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David Chiu Wins $3.38 Million and 2008 WPT Championship Title

Pulls Off Huge Comeback Against Gus Hansen After Outlasting One of the Toughest Tournament Fields Ever

by Ryan Lucchesi |  Published: Jun 11, 2008


David Chiu had one of the least-popular tasks in poker sitting before him when the final heads-up battle began at the 2008 World Poker Tour Championship at Bellagio. He was facing Gus Hansen for the title and $3,389,140 in prize money, and was starting this task at a major disadvantage. Hansen held 84 percent of the chips in play, and had eliminated every other player at the final table in just 22 hands. He was eliminating an opponent every five-and-a-half hands! Hansen was playing incredibly well, and was running even better. Not since Jamie Gold held 87.5 percent of the chips in play when heading into his heads-up match with Paul Wasicka in the 2006 World Series of Poker main event had there been such a huge deficit at the start of heads-up play in a major championship event.

Chiu, a poker veteran and owner of four World Series of Poker bracelets and more than $2.8 million in tournament winnings, was about to do something special. When the cards went in the air for heads-up play, he had played only two pots at the final table. However, the seasoned veteran did not give up, and it was only fitting that an epic battle between two tough competitors determinted the victor from one of poker's toughest tournament fields in history.

Days 1A and 1B -- Not a Lot of Dead Money in the Room
The 2008 WPT Championship featured probably the most impressive field, pound for pound, of any open buy-in no-limit hold'em poker tournament ever. It is true that the field was smaller than last year (545 players versus 639 in 2007), but it is also true that a large number of professional players anted up the $25,500 to play for the title of WPT world champion. The size of the first-place prize money was still impressive at $3,389,140, and it would be a nice bump to the bankroll of the last player remaining six days later.

What the field lacked in quantity, it more than made up for in quality. The lack of dead money in the field meant that the 2008 WPT Championship would be a show, and it did not disappoint. The first two days of the tournament saw the field split into two rooms. With Bobby's Room hovering over the competition in the poker room, and the Lake Bellagio fountains cascading in the background of the Fontana Lounge, the players took their seats, and recognizable professionals often found themselves seated together at tough tables. There was no place to hide, even for the most seasoned professionals.

The roadblock of tough table draws, combined with deep starting stacks (50,000) relative to the blinds and antes (even by the end of day 1, the blinds were only 300-600 with a 75 ante), resulted in a slow pace of play. The open-shoves for 30 big blinds that are present at other stops on the WPT were nowhere to be seen at Bellagio -- not in this event, not with this field.

Days 2-5 -- Getting Down to Business
While the field had been reduced to 421 players at the start of day 2, the percentage of professional players left in the room was still through the roof. A total of 188 players survived day 2, and leading the way was Robert Mizrachi with 523,200. Following him closely were many players -- most notably, Carlos Mortensen, who was trying to defend his title from last year, and was making a good run at it with 320,000 at the end of day 2 (he eventually ended his title defense by finishing in 38th place, for $65,955).

Day 3 was the day of the money bubble in the Fontana Lounge, although you could hardly notice it by the speed of play. The usual slowdown that accompanies other high buy-in tournaments was miniscule, if not nonexistent. This most likely had to do with the fact that the professionals did not have their eyes on 51st- to 100th-place money ($39,570); they had their eyes on first-place money. The rising blinds and antes finally began to force the speed of play, and by the end of day 3, only 55 players remained. Three players had emerged with more than 1 million in chips when day 3 came to a close: Gus Hansen (2,246,000), Cory Carroll (1,900,000), and David Chiu (1,231,000), and all three of them rode their stacks to the final table. Hansen had won a huge amount of his chips in the largest hand of the tournament up to that point, which was also one of the final hands on day 3. He made a monster all-in call against Tim Phan with the A K on an A 4 3 flop. Phan showed the A Q, and the turn and river came 8, J, respectively. Just like that, Hansen held the chip lead and took control of the tournament.

