2006 World Series of Poker




2006 WSOP Final Table Blog


B
y: Andrew Feldman and Steve Rosenbloom

(read from the bottom up)

Posted 8:00 ET: Chan comments on his student.

As Gold went through a series of exactly the kind of interviews he wanted to avoid, his teacher was standing proudly nearby.

"I didn't know I was that good a mentor,'' Chan said. "I guess I'm a better teacher than a player.''

Ego, confidence, whatever you want to call it, it's a big part of a great player. Chan, it turns out, had to help Gold's confidence along.

"He called me the second day of the big tournament when I was in another tournament,'' Chan explained, "and said, 'Daniel Negreanu just sat down on my right; what should I do?' I said, 'Just stay out of his way. Don't call him. Let the great players call you.'''

Chan gave Gold the same advice at the final table when it came to game-planning against Allen Cunningham, the legit pro at the table. Chan also told Gold something else.

"I told him not to lose more than two pots in a row,'' Chan said. "If he did, I told him not to play for a while. He has enough blinds to not play for an hour.''

The student listened well. See the bracelet if you have any questions.

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Posted 7:06 ET: Wasicka's press conference.

Paul Wasicka came in one of the most confident players at the final table and he ended with admitting he made the wrong read.

"My gut told me to go for it, I went for it and it was wrong," Wasicka said.

"He did a really good job tricking me the last hand. He checked raised me all-in and made it look like he was on a draw and I took the bait. At that point I didn't think I could continue to lay down hand after hand to him.

"I felt that during the previous half hour he was in the gambling mood and he did a really good job mixing it up. I'll give him credit. He's a really, really, good player."

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Posted 6:43 ET: Gold wins $12 million.

Jamie Gold couldn't bear to look, couldn't bear to see the river card, couldn't bear to watch when he was one card away from a piece of poker immortality. So, the Malibu TV producer turned his back to the final table and faced his mentor, holding the hand of the last two-time World Series of Poker champion Johnny Chan.

And when the four of clubs came, when Gold's queens held up to bust Paul Wasicka, the last man in his way, Gold spun in disbelief. He hugged Wasicka, then put his hands on his head. His picture would hang with Doyle's and Slim's and Hellmuth's and Raymer's and Hachem's, and, yes, Chan's. Disbelief, indeed.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
The new world champion Jamie Gold.

Gold had the presence of mind to find his mother and give her a tear-inducing hug. His father remained out East, dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). This was for him, Gold had said earlier this week. This was for him.

He would later whip out a cell phone and call his father - hey, it was almost 7 a.m. back there - but only got his answering machine.

"Any night he can sleep through the night is a blessing,'' Gold said. "When he gets up, I think he'll have something to be proud of.''

The former agent who nurtured or launched or enhanced the careers of the likes of James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos"), Felicity Huffman ("Desperate Housewives"), Jimmy Fallon ("Saturday Night Live" and Kristin Davis ("Sex and the City") was getting a spotlight moment of his own, alone at the final table, as it should be, seeing as how he owned it all night. Heck, all week.

Gold's magical moment continued with a hug of Chan and then a visit to the pile of money on the final table. There, he took the diamond and gold bracelet, took off his watch and put on the most coveted jewelry in poker.

Finally, he sat down in his chair, the one where all the chips had been all night and into the morning, and he collapsed.

"I'm really tired,'' he said after going through the official presentation of the bracelet with Commissioner of the WSOP Jeffrey Pollack.

Only days earlier, Gold told ESPN.com's Poker Club that the Hollywood ending would only be interesting if he dumped his chips and finished second, saying he wasn't sure he wanted to win because of the fame that comes with even well-meaning fans and the opening up of his life, not to mention the responsibility that goes along with being poker's newest ambassador.

Turns out, his competitive streak and ability to read people won out over his distaste for the fame of being the $12 million man.

"I just feel really fortunate,'' Gold told ESPN's Norman Chad in a tableside interview afterward. "I was playing the best poker of my life. I got lucky sometimes. I outplayed people other times. I was fortunate that I didn't have to play against most of the best players at my table. Someday, I hope to be able to do that.

"For now, I did OK.''

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Posted 6:27 ET: Binger press conference.

