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World Series of Poker Circuit Las Vegas: The Third Time's the Charm for Kido Pham

by BJ Nemeth |  Published: Jan 24, 2006


The World Series of Poker Circuit made its second stop in Las Vegas this season, finding its way to the Bally's/Paris Casino. The Circuit's last visit to Sin City was a bit of a disappointment, drawing just 107 players. While this event attracted 134 players, it was still a small turnout for a major tournament held in the poker hotbed of Las Vegas.

Day One: Scotty Nguyen Leads in More Ways Than One

Former World Champion Scotty Nguyen was invited to serve as the official host of this event, giving Harrah's a big name to use for marketing the tournament. The vivacious Nguyen served well in the role, both at and away from the felt.

Nguyen started day one with a standing-room-only public appearance, talking about his life and poker, answering questions from the audience, and signing more than 100 autographs. He then took his seat in the tournament, and continued his hosting duties by schooling everyone else at his table. Nguyen finished the day with $109,225 in chips – and the chip lead.

There were 44 players who survived day one, with Raed Abukartomy in second place behind Nguyen with $100,425 in chips. Other big-name survivors included Doug Lee (who won last season's WSOP Circuit Championship at the Rio), reigning World Champion Joe Hachem, Jennifer Harman, David Pham, Max Pescatori, Paul Phillips, Minh Ly, Hoyt Corkins, and the points leader at that time in Card Player's Player of the Year (POY) race – John Phan.

Day Two: Three Hours to get to the Final Three Tables

Day two was one of the quickest you'll ever see in a major tournament. The day started with 44 players, and 27 would continue on to day three. How long does it take to lose 17 players? About three hours and eight minutes.

Phan was the unfortunate first casualty of the day, and he wouldn't be adding any points to his POY totals.

Nguyen's chip stack took a big hit in the second hour of play before he slowly regained the ground he lost. But when the 28th-place finisher was eliminated (ending day two), Nguyen already had started a hand against J.C. Tran. He would end up losing a $47,500 pot when Tran flopped a full house with pocket tens on a board of K-K-10. Even with that last hand, Nguyen finished the day with an above-average $55,300 in chips.

That same pot propelled Tran into second place with $118,600 in chips. But the chip lead belonged to Abukartomy, who started the day behind Nguyen in second place. But Abukartomy rose as Nguyen fell, and he finished with $161,500 in chips. From the notables listed at the end of day one, only Phan and Phillips were eliminated; the rest would play on.

Day Three: Eight is Enough

Day three began with the final three tables, but everyone was looking ahead to the final table. The only way to walk away with anything from this event – money, TV coverage, or Player of the Year points – was to reach the final table. Only the final nine would be paid.

It took about two and a half hours to drop from three tables to two, but then the action slowed considerably. There were a few quick eliminations after the dinner break (which always seems to happen), but then the action slowed again.

Joe Hachem can't bear to watch the last two cards after his pocket kings were out-flopped by Kido Pham's J-10.

Jennifer Harman was on a short stack all day, and could never gain ground. Whenever she moved all in, everyone else folded; she wouldn't bust out, but she couldn't double up, either. Harman eventually moved all in with the Q 9, and was called by Doug Lee with the 7 6. She had the preflop lead, but Lee flopped a pair of sixes. Harman turned a higher pair of nines, and then Lee rivered a 7 for two pair. The lead changed at every step in the hand, but when it mattered most (the river), Harman had the worst of it, and she was eliminated in 11th place.

The final 10-handed table began at about 10:30 p.m., and play would continue until one more player was eliminated, which could take minutes or hours. On this day, it took hours, as none of them wanted to burst the dreaded "triple bubble" (no prize money, no TV time, no POY points).

But shortly before 1 a.m., lightning struck several players at once. Max Pescatori moved all in as the short stack, and Joe Hachem reraised all in over the top behind him. Lee Watkinson was next to act, and he thought for several minutes before reluctantly folding. But then Minh Ly called all in, and there was suddenly a three-way all-in situation.

Pescatori showed the A 4, Ly showed pocket jacks (J J), and Hachem had pocket kings (K K). What did Watkinson fold behind Hachem? Pocket queens. Hachem was in the lead and had the other two players covered, so he could bust two players at once and move himself into the chip lead – as long as the kings held up.

And hold up they did, as the board came 8 8 2 9 3. Pescatori never found his ace, and Ly never caught his jack. Since Pescatori started the hand with fewer chips, he received the dreaded 10th-place spot. Ly also missed out on the TV final table, but he did receive $37,788 and a handful of POY points for his time and trouble.

Ironically, the two busted players were the ones who could most benefit from the POY points. Pescatori was ranked seventh, and Ly was 13th in the POY standings, and a victory for either of them could have moved them up to second or third place, respectively. The only remaining player with significant POY points was John Smith, who was ranked 28th. Winning this event would move him into the top 10.

