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World Poker Tour Championship - Part IV - The Champ is Crowned

by Lee Munzer |  Published: Jul 26, 2005


In Part I of this series, we interviewed the winner. In Part II and Part III we covered the first six days of action at the seven-day Five Star World Poker Classic Championship. Each player in the strong field of 452 traveled to the gorgeous Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas hoping to leave with the World Poker Tour (WPT) Championship goodies.

This axiom is apropos today as one of the best tournament players in the world, Hasan Habib, tries to hold on to the lead he built over the last six calendar days (33 hours of actual table time). He came in second in this event last year. Holland's Rob Hollink, the European Poker Tour's reigning Grand Finals champ, is next in chips. Phil Ivey, considered by many to be the best player in the world, is in third place. Stalking these three are England's Paul Maxfield, winner of the 2004 European no-limit hold'em event at the Aviation Club de France; Tuan Le, who captured $1,549,588 and the World Poker Finals championship at Foxwoods Resort Casino last November; and the dangerous John Phan, second in the Card Player Player of the Year standings as he takes his seat.

Here are their seats and chip counts:


Chip Count
Paul Maxfield
Hasan Habib
Phil Ivey
Tuan Le
John Phan
Rob Hollink
Chips in Play

Tournament Director Jack McClelland is introducing the players, but I've lost focus. A few minutes ago, President and CEO of WPT Enterprises Inc. Steve Lipscomb announced that Shana Hiatt, unparalleled in what she does and how she looks doing it, will not be returning for season four. Shana is graceful, gorgeous, and gregarious. I have never seen her refuse anyone who would like to be photographed with her. Thanks for the memories, Shana.

Play begins at 4:22 p.m. with the blinds at $40,000-$80,000. In addition, each player must ante $10,000. Unlike the first six days of play when each limit was 90 minutes long, rounds will be 60 minutes in duration today until we reach heads-up play, at which time action will be further induced through 30-minute limits.

Previously, I pondered whether starting in flight one on Monday or beginning with the second part of the field on Tuesday would be more advantageous. Of the 10 players who made the actual final table, six began on Monday. Of the six who will be seen on television, four began on Monday. So, early returns from this event and the World Series of Poker (WSOP) are favoring playing on day one.

: Phan starts with the button. Habib, originally from Pakistan, raises to $250,000 from under the gun (first to act) and wins uncontested. Hasan knows that players enjoy television time and do not want to go up against chip leaders without strong hands. Hasan, perhaps envisioning himself as a ferocious lion in an African jungle, emerged from his den, surveyed his territory, and let out a huge, unanswered roar. From a risk/reward standpoint, there was $180,000 in the pot when he raised to $250,000. From a "let's see what gives here" aspect, Hasan was able to pick up chips while testing his opponents. Maxfield, a quick study, raises and picks up the next two pots. Tuan Le is the beneficiary of a walkover (everyone folds to the big blind) in the fourth hand. Max is back to pick up hand No. 5.

: Our first confrontation occurs when Habib pushes $250,000 forward and Rob defends his big blind after 15 seconds of contemplation. Both check when a straight possibility (10 9 8) flops. The turn (7) completes the rainbow and increases the likelihood of a straight. After Rob checks, Hasan picks up the pot with a smallish $300,000 bid.

: Phan, a professional player for the last seven years, fires $260,000 from the button and gets action from Maxfield. The flop is all hearts (K-9-6). Paul checks. John bets a "feeler" or possibly a "trapping" $265,000 into the $620,000 pot. Paul, wearing a black suit, asks for a count of Phan's remaining chips. Linda Johnson, alternating with Jack M. as studio announcer, counts and informs us that John has $685,000 left. Max calls. The length of time time from John's bet until Paul's chips went in was 85 seconds. When the 5 turns, Paul waves all in within one second. What can Phan make of the disparate durations of these plays, and the fact that Paul wanted a chip count but just called John's flop bet?

