After three months wait, it was Peter Eastgate who took the cash and the WSOP main event bracelet
Whatever your opinion of the main event’s three-month hiatus, the decision to hold the business end of the tournament at the Rio’s Penn and Teller Theatre, was a masterstroke. By the time all 800 seats had been filled, even Phil Hellmuth – a man usually so disinterested by anything not directly involving him – was craning his neck like the rest of us. ‘I’m excited to see hundreds of people queuing. It’s an exciting time for poker.’ In the far right corner, banners screamed their support for Craig Marquis.
In front of them a swathe of Ylon Schwartz fans filled the space. But if the main event were decided on support alone, there would have been one clear winner: 53-year old trucker Dennis Phillips who had brought a 300-strong army from St. Louis. ‘He’s bought hotel rooms and matching white shirts for all of us,’ gushed one groupie. As tournament director Jack Effel announced his name all you could hear was ‘Dennis! Dennis! Dennis!’ echoing around the arena.
At the slightly strange time of 10.23am, reigning World Champion Jerry Yang uttered the classic ‘shuffle up and deal’ line and all eyes fixed on the giant screens flanking the table. Early attention focused on short-stack Kelly Kim who had just over 10 big blinds. Although his 184 fans appeared optimistic, Kim’s girlfriend Jocelyn verbalised what they were all thinking. ‘He’s realistic about his situation, that he’s a favourite to finish ninth. He’s grateful to make it this far,’ she said.
Former WSOP final tablist, Hevad ‘Rain’ Khan was adamant that Kim had only one tactic open to him. ‘Kelly Kim should make a move on the first hand.’ Amazingly, as everyone folded to Kim on the button, he did just that, raising to 560,000 and pocketed 400k in blinds and antes. The whole crowd roared in delight.
After the excitement of that first hand, the first flop took over half an hour to come and the relief from the crowd was so vocal that Effel had to calm things down. ‘You can make as much noise as you want after the hand but please stay silent during the hand,’ he bellowed.
RISE OF THE RUSSIAN
Ivan Demidov might have not had an army of supporters as big as Phillips’, but his third place finish in the WSOPE had won him some serious respect among the poker glitterati. ‘I’m rooting for Demidov. He’s a good guy and I think he’s good for poker,’ said Daniel Negreanu. Demidov didn’t disappoint. Shortly before the first break the Russian took a massive 21 million chips off Phillips.
Proceedings really began to open up and it wasn’t long until nine became eight. Fifty-two hands in, Marquis open-shoved for just under 5m with sevens and was insta-called by Scott Montgomery who delivered a cruel runner-runner knock out after Marquis flopped a set. Marquis was stoic. ‘It wasn’t really a bad beat because I got it in 55% – that’s the way I have to look at the hand,’ he said.
Before everyone could get comfortable again, we had high drama on the very next hand. Down to three big blinds, Kim had no choice to move in on the big blind and was called by Demidov and Darus Suharto. Suharto’s paired nines pipped Demidov’s pocket fives and Kim didn’t even bother to turn his cards over. The entire theatre showed its appreciation for the Californian’s valiant effort, rising to its feet for a standing ovation. Kim certainly took his time soaking up the attention, waving to his entourage.
The unravelling of the November nine continued deep into the day with the elimination of Chino Rheem; unfortunately his exit interview was as ugly as his manner of defeat. His shoved A-K was outflopped by Peter Eastgate’s A-Q and he made no attempts to hide his frustration, snapping angrily at a hapless reporter. ‘Are you serious? How do you think I fucking feel?’ The dinner break couldn’t come fast enough.
DANE MARCHES ON
When the remaining six returned for the evening session, the seating area around the main stage swelled with a sea of famous faces from every era. WSOP founder Jack Binion sat next to old-school World Champions Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth. Behind them sat Chris Moneymaker, Jamie Gold and Jerry Yang. In and around them were household names like Phil Gordon, Barry Greenstein, Allen Cunningham and Daniel Negreanu.
Of course, Hellmuth couldn’t help accosting the mic and acting like a pantomime villain. ‘You can boo if you want, I don’t mind!’ he said laughing in the face of mocks and jeers.
Just over 100 hands in, the action picked up again with the elimination of Darus Suharto. With five players left in, no one had a decisive lead, but that changed when Eastgate took out Montgomery in a cruel hand where on the turn Eastgate was down to one out. The Dane’s compact contingent suddenly sprang to life singing: ‘Ay-ay-o, Ay-ay-o, Ooba, Ooba, Ooba.’