With two players out on the last hand, only eight would be headed to the usual ninehanded final table. Here were the chip standings and seat positions:

1. Joe Hachem – $285,000 (seat 3)

2. Kido Pham – $254,500 (seat 2)

3. Doug Lee – $189,000 (seat 7)

4. Steven Hudak – $145,000 (seat 5)

5. John Smith – $144,000 (seat 1)

6. Lee Watkinson – $128,500 (seat 4)

7. J.C. Tran – $97,500 (seat 8)

8. Scotty Nguyen – $96,500 (seat 6)

Even with only eight players, this final table would feature two World Series champions – Joe Hachem (2005) and Scotty Nguyen (1998). Nguyen would like nothing better than to win the event he was hosting, while Hachem would like to dispel any notions that his $7.5 million victory over the summer was a fluke. Meanwhile, Doug Lee was looking to join Chris "Jesus" Ferguson as the only two-time champions on the young WSOP Circuit.

Day Four: Cracking the Kings of a Champ
The blinds started at $2,000-$4,000, with a $500 ante. Even the shortest stacks had more than 24 big blinds, so there was plenty of time for these players to be patient. But on hand No. 3, two players got all of their money in the pot. The flop of K 8 2 gave Lee two pair (with the K 2) and Tran the nut flush (with the A 5). All of the money went in on the turn, and after a blank on the river, Tran quickly doubled up.

Lee would try again with the same hand (K 2) in hand No. 5. He flopped top pair on a board of K Q 9, but when he moved all in on the turn, Pham immediately called with the J 10; Pham had flopped a straight. Lee started the day in third place, played K-2 twice, and was out of the tournament. It'll probably be a long time before he takes K-2 to the flop again.

Hudak lost a lot of chips in hand No. 4, and moved the rest of them into the pot with pocket queens (Q Q) after a flop of A 9 2 in hand No. 13. Hachem called with the A 8 (pair of aces), and Hudak needed a queen or a spade to survive. The last two cards were 4 2, and Hudak was out in seventh place.

Kido Pham – J.C. Tran – Lee Watkinson

Smith lost his chips slowly but steadily. He saw a few flops, but luck was against him on this day, as he missed every one. He moved all in with the A 6 in hand No. 36, but was dominated by Pham in the big blind with the A K. Smith was eliminated in sixth place.

The key hand of the day was hand No. 43. Tran raised to $18,000, Pham reraised to $50,000 from the button, and Hachem reraised to $150,000 from the small blind. Tran folded, but Pham moved all in – with the J 10. Hachem called with his pocket kings (K K), and Pham was facing more than 5-to-1 odds to stay alive. But the flop came J J 2, and Pham caught a miracle to take the lead with trip jacks.

The players were so shocked that everyone got up from the table, and Pham was the only player who witnessed the last two cards on the table. (Hachem was nearby, but had his head down in disbelief.) Those last two cards were 6 A, and the reigning WSOP champion was crippled down to about $40,000 in chips.

Hachem moved all in with the K 8 from the small blind in hand No. 48, but Watkinson called with pocket nines (9 9) from the big blind. Watkinson flopped a set and went on to win on a board of J 9 6 8 Q. Joe Hachem went from chip leader to a fifth-place finish in just four hands.

Nguyen moved all in from the button in hand No. 59 with the A J, but Pham woke up with pocket kings (K K) in the big blind. Unlike Hachem's kings, Pham's held up, and Nguyen's tournament was over. But he set a high standard for any future WSOP Circuit hosts to match.

In hand No. 72, Watkinson raised all in after a flop of K K 5, and Pham called with a flush draw (J 9). Watkinson showed the K Q (trip kings), but probably felt like the underdog the way Pham's luck had been running. Sure enough, the A fell on the turn, and Pham hit his flush. Watkinson missed his 10 outs on the river, and he was sent home in third place.

Kido Pham had $894,000 to J.C. Tran's $446,000, and with blinds of just $4,000-$8,000 ($1,000 ante), they both had more than 55 big blinds. But nobody expected the final table to last much longer with these two very aggressive players.

In their 12th hand of heads-up play (hand No. 84), Tran raised to $24,000, Pham reraised to $70,000, and Tran called. They both checked the flop of A K 6, but Pham bet $130,000 when the J fell on the turn. Tran called, and the J on the river paired the board. Pham moved all in.

Everything stopped for several minutes as Tran went into the tank, studying his opponent. He eventually called with the K Q (pair of kings), but Pham showed the A 8 (pair of aces) to win the pot – and the tournament.

In his post-game interview with ESPN's Norman Chad, Pham pointed out that this was his third final table in a championship event. The first time, he was too nervous to play well. The second time, he was too cocky, planning how to spend the million-dollar first prize the night before the final table. But now, the third time was the charm.

Final results were as follows:

1. Kido Pham – $453,456

2. J.C. Tran – $251,920

3. Lee Watkinson – $138,556

4. Scotty Nguyen – $100,768

5. Joe Hachem – $88,172

6. John Smith – $75,576

7. Steven Hudak – $62,980

8. Doug Lee – $50,384

9. Minh Ly – $37,788