I expect Phan to spend a long time in the think tank if he has a big flush draw or a king. John, of all our competitors, is the most deliberate. His opponents called for the one minute clock several times when the Californian took an inordinate amount of time to act during the week. He is playing around with chips in both hands. John has short, dark hair, sports shades, and wears a blue-and-white striped shirt. After 80 seconds, he balks (feigns pushing his chips in). It takes him another 17 seconds to pitch his cards in facedown.

: With Rob on the button, Phil is first to act. The Turning Stone champ is hatless today (yesterday Phil was decked out in Full Tilt gear). He casually raises to $230,000. Phil has a good hand. How do I know? Phil is always aware of the relative chip counts and positions of players holding big stacks. In this instance, Hollink has the best position and Hasan Habib has the most chips and is in the big blind. These are the two opponents Phil does not want to go up against. Phan doesn't see it my way, because he moves all in. Phil is game. He calls the additional $445,000 and reveals the A Q. Phan trails with K-J off suit, but catches a king on the flop of K 9 5. Phil needs a heart or an ace to dispose of John. The J turns, giving John two pair. Phil picks up a straight draw, but loses the ability to win with an ace. He mucks his cards when the 2 is delivered on the river.

I usually delineate the first 12 to 18 hands to give you a feel for the trends and levels of participation of each player. However, in this event we have seen an inordinate number of "raise preflop and take it" hands and relatively few turn and river cards. After 49 hands, nobody is short-stacked and, incredibly, we still seem to be in "feeling out" mode despite the fact that at the start of hand No. 28, the blinds moved to $60,000-$120,000 with $15,000 antes. Here are some statistics and the chip count as the dealer prepares to pitch hand No. 50:

Pots Won
9 0 10
11 3 14
4 0 3
Tuan Le
6 2 7
9 2 10
9 0 5

As you can see, Hasan has taken advantage of his opponents' snugness. He has increased his chip count by 36 percent. Phil has played far tighter than I've ever seen him play. I would have lost a huge bet to anyone who would have wagered Ivey would be the most passive player through the first two hours of play. Paul seems to be the most feared man on the continent. He has raised nine times before the flop with nary a caller. John has doubled through by deploying fearless play. He and Rob have seen more turn cards than the other players combined.

The TV final table

HAND NO. 50: Tuan Le raises to $375,000. Hollink tries to move him by sending in all of his chips after 35 seconds. Tuan Le isn't going to lay down his A K. He calls the $960,000 raise and is a 64-to-36 favorite over Rob's Q 10. Tuan Le doubles through when an ace comes on the turn to secure the win.

HAND NO. 53: Hollink, now our short stack, sends his remaining $320,000 into the pot with Q-Q. Hasan calls, but Phil moves the chip leader off the pot with an all-in raise. Phil trails with A-J and fails to connect. Rob is back in business after tripling through. Note Phil's excellent reraise. While he couldn't read the strength of Rob's hand based on Rob's short-stacked need for speed, Phil believed Hasan invested $320,000 with a weak hand in an effort to knock out an opponent. Phil decided he might as well pick up Hasan's $320,000 as long as he was going to play, so he reraised with the modest holding of A-J and removed Hasan.

HAND NO. 54: Hollink sends his $855,000 back into action after Tuan Le raises to $360,000 from the button. Tuan Le folds and Rob shows pocket queens again.

: Queens are running rampant. This time Habib has them and raises to $400,000 from under the gun. Ivey has another A-J. Phil moves in for an additional $535,000, but is sent to the rail when Hasan's ladies hold. Finally, we are seeing action, but it has taken three pocket-queen holdings and some ace/big kicker hands to inspire this sextet.

HAND NO. 56:
Phan flips $400,000 forward. Hollink moves in for $1,635,000. John calls with black jacks. Rob was making a move with K-J offsuit. John's pair holds. We have lost Ivey and Hollink in back-to-back hands after a boring two hours of play.

