Saturday, August 12, 2006

Gold hits $12M jackpot by winning poker's top prize

Seventy-five minutes before Sin City struck midnight Friday, casino executives escorted by pistol-packing guards carried 14 briefcases from a vault at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino and deposited the contents on a large, reinforced poker table next to the final table of the $10,000 buy-in, no-limit Texas Hold'em main event at the 37th annual World Series of Poker.
As the last five players of an original 8,773 who started play July 28 looked on, more than a half ton of $100 bills totaling $12 million was unloaded on the table 20 feet away.

The guards may as well have deposited the cash in Jamie Gold's bank account to save time. The 36-year-old television producer and former Hollywood talent agent couldn't have written a better script as he ruled the WSOP's main event from the first day he played and dominated action on the final day. Gold nearly went wire-to-wire with the chip lead after each daily marathon session of the two-week tournament and won the record $12 million first-place check from a record $85 million in prize money given out for the main event.

"This was the best poker I've played in my life," Gold said. "I was lucky sometimes, but I outplayed others on a lot of other occasions. I think I played well for the last week. I protected myself well, I protected my big chips leads, and I was on a good roll."

Gold played especially well on the final table, knocking out seven of the eight other players. After 13 hours, 42 minutes and 236 hands, Paul "Kwickfish" Wasicka was Gold's final victim. With a pocket pair of tens, Wasicka went all-in with his final $6 million but saw Gold pair his queen on the board for the winning pair. Wasicka won $6.1 million for second place.

"(Gold) played awesome," Wasicka said. "His play got better every day. I thought I had a good read on him, but he was tough."

Gold, who once represented numerous actors including James Gandolfini of The Sopranos and Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives in negotiations with major studio executives, put a vise-like grip on the final table just before 9 p.m. Thursday when he won a pot worth more than $35 million and eliminated 55-year-old investor Richard Lee from San Antonio, Texas, in the process. Lee was in second place at the time.

Gold's pocket pair of queens held on against Lee's pocket pair of jacks and Gold suddenly had $54 million in chips, nearly $40 million more than his nearest rival.

"I built up enough of a chip stack that people had to get really lucky to beat me," Gold said. "I wanted to keep the pressure on when I got a huge chip lead."

Another major win for Gold came five hours later when he knocked out four-time WSOP bracelet winner Allen Cunningham, the only established professional player at the final table and considered by most pro poker players to be the favorite among the finalists.

Cunningham went all in with his last $7 million with a pair of tens and was called by Gold's king-jack. Gold hit a king on the flop and the pair held up.

Cunningham won $3.6 million for finishing fourth.

A little over an hour later, Michael Binger, 29, who describes himself as a professional poker player and part-time theoretical physicist – he earned a PhD in theoretical particle physics from Stanford earlier this year – was on the wrong end of a fortunate turn card by Gold.

All in with his last $4.3 million, Binger led with a pair of tens before Gold filled out his straight with a seven on the turn. Binger finished third and won $4.1 million.

Gold's good fortune against Binger was the way things were much of the night for him. Aside from one stinging loss of more than $11 million of his chips against Wasicka early Thursday night, Gold controlled the flow of the final table and hit key cards on a few occasions.

Using his sizeable chip lead – he started the final table with $25 million to lead by nearly $8 million – Gold was aggressive throughout the afternoon and late into the night, played a lot more hands than the other players, and walked away with $12 million, instant fame, and the WSOP champion's bracelet, which this year features 170 handpicked, full-cut diamonds.

Receiving instruction and tips from friend, two-time WSOP main event champion and 10-time WSOP bracelet winner Johnny Chan during the tournament, Gold made very few mistakes and took command early.

"Johnny kept telling me every day that I was doing everything perfectly," Gold said. "That's just his way of giving me confidence. He won't tell you, but he helped me so much. He doesn't realize how much he helped me."

As Gold said, Chan gave all the credit to the player.

"He played as well on the final table as I've ever seen," Chan said. "He played better than me today. He knocked out all the players except for one. Maybe I'm a better coach than a player. This is great. I feel like I won my 11th bracelet."

After the final nine players took their positions at a poker table with more than 2,000 people watching in the Amazon Room of the cavernous Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, Gold knocked out the first player 15 minutes and five hands into action.

Dan Nassif, a 33-year-old account executive from St. Louis who started the final table with the fewest amount of chips ($2.6 million), had ace-king against Gold's pocket pair of twos, but Gold hit another two on the flop for three of a kind, which held up for the win.

Nassif joked after being eliminated that some of his $1.566 million payday for finishing ninth would go to his friends.

"To everyone back home who ordered the pay-per-view, I'm sorry. I'll give you $25," Nassif laughed. "Hopefully, all my friends back home all watched it in one spot."

Erik Friberg wasn't in a laughing mood three hours later when Gold knocked him out of the tournament. Despite cashing for $1,979,189 for his eighth-place finish, Friberg was a sore loser after his all-in bet of $5 million with a pair of pocket jacks eventually lost to Gold's three queens.

"I'm feeling very disappointed right now, because I played so poorly today," the 23-year-old Swede said. "Today, I don't know what happened to me. This is not the way I wanted it to end."

Gold didn't have anything to do with the third player eliminated from the final table – Douglas Kim, a 22-year-old recent graduate in economics from Duke University, who finished seventh to win $2,391,520. His two pair of nines and fours lost to the 25-year-old former bartender Wasicka's pair of queens and fours.

Lee, who went all in with his last $17.4 million chips against Gold, was the fourth player eliminated – the third by Gold.

"I gave it my best shot," said Lee, who won $2.8 million for finishing sixth. "Jamie was raising a lot of pots and I thought I had him beat, but obviously, I didn't quite evaluate the hand the right way. I just came up short."

Eleven hours into play, Gold took out Rhett Butler, a 44-year-old insurance agent from Rockville, Md. Butler played very conservatively for more than 10 hours until going all in with a pair of pocket fours. Gold's pair of jacks finished Butler, who won $3.2 million for fifth place.

"I was waiting for cards; if I get any cards, I will play," Butler said. "But I kept feeling dominated by the other players, so I had to fold a lot."


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