I can honestly say that Michael Binger was one of the most upbeat third place finishers I've ever seen. Yes, he won over four million dollars, but every other player at this final table seemed upset during their interview.

Binger commented on the hand:

"That's the way poker is. I got my way with the worst of it with the double gutter draw and I caught there. Then I had the same situation in reverse to bust me out.

"I wasn't shocked [that he caught]. I've seen Jamie bust a lot of people and he had a lot of cards he could hit… It was an honor to play with him, he's a really good player."

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Posted 6:20 ET: Heads up play begins.

Paul Wasicka
Laura Rauch /AP Photo
Paul Wasickca of Westminster, Colo., plays with his chips at the final table of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006.

Jamie Gold comes in with the dominant chip lead with $75 million chips in comparison to Wasicka's $11 million according to Cardplayer. I'm not sure how we've lost chips from the table, but that's what they are reporting.

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Posted 6:08 ET: Gold eliminates Binger.

Jamie Gold's rampage continues. Latest victim: Michael Binger, the Stanford physics grad. In a huge hand that had a major what-of at the end, Gold open-limped. Paul Wasicka completed the small blind. Binger raised $1.5 million. Gold called the raise, as did Wasicka. The flop came 6s-10c-5s. Binger made it $3.5 million to go. Gold moved all in for about $64 million. Wasicka thought and thought and thought, and folded. Binger called off the rest of his stack, about $10 million, and turns over Ah-10h for top pair/top kicker. Gold, it turns out, moved in on a draw, holding 3c-4s for a straight draw and backdoor flush draw, needing a seven or a deuce to end it. The turn? A seven, naturally. Gold was so exhilarated that he ran to bathroom and some guy in the hallway was saying Go, Jamie! Go, Jamie!"

Michael Binger
Laura Rauch /AP Photo
Michael Binger, of Atherton, Calif., looks up while playing a hand at the final table of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006.

Binger was eliminated in third place, good for $4,123,310. But here's the twist to the story:

All that deliberating Wasicka was doing? He had 7-8 of spades. The queen of spades on the river would've completed his flush and tripled him up. What's more, he would've had almost half the chips in play and put Gold in a spot he hasn't seen for a week  near-even. As it was, Wasicka guaranteed himself second-place money, but began heads-up play down about $75 million-$15 million.

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Posted 5:53 ET: Negreanu bails on radio.

You're not supposed to root when you broadcast or write about a sports event, but Daniel Negreanu is a poker player who was moonlighting as a commentator on Bluff Radio's hand-by-hand coverage of the final table on Sirius. So, when his good friend Allen Cunningham was knocked out, Negreanu left the broadcast in the hands of Howard David and Robert Williamson III.

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Posted 5:30 ET: Allen Cunningham eliminated in fourth place.

Jamie Gold had all the uh, gold, but the player to watch was Allen Cunningham. Everybody said so. He was the underrated pro. He was the one who could end up with $88 million in chips, no matter how many Gold started with. But Cunningham had some bad luck with some good judgment early and some bad luck with bad judgment late. Suddenly he was the short stack, and suddenly, his tournament life was at stake.

Allen Cunningham

With the blinds at $200,000-$400,000 plus a $50,000 ante, Michael Binger made it $1.5 million to go. Gold called. Cunningham moved in for his $6 million-plus. Gold debated, then called and flipped over Kd-Jd. Cunningham showed 10d-10c. The race was on. And then it was over, as the flop came Ks-As-8h. Cunningham was dead to a ten. It never came. The turn and the river were a seven and a three. Gold had busted the biggest threat to his coronation. Cunningham exited in fourth place, taking home $3,628,513.

Three-handed, Gold had $62.5 million, Paul Wasicka had $16 million, and Binger had $12 million. Gold could double up one of his two remaining opponents and still have a big lead.

I passed Phil Hellmuth in the hallway moments afterward and he said it very accurately: "It just seemed like Jamie wanted to knock Allen out."

Cunningham also passed by the media room and will not have a press conference.

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Posted 4:38 ET: Players are on a 20 minute break.

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Posted 4:30 ET: Cunningham caught in a bluff.

Paul Wasicka just took down a huge pot from Allen Cunningham and has left the pro short stacked with only $7.5 million in chips.

