From The Den: My Top 10 Most Memorable Moments of 2008 - Part 1

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January 02 2009

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January 07, 2009

Working as a tournament reporter and blogger for PokerNews has enabled me to travel to many amazing countries during the past twelve months, and at the same time I’ve been fortunate enough to witness up close some of the world’s best poker players and personalities. Upon reflection of the year that was, I thought about my most memorable moments from 2008 and decided to compile my Top Ten. Some of these moments you may have heard about, some you may have not.   I’m sure everyone has their own moments, but these are the ones that stand out in my mind, whether good or bad, right or wrong, as the most memorable, from my vantage point, merely three feet away from the poker table.


#10 - Done Deal - PokerNews Cup, Austria
Eric Kollman It’s always fun to work backwards in these Top Ten lists, so coming in at #10 is an extraordinary end to a tournament at the PokerNews Cup in Salzburg, Austria.

Traditionally when a player wins a tournament he will hold up the cards of his final hand in the winner’s photo, however this wasn’t the case in Austria. After Niki Kovacs was eliminated in 3rd place, Austrian Erich Kollman and the UK’s Andrew Nicholson decided to enter into some “negotiations”. This is nothing out of the ordinary for a poker tournament where a lot of money is on the line. With Kollman holding a roughly 2:1 chip lead, a deal was reached and the players shook hands.

What came next was a surprise to us all as Kollman was handed the trophy and declared the winner without any further cards being dealt! So the best negotiator becomes the champion? WTF? Ok perhaps that’s a little harsh, as Kollman was clearly the best player in the field once they hit the money and he deserved the title. However to end a Main Event on a handshake was one of the more bizarre endings to a tournament that I have seen.

#9 - Final Table Domination - Kinkade (Vic Champs, Melbourne) and Timoshenko (APT, Macau)
I was fortunate enough to witness two of the most dominant final table performances that you will ever see, from two of the young guns of world poker. Both were so impressive that I couldn’t split them.

Jay “Seabeast” Kinkade had a big reputation to uphold as he entered the Main Event of the Victorian Championships as one of Australia’s best online players. Looking for a big live result to cement his place at the top of the Australian poker scene, Jay emerged through the field and completely dominated the final table. Once play reached six-handed it was all over. Jay was relentlessly aggressive; to the point that every second hand that was blogged was Jay raking in another pot. He was ultra-impressive and a huge Australian poker success story in 2008.

I’d played with Yevgeniy Timoshenko at the 2008 Aussie Millions, and although I didn’t know who he was at the time, he quickly proved that he was an extremely tough adversary at the table. At the Asian Poker Tour event in Macau, I quickly identified him as a player to watch in this tournament and he didn’t disappoint. He pounded on his opponents through the money stages of the tournament to take a lead into the final table where he pounded on them some more. A dominant performance by the young American who at 20 years of age is still too young to play at the WSOP! A player to watch in the years to come.

Jay Kinkade
#8 - Henrik Gwinner's Sick 5-Bet Bluff - European Poker Tour Grand Final, Monte Carlo
Henrik Gwinner Henrik Gwinner is one of my favourite players to watch live as his bag of tricks is as deep as any player in the world. He is capable of anything and everything, and his deep run in Monte Carlo was highlighted by his duels with Antonio Esfandiari and the following sick 5-bet.  Here’s the action as I blogged it at the time:

Antonio Esfandiari opened the action with a raise to 3,400 which was flat-called by a player in late position. Henrik Gwinner then squeezed both players, making it another 10,200 to go. Esfandiari folded before the player in late position who, after flat-calling the previous bet, decided to now reraise the action again, increasing the bet amount by an additional 20,000 in chips.

"Wow," said Gwinner before going into the tank. Both players were deep-stacked, and with over 30,000 in the pot already, it was a tournament make-or-break decision for the T6 Poker representative.

After several minutes of deep thought to build the suspense, Gwinner gathered his stacks of chips together and slid them into the middle in declaration that he was all in! "God I Love Poker!" came the cry from Esfandiari, as the media contingent swarmed the table in anticipation.

This five-bet pre-flop was an additional 55,000 to his opponent and represented the majority of his stack. He thought for a moment, shrugged and reluctantly tossed his cards into the muck.

Gwinner then flipped over his hand - a jaw-dropping A diams10 hearts - much to the disgust of his opponent and the shock of the rest of the table.

A world-class, and somewhat sick, move by Gwinner has elevated his stack to around 125,000 in chips!


#7 - God Runs Like Van Marcus – Asia Pacific Poker Tour, Manila
“You don’t run like God, God runs like you!” was the cry that came from Van Marcus to his opponent, David Steicke, at the APPT Main Event in Macau. How those words would turn full circle for Van a few months later.

The APPT Main Event in Manila was a truly memorable experience as I love nothing more than seeing Australian success. At the dinner break on day one I bumped into Van at the dinner buffet and had a quick chat about how he was doing. He shrugged and said he was hanging in there with around average chips. He’d just been moved to the chip leader’s table and I thought he’d be in good shape to double through and get back into contention. After dinner that’s exactly what happened, as Van found pocket aces on multiple occasions to surge to be amongst the chip leaders by the close of play.

