The Taj Mahal in Atlantic City sure knows how to run a poker tournament. The staff there is friendly and accommodating, and I love playing poker in Atlantic City. Back in November 2002, the $7,500 buy-in no-limit Hold 'em U.S. Poker Championship (USPC) was held there for the sixth time. For three days, the players slugged it out for the right to make the final six players, be on the Travel Channel and win the $212,000 first prize. Unfortunately for me, I was eliminated on Day 1.
However, three of the favorites on my list remained deep into the tournament: Howard Lederer, who finished 11th (Howard had just won the $10,000 buy-in Foxwood's Championship event the month before); John Juanda, who finished seventh (John finished second in this very event in the last two consecutive years) and thus missed the final day and the TV coverage; and Erik Seidel, who made the final day with the chip lead. The other five finalists were John "World" Hennigan (a great player), Eric Buchman, "Charlie" Bae, Robert "Bo" Toft and Tony Popejoy.
Throughout the final table, Seidel and Hennigan set themselves apart from the rest of the field with their world-class play, and soon they were the last men standing - as many of us had predicted the night before. The two of them started their heads up match with about $550,000 each in chips, and it was one heck of a heads-up match, with huge swings back-and-forth. First, Hennigan had all the chips, then Seidel had all the chips, then Hennigan, then Seidel, and so it went until they were about even in chips when the following hand came up.
With the blinds at $5,000-$10,000 and the antes at $2,000 a man, Hennigan just called on the button with 8c-7c, and Seidel checked in the blind with 9d-10s. The flop came down 10h-9c-4c, and now Seidel bet out $15,000 with his top-two pair, and Hennigan made it $55,000 to go with his open-ended straight draw and a flush draw. Seidel then moved all-in and Hennigan quickly called. I saw Seidel's hand first - a second before turned it up - and I thought (as did Seidel, I'm sure), "Seidel's going to win this thing." Alas, for Seidel, Hennigan was drawing plenty live.
With $900,000 in the pot out of $1.08 million in the tournament, the hands were too close to call. Without consulting a computer program, I figured that Seidel was a slight favorite to win this pot (maybe 52 percent). Seidel had a very powerful looking top-two pair, and Hennigan had a monster draw. In any case, if Seidel had won the pot, then Seidel would have been the USPC champion. The jack of spades on the turn made Hennigan a straight, and the last card, the king of diamonds, kept his straight the best hand.
Seidel now had only $180,000 left, but as it turns out, this tournament was far from over. Eventually Seidel came back, gathering almost $800,000 in chips, and back-and-forth the chip lead continued to go. In my eyes, both players were playing great poker, and I can rarely say that when I watch a tournament.
Another key hand came up when Seidel bet $30,000 into a K-9-7 board, and Hennigan called from the button. (There were no raises before the flop, and the blinds were now $10,000-$20,000 with a $4,000 ante.) After a four on the turn, both players checked. The river brought a nine, for a board of K-9-7-4-9, and Seidel bet out $80,000. Hennigan thought for only about six seconds and called. Then Seidel rapped the table and said, "You got it." Whereupon Hennigan flipped up A-5: Hennigan had made the old ace-high call down! Which is a call down that you can only make when you think that your opponent has nothing.
"Wow," I thought, "what a great call that was." Shortly thereafter, in another all-in pot, the flop came down 7-5-3, and Hennigan had 7-7 to Seidel's 9-6 (another unraised pot before the flop). When I saw Hennigan's hand, I thought (as did Hennigan, I'm sure), "Hennigan's going to win this thing." But, alas for Hennigan, Seidel was drawing plenty live; although Seidel was almost a 3-to-1 underdog. When the final two cards were a 10 and a jack, Hennigan had won the Taj Mahal's Championship Event. That was Hennigan's first Championship event victory, and I applaud both Hennigan's and Seidel's heads-up play that day.
By the way, three days earlier, when I ran into Hennigan right before the tournament started, he said, "Phil, I'm not sure I'm going to play today." Not only did he play, but Hennigan played great!
Top-two pair is favored over an open-ended straight draw and a flush draw by this much:
C) not much!