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Brian Saltus Wins the TOC
Winning Hand
by Phil Hellmuth

The Tournament of Champions (TOC) is one of poker’s biggest and most prestigious events. With over 400 runners, this year’s $2,000 buy-in TOC proved hard to win. After three long days, a relatively unknown Idaho attorney, Brian Saltus, found himself staring down three poker greats. 1998 world champion Scotty Nguyen, tournament champion “Miami” John Cernuto, and living poker legend T.J. Cloutier were all in top form waiting to de-chip the tournament novice. “Warm up my car will you?” joked the 60-year old attorney. But much to the shock of those watching the event, Brian didn’t need his car warmed up until he had the beautiful TOC trophy, and $204,000 to bring along with him for the long ride home! Brian winning the trophy against these three champion players was like your grandpa making that inside straight he always told you not to draw to!

Nonetheless, Brian played skillfully and dispatched “Miami” John Cernuto, his A-A holding up against John’s A-6 for a $600,000 pot. Brian made it $80,000 to go with his A-A and John picked a rare bad time to move all of his chips in (around $300,000). Scotty Nguyen was sent packing when his A-K couldn’t beat T.J. Cloutier’s 6-6 and that brought it to heads-up, with T.J. Cloutier having $1.7 million in chips to Brian’s $300,000; a daunting task for the Idahoan! He would have to outlast poker’s all-time leading money winner and spot him $1.4 million to grab the TOC trophy! Last year, at the World Series of Poker, T.J. Cloutier faced down Chris Ferguson for the $1.5 million first place and the right to be called World Champion of Poker for the rest of his life.

In that event T.J. lost a $4.4 million pot (almost 90% of the chips) to champion Ferguson while holding the best hand until the last card! Would history repeat itself?

Unfortunately for T.J., history did repeat itself. Brian battled all the way back to even. With the blinds at $15,000–$30,000, and the antes at $6,000 a man (now there’s a game that will get the blood pumping!), T.J. made it $95,000 to go with A-J from the small blind and Brian called from the big blind with an 8-10 of diamonds. The flop brought 9-10-J, and Brian bet out $40,000 with his pair of tens and an open ended straight draw. T.J. then announced, “I’m all-in,” and moved $825,000 into the pot with his power-ful top pair top kicker. Brian called T.J.’s all-in bet quickly, and now the total amount in the pot was over $1.8 million! If Brian won the hand the tournament was over, but if he lost, T.J. would have over 90% of the chips in play. One pot for almost the whole tournament! With two cards to come, Brian needed a 7 or a Q to make a straight, a 10 for three tens, or an 8 for two pair, tens and eights. T.J. was about a 13 to 10 favorite at this point. The first card was a 4, and Brian now had thirteen cards in the deck that would win it for him (four Qs, four 7s, two 10s and three 8s), against the thirty-one cards that would win it for T.J. The whole tournament would be decided on one last card! The last card was a black queen, giving Brian a straight, (8-9-10-J-Q), to win the pot and the tournament! Again, in one of poker’s biggest events, T.J. suffered a tough defeat to a brutal last card! Tough break for T.J., but he handled himself with class once again. Don’t feel too sorry for him though, he did win over $1 million for both of his second place finishes. Congratulations to both Brian and T.J. for a job-well-done!

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