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The Winning Hand
Number One vs. Number Two
by Phil Hellmuth

Men "the Master" NguyenIn a made-for-TV showdown, the Player of the Year award for 2001 came down to the last poker tournament of the year. Men “the Master” Nguyen was number one on the list heading into the last event after a flurry of final table finishes in mid-December at the Taj Mahal’s U.S. Poker Open in Atlantic City. Men’s impressive last minute run at the Taj included five final tables with two firsts and two second place finishes. The previous leader, John Juanda was thought to be so far out of reach from the field that no one could catch him. John even added to his lead by making four final tables at the Taj himself, but Men’s flurry of firsts and seconds passed John with two tournaments left to go in the year! Going into the last event, which was the $7,500 buy-in, no limit Hold’em Championship Event (not to mention one of the most sought after and prestigious titles on the Poker tour), John needed to finish at least seventh and have Men miss the final table in order to win the Player of the Year award for 2001. This three-day-long Championship Event had seventy-six players enter, and paid $280,000 for first place.

As time passed, both Men and John continued to survive until they both made the final table together at the end of day two. Incredibly, the final two players left in the tournament on the last day were Men and John! At this point, Men had won the Player of the Year award, but some serious business was yet to be decided. The Player of the Year is prestigious, but, like in golf, I would rather win a Major then the Player of the Year. Not to mention the $140,000 difference between first and second place!

The first hand after the blinds were raised to $5,000–$10,000, John opened for $30,000 with AD-KD (which is a very powerful hand in Hold’em) and then Men raised John all of his $283,000 in chips with 10C-10S. Men only had $7,000 left after this raise, so the whole tournament was on the line if John called Men’s raise at this point. After a moment John announced, “I call” and pandemonium reigned as everyone leaned in to see the board cards that would decide who the new U.S. Poker Champion would be. By the way, at this point in the hand Men was about a 13 to 10 favorite to win the pot. John now needed to hit an Ace or a King in the next five cards without Men hitting a Ten; or John could make a flush or a straight to win as well. The flop brought down QS-7S-3C, which was a very good flop for Men as his pocket Tens were still the best hand. Now John needed an ace or a king to come up on one of the next two cards. The fourth card was the 9S, for QS-7S-3C-9S, and that was a really bad card for John, because now Men had picked up a spade flush draw (now John couldn’t win it with the Aces or Kings). John now had only four cards in the deck left with which he could win (AC, KC, AH, KH) on the last card. With $566,000 of $573,000 in the pot, the winner would be decided on the last card! That card was the 6C, and Men “the Master” Nguyen was declared the Champion and the Player of the Year! Congratulations to both Men Nguyen and John Juanda for having terrific poker years. It’s just too bad that the poker world doesn’t have a TV deal yet, because this would have been one major drama for the rest of the world to watch!


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