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A Little Help From His Friends

Shawn Buchanan Wins 2007 World Poker Tour Mandalay Bay Poker Championship

by Ryan Lucchesi |  Published: Jul 04, 2007

Every summer, the eyes of the poker world fall on Las Vegas. The World Series of Poker kicks off a busy summer schedule that infuses the Strip with excitement. While most of that excitement was centered on the Rio, six players brought more than a fair share of it to Mandalay Bay recently. These six were the last men standing from a starting field of 228 players after three days at the Mandalay Bay Poker Championship. They came to play for the $768,775 first prize, and the prestige that comes with a World Poker Tour victory. Here's how the final table looked at the start:

1 - Thayer Rasmussen - $273,000
2 - David Levi - 334,000
3 - Jared Hamby - $1,764,000
4 - David Haddad - $1,180,000
5 - Danny Wong - $185,000
6 - Shawn Buchanan - $853,000

It didn't take long for things to snap into action. On the fifth hand of the night, David Haddad bet $42,000 and Shawn Buchanan raised to $140,000. Haddad reraised all in for $731,000 more. Buchanan called, which put his tournament life on the line quite early. Buchanan confidently flipped over pocket kings and Haddad flipped over pocket jacks. The board was dealt K J 8 5 3, which got a huge reaction from the crowd. Buchanan doubled up on the hand, and he was the new chip leader with $1.7 million.

One thing was obvious from the start of this final table; each player had his own personal cheering section. The rise and fall of each player was predicated by screams of joy and gasps of agony that were only accentuated by the cavernous ceiling above. All of the players received loud support, but no one group of fans cheered louder than Buchanan's Canadian crew of supporters.

Steve Goosen and three others from the Great White North flocked to Vegas like a group of geese migrating south for the winter. They heard that Buchanan was at the final table and started a late-night journey. This may have violated the accepted laws of nature, but it was anything but easy. "What happened was, we live in Canada, and now to fly across the border, you need a passport. Some of us didn't have passports; we had just our birth certificates and driver's licenses. So, we drove from Vancouver to Seattle in the middle of the night at 1 a.m., got there at around 4 a.m., got our flights at 6 a.m., flew here, came straight here to make sure that we got tickets, and then came here to watch him," said Goosen. "It was definitely worth it. This is a good Canadian contingent here."

Danny Wong had his own cheering section, as well. His friends filled an entire first row, and they all rose to their feet when Wong moved all in with his short stack for $91,000. Thayer Rasmussen moved all in over the top of Wong. Rasmussen flipped over pocket sevens and Wong showed pocket threes. The board helped neither player, and Wong was eliminated in sixth place ($76,515). A sixth-place finish would be an occasion for celebration for many people. But, that number might be becoming a curse for Wong. He finished sixth at the World Poker Challenge in Reno a few months back.

Then, on the very next hand, Rasmussen bet $45,000 from under the gun and Haddad moved all in from the button. Buchanan then moved all in over the top of Haddad, and Rasmussen folded. Haddad turned over the A J and Buchanan turned over the A K. The board came Q 5 4 K 5 and Haddad was eliminated in fifth place ($98,375).

The chips were flying and two players had been cast aside early. David Levi had been in particularly good spirits before the start of play that night. He must have known that he was going to put on a show. On a flop of K J 4, Levi moved all in and Buchanan once again moved all in over the top of an opponent. Buchanan flipped over the 10 6 and Levi showed the Q J. The turn and river cards were the Q and 8, and Levi doubled up to $600,000. A few hands later, the 8 8 7 sat on the board when Levi did his best impression of a trapdoor spider. Buchanan bet $75,000, Levi popped it to $220,000, and Hamby mucked. Buchanan smooth-called, and the 4 fell on the turn. Levi checked again and Buchanan moved all in. Levi closed his trap and quickly flipped over pocket sevens for the full house. Buchanan turned over the K 8 and the river brought the 2. Hamby had control of the chip lead at this point with $1.5 million, while Levi and Buchanan were tied with about $1.2 million apiece.

A lull in the action settled in before Rasmussen attempted to make a move before he was chopped off by Buchanan, who held the A J. Rasmussen was dominated with his A 10, he hit the rail in fourth place ($131,170), and Buchanan regained the chip lead. Levi was next to sing his swan song an hour later. He raised to $150,000 and Hamby reraised to $420,000. Levi moved all in and Hamby called. Hamby showed the 9 9, and Levi flipped over the 7 7. The flop hit A J 8, which induced the Levi cheering section to erupt into repeated chants of, "Diamond!" The J and 3 were peeled off on the turn and river, though, and Levi was eliminated in third place ($229,549).

Star-Studded Rail
The action was now heads up, and Hamby held a $1 million chip advantage over Buchanan. Apparently, a revolving door had been installed during the week between the Rio and Mandalay Bay, because Juan Carlos Alvarado was now in attendance to watch the heads-up action. Alvarado finished in eighth place in this event the day before, but immediately rushed over to the Rio to hop into the WSOP. He followed Ryan Daut (ninth) and preceded Barry Greenstein (seventh) in this process. All three were spotted at the Rio shortly after they busted out of the WPT event. Only during the summer in Las Vegas can players participate in two major events on the same day. While a number of players had bought one-way tickets from Mandalay Bay to the Rio, one player was about to go against the grain.

Greg Mueller was the chip leader during day two of the WSOP $5,000 limit/no-limit hold'em championship. Mueller is a fellow Canadian, who also happens to be Buchanan's roommate for the summer. He rushed over to support Buchanan during his dinner break at the WSOP. Anyone who has seen Mueller in person knows that he is a big guy who loves his food. His journey of one mile was much shorter than that of his fellow Canadian brethren, but the level of commitment it showed to a friend more than made up for the distance.

Heads-Up Action
Buchanan and Hamby had cold feet in the early going of their heads-up match, and things started off slow. That was until the turning point of the match. Buchanan bet $130,000 from the small blind and Hamby raised $220,000 more. Buchanan called, and the flop was dealt Q 9 4. Hamby fired out $410,000 and Buchanan called once again. The turn card was the 9 and Hamby bet $600,000. Buchanan called, and the river card was the K. Both players checked, and Buchanan turned over pocket threes. Hamby mucked, and Buchanan took a 3-1 chip advantage with the call of the tournament. As you can imagine, the crowd went nuts, and not just Buchanan's supporters.

The final hand conceded to the strong sense of fate that had settled in the atmosphere when Hamby moved all in preflop for $865,000. Buchanan called after thinking for a moment, and Hamby showed the K 8. Buchanan then turned over pocket threes, again!

"It was kind of destiny, so I had to call the last hand. No, I just figured he had a random hand, so if I lose the hand, we're back to even. So, I decided to gamble with him," said Buchanan. The board came J 7 5 4 A, and Buchanan won the WPT championship title. Buchanan was mobbed by his friends, including Mueller, who just missed the final two hands. They joined together in a raucous celebration that emitted contagious energy.

"It was a fun time. It's nice watching everyone cheer," said Buchanan. Hamby took home $459,080 in prize money and had champagne in hand after the final table ended. At the time of this writing, Hamby is now in second place in the Card Player Player of the Year race. Buchanan took home $768,775 for his first-place finish, the 2007 Mandalay Bay Poker Championship trophy, and a $25,000 buy-in for the WPT Championship.