Cunningham raised to $800,000 from under the gun and received calls from Gold and Wasicka. After a flop of Ah-Jh-9h, all three players checked. The turn was the ace of clubs. Gold checked and Wasicka led out for $1,000,000. Cunningham raised to $3,975,000 and Gold folded. Wasicka moved all-in and Cunningham folded his hand immediately. Wasicka showed K-Q and raked in a huge pot.

Wasicka is now up to $12 million.

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Posted 4:09 ET: Butler's press conference

Butler just finished his press conference and noted that he's rooting for Michael Binger to win the tournament due to their unique relationship. As mentioned in Thursday's WSOP blog, Binger and Butler met during the first night of the tournament and have had dinner ever since. They've formed a unique relationship and Butler said he's rooting for Binger.

So is Butler disappointed about not winning the bracelet?

"I don't think it's the disappointment in not winning the 12 million, it's just getting knocked out. It's tough. I didn't show any emotion for 15 days and now I feel like crying. It's kind of weird."

On Jamie Gold's success:

"You know what's funny is that people perceive him as not a good cardplayer, but he forces people to make plays. Like [getting] the jacks [to push] all-in for one of the best players at the table [Richard Lee]. He gets something out of them, it's just his style. "

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Posted 3:53 ET: Rhett Butler finishes in fifth place.

Rhett Butler
Laura Rauch /AP Photo
Rhett Butler, of Rockville, Md., plays a hand at the final table of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006.

Still the short stack, Rhett Butler gambled again, and this time it cost him his tournament life. In the hand with blinds at $150000-$300000 plus a $50,000 ante, Allen Cunningham raised to $900,000 from the cutoff. Jamie Gold called from the small blind, and Rhett Butler moved all-in from the big blind for $2,075,000. Cunningham and Gold both called. The flop came Jd-6h-5d. Cunningham and Gold checked. The turn came the 2 of clubs. Cunningham checked. Gold bet $2 million and Cunningham folded. Gold showed Kc-Jh for a pair of jacks. Butler flipped up 4h-4s. The river came the ten of clubs, eliminating Butler in fifth place. Butler takes home a lovely parting gift of $3,216,182.

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Posted 3:05 ET: Chips getting thrown around.

Jamie Gold has been making some big reraises to accumulate the chips that he lost about 40 minutes ago. The most essential raise has been an all-in reraise against Allen Cunningham after Cunningham had bet $2 million on the river. Cunningham mucked and Gold raked another big pot.

Cunningham, who suprisingly became a short stack, moved all-in against Wasicka to accumulate a $4 million dollar pot.

Here are the current chip counts:

1. Jamie Gold -- $52,000,000
2. Paul Wasicka -- $15,000,000
3. Allen Cunningham -- $9,000,000
4. Michael Binger -- $7,100,000
5. Rhett Butler -- $6,700,000

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After a five-minute break to race for chips, Jamie Gold was walking toward the table with several bodyguards. Or, if they weren't bodyguards, they certainly served as protection. In fact, you might say that the former Hollywood agent known around the press room as Jamie "Ari'' Gold had an entourage.

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Posted 2:20 ET: Wasicka doubles up through Gold.

Paul Wasicka raised to $800,000 from the cutoff seat and Jamie Gold called from the big blind. The flop came Kd-Qd-2s and Gold checked. Wasicka led out with a $1.1 million dollar bet and Gold immediately reraised to $5.1 million. Wasicka moved all-in and Gold quickly called. Wasicka shows Ks-10s, way behind Gold's Ac-Kh. The turn is the ten of diamonds, giving Wasicka two pair and the lead in the hand. An eight on the river gives Gold no help and Wasicka doubled up.

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Posted 2:00 ET: Butler doubles up through Wasicka.

Rhett Butler wasn't lying about gambling. First hand after the break, he moved in with As-10h from cutoff for $3,280,000. Paul Wasicka called on the button with 8c-8h. The board came Kd-Qh-10s-Kc-3h and Butler doubled up.

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Just a friendly reminder that the ESPN Poker Club is giving away a seat to the United States Poker Championships for free.

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Posted 1:50 ET::And we're back.

