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The 2006 Tournament of Champions - The Best of the Best

Mike Sexton captures the title

by Alex Henriquez |  Published: Aug 08, 2006

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Jesus, a Great Dane, and a Mouth walk into a casino … for the 2006 World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions.

Day one of the exclusive invitation-only tournament featured an eclectic starting field. Of the 27 players, the majority earned entrance by placing first in a World Series of Poker Tournament Circuit event. These players included: Greg Merkow (Grand Tunica), Daniel Negreanu (Grand Tunica), Vinnie Vinh (Caesars Indiana), Chris Reslock (Harrah's Atlantic City), Chris "Jesus" Ferguson (Harrah's Las Vegas), Darrell Dicken (Harrah's San Diego), Jeffery King (Harrah's Atlantic City), Abraham Korotki (Harrah's Atlantic City), Peter Feldman (Harrah's New Orleans), John Spadavecchia (Caesars Las Vegas), Thang "Kido" Pham (Paris/Bally's), and Clint Baskin (Harrah's Lake Tahoe).

The now-famous members of the 2005 WSOP main-event final table also gained entrance into the TOC, and the event marked the first tournament to feature Joseph Hachem (first), Steve Dannenmann (second), John "Tex" Barch (third), Aaron Kanter (fourth), Andrew Black (fifth), Scott Lazar (sixth), Daniel Bergsdorf (seventh), Bradley Kondracki (eighth), and Mike "The Mouth" Matusow (ninth) together since last year's championship.

A number of players received special invitations to the tournament, and they included: Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, Mike Sexton, Gus Hansen, Mike O'Malley, and Sarah Strom, who won her seat through a contest held by sandwich restaurant chain Quizno's.

At 12:10 p.m., the action kicked off with $25-$50 blinds and $10,000 chip stacks. Fans, in bleacher seats and standing three rows deep behind the rails, witnessed a much lighter tournament atmosphere than usual, as all 27 players freerolled into the event. Daniel Negreanu spent most of the day joking with the railbirds, and all of the big-name players took time in between hands to sign autographs and take pictures.

Despite the free entry, players entered the day with a chance to take home a $1 million first-place prize, and the stakes created some tension among the pros. Mike Matusow, the TOC defending champion, and Phil Hellmuth traded verbal shots early in the tournament, and the floor manager was called over on numerous occasions to intervene.

Negreanu, in between chatting with fans and practicing his golf swing, enjoyed the rare honor of knocking out the 2006 WSOP champion and runner-up on the same hand. The action began when Joseph Hachem, a short stack for the majority of the day, pushed all in preflop and received calls from both Steve Dannenmann and Negreanu. Hachem took an early lead when he showed the Qheart Qdiamond, while Dannenmann flipped over the 8spade 8club and Negreanu turned over the Adiamond Qclub. But the Aspade Jclub 10club 10diamond 4spade board gave Negreanu two pair, and he eliminated Hachem and Dannenmann from the tournament.

With a goal of playing down from 27 to 10, the final elimination of the day came nearly 12 hours after the first cards had hit the air. In a heads-up hand that featured the WSOP fourth- and fifth-place finishers, Aaron Kanter moved all in on an Aheart 10diamond 6heart flop, and Andrew Black called. Black flipped over the Adiamond 10club and Kanter became an instant dog with the Aclub Kdiamond. The 8spade turn and 3heart river offered Kanter no help, and he finished the tournament in 11th place.

The chip counts going to the final table were as follows:
1. Andrew Black - $94,175 (Seat No. 6)
2. Daniel Negreanu - $44,325 (Seat No. 5)
3. Daniel Bergsdorf - $24,500 (Seat No. 10)
4. Thang "Kido" Pham - $23,825 (Seat No. 1)
5. Mike "The Mouth" Matusow - $21,300 (Seat No. 4)
6. Chris "Jesus" Ferguson - $16,600 (Seat No. 2)
7. Mike Sexton - $16,100 (Seat No. 7)
8. Darrell Dicken - $15,425 (Seat No. 3)
9. Gus Hansen - $7,375 (Seat No. 8)
10. Chris Reslock - $6,375 (Seat No. 9)

The Tournament of Champions final table played out in a conspicuous corner of the Rio's Amazon Room. While more than 1,000 casino employees participated in the first "official" event of the 2006 World Series of Poker, the majority of fans in attendance crowded around the one table adorned with black starlight curtains and fawned over by an ESPN film crew.

