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THE FINAL TABLE  
By Phil Shaw


The first World Poker Tour Championship at Bellagio, Las Vegas , from 14-18th April 2003, was a defining moment in modern poker for so many reasons. Not only was it the first ever $25,000 buy-in event and the crowning moment of the commercially successful first WPT season, but it also saw a final six who represented both the modern and historical ranks of poker players and a couple of hands that, as commentator Mike Sexton said, “they’ll still be talking about in 50 years time.” 
 

Play started with Alan Goehring, a retired junk bonds analyst and trader, out in front with 2,597,000 in chips: a gargantuan lead that looked likely to be decisive in the long run, since second place Kirill Gerasimov, a rising star from Moscow, Russia, had a mere 784,000. Behind them, the Tiger Woods of Poker and modern legend, Phil Ivey, had 637,000 in third chip position; and accountant and part-time poker player James Hoeppner had  568,000 in fourth.

Fifth was the so-called “Godfather of Poker”, Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, the writer of the defining work on modern poker, Super System, a Hall of Famer and two time World Champion, with 522,000; and in sixth was super high-stakes cash game player Ted Forrest with 445,000.

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With blinds at 15,000-30,000 there was plenty of play in the game despite some pressure on the short stacks, but holding JJ James soon found himself on the wrong end of Kirill’s KK, and departed in sixth. Early confrontations were hardly surprising as all of the players are known for their relentless aggressive styles, and the WPT cams revealed many steal attempts from Ted with hands like Q -3 or J -9 , as well as a number of risky, but uncalled, all-ins from the others.

 

After a lot of jousting and unorthodox play, a hand occurred that the players themselves described as “amazing”, and that Mike Sexton said will be “analysed for a long time to come.” Alan Goehring, in first position with JJ, made a minimum raise to 60,000 as he frequently did in the event, then Doyle in the small blind moved all-in for 526,000 with Q-8 off suit! Not only that, but Ted Forrest with AJos in the big blind thought and thought and then also moved in for 513,000, after which Alan called them both with only a moment’s hesitation!

 

What on earth was going on? Had Doyle underestimated Alan, or overestimated his ability to lay a big hand down? Had Ted read Doyle for a bluff and made a great call thinking that Alan wasn’t part of the picture? Or had three of the best in the world all cracked up at exactly the same moment? The more consideration given to the situation the more inexplicable it seems. Alan had over two million in chips and besides being a retired Wall Street whiz had already said, “I play the game, not so much for the money involved, but for the entertainment value and fun.” But how could he possibly think JJ was winning against two all-ins?

 

Ted, on the other hand, might have read Doyle right, but what about the gambling chip leader on his left, a guy who he himself described as a “total maniac”? Doyle, who set the whole hand in motion, can at least be credited with the strongest play, although it was the wrong one. When called in two spots, he merely smiled and remarked, “I’m not in good shape,” whereas, after Alan won the hand, Ted stood at the table transfixed, counting his lost chips.

 

T. J. Cloutier wrote in Championship No Limit and Pot Limit Hold’em that in the olden days of the game “the second raise probably would have been aces and the third raise was like ivory snow: 99.9 percent pure aces.” But not in the modern game though, not anymore.

 

After that hand was over, Alan took an enormous lead, which was only tempered when Phil went out with A-Q to Kirill’s A-K all-in preflop, and some thrilling heads up play ensued, with Kirill running a couple of breathtaking all-in bluffs to take the lead, before finally mistiming one when Alan held a house of Queens. That took Alan back in front and, with the blinds rising so rapidly, a swift conclusion was inevitable. Ironically, it came out of nowhere when Kirill called in the small blind with 8-6, and Alan checked 8-5. On a flop of 4-5-8, Alan made an enticing bet of 50,000 with his two pair, which Kirill raised to 300,000. When Alan moved all-in and Kirill called, it looked to be all over; until a 7 hit the turn filling Kirill’s straight. Then an 8 on the river completed Alan’s hand and he took the title for a massive $1,011,886!

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*Phil Shaw is a 26 year old semi-professional poker player and freelance journalist from London, England.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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