Day 4 produced the longest bubble of the tournament, and it was saved for the end-of-day bubble; 36 eliminations were rattled off like clockwork on the voyage from 55 players down to 19, but one more had to go before play would end. It took more than two-and-a-half hours for the final two tables to be set, but day 5 would start with one table of nine and one table of eight, thanks to a double elimination at the end of play. Mark Newhouse (19th place) failed to find a pair with his A-10 against Amir Vahedi's pocket deuces, while Scott Epstein (18th place) ran into the pocket aces of Jeff King to end his tournament run. Vahedi used the last pot that he won to increase his stack to 3,907,000, which put him almost a million ahead of Hansen, who held 2,929,000 in second place.

Day 5 began in the opposite fashion of the preceding day, as Jeff "Happy" Shulman (17th place) and Andy Black (16th place) were knocked out of contention quickly. The final 15 players then settled in for an entire level of play without a single elimination. Hansen reclaimed the chip lead when he hit a diamond flush on the river to eliminate Nick Binger in 15th place, and then David Tran in 14th place when he held pocket aces. Hansen increased his stack to more than 5,000,000 with these eliminations, at a time when the next-closest player (Chiu) held 3,150,000. The next six eliminations came down at the pace of a consistent march to the television-table bubble. These six players could have made for an intriguing television table in their own right:

13th place: Robert Mizrachi
12th place: Bryan Devonshire
11th place: Michael Gracz
10th place: Kenny Tran
Ninth place: Tom "Durrrr" Dwan
Eighth place: Karga Holt

The final bubble of the tournament was short-lived, only 10 minutes. After Holt was ousted, Vahedi moved all in for his last 480,000 on a board of A Q 4 3, and Hansen made the call. Hansen turned up the A 7 and Vahedi showed down the Q 8. The river brought the 7, and Vahedi was eliminated in seventh place. Play ended for the night, and the last player whom every other player in the field wanted to see with the chip lead (Hansen) had a vice grip on it, with more than 8,000,000 heading to the final table. Here is a look at the field when day 5 ended:

Seat 1: John Roveto - 2,720,000
Seat 2: Gus Hansen - 8,570,000
Seat 3: David Chiu - 6,050,000
Seat 4: Tommy Le - 1,950,000
Seat 5: Cory Carroll - 6,670,000
Seat 6: Jeff King - 1,305,000

Final Table: Part I -- The Gus Hansen Show
Hansen suffered a slight setback on the seventh hand of play at the final table, when Jeff King doubled up through him with pocket kings. But five hands later, Hansen sent King to the rail when a board of 8 6 4 K was joined by the 10 on the river. Hansen held the 10 9 to King's A Q, and King was eliminated in sixth place, earning $263,815.

Another five hands later, Hansen was at it again when he was on the button. He raised to 415,000, and Tommy Le made the call from the big blind. The flop came Q 10 5, and both players checked. The turn was the 4, Le moved all in for 615,000, and Hansen quickly called with the 10 10 for a set of tens. Le flipped over the 5 5 for a set of fives, and stared at the board in disbelief. The river card was the 3, and Le was eliminated in fifth place, taking home $395,725.

If Hansen had not proven how dangerous he was this far into the final table, he did so one hand later against Cory Carroll. Carroll and Hansen had tangled many times in the tournament before this hand, and Carroll seemed to be the one player who wasn't going to back down from Hansen or stay out of his way until he absolutely had to face him in a heads-up match. The crowd was ready for fireworks when Hansen made it 480,000 to go from the cutoff, Carroll reraised to 1,650,000 from the big blind, and Hansen called.

The flop hit the table Q J 6, and Carroll checked. Hansen stood up to get a better look at Carroll's chip stack across the table, and after about two minutes of thinking, he moved all in, which produced a collective gasp from the crowd. Carroll did not gasp himself, but he did look surprised, as the decision of the tournament lay before him. He checked his cards once again and considered his options. Whoever won this pot would be a mortal lock to make it to heads-up play, with a huge chip advantage in tow.