On day two Van found himself seated next to the boisterous David Saab, but continued his run with an amazing runner-runner, perfect-perfect, one-outer on the river to claim the tournament chip lead. Here’s how my blogging partner, F-Train described this moment:

"That's so sick!" complained Van Marcus, standing out of his seat at Table 11. The board showed 7 clubs10 heartsA hearts3 spades. Marcus tabled 3 diams3 hearts; Daniel Nordstrom, who was just barely all in for more than 50,000, tabled 10 clubs10 diams.

"Just hit the one-outer," David Saab instructed Marcus. "It's that easy."

Imagine the roar from the room when Marcus did just that, spiking the 3 clubs on the river for runner-runner quads to take out Nordstrom!

Marcus continued his amazing good fortune by spiking a two-outer set to eliminate James Broom late on Day 2, followed by a jaw-dropping run on the 14-hour final table that included multiple two-outers and straight draws of all varieties. It’s easy to focus on the luck factor, but you need luck to win tournaments and quite simply it was Van’s time. It was a memorable tournament and a great moment to be an Aussie.

#6 - John Phan Does It His Way - World Series of Poker, Las Vegas
John Phan John Phan is one cool dude, and away from the table he seems like a very genuine guy, but I’ll never forget the day that he won his first WSOP bracelet and the drama that unfolded that evening at the Rio.

David Singer was the one everyone was watching at the final table of the $3,000 No Limit Holdem event, but in between complaints of bad lighting, lack of crowd rails, poor dealers, chaffing and global warming, he was thankfully eliminated in 5th place. That left the door open for John Phan to take on the quietly effective young gun Johnny Neckar for the bracelet.

When the action went heads up by about 7pm we thought we might be lucky enough to be in for an early night, but these two players didn’t give an inch for several hours. One of the main reasons for the length of play was due to Phan taking forever to act on every decision. Eventually it got to the point of being ridiculous where Phan would take several minutes to check his option in the big blind. He was clearly enjoying the attention of being heads up for the bracelet, but perhaps it was all gamesmanship as his young foe was sitting there shaking like a leaf.

However Neckar held his own and the two decided to enter into some deal discussions. It appeared a deal had been agreed to and we thought we were about to get this one over with. However out of nowhere, Phan stood from his chair, demanded a dinner break and walked off with his entourage to the shock of the tournament director, media and most spectators in attendance. As this was not a telecast final table ESPN weren’t running the show and so Phan was able to get his demands met without much resistance. Here’s how I blogged it at the time:

After both players appeared to be satisfied with the discussions, John Phan stood up out of nowhere and said "We're going to dinner...90 minutes!"

The last thirty minutes have been almost embarrassing as the focus has shifted away from what would have been an entertaining heads-up battle.

Under almost farcical circumstances we're off to dinner. See you in 90 minutes.

So we all reluctantly went to an excessively lengthy dinner break, frustrated, but with no idea of what was about to unfold after dinner.

Phan was of course several minutes late after the dinner break and the TD announced that if he didn’t show up in the next minute, the cards would be dealt without him! When play finally resumed, Phan continued to struggle to overcome his opponent and after six hours of heads-up play they finally snapped.

Neckar finally agreed to Phan’s wishes to go all-in without looking at their cards! Welcome to the World Series of Poker where we’re playing for the prestige of a bracelet by going all-in dark! The players then proceeded to gamble all-in dark on three separate occasions. Here’s the live reporting blog of the final two all-in dark hands from the viewpoint of my WSOP buddy compncards:

Johnny Neckar and John Phan have played the last two hand all in preflop blind. This time they requested that card not be flipped, the board run, and that they be allowed to squeeze. The floor agreed and jokingly asked, "would you like it run twice too?" The first time this happened, Johnny Neckar had John Phan covered. The board came as follows:

J clubs8 spadesQ diamsQ clubs5 clubs

Both players flipped over one at a time.

Phan: 4 diams
Neckar: 4 clubs
Neckar: 2 spades
At this point, the crowd starts cheering as Neckar is playing the board.
Phan: 7 spades

The seven played and Phan doubled up.

After this hand, the two players agreed to play all in blind again. Same rules as last hand. The floorman informed the gallery, "No, we are no longer accepting buy-ins to this event." This time, Neckar's tournament life was at risk.

Board: A spades3 hearts9 hearts5 hearts4 clubs

Again, the players show one card at a time.

Phan: K spades
Neckar: Q spades
Phan: 6 spades
Neckar: 4 spades

Neckar doubled up through Phan. After these two wild hands, Phan had 2,800,000 and Neckar had 1,400,000.

What a wild night that's going on here.

The crowd loved every minute of the bizarre encounter. After three all-in blind confrontations, play returned to normal and Phan gained the ascendency. Soon after Phan captured the title when his A hearts9 spades held against Neckar's Q diamsJ diams, to collect his first WSOP bracelet and kick-start what would become a memorable 2008. This is one final table that I’ll never forget!


In the second part of this article, I’ll bring you the rest of my most memorable moments of 2008. What do you think will make the top five?


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