HAND NO. 57:
The players take an eight-minute break, the blinds move up to $100,000-$200,000 with $20,000 antes, and the chip counts are provided by Linda Johnson, the acknowledged first lady of poker. Habib has $11.3 million (slightly more than half the chips in play), Phan is up to $5 million, Maxfield is in a holding pattern at $3.3 million, and Tuan Le is alive with $3 million. Phan raises to $500,000 (only 1.3 times the pot). Tuan Le calls from the big blind. He checks the fl op (K 10 8), then raises all in (for almost $2 million more) immediately after John bets $600,000. When Phan folds, Tuan Le shows the 9. Did he have a 9, jack, or king as his other card? We will find out if this hand makes the cut for television.

AND NO. 67:
We see our first flop in nine hands when Phan fires $800,000 from his small blind position after Hasan and Tuan Le fold. Paul defends his big blind in a big way – by moving his remaining $3.2 million into the pot. Phan is game and shows the K Q. Paul's suited big slick (A K) is a 3-to-1 favorite – that is, until we see the flop of Q 10 6. A second 10 comes on the turn. John must hold off an ace or a jack. He cannot. The J arrives on the river. The man from London scores a Broadway straight. Maxfield's fans erupt. Phan's supporters sit still, shocked and saddened.

: The aggressive Phan, possibly feeling frustrated, moves in with 8-3 from the small blind. Once again, Maxfield has an ace and defends. The flop comes A-Q-5, giving Paul top and bottom pair. When a 6 turns, Jack McClelland announces that Phan is drawing dead. John leaves with $518,920.

HAND NO. 108
: Habib, first to act, calls $300,000 from the button. Both blinds decide to play. The flop is 10 9 8. The competitors check rapidly. Tuan Le checks the Q turn card. Paul bets $300,000. Hasan raises another $600,000. Paul calls. The river card (A) brings a possible flush. Paul checks. Hasan must see a green light. He bets $2 million. The likeable star is nabbed for speeding when Paul calls and shows the J 7, a flopped straight. Paul was correct to check. If Hasan can't beat a straight, he almost certainly will lay down his hand to a bet. By checking, Paul induced a bluff from Hasan's pocket sixes. Paul thought for a minute before calling, but I don't believe he came close to laying down his straight. Paul has shown a tendency to trap his opponents. He has been catching cards and, in our fifth hour of play, according to my unofficial count, the 48-year-old businessman has taken the lead:

Tuan Le

Here are the most interesting updates I can provide from the last 33 hands:

• Each player has won 11 times (Paul has won the most pivotal pots).

• Hasan has gone to a handheld, light-purple fan, and, for a brief period of time, inserted an ice pack under his slacks. That's no joke, as you will see when the show airs. He has asked Jack to provide more air conditioning.

• The blinds were raised to a WPT record $150,000-$300,000 with $30,000 antes after hand No. 88.

• Tuan Le seems to be chewing his gum at a slower pace than when we were fourhanded.

• Paul is also chewing gum. His back is to me, thus I can't determine his chew clip.

HAND NO. 117: Tuan Le has drifted down to $1,540,000 after posting his $40,000 ante. The limits moved to $200,000-$400,000 after hand No. 113. The young Californian moves all in from the button. Habib gets a count and contemplates a call. Finally, he mucks his K J, saying, "I should call you." Yes, he should have. Tuan Le can possess a wide range of hands in this situation, the blinds are eating him up rapidly, and he is a gambling player in the right situations. Hasan is getting almost 1.5-to-1 on his call, and can knock out a dangerous opponent.

HANDS NO. 119, 120, AND 123
: Tuan Le moves all in and wins these hands. His opponents fear doubling him up; they are folding. Tuan Le's objective is to build his stacks to where his raises must be respected. He is accomplishing this goal.

HAND NO. 124
: The Tuan Le train is slowed when his European opponent stands up to an $800,000 flop bet. Paul raises $2 million and Tuan Le folds.

Shana Hiatt leads a few of Bellagio's beautiful cocktail waitresses

as they practice the money presentation.