Carroll finally made the all-in call for 6,925,000, and the crowd gasped again when he turned up the A J for a pair of jacks. Hansen showed down the 7 5 for a flush draw, and he now had to come from behind to win the pot. The turn did not bring Hansen's needed diamond (Q), but the river was much more cooperative when the 3 hit the table, and Hansen won the pot with a rivered diamond flush. Carroll had gotten his chips into the middle with the best of it, and despite his correct play, the cruelty of lady luck sent him home in fourth place with $593,645.

The crowd had barely begun to calm down when Hansen had another opponent all in for his tournament life just seven hands later. This time it was John Roveto who was risking all of his remaining chips (1,985,000). Roveto had pocket kings against the A 10 of Hansen. The flop rolled out J 9 8 to give Hansen an open-end straight draw and put Roveto on the edge of his seat in suspense. The turn was the 6, and a moment's pause was taken by the dealer before he placed the 7 on the table. Roveto was eliminated in third place and took home $923,355 in prize money.

The crowd erupted into a mixture of cheers, chatter, and laughter in acknowledgement of the ridiculousness of what they were witnessing. Hansen was busting a player every five or six hands, on average, and was putting on one of the most impressive final-table performances in the history of the WPT. And, he was doing it in a way that only Gus Hansen could, by dominating with aggressive play and getting a little help from fate when he made risky calls. He now held 84 percent of the chips in play.

Final Table: Part II - The Unthinkable Comeback

Gus Hansen -- 22,905,000
David Chiu -- 4,360,000

So, this is the tough spot in which we found David Chiu at the beginning of our story. All of the hope in the world and all of the chips on the table were stacked against him. Chiu is a pro's pro, so he wasn't going to panic and shove with just anything at this point. He was disciplined enough to grind it out, wait for the best hand, and calm the beast that Hansen had become. You don't win four WSOP gold bracelets by rolling over every time the chips are stacked against you, and Chiu was not about to do that on this stage, against this opponent.

Hansen took control of the match early, and swelled his stack to a peak of 23,695,000 (87 percent of the chips in play) before Chiu decided to make his stand in hand No. 33. Chiu was on the button and raised to 505,000. Hansen moved all in, and Chiu thought for a moment before he made the all-in call for his last 3.79 million. Chiu flipped up the 5 5, while Hansen showed down the 2 2. The board came K J 7 7 Q, and Chiu won the pot to double up to 7.59 million. He now had some breathing room, and he made good use of it. He stayed out of Hansen's way, but won the pots he needed to win to keep the momentum shifted his way. Chiu won the next major skirmish, as well, on hand No. 46. The two combatants built a pot of 4.8 million on a board of 8 8 6 5 2. Both players checked, and Chiu flipped up A-5 to take down the pot, which increased his stack to 11,160,000. What once looked like a sure thing was getting very interesting.

The final table was on track to set a record for being the shortest in WPT history, but heads-up play charged past hand No. 53 (the record set when Eugene Katchalov won the 2007 WPT Five-Diamond World Poker Classic), and began to drag out into one of the longer heads-up matches of the season. The next major battle didn't take place until hand No. 76 of heads-up play, and during that time, Hansen used his trademark aggression to build his stack back up to 20 million. But once again, Chiu won the pots that he needed to win, when he needed to win them.

Hansen was on the button and raised to 775,000 preflop. Chiu reraised to 1,850,000, and Hansen thought for half a minute before making the call. The flop came J 6 3, and Chiu thought for more than a minute before he made it 1.6 million to go. Hansen thought for nearly two minutes before making the call, and he decisively tossed his chips into the pot with both hands. The 6 paired the board on the turn, and Chiu thought for about a minute before he moved all in for 5,175,000. Breaking the mood of the hand, Hansen quickly chose to fold his cards and increase Chiu's stack to 12,125,000. Things were close now, and the tables turned completely just two hands later, when Chiu took the chip lead for the first time in the match.

Hansen raised to 800,000 from the button, and Chiu made the call. Both players checked to the river on a board of 5 5 4 A 9. Chiu checked again, and Hansen bet 900,000. Chiu thought for about a minute before he called with 9-7, for two pair. Hansen mucked, and Chiu won the pot to take the lead. He didn't hold the lead for too long, as two hands later, the tournament was over.