At 2 p.m. PDT, with cameras and boom mikes swirling around the final-table set, the first cards hit the air. Play began with $2,000-$4,000 blinds and $500 antes. Tournament officials also increased each player's chip count by 10 times, a move used to generate the kind of massive stacks that viewers love to see on TV.

Despite the chip boost, fans needed to wait only 20 minutes to witness the TOC final table's first casualty. Gus Hansen's Aclub Kdiamond failed to improve against Andrew Black's 9diamond 9spade, and he finished the tournament in 10th place.

Hansen's elimination also meant that the money bubble had burst, and the remaining players were guaranteed at least $25,000 for two days' work.

Nearly one hour later, Daniel Bergsdorf achieved the unenviable distinction of being the first player paid in the TOC. A Negreanu flopped nut straight cracked pocket kings, and Bergsdorf, the 2005 WSOP main-event seventh-place finisher, hit the rail in ninth place ($25,000).

Thang "Kido" Pham followed as the eighth-place finisher. After an apparent preflop bluff, Pham found himself all in with the Jdiamond 3spade against Black's Adiamond 7diamond. The Kclub Kdiamond 10club 7diamond 2heart board gave Pham no help, and he took home $25,000.

Crowd favorite Chris Ferguson, a short stack for much of the day, bowed out of the tournament in seventh place when his pocket sixes ran into the pocket eights of Darrell "Gigabet" Dicken. Fans chanted for a miracle 6, but Dicken's eights held up, and Ferguson left the final table $50,000 richer.

On the first hand after the dinner break, Dicken and Mike Sexton barely let their food settle before squaring off in a big hand. The popular World Poker Tour host called an all-in reraise by the Internet poker star. With a Kdiamond 4diamond 4spade flop, Dicken flipped up the Adiamond 5diamond, giving him the nut-flush draw, and Sexton showed the Kclub 5club, top pair. Dicken missed his flush when the 4heart and 2heart came on the turn and the river. The sixth-place finish netted Dicken $75,000 in prize money.

Andrew Black entered the day with the chip lead, but lost a huge pot to Negreanu, and spent the latter portion of the final table on a marginal stack. Black's tournament run ended at the six-hour mark after Mike Matusow's pocket kings held up against his Kdiamond 9diamond. Black, a victim of Negreanu's pocket kings earlier in the day, finished the tournament in fifth place ($100,000).

At 9:35 p.m. Chris Reslock, a WSOP Tournament Circuit winner, became the fourth-place finisher ($150,000) in the TOC. His exit set up a three-way match between "Kid Poker," "The Ambassador of Poker," and a man known simply as "The Mouth."

After two hours of back-and-forth play, Matusow moved all in from the big blind for his remaining $170,000. Sexton, the small blind, made the call. Matusow, who had just lost to a river flush by Negreanu, flipped up the Aclub 4diamond and Sexton showed the 7diamond 7club. The Kspade Jclub 6spade 4club 3club board gave Sexton the winning hand, and he eliminated the defending champion from the tournament ($250,000).

Matusow left the final-table set visibly upset, and told the media that the accomplishment of winning the TOC twice in a row meant more to him than the $1 million first-place prize.

With Matusow eliminated, two of the most popular personalities in poker squared off for $1 million and the TOC gold trophy.
Heads-up play unfolded more like a heavyweight boxing match than a poker game. Negreanu and Sexton employed defense tactics, and each player picked spots to deliver haymakers. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Sexton connected with the knockout blow.

In that hand, Negreanu raised to $64,000 and Sexton reraised an additional $180,000. Negreanu called, and then pushed all in on the 10diamond 8diamond 4spade flop. Sexton immediately made the call and showed the Aheart Aclub. Negreanu frowned and flipped over the Qheart Jheart. The Adiamond turn and 8club river gave Sexton a full house, and he eliminated Negreanu from the tournament ($325,000).

Sexton, who created the original concept for the Tournament of Champions eight years ago, played in the 2006 version for charity, and planned to donate half of his $1 million first-place prize. spade