Eastgate was now almost level with Demidov on 50m when Schwartz felt the force of Eastgate, moving in with A-10 offsuit and running into pocket fives. Soon after, Phillips chose the wrong time to run a big bluff. On a seemingly innocuous board of J?-4?-3?, Phillips raised Eastgate all-in and was surprised by the snap-call. Eastgate had flopped a set of threes and although there was no miracle suck out that didn’t stop a huge roar from the St. Louis army at the end of the hand. Going into heads-up, Eastgate had now taken a crucial lead over Demidov and an early psychological edge as both players took a break before returning for the next day’s heads-up encounter.
Harrahs had got the final table spot-on up to now but the mid-afternoon press conference stretched the boundaries of taste. Eastgate and Demidov were introduced like burly prize fighters to the Rocky soundtrack. They played their parts enthusiastically, but looked palpably relieved to exit the stage and get down to the important business of relaxing for the biggest day of their lives.
In the pre-match interviews, Eastgate was complimentary of his opponent without being sycophantic. ‘He is the toughest player from the final nine.’ Demidov was equally generous but seemed more confident. ‘I don’t think the chip difference is going to be a big problem for me. I’ve been practising heads-up.’
As the Penn and Teller filled to its brim for the second night in a row, the smart money was piling on Demidov. ‘I’ve gone on record as saying he’s the favourite,’ said Hellmuth. Once again the gallery was a who’s who of poker, all expecting an epic heads-up clash. Straight off the bat, Eastgate came in for a raise which was called. A check-call by Demidov on the 10-K-10 board took us to a turn and as another King appeared, the crowd inhaled collectively.
Both players checked and when the river brought a third King, the air electrified and everyone drew to the edge of their seat. A straight-faced Demidov bet a solid 8m, Eastgate tanked and the crowd was now on its feet eager to see an early grandstand finish. With a rye smile, Eastgate folded, ceding the first battle to the Russian.
Following the fireworks of the first hand, the match turned into a war of attrition. Effel kept the crowd amused with obscure stats, bad jokes and shout-outs to various pros. Chris Ferguson had now joined the fray and received an extended cheer; Jamie Gold had a more muted response.
Going into the first break, you couldn’t choose between Eastgate and Demidov, but everyone had an opinion. ‘I thought they were going to be more aggressive but they’re taking their time and being careful,’ mused Gold. ‘I think they both have a similar style but I think Peter has a slight advantage because whenever he raises, Ivan folds.’
Heads-up specialist, Ferguson was his typically diplomatic self. ‘It’s going back and forth a bit but either one will make a worthy champion. It’s always going to come down to one big hand.’
Unsurprisingly, the Danish quarter were buoyant about Eastgate’s chances. ‘Peter’s starting to get the momentum, he’s mixing it up, changing gears,’ said Jesper Houggard, a two-time bracelet winner. ‘Ivan doesn’t quite know what foot to stand on at the moment.’
Houggard’s prescience would prove to be remarkably accurate. From the moment the players returned for the second session, Eastgate went on an unstoppable tear. A crucial moment came when Eastgate caught Demidov trying to steal with Ace-high on the river against his two-pair. The Russian was roundly punished, losing a pot of over 20m. This took the Dane over the 100m mark and Demidov plummeted to under 40m.
With the big blind hitting an unprecedented 1m, Demidov certainly needed to respond quickly. But a reply never came and Eastgate really started to run good at the right time, catching another Ace-high bluff with a turned flush. By the second break, the Danes were practically dancing in the corridors. In stark contrast, Demidov’s supporters sat subdued and cross-legged on the floor, uncertain of how to gee up their man.
Inevitably murmurs of the Russian cracking under the pressure and donking off his chips began to spring up, but according to Hevad Khan, it wasn’t that simple. ‘Ivan’s making great moves but he’s running into the top of Eastgate’s range. He’s making correct moves in the long run, it’s just how things go.’ The third session was do-or-die for Demidov and unfortunately for him and his fans, it was to be the latter. With just 16m left in his stack, all the chips went in on a board of 2?-K?-3?-4?-7?. The players turned over one by one. Almost in slow motion, Effel announced, ‘Ivan has two-pair…and Peter has a wheel!’ Eastgate was instantly mobbed by his supporters.
After 118 days of waiting, it was finally over. Peter Eastgate had become the youngest ever winner of the World Series of Poker Champion, surpassing Hellmuth’s 19-year record. Demidov sat despondently in the stands, his fans milling aimlessly around him. He may never top his incredible back-to-back WSOP main event final table feat, but he’s doubtless inspired a whole generation of Russian players to emulate him. For the subdued, smiling Eastgate it looked like just another day at the office. But life for the cash game pro is never going to be the same again.
Try a copy of PokerPlayer magazine HERE if you want more great articles like this one