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Poker’s World Championship
Winning Hand
by Phil Hellmuth

I have been knocking on history’s door at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) for the last eight years. After a long four days of playing in the 2001 WSOP main event, there were nine players left heading into the final day. Walking into the room as one of the finalists I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by it all.

Discovery Channel was filming the finals and had cameras everywhere and it was standing room only with spectators watching monitors just so they could witness the final table. There had to be over 100 reporters representing everyone from NPR (National Public Radio) to the Travel Channel — and were both doing live web casts of the action. And the prize money, WOW! 1.5 million dollars for first place, $1.1 million for second, $700,000 for third, $400,000 for fourth, $300,000 for fifth, $240,000 for sixth, $180,000 for 7th, $120,000 for 8th and $92,000 for ninth.

It was announced during the player’s introductions that I needed to finish fifth or higher in order to take first place on the WSOP all-time money list. This is an accomplishment that I have been waiting almost ten years to do. However, even more important than that was to win the WSOP for the second time and put myself down in history as the fifth two-time winner. I would just win the thing and break all of the records at once! So much for the best-laid plans of mice and men. At least I did manage to finish fifth and claim the all-time money lead at the WSOP with $2,844,850, but it’s a small lead. I’m only $26,000 ahead of TJ Cloutier and $52,000 ahead of Johnny Chan.

The final table play was very aggressive, with players raising and re-raising on pure bluffs for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A young 29 year-old Spaniard named Carlos Mortenson was right in the middle of all of the aggressive play. In fact, in one key hand that I believe contributed heavily to Carlos winning the WSOP, Mike Madisow opened the pot for $70,000, whereupon Carlos raised Mike $160,000. Mike raised Carlos another $350,000, and Carlos finally raised all of Mike’s remaining chips, (about $500,000), with a Q-8! A Q-8 is a very weak hand in Texas Hold’em! Carlos had smelled weakness in Mike Madisow, and then made his bold and courageous move. After Mike folded what he claimed to be an A-Q Carlos showed his hand to the audience and they gave him a standing ovation. Carlos bowed, and the audience cheered even louder. Carlos’ play in this hand was both gutsy and brilliant, and that’s what it takes if you want to become a World Champion of poker.

Meanwhile, I sat back and watched the show. I felt like one of these aggressive players was going to make a mistake, and that I would be able to take advantage of it. My downfall was when I raised the pot $100,000. Phil Gordon re-raised me about $450,000 more, (all of his chips, however I had about $1,000,000 in chips at the time.) Instantaneously, I said, “I call” and then flipped up my pocket nines quickly. Somehow I was certain that I had the best hand! Indeed I did, because Phil Gordon had pocket sixes, and I was a four and a half to one favorite to win the 1.1 million pot, and take the chip lead. Unfortunately for me, the flop came 6-8-K, and I wound up losing the pot to Phil’s three sixes. After I was finally eliminated, I felt really sick, because I had blown a very big chance to make my mark on poker history. There will be other World Series of Pokers, but with the field swelling up to 600-plus players this year, it won’t be so easy to win another one. However, I will keep showing up, year after year, trying my hardest to win it again. I believe that great things happen to people that go for it! I will be waiting on history’s doorstep for the next opportunity to break through. Right now though I offer my congratulations to Carlos Mortenson for winning the 2001 World Championship of poker.

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