|Dates||Feb 23 - 24, 2005|
|Final Table Date||Feb 24, 2005|
|Number of Entrants||233|
It's often stated by poker players that you'll never see exactly the same situation twice, which is one of the chief attractions of the game. The same can be said of the final table at a WPT event and the annual WPT Invitational is an excellent case in point. This one, featuring a world champion, a famous film actor, a well known sports announcer, and a couple of tough international pros, was emblematic of the WPT's all-star event which once again featured the best poker pros rubbing elbows with Hollywood's hottest and brightest TV and film stars at the beautiful Commerce Casino. Boasting a field of 238 invited guests all on a free roll, competing for the $100,000 top prize and a $25,000 guaranteed seat at the WPT Championship, the Invitational provided for some top notch entertainment. After a tough qualifying round, here's how the final table looked:
In Seat 1, amateur Bruce Buffer, sports announcer most famous as the Ultimate Fighting Championship's "voice of the Octagon," the short stack with 152,000.
In Seat 2, three-time Swedish poker champ, Johan Storakers, a tough international pro from Stockholm, the chip leader with 737,000.
In Seat 3, TV and film actor Tom Everett Scott ("That Thing You Do"), the first celebrity ever to make the final table, with a respectable 333,000.
In Seat 4, 2000 World Champion Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, and one of the top players in the game today, with 531,000.
In Seat 5, legendary Las Vegas high-stakes cash-game gambler Chau Giang, also this season's runner-up at Tunica, with 277,000.
And finally, yet another member of the Brenes clan from San Jose, Costa Rica, Alex Brenes, in his first WPT final table, and an unprecedented third for the family in the same season, with 404,000.
Antes and blinds started at 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000
Play was very tight at the start, until the first major skirmish took place just a few hands into play. Ferguson woke up with pocket Q's, and brought it in for a raise of 35,000. After Giang and Brenes mucked, Buffer looked down to see As-Ks, and quickly came back over the top, all-in for 122,000. Ferguson never really considered not calling the additional 87,000, taking his trademark measured pause before calling. After a flop of Jc-7c-6d, Buffer was pretty much on the canvas, and his time in the ring ran out when the turn and river came 6s, 3s. He drove home to Malibu with $5,000 for incidentals, very happy with his play, and the tournament experience all around.
Ferguson, with pocket 4's, had the misfortune to run into Brenes, with pocket K's, doubling up the Costa Rican, and crippling the be-bearded one. A few hands later, Tom Everett Scott found Ts-Td, and bumped it to 35,000. Ferguson, looking as if he might consider moving in, decided instead to flat call with Kd-Jd, and Giang, looking to run over both of them, made a move with As-8c, and pushed all-in - 272,000. Scott briefly considered, liked what he saw, and called, smoothly forcing Ferguson, with his tourney life on the line, to release his hand. He would wish that he hadn't. The flop came Jh-8s-2d, uselessly pairing Giang's undercard, and when the turn and river came Qs, Js, Giang was sent packing. Giang went out 5th, with $10,000 to cover his buy-in at the high-limit cash game downstairs, where the father of 3 had played all night with Gus Hansen.
For Ferguson, it was tough to watch a 600,000 pot that he would've taken down, instead get moved into another guy's stack. But that's poker, as the unflappable Ferguson will be the first to tell you. And, by way of apology, the poker Gods rewarded him with Ah-Ad on the button the very next hand. Gently massaging them, hoping for a re-raise, he brought it in for 25,000, and instantly found a willing subject in Brenes, who came over the top, all-in for 849,000. Ferguson quickly called with his remaining 190,000, and Brenes went pale as he saw what his As-Th was up against. A 6% dog before the flop, his mood improved about 5% when it came Ks, 9s, 7h, giving him a couple of back door draws. An 8h on the turn further improved his mood to about 20%, giving him an open-ended straight draw and 6 outs, but with Ferguson a dominating 80% favorite, Brenes still needed a miracle. Which was delivered when the river came 6d, making his straight, and knocking out Jesus in 4th place on a brutally bad beat. The genial Ferguson took it like the man he is, exclaiming that he's put some bad beats on other guys and what comes around goes around. He took $15,000 along with him for the short drive down the road to his home in Pacific Palisades.
Now down to three, the surprise was how well actor Tom Everett Scott had played and continued to play. The only blunder he showed was over-betting the pot after flopping trips with pocket 3's, otherwise, he held his own with the two wily international pros. The chip counts were very even for a long stretch, the lead switching hands a number of times, and Scott – who had dropped back by about 200,000 – tightened it up again when he found As-9h. He ran a masterful bluff into a board of Jd-6s-6h, forcing Brenes to muck pocket 4's, and Storakers to toss in pocket 3's. The very next hand, Brenes brought it in for a large opening raise, 180,000, with Ad-Qh. After Storakers folded, Scott looked down to see 6h-6d, and decided to put the heat back on Brenes, going over the top all-in for 750,000. Brenes decided that now was the time to flip that coin, and called, making for a massive 1,500,000-plus pot. Scott's star lost some luster when Brenes took the lead when he paired on a flop of Ks-Qs-8d, and when the board ran out Ts, Td, so did Scott's time at the final table. He went home in 3rd place, with the respect of the poker world, and a nice bonus of $20,000 to boot. "I think I held my own," the self-effacing film star quipped, "I played pretty well." That's no Hollywood hokum, for sure.
Now with a sizable lead in head-up play, Brenes decided to pick his spots, choosing to throw away some decent, but marginal hands when pressed. Looking down to see Ah-Ac, he decided now was such a spot, and he limped, hoping not to scare out the Swede, who checked, with Jd-2d. The flop came Td-5d-2c, giving Storakers bottom pair, but a four-flush as well, and he led out for 65,000. Brenes came over the top of him for 200,000 more, and Storakers, perhaps sniffing a move, decided to play for all his marbles, and pushed all-in 910,000 more. Brenes called quickly, and perhaps recalling his own turn cracking Ferguson's aces, looked worried to see that Storakers had two cards to hit an A, 2, or diamond. But it was the Costa Rican's night, and after an irrelevant 7s, Kh hit the board, Brenes raised his arms into the Hollywood night, and claimed his top prize of $100,000 along with his beautiful trophy made of Argentium Sterling Silver. Alex will also be joining his brother Erick with a $25,000 seat at the WPT Championship, and doing his oldest brother Humberto one better than his runner-up finish in the same room at last year's Invitational. Storakers took 2nd, and packed away a nice $50,000 for his efforts, continuing a strong year of tournament play.