HAND NO. 125: After Hasan folds, Tuan Le moves in for $1,700,000. Paul, with $440,000 invested, seems interested. He leans back. His sunglasses are perched on top of his head. He shifts his body; his left hip touches the table. He is getting 1.6-to-1 on his call. After 82 seconds he calls. Paul shows the J 10. Tuan Le is a 1.3-to-1 favorite with the K 9. The board helps neither player, thus Tuan Le doubles through and now has enough chips to command respect. Ironically, if he had $3.2 million and had moved in this hand, Paul would have mucked a hand that does not play well heads up. This is the last hand Paul will win for a while. Hasan wins six of the next 11 hands and Tuan Le takes down five pots. Paul folds preflop each time.

HAND NO. 137:
After copping his 11-hand siesta, Paul catches a break when Hasan just calls $400,000. Tuan Le limps in for half-price. Costing him nothing, Paul taps the table. The flop is an interesting one for three limpers: 6 5 4. The competitors show "action flop" respect and check. They also check after the 4 turns. Yet another 4 arrives on the river. Nobody tries a steal and Paul picks up the pot by showing 8-7. He flopped the nut straight and didn't get any value. But, Max can't be blamed for believing one of these aggressors would bet along the way.

HAND NO. 138
Tuan Le folds from the button. Hasan, always looking to push Paul prone, raises to $1,400,000. But, Max isn't moving away, he's moving in (for a total of $3,625,000). Habib has a hand (A-J). He leads Paul's K-10. We are close to heads-up play when the flop (8 7 3) fails to help Paul. He picks up a straight draw when a 6 turns. Paul is standing near me, chewing gum, facing away from the table, sunglasses on top of his head, and looking up at the ceiling as the WPT crew films him. The crowd reaction tells him he has survived – with a king on the river. After this key hand, we receive a chip update: Hasan has $9,730,000; Paul is up to $8,275,000; and Tuan Le is a threat with $3,960,000.

HAND NO. 141:
Hasan, on the button, raises to an even million. Tuan Le wants to play for all ($4,880,000) his checks. Habib has a calling hand (7 7). He is a 54-to-46 favorite to hold off Tuan Le's pretty A 8. But, two spades come on the flop and another turns to secure the younger man's win. Observant readers will note that either I made a mistake with the button movement or the WPT erred. During breaks, the button occasionally stays with the same player, as was the case in hands No. 138 and No. 139 when Tuan Le was the benefactor. Here's a suggestion that will remedy this problem: Have the departing dealer move the button to the next player and place it on edge to denote the move has been made. For the last five hours, Tuan Le has kept himself alive and dangerous with his aggressive preflop play. With this pivotal pot, he vaults into the lead.

HAND NO. 143:
Hasan limps in from the small blind. Tuan Le puts the pressure on from his immediate left with a $500,000 raise. Hasan's response is to move in immediately. Tuan Le likes his K-J offsuit and calls instantly. Hasan was making a move with his last $4.5 million and the Q 8. Neither player improves. Hasan leaves us, graciously hugging his two opponents and wishing them well. The man from Downey, California, must be very disappointed with his finish in this event, despite pocketing $896,375. He played well all week, used his chip lead perfectly tonight, but lost all of his important "coin flip" hands.

After a slow start, the fans and press have been treated to some exciting poker. We have also received water, soda, and some type of delicious orangeade concoction – delivered frequently by waiters. Thanks to Doug Dalton and the classy Bellagio for taking care of the 237 (my estimate) who are on hand in the Spa Tower ballroom.

HAND NO. 144: Heads-up action commences with the blinds accelerating to $250,000-$500,000 with $50,000 antes. Tuan Le holds a 2-to-1 chip advantage and has the button. He is also the small blind in this hand, as the button player is the small blind in heads-up play. He raises to $1,450,000, but is forced to fold when Paul reraises another $3 million.

