L.A. Poker Classic
|Dates||Feb 16 - 21, 2006|
|Final Table Date||Feb 21, 2006|
|Buy-In||$10,000 + $100|
|Number of Entrants||692|
Walking into the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles is an experience in itself. No matter where you've played poker, you've never played in a card room this big. It's cavernous, with action going on around the clock. The only thing that could make the experience bigger is the World Poker Tour. When the WPT L.A. Poker Classic came to town, it brought with it the makings of the biggest poker tournament on the American West Coast. After several grueling days of play, six players remained out of the 692 that began the $10,000 event. When they sat down for the marathon final table, here's what their chip stacks looked like.
Seat 1: Steve Simmons - 1,505,000
Seat 2: J.C. Tran - 3,720,000
Seat 3: Michael Woo - 2,195,000
Seat 4: Alan Goehring - 1,900,000
Seat 5: Daniel Quach - 1,655,000
Seat 6: Per Ummer - 2, 870,000
Sometimes, chip stacks mean a great deal when seated at the final table. A chip leader can come into the final day of play and ride his stack to the championship. However, it doesn't always work that way.
J.C. Tran began the day using his chip stack to his advantage, running over the table with well-tuned aggression and the bullying capability of a true chipleader. Within a few hands, he'd extracted several hundred thousand chips from his opponents without showing down a hand. At the same time, former Wall Street man Alan Goehring was bleeding away his meager stack in rabid defense of his blinds.
Indeed, stack sizes would fluctuate maniacally. Early in play, Per Ummer lost with pocket jacks versus Steve Simmons' pocket queens. He got his money back when J.C. Tran chased an open-ended straight draw against Ummer's aces and missed.
It went on like that for four hours. Simmons, Woo, and Quach played ultra-tight. Ummer, Goehring, and Tran mixed it up. Despite crazy swings and ever-changing chip leads, no player would be eliminated for hours upon hours.
When it seemed as though nothing could knock a player off the final table, Ummer made a move at the wrong time. With the blinds at 100,000/200,000 and a 20,000 ante, Ummer looked down to find A7 suited in clubs. At any other time, it might have been a hand he would have instantly folded. However, with only enough chips to go around the table a few more times, Ummer moved his stack into the middle. The timing could not have been more unfortunate. J.C. Tran quickly peeked at his cards and saw AK suited in hearts. With little doubt in his mind that his hand was good, he jumped to his feet and called. Ummer was going to need a seven or a bunch of clubs to stay alive in the L.A. Poker Classic. The flop, however, brought nothing to help Nemo, it came out TT4 with two hearts. Tran stayed ahead and picked up the ace-high flush draw. Reduced to two outs, Ummer seemed resigned to his fate. Nothing would change on the turn and river and Per "Nemo" Ummer headed for the rail in sixth place, cashing for $199,000.
With Ummer gone, Michael Woo began to enter the picture, first, Woo moved all-in over the top of J.C. Tran's pair of sevens with pocket nines. Woo's nines held up and won him a pot worth nearly four million chips. With a lot more chips in his stack, Woo was happy to call Goehring's subsequent all-in. Goehring held pocket kings, but had very few chips. Woo, sitting in the blind, didn't have to pay too much more, called with J6, and with no help from the board, Goehring was able to double up.
In just a few moments, Woo had taken a large chunk out of Tran's stack and doubled up Goehring. This set up the one hand in the L.A Poker Classic that defined heartbreak. Tran looked down to find the most beautiful thing he could see: pocket aces. Casually, he threw out a standard raise – 600,000. Goehring, perhaps believing he was ahead or perhaps feeling euphoric over his recent double-up, came over the top all-in with pocket fives. With five players still at the table, the $2.4 million first prize was still a long way away, but Tran was surely thinking about how much closer he was to it. He instantly called Goehring. The flop was perfect: 872, all spades. Holding the aces of spades, Tran knew one of Goehring's two outs—the five of spades—was now dead in the water.
Tran had to dodge one out on the turn and river…or so he thought. The dealer peeled off the turn and revealed a second deuce. Suddenly, the five of spades was back in play. Goehring could catch either of the remaining fives in the deck to make a full house and crack Tran's aces or possible flush. It was so unlikely that no one could really believe it would happen. Even fate isn't so cruel as to crack aces on the river with a two outer.
A few things happened when the dealer burned a card off the top of the deck and laid out the river. First, Goehring shot into the air and bounced around the room like a contestant on the "Price is Right." Second, J.C. Tran disappeared into the bowels of the Commerce Casino. Without even waiting to see whether he or Goehring had more chips, Tran was gone. Why? Because the river was one of two cards in the deck that could beat Tran, it was a five.
Finally, Tran's fate was determined. Goehring held more chips. Tran re-emerged and accepted his fate. With Tran questioning all the poker odds involve, he left the room in fifth place, earning $265,000 to soothe his pain.
Blinds went up to 150,000/300,000 and a 30,000 ante and there was little doubt in anyone's mind that it was time to start making moves. Steve Simmons was the first to fire. Having played a tight and conservative game thus far, Simmons went for a blind steal from the button and moved all in with JT. The decision of whether to defend the blinds came to Goehring, a notorious defender of blinds. He held KJ suited in hearts. To play, he would have to call off half of his stack. For Goehring, it seemed as easy decision. He made the call. Simmons, looking confused and vaguely shocked, left the stage in fourth place when the board didn't improve his hand. He cashed for $338,000.
Woo, having sat quietly through the Tran/Goehring debacle, looked down to find pocket fives. At that stage in the tournament, any pocket pair looked like gold. He came in for a standard raise, perhaps hoping it would be enough to steal a round of blinds and antes. Daniel Quach, sensing the urgency of the situation, moved all in with KQ offsuit. After a moment of thought, Woo called. The flop could not have been much uglier for Woo. He looked down to see AAQ on the board. Woo was now reduced to two outs to win the pot and stay alive in the tournament. It had not been long since Goehring had pulled off the miracle. Woo hoped it could happen again. Instead the dealer laid out a ten and a three to send Woo home in third place with $571,000 in his pocket.
Now the stage was set for a battle between a WPT Champion and a former poker dealer. Quach began the clash with a chip lead, but Goehring whittled away at his foe and within a few hands, the players were nearly even in chips.
Finally, Quach found AJ, while a great hand in heads-up play, it can vulnerable once the flop has been dealt. With that in mind, Quach moved all in. Goehring, after a bit of thought, called and flipped over an unremarkable K8.
Standing, Goehring announced to the crowd, "I couldn't stand it anymore."
Quach was both happy and nervous when the flop came out Q9J. The anxiety would soon turn to pain. With nary a flourish, the dealer laid out a king on the turn and a seven on the river. Quach went into the showdown ahead but came out behind and finished in second place for $1,162,560 in prize money.
Once again, Alan Goehring, the retired Wall Street Man, made his way to the pinnacle of poker success. His top pair earned him another WPT title and a whopping $2,391,550 first prize, proving that coming to the final table with a short stack doesn't mean you're doomed.