Coming back from the dinner break, here are the chip counts:

1. Jamie Gold -- $51,175,000 2. Paul Wasicka -- $14,560,000 3. Allen Cunningham -- $13,680,000 4. Michael Binger -- $7,440,000 5. Rhett Butler -- $3,235,000

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Rhett Butler came in with the second-smallest stack, so the odds say he should've been the second one out, but there he was, among the last five.

"I haven't had cards for two days," Butler said before play began after the dinner break. "I was fourth out of 45 two days ago. I haven't had two pairs above tens in the last 18 hours. I had aces, and everybody folded.

"I have to double up twice. That's my goal. The blinds and antes are so big, I have to gamble now."

Have to ask: What's with the famous literary name?

"My great-uncle was Clark Gable," Butler said. "I tell the chicks that."

But is it true?

"The truth is, my dad was nicknamed 'Rhett' in college, and my mom loved Clark Gable. My name is Charles Rhett. My dad's name is Charles Everett. He didn't want any Juniors, so I've gone by Rhett all my life.z'

Butler played in one World Series before this, back in '88.

"I didn't like tournaments," he said. "I played cash games. My game changed, and it's more suited to tournaments. I bought in. My friends put up some of the money, and I put up the rest."

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Posted 12:20 ET:: Dinner break.

The players are on break until 1:30 ET, but Richard Lee came into the media room for a press conference. The first thing he said: "All that money on one pair?"

"The last hand Jamie was raising a lot of pots and I had been watching him play for the last three or four days and the cards had been running over him. I watched him pretty close, but I didn't think he had a giant, giant hand. Actually, I thought he could've had A-K or tens. I made a decision to come over the top of him and win it right there. Or, if he had A-K, he would've sucked out on me anyway ... I knew he had a hand, I just didn't give him credit for that big of a hand."

Richard Lee
Laura Rauch / AP Photo
Richard Lee, of San Antonio, looks up looks while playing a hand at the final table of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006.

Lee also addressed his unwillingness to become sponsored by an online poker site.

"They were offering me money, saying wear our tshirt, wear our ballcaps and I just made a decision that if I were fortunate enough ... if I'm lucky enough to get to the final two or three where I'm going to get all the national exposure, that the only thing that I'm willing to support is God, my family, and San Antonio, Texas. There's just not enough money for them to change my mind about that."

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Posted 12:05 ET: Gold eliminates Richard Lee.

Richard Lee started the final table with about $11 million in chips, and built it up to $20 million before dropping to $17 while only showing down two hands. Unfortunately, the second hand busted him out in sixth place.

Jamie Gold limped from the cutoff. Lee raised another $1.2 million. Gold made it $4 million to go. Lee moved all in. Gold called imemdiately and showed Qh-Qs. Lee was crushed with Jh-Js. The board came 3d-Kd-Ks-6h-10c. Lee was gone. Gold was up over $54 million, a massive lead of more than three times any other player. Lee, the San Antonio investor, exited with winnings of $2,803,851.

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Lee's final card was huge for Rhett Butler, too. The second-smallest stack coming in, Butler figures to go out second, but he will finish no worse than fifth and collect at least $3,216,182.

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Phil Hellmuth picked up a tell on Jamie Gold. If you're watching the pay-per-view you already know this, but Hellmuth, who was watching the live feed said when Gold fumbled with his chips as a full stack he has a big hand. In comparison, when Gold was on a bluff, he was splitting his stack before the bet.

Somebody better tell the other players at the table.

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Rhett Butler may be at the final table, but his children are sitting in the hallway since they cannot enter the poker room due to live action.

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Posted 11:30 ET: Binger doubles up off of Allen Cunningham for the third time tonight.

Cunningham raised to $750,000 from the cutoff and Binger moved all in for an additional $2.3 million. Cunningham made the call and was way behind in the hand.

Binger showed Ah-Qc and was dominating Cunningham's Js-Qs. The flop came 8c-2c-6c leaving Cunningham dead to two red jacks. The five of clubs and the seven of spades ensure that Binger survives and doubles to around $6 million in chips.

