Scotty Nguyen wins The World Series of Poker H.O.R.S.E. Read the inside story of how he did it

The most exciting battle of this year’s WSOP featured just 148 players, a $50,000 buy-in, and a very special trophy. Welcome to the 2008 H.O.R.S.E. World Championship and to Scotty Nguyen…

It was just two years ago that the $50k H.O.R.S.E. event shuffled up for the first time at the World Series. Yet given the stories and champions which have emerged in that short time, it feels a lot longer.

The event has recaptured the WSOP heyday, with fields full of A-list pros and mixed game champions. It’s no wonder that many now consider the H.O.R.S.E., rather than the Main Event, to be the tournament which crowns ‘the real world champion’.

This year, of course, there was a sad prologue to the event following David ‘Chip’ Reese’s death six months ago. Chip won the first $50k H.O.R.S.E. in 2006 and it seemed only fitting that he would be honoured by awarding this year’s winner the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy, in addition to the bracelet and nearly $2m first prize.

Traditionally, it’s been the veteran mixed game live pros who have entered and dominated the event, as Big Game player Freddy Deeb proved last year when he took down the tourney and $2.27m first prize. But with a slew of ultra-rich online kids entering the fray this year, and keen to prove themselves against the established live pros, would 2008 signal a changing of the guard?

When you’re putting down 50 grand to enter an event, you want to get your money’s worth at least. So after criticism of the tournament structure last year – the first few levels were pointless, the end was a crapshoot – it was with some relief that organisers put a new one in place that was met with approval from the 148 runners.

But even though the structure ensured bigger pots early on this time, it seemed inconceivable that with starting stacks of 100,000 chips, anyone could get knocked out on Day 1. So it was with some surprise, and (we reckon) much stifled laughter, that Phil Hellmuth, along with seven other players including David Williams, bust out on the first day. As Hellmuth put it, ‘I didn’t think it was possible to go out on Day 1. I like to do things that are tough.’

Mass exodus

It was a different story on days two and three though, as the field saw wholesale cuts. Annie Duke, Tony G, Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer, David Benyamine, Gus Hansen, Patrik Antonius, Mike Matusow and last year’s winner, Freddy Deeb, all hit the rail. Meanwhile the internet pros, who had held their own for the first two days, found the going too tough on Day 3 with Phil ‘OMGClayAiken’ Aiken, Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan, Dario Minieri and Justin Bonomo all waving goodbye to their $50k.

Perhaps unsurprisingly it was Big Game players Barry Greenstein, Daniel Negreanu, Erick Lindgren and Doyle Brunson, who all made great strides during the middle stages to get their names high up the leaderboard as 24 players progressed to Day 4.

With just eight players to go until the money, and so much at stake, it was only natural that play tightened up. The poker fans on the rail felt the tension too, with eager onlookers crowding round on tiptoes trying to get a glimpse of the action.

And in the end, after pros Chad Brown, Michael Mizrachi and Brandon Adams exited, Mike Wattel was the unfortunate player to bubble the event in 17th. It meant Doyle Brunson snuck into the money again – his second $50k H.O.R.S.E. cash in three years – but he didn’t last much longer, finishing in 16th for $124,320.

Andy Bloch (15th) and Daniel Negreanu (13th) weren’t far behind, and when Phil Ivey went out in 12th there was concern that the final table would fail to live up to the hype. Fortunately, as the TV final table bubble closed in, leading contenders for WSOP Player of the Year, Barry Greenstein and Erick Lindgren, not to mention fans’ favourite Scotty Nguyen, all hit a rush and found themselves as the three chip leaders going into the final eight.

Epic affair

Despite last year’s final lasting 14 hours, and the prospect of some largely unexciting limit poker, hordes of fans crowded into the ESPN corner of the Amazon Room to watch the final unfold. The action began with whoops and hollers for every pot won, and with plenty of beer flowing (Scotty Nguyen apparently sunk 15 bottles at the final table) it was a lively atmosphere.

The early indications were that it would be a quicker affair too, with Patrick Bueno (eighth), Huck Seed (seventh) and Barry Greenstein (sixth) all falling in the first couple of hours. And it wasn’t long before a young unknown, Michael DeMichele, eked out a decent lead, moving up to over five million chips, while Lyle Berman and Matt Glantz both became short-stacked with barely a million each.

Berman was first to go – knocked out in a three-way Razz pot involving Nguyen and DeMichele – while Matt Glantz hung around to hand 125, but was never able to mount a full recovery, eventually succumbing in fourth for $568,320.

Down to three-handed and the real battle kicked in. Nguyen and DeMichele started off as almost joint chip leaders with 7m and 6.8m respectively, while Lindgren trailed way behind with just 1m. But over the next 100 hands and three hours’ play ‘E-Dog’ managed to hold on time and again much to the delight of his army of fans.

Final table

As the 12-hour mark passed though, Scotty started to take control. Hand by hand, he chipped away at his opponents’ stacks, and as the triumvirate hit the 300-hands mark he’d managed to whittle his two opponents down to about 1.6m chips each, while he amassed a seemingly insurmountable 11.5m. Something had to give, and it was Lindgren who made way first with Nguyen taking him out in a Stud hand. Lindgren, however, had plenty to celebrate with a $781,440 payday and the knowledge that he’d be WSOP Player of the Year.

Heads-up, and with a six-to-one chip lead, Nguyen looked assured of victory. It only took 10 hands, sealing victory in Hold’em when his A-10 held up against DeMichele’s A-3. Before DeMichele made the call, Scotty uttered the immortal words that he said when he won the 1998 Main Event, ‘It’s gonna be all over baby.’

As his wife, friends and fans cheered the latest champion, Scotty grabbed bundles of cash from his $1,989,120 win and held aloft the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy. Maybe this win has helped put to rest the demons he had after blowing the chip lead with 12 players to go in last year’s Main Event.

He certainly seemed content after as he said, ‘The $50K H.O.R.S.E. event is the best all-round player… number one in the world. Nobody can walk up to me and say, “Scotty, you’re second, baby.”’


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