HAND NO. 147
: Neither player raises preflop and we observe the A 9 7. Max bets $800,000. It's Tuan Le's turn to reraise and take the pot. At this point, we are in hour seven of play and I must admit zoning out of a few "bet and take it hands." Apparently, some who were transmitting live reports did the same thing, as I scribed several more hands than others. Perhaps I invented them. If I did so, I would have created lead-bet winning hands for Tuan Le and check-raise trapping plays for Paul – the theme I observed during heads-up play.

HAND NO. 160
: Paul limps in from the button and Tuan Le checks. Yes, the button is off again. Sharon, now dealing, failed to move the button between hands No. 157 and No. 158. Both check the Q 9 4 flop. They also check when the Q turns. Finally, the A inspires Paul, who sends in $2 million. Tuan Le calls, then mucks when Paul reveals a slow-played A K.

HAND NO. 165: Tuan Le raises to $1,200,000. This is a minimum raise since we are now playing with $300,000-$600,000 blinds and $75,000 antes. Paul reraises and folds immediately when Tuan Le moves all in. Tuan Le shows 8-5 offsuit.

HAND NO. 170
: Paul moves all in with the K 8. Tuan Le calls with the A 4. The pot is $12,350,000. Will Sharon give us a champion? No, Paul hits a king on the river to survive the same way he did in hand No. 138. The lead is short-lived, as Tuan Le takes five of the next nine hands.

HAND NO. 180
: The combatants observe the flop of K Q Q in an unraised pot. Paul bets $2 million after Tuan Le checks. Tuan Le announces, "Raise." He pushes $3 million into the pot and is met by severe resistance – as Paul moves in. Tuan Le calls with a flush draw (8 5). He trails Paul's two pair (K-3). A 5 turns, giving him two more outs, but Paul hits yet another king on the river to leave Tuan Le with less than $5 million in chips. But the young, former WPT winner will not lie down. He fires and wins the next four of five pots to take the lead. The blinds have moved to $400,000-$800,000 with $100,000 antes. Each pot begins with more than 6 percent of the chips in play.

HAND NO. 192
: We are approaching midnight. Three hands ago, Paul survived with a gutshot straight. Now, he moves all in. Tuan Le calls with the K J. Paul's K-5 is dominated. Even more importantly (the way kings have been blessing the Brit), Tuan Le counterfeits Max's king. A jack falls on the flop. Tuan Le's fans roar. Paul is in deep trouble. He is out-chipped and drawing thin. When a queen turns, Jack informs the audience that Paul must catch a 9 or an ace to split the pot. But, the river is a 7.

Tuan Le has done it again. He captures the WPT Championship and vaults to first place as the all-time money earner of the WPT. He leaves with a beautiful silver tray trophy, the respect of all who watched him play, and a tidy $2,856,150. Why did Paul risk all of his chips on K-5? The answer comes from Tuan Le, who spoke with Max the next day. Paul confided that when he saw the king, he decided to take a chance because kings had been so good to him. Tuan Le also told me that throughout the week, he had doubled Max up five times. I told him the object isn't to win every hand; it is to win the last hand. He accomplished that goal tonight.

Approximately 180 stayed to watch Tuan Le gallantly ride his suited K-J to victory. Compare our "crowd" with the more than 155,000 who were jammed in at Churchill Downs on May 7 when Mike Smith guided 50-to-1 shot Giacomo to victory in the Kentucky Derby. Smith's 3-year-old steed battled courageously to the wire to snag a comparatively paltry $2,399,600 purse for owner Jerry D. Moss. I wonder when other big-time events such as the Kentucky Derby will catch up to poker? We can expect to see poker tournament purses continue to grow and we will certainly see Tuan Le, the 26-year-old star, for quite some time to come, if he is not turned out to stud.

Tuan Le
Paul Maxfield
Hasan Habib
John Phan
Rob Hollink
Phil Ivey
Joe Beevers $188,710
Joseph Cordi $150,970
Chris Ferguson $132,095
Juha Helppi $113,225
Michael Mizrachi $94,355
Jeff Shulman $94,355

Lee answers all mail at He welcomes questions, comments, and suggestions for feature articles. Parts I, II, and III can be found at