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Big call, big pot. Jamie Gold raised to $800,000. Allen Cunningham called from the blind. The flop came 8h-3d-8h. Cunningham checked. Gold bet $1 million. Cunningham called. The turn came the 2 of clubs. Check, check. The river came the queen of spades. Cunningham checked. Gold bet $2 million. Cunningham deliberated and deliberated, heard a few words from Gold, then called him down with A-9. Gold mucked. Cunningham added $4 million to his stack, boosting his chips to about $17 million.

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Jamie Gold just showed a nice bluff with 2-3. Gold raised to $750,000 from the cutoff seat and Richard Lee makes the call from the small blind. Paul Wasicka calls from the big blind and the flop comes Qd-Qs-Jc . It is checked around and the turn is the Js. It's checked to Gold, who bets $800,000. Both Lee and Wasicka fold to Gold's bluff.

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Posted 10:45 ET: Binger doubles-up.

In the classic confrontation between the small and the big blind, Allen Cunningham bet enough from the small blind to put Michael Binger all-in. Binger thought for a couple minutes, then called with A-6. Cunningham had the lead going in with pocket twos, but could not win the coin flip as Binger caught two pair on the flop.

Binger is now at $4.4 million while Cunningham takes a hit and is now at $11.8 million.

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Sight seen: Doyle Brunson, knocked out on the first day of the main event, which seems to be about two months ago, was still drawing a crowd in the hallway as he tried to get to the poker room.

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David Grey believes that two short stacks will be knocked out this level. We hope he's right.

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Phil "The Unabomber'' Laak and Jennifer "The Unabombshell'' Tilly came through the poker room to spend some time on Bluff Radio and get some money.

"I'd like to be at the final table, but I'm not,'' Laak said. "I had my $18,000 the first day. The ante ($30,000 at the final table) is more than my highest chip count.

"It's trippy that someone's going to get $12 million.

"Actually we came down here to cash out a ticket I had from last year (for $6,125). But it says 'Unknown' on it and I don't have the original. This is going to be difficult. After I busted last year, I wanted to go to the cash games. I don't like lines. My aversion to lines is costing me this time."

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Memorializing the final table on a sketch pad is Steve Venet. A published cartoonist and songwriter and producer, he is drawing scenes for his 30th World Series of Poker.

"He sketches live and goes back to the studio to paint it," Venet's wife, Pearl, answers when I ask Steve the question. "Sometimes we do it for hotels. Doyle Brunson has a painting he did of Todd (Brunson) winning his bracelet in his office."

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Johnny Chan, the poker legend who has been mentoring chip monster Jamie Gold, repeatedly told his student not to call Allen Cunningham. Make Cunningham call you, Chan ordered. But there was Gold, calling Cunningham on the last hand before a break and getting beaten by Cunningham's two pair.

"I gave him a hint," Chan said. "Anytime Allen bets and puts his eyes down, he's got it. Pay attention to that."

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After the second break, tournament officials began what is hoped to be a terrific tradition: the Parade of Champions. Stage announcer Jack Effel introduced the 10 former main event champions who were able to attend: Joe Hachem (2005), Greg Raymer ('04), Chris "Jesus" Ferguson ('00), Scotty Nguyen ('98), Brad Daugherty ('91 and the first player to win $1 million), Phil Hellmuth ('89), Johnny Chan ('87-88), Berry Johnston ('86), Tom McEvoy ('83) and Doyle Brunson ('76-77). Every champion got nice applause, but Brunson, as you would expect, got a standing ovation, not only from fans, but also from players at the final table, and even the dealer.

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Posted 10:00 ET: Players are now on break, but here's a couple of quotes from Douglas Kim from his press conference.

"I was calling [Paul's raise] to see a good board that I could push nines with. If the board came A-K-Q, I would've folded there. My plan was just to call there. I wasn't short enough to push all-in there [preflop] and see what the board was. I had position on him and I could see what he did after the flop. He bet and I pushed. It's almost automatic both of our plays right there."

Kim was then asked about what he has learned from this experience.

"Playing tournaments this long, you get a sense of how fatigued you can get and how it can affect your play. The key to everything is to just stay focused no matter what happens or else you're going to bleed away chips and lose your mind. You just have to concentrate."

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Posted 9:40 ET: Paul Wasicka eliminated Douglas Kim when his queens held up over Kim's pocket nines.