On the final hand, Hansen was on the button and raised to 750,000. Chiu made the call, and the flop rolled out A 10 8. Chiu checked, and Hansen bet 900,000. Chiu made the call, and the turn was the 5. Chiu bet 1,200,000, and Hansen thought for 30 seconds before he moved all in for his final 8,675,000. Chiu went into the tank for two minutes, and counted out his chips before saying, "I call." The crowd leapt to their feet and anxiously waited to see the players' cards. Hansen turned over the 10 8 for two pair, while Chiu showed the A 9 for a pair of aces with a flush draw. Chiu needed an ace, a 9, a 5, or any spade to win the tournament. The river card was the A, and the crowd cheered in surprise as Chiu jumped from his seat and began to celebrate. He quickly grabbed a Chinese flag and began to wave it in victory.

The crowd went into a silent daze after a few seconds of this celebration, as they realized what they had just witnessed: one of the greatest comebacks in a heads-up match in poker history. Hansen was in the biggest daze of all, and he walked over like a robot to congratulate Chiu on his victory. Hansen took home $1,714,800, but the disappointment that he felt was much stronger than any sense of victory. "Well, to be honest, I am really disappointed right now. I know I am standing here with more than $1.7 million, but I can't help feeling that I lost $1.7 million," said Hansen. While Hansen will have to wait to win his fourth WPT title, Chiu defied the odds and all of the momentum in the world to win his first. Chiu also took home the first-place prize of $3,389,140, two bracelets (one from Bellagio and one from the WPT), the championship trophy, and the respect that comes with winning the WPT Championship.

Slowing Down Against a Hyperaggressive Opponent
By Julio Rodriguez

After taking out Tom Dwan in ninth place, Cory Carroll suddenly found himself in second place with 5.6 million in chips in the WPT Championship. Gus Hansen was sitting in third place with just over 4.5 million. It was only a matter of time before the two most aggressive players at the table would clash. Despite being the preflop raiser, Carroll took a line that proved to be successful against the man from Denmark.

Carroll raised from middle position to 350,000, and Hansen called from the big blind. The flop came 8 6 3, and Hansen checked. Carroll bet 450,000, and Hansen made the call. The turn was the A, and both players checked. The river was the Q, and Hansen bet out 1,365,000. Carroll quickly called, and Hansen mucked his cards after seeing Carroll's A J.

Julio Rodriguez: Cory, you raised with the A J and Gus called from the big blind. The flop was three rags with two clubs, and you decided to continue with a bet after he checked.

Cory Carroll: Yeah, it was a pretty standard continuation-bet on the flop, especially against Gus. I mean, if you are playing against someone tighter, you probably can justify checking behind, but against Gus, I'm going to continue with a bet almost every time.

JR: Why did you decide to check the turn after hitting your hand?

CC: Well, once the ace hits on the turn, I'm either way ahead or way behind, and I'd prefer that he do the betting for me. I actually played a similar hand with Gus in almost the exact same way earlier in the day, and I got paid off there, as well.

JR: What are you putting Gus on at this point?

CC: Anything and everything. His range is so wide there. When I called him on the river, he said, "Pair." So, I assume that he had middle pair on the flop with something like 7-6.

JR: He bet out on the river for a pretty large amount.

CC: Yeah, I called, thinking I was either way ahead or crushed. He may have thought he had the best hand, or he may have just been trying to take it away.

JR: What if he decides to check the river?

CC: With a safe river, I have no problem firing out a big value-bet. That's my usual line in that situation.

JR: Did it cross your mind to put in a raise on the end?

CC: There's no value in raising. In fact, a raise in that spot would be horrible. Either he has me dominated or he's folding. I'm never getting any value out of a raise against Gus in that situation.

Carroll went on to make yet another great call with A-J against Hansen at the final table. Unfortunately for the young Canadian professional, Hansen hit his flush draw to bring a premature end to his tournament.