as much Red Bull as Robbie. He must have had about 7 Red Bulls during this time, and on occasion seemed to be doing the work of 3 people. He'd call out the action, wrangle cables for one of the ESPN web cams, climb up the stands to an audience member and ask if he was feeling better, then sit down in the crowd and answer fan questions during lulls in the action. The guy is incredible!

And the dealers for this event were absolutely top-notch. No misdeals, no cards inadvertently exposed, no disputes over hands or pots. Not one single little mistake. Unbelievable!

Gus Hansen guest-announcing a few Stud hands. His friend Erik Sagstrom finished in 3rd place.

Erik Sagstrom had started final table play with a huge chip lead, but over the course of play other players won large pots against him and the lead changed several times. Erik took the lead back and once again dominated, but his luck ran out and he eventually busted in 3rd place.

Right about 3am, just after Erik busted, John and David's chip stacks were almost exactly dead even at 7.1 million. This wasn't the case last year, as Scotty had a big chip lead by this time. The few of us who were still there could see the gears turning in each other's heads: "This is gonna take a long time."

New Sponsor

Last year, Milwaukee's Best Light was the official sponsor of the event. This year it's Jack Link's Beef Jerky, and plenty of it was made available to the players and media. Waiters periodically brought in tray after tray of bags of the stuff, and Robbie Thompson would announce "Jack Link's in the house."

There were bags piled on top of bags of beef jerky at the final table. I tried some of the Spicy Thai flavored jerky because I was so tired and hungry. It was ridiculously good. I used to think of beef jerky as that hard, waxy stuff that's been sitting on the shelf for so long that it's dusty. Or, even worse, that flavored wax paper stick called Slim Jim.

No, this Jack Link's stuff tasted fresh. Unbelievable. BJ Nemeth said it best: people initially made fun of the product and the sponsorship. But once they tried it they were hooked. Easy to believe. I think the stuff is actually really good.

John Hanson and David Bach playing heads-up in what would become a WSOP marathon.

Heads-up, John and David started even but weren't really super deep. 7.1 million each with the blinds at 150k/300k meant that neither player could be comfortable. And yet they refused to bust!

After four hours of heads-up play, John was on the ropes. He had been whittled down to 2 million vs. David's 12.2 million with the blinds at 200k/400k. And yet he managed to bounce back. By 9:00am, after six hours of heads-up play, they were dead even again.

But by now the blinds in the flop games had gone up to 250k/500k, and each player's M was less than 10. Those of us who were still awake knew that this couldn't go on for too much longer...

The Wee Hours

...Or could it? We had gone for about 18 hours already, the stacks were totally even again, and these were two absolutely focused players, each utterly determined to win. Over and over again, one player would get short, then scoop a massive pot (sometimes all-in) and climb right back into the fight. Or they would chop a massive pot in a high-low split game resulting in unchanged relative stack sizes.

The Rio must have a massive air con system, because the Amazon room is as big as an aircraft hangar, it was 100+ outside all day, and yet it was actually chilly inside. So as the hours rolled by, we tried to bundle up and keep warm. And warmth when you're that tired can lead to sleep.

BJ Nemeth pulled up his hoodie, rested his head on the table right next to his MacBook Air, and slept like a rock for at least 2 hours. Other media pros got some shuteye sitting up in front of their laptops. On breaks I would wander around aimlessly just to keep from falling asleep. Couldn't find any place to get coffee nearby, so I snagged a bottled water from a waiter delivering drinks to cash game players. Next year I'll bring supplies and survival gear.

And through it all, nobody, not one person there, said anything even remotely hinting at impatience or ill-will toward either player. The few fans left, the media pros, and yours truly were simply hoping for a great match, and that's exactly what we got.

David Bach's name will soon be engraved on the base of the David "Chip" Reese Trophy.

There were six lead changes in heads-up play, but you could see John's frustration as his chips dwindled near the end. In contrast, David played with an almost Buddha-like calm, whether he won a big pot, lost a big pot, or just won John's bring-in.

Finally, at just about 10:00am, John was all-in for the last time. His 9-8 low got pipped by David's 9-7 low in razz, and it was over. We all re-animated ourselves like a horde of zombies awakening with cameras. At long last, we got our photos of the winner, his bracelet, and the trophy.

David gets to keep the upper part of the trophy with the gold cards, but just for a year. The lower perpetual base will remain with the WSOP with one change: the words "2009 - David Bach" will be engraved on it for all time.

In the post-game interview, David said that he is primarily a Stud player. That gives him an advantage in HORSE over players whose strength is the flop-based games.

And he had looked to Chip Reese's grueling 12 hour heads-up battle against Andy Bloch in the 2006 event for inspiration. Congratulations to David and all the final table players for an incredible show of skill, endurance, and sheer will power.

Next blog: Random WSOP09 Photos Part 1.

Next poker event coverage: WSOP09 Main Event final three days down to the final 9 players.

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