Paul Wasicka raised to $700,000 from middle position and Doug Kim called from the button. The flop came 4h-4s-3s and Wasicka, out of position, bet out $1,000,000. Kim moved all-in and Wasicka called immediately. The turn was Js and the river was 7s, and Kim could not catch up, getting eliminated in seventh place winning $2,391,520.

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Here are the current chip counts after Kim's elimination:

1. Jamie Gold -- $35,000,000
2. Richard Lee -- $21,000,000
3. Paul Wasicka -- $14,000,000
4. Allen Cunningham -- $13,500,000
5. Rhett Butler -- $3,500,000
6. Michael Binger -- $3,000,000

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Posted 8:45 ET: Paul Wasicka doubled up off of Michael Binger when Binger called Wasicka's all-in with A-9. Wasicka, who had been pushing from the button repeatedly, pushed all-in with A-J. The board showed Ac-As-8s-5c-10c and Wasicka's kicker held up, getting his chip count up to $6 million. Binger, who doubled up just two hands earlier, is now down to $3 million.

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During Erik Friberg's press conference: "I've had a good time in the tournament. It's like Christmas for a poker player."

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Posted 8:30 ET: Michael Binger doubled up off of Allen Cunningham when Binger made a straight on the turn. Cunningham went in ahead with A-Q, but Binger's A-10 pulled ahead as he hit broadway.

Binger is now up over six million while Cunningham dropped down to around $10 million.

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We've had our second casualty of the final table with Erik Friberg finishing in eighth place, winning $1,979,189.

Friberg limped in under the gun and Gold raised to $1 million. Friberg moved all in and Gold immediately called. Friberg showed pocket jacks while Gold had him beat with pocket queens. The board showed 7c-3s-2h-10c-Qc and the Swedish qualifier was elimianted.

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In the 53rd hand of the night, Jamie Gold called from early position. Richard Lee raised to $1 million and was called by Allen Cunningham. When the action returned to Gold, he reraised to $5,000,000 and both players folded.

Gold has been aggressive in every pot and played this pot perfectly against two of the better players at the table.

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Posted 7:30 ET: Entering the first break, here are the current chip counts:

1. Jamie Gold -- $32,500,000
2. Richard Lee -- $17,110,000
3. Allen Cunningham -- $12,650,000
4. Doug Kim -- $8,930,000
5. Rhett Butler -- $5,545,000
6. Erik Friberg -- $5,125,000
7. Paul Wasicka -- $3,990,000
8. Michael Binger -- $3,640,000

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Robert Williamson III was in the house to do some color for ESPN's pay-per-view broadcast and Bluff Radio on Sirius. "This always breaks my heart to be here because I'm not out there playing," he said.

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Phil Gordon and Ali Nejad are both wearing buttons on the pay-per-view signifying the one percent for the bad beat on cancer initiative. Players that wear that button have pledged to donate one percent of their winnings to cancer research.

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Doug Kim chose the Yankees' Mariano Rivera jersey "because it symbolizes closing."

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Harrah's had the mega-multi-porta potties removed from the back lot where the food and beer tents were, meaning there was a line for the bathroom during the break, and worse, two urinals in the closest bathroom were out of service.

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If you're watching the pay-per-view, stay tuned. Harrah's plans a parade of champions after the next level or two.

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Posted 6:30 ET:: Allen Cunningham and Jamie Gold just completed a huge pot which ended up in Cunningham losing around $5 million in chips. With a board of 8h-9h-9d-5s-As, Cunningham showed down three nines with a seven kicker while Gold showed down 3 nines with a 10 kicker. Cunningham bet out $2 million on both the turn and river and Gold, who probably feared kicker problems, just called. Gold is up to around $33 million in chips while Cunningham dropped to around $12 million.

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Dan Nassif, during his press conference, discussed what Gold said to him after the cards were turned up when he pushed all-in: "He apologized first of all for flopping a set. Jamie's a great guy and we kind of became friends, if you can be friends while you're playing poker. He said 'Hey, sorry to see you go.' With my raise he said he was priced in to call, and he was priced in to call. He said he was rooting for a four, which is the type of person he is, a nice guy."

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Johnny Chan was a client of former agent Jamie Gold, trading poker lessons for showbiz representation with the Southern California-based producer. His advice to Gold, the chip leader, before the final table: "Stay away from Allen (Cunningham, second in chips at $17.77 million). He can hurt you. If you get a big hand, let Allen bluff you. Don't call Allen; make Allen call you.'' Chan, known as the "Orient Express,'' is calling his student the "Malibu Express.''

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Big debate on how long the final table would go. Cunningham figured 20 hours. Tex Barch, who finished third last year, predicted 30. Someone from ESPN suggested it will end when the blinds reach $1 million, which would take about 36 hours, figuring in breaks.

"Suffice it to say,'' said Melissa Hayden, a Getty Images photographer and Cunningham's girlfriend, "we got a room here for the night.

"He's so happy coming. He said, 'This is more fun than I've ever had in any tournament.'''

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Introductions of the players had the feel of a kegger, what with each player having a significant and loud group of friends. Doug Kim wore a Mariano Rivera jersey at the final table. He started sixth in chips. We'll find out just how good a closer he is.

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Posted 5:30 ET: On the fifth hand of the final table, Dan Nassif is eliminated in ninth place. Jamie Gold called from early position and Dan Nassif raised to $700,000. Gold called and checked in the dark. The flop came 5s-3s-2c. Nassif pushed all-in and Gold called immediately with a set of deuces. Nassif would need a four to stay alive, but an ace on the turn and a 10 on the river ended Nassif's hopes of making a comeback.

Dan Nassif finished in ninth place, winning $1,566,858

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Posted 5:05 ET: John Juanda, one of the young, aggressive players who came to big-time poker about eight years ago with Allen Cunningham, Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey, naturally was predicting a main event victory for his pal.

"Allen's going to win,'' Juanda said the day before the final table kicked off while playing in the last bracelet event of the World Series of Poker, "he's the best player at the table.''

Funny thing is, Mike Matusow was considered the best player at last year's final table, and he was the first to bust out.

"That's not even close,'' Juanda said, as near-apoplectic as he can get. "That's like comparing Dennis Rodman and Michael Jordan.''

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In that final event before the final table -- another $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold 'em affair -- Phil Hellmuth was trying for his 11th bracelet, which would move him ahead of Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan for the all-time lead. While sitting at the same table as Juanda (three WSOP bracelets), T.J. Cloutier (six bracelets), Robert Varkonyi (2002 main event champion) and Cyndy Violette (one bracelet), Hellmuth declared himself "the best hold 'em player in the world at the top of his game.''

Juanda wondered who declared that.

"Was there a panel?'' he asked in a decidedly mocking tone, and then asked for a vote of the table to see if Phil is the best. The amateur sitting to Hellmuth's right was the only player to raise his hand, likely hoping Hellmuth wouldn't pop his blind.

"No one's the best player,'' Cloutier said, and who could argue?

Frankly, the best player is the last person who won.

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Some numbers from a news conference with tournament director Robert Daily and World Series commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, held 90 minutes before the start of action on the final table:

• More than 48,000 entrants in this year's 45 events.

• A prize pool exceeding $58 million.

• Harrah's expects up to 12,000 people for next year's main event, and if it happens, the final table will be split into two days.

The question always comes up when records of entrants are listed off: Will you raise the buy-in of the main event from the $10,000 it has been since Benny Binion instituted the World Series of Poker in 1970?

"We believe the tradition of the World Series should continue,'' Daily said, "but we are discussing raising the buy-ins.''

Pollack said some reasons for raising the buy-in for the main event -- or any buy-in -- would be because they haven't been raised to keep up with inflation and that while a higher buy-in might bring fewer people, that "might be OK'' in a seven-week event that has run out of space.

"We haven't spent a lot of time on it,'' Pollack said. "My gut conclusion is we're not going to raise it.''

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With 8,773 entrants in the main event, there should've been $87.73 million in chips in play Thursday, but there were $90.14 million on the table.

"Racing for chips,'' said Gary Thompson, director of sports and entertainment marketing for Harrah's. "All the color-ups. We've had at least six.''

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The final table has arrived and we've got nine players ready to go. Starting at 2 p.m. PST, Steve Rosenbloom and Andrew Feldman will bring you coverage of the final table, live from the Rio's Amazon Room.

 


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