So Here We Are – The Final Table

So here we are, tomorrow the final table of the 2006 World Series of Poker starts and, maybe, finishes. The prediction of one dealer I spoke to was that this year’s final table would last 20 hours. With the speed players had been getting themselves eliminated I highly doubted this at the time but how things change when every additional spot moves what is likely to be the ‘high tide’ marker of each players’ career. Four times bracelet winner Allen Cunningham is the only one of the finalists to whom that probably doesn’t apply – and that’s no disrespect to the others, but finishing ahead of over 8700 players is an incredible task for anyone, however good they are. I never got the chance to see Stu Ungar play, it would be fascinating to see how he would cope with the sort of fields we see in the biggest tournaments today. Even down to the last 20 knockouts were coming quickly but once we got to 10, that certainly changed. We were at would could be described as the final table, but it wasn’t the final table. Only 9 players would come back tomorrow. It wasn’t monetary thing, they players were all now pretty much set for an at least modest life if they chose to be (those who weren’t already much better off than this) – making the final day, the FINAL, was what really mattered. As much as anything else, they could lay in bed for 2 more nights, trying to sleep, knowing they were still in with a shot of winning the biggest prize in poker. It took over 3 hours to lose 10th placed Fred Goldberg after Leif Force went out in 11th.

Jamie Gold finished chip leader for the 4th day running and starts the final table with 25,650,000. To put that into perspective last year’s starting final table leader was Aaron Kanter with 10,700,000. From media and exiting players alike Gold has come under criticism – the deck is (to some peoples’ disappointment only metaphorically) hitting him in the face. Every time he gets someone all in holding the worse hand it seems he sucks out on them, but he gets action on the big hands too and for him they always hold up. Doyle Brunson wrote in Super System that his strategy was to pick up a lot of small pots bullying his opponents and then when he did get called as an underdog he was freerolling. As The Adventures of Stevie V. might have sung, chips talk, and Jamie Gold has a lot to talk about. Sure he’s getting lucky, but chip leader for 4 days running – he must be doing something right. One thing in his favour is he’s a friend of Johnny Chan who has tutored him. What’s causing some controversy is the number of times he is consulting with Chan between hands. To be quite honest, I’m not sure what the rule is here – no coaching is allowed, and it’s one player to a hand, but what constitutes ‘coaching’? If Todd Brunson gets up to speak to his dad at the rail following a bad beat, are we to expect Doyle to do anything other than try and give his son a helping hand in keeping his focus? Is coaching during breaks allowed? When Hasan Habib got up to speak to Tony Ma in the 2000 final, actually during a hand he was involved in, there was an announcement made reminding ‘the players’ of the rule on coaching and Nolan Dalla was critical of of Habib’s behaviour in a CardPlayer article afterwards. Habib responded denying the claim that he had received any advice from Ma about the hand he was playing and Nolan responded as follows:

"My report of the incident was meant to illustrate a growing problem at many tournaments, which is the ever increasing influence of non-participants on the proceedings. What should be avoided is the prospect that any future ‘champion’ will ever be tainted by the inevitable suspicions that are raised when discussions (between players themselves or involving a player and a spectator) are not completely out in the open. If you did did not discuss a strategy with Mr. Ma during the hand, you did nothing wrong, ‘technically speaking’. However, observers did not have the benefit of that knowledge and were left to draw their own conclusions. My column was a call for stricter enforcements of the rules that govern player behaviour, with commentary as to why implementation of rules that will address this issue in the future are essential".

Although Nolan did later apologize for stating as fact that Habib had benefitted from Ma’s advice, I think he summed up matters pretty perfectly here. If Jamie Gold was getting up and speaking to his girlfriend or brother no-one would raise an eyebrow. When you’re getting up to speak to one of the best tournament players in the history of poker people take notice. I should clarify that I have not seen or heard that he is consulting during a hand as Habib was accused of in 2000, but receiving advice between hands would certainly appear to be against the ‘no coaching’ rule, else it would simply be a duplication of the ‘one player to a hand’ rule. It certainly seems like Nolan was 100% correct with his call for stricter enforcement of rules to avoid compromising future players and, perhaps, champions.

Mr Gold., however, is not favourite in the eyes of spectators or bookmakers. Betfair and PaddyPower both have markets up on the winner and in both Allen Cunningham, second placed in chips with 17,770,000, is favourite. With his pedigree perhaps that’s not surprising. He has been watching his table like a hawk every hand and has more experience than the rest of the table combined, and then some. As I’ve just had a few quid on him I’ll have to try and keep my reporting as impartial as possible. Erik Friberg has also received a lot of praise for his play, and is the last remaining European in the field.

The chip counts of those going to the final table in full:

Seat 1: Richard Lee (San Antonio, Texas)
Chip Count: 11,820,00

Seat 2: Erik Friberg (Stockholm, Sweden)
Chip Count: 9,605,000

Seat 3: Paul Wasicka (Westminster, Colorado)
Chip Count: 7,970,000

Seat 4: Dan Nassif (St. Louis, Missouri)
Chip Count: 2,600,000

Seat 5: Allen Cunningham (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Chip Count: 17,770,000

Seat 6: Michael Binger (Atherton, California)
Chip Count: 3,140,000

Seat 7: Doug Kim (Martsdale, New York)
Chip Count: 6,770,000

Seat 8: Jamie Gold (Malibu, California)
Chip Count: 25,650,000

Seat 9: Rhett Butler (Rockville, Maryland)
Chip Count: 4,815,000


1st – $12,000,000
2nd – $6,102,499
3rd – $4,123,310
4th – $3,628,513
5th – $3,216,182
6th – $2,803,851
7th – $2,391,520
8th – $1,979,189
9th – $1,566,858

Spotting someone who bore a remarkable resemblance to a certain Ronaldhino at the Palms yesterday (I can’t be 100% on this, as, despite the very attractive ladies on either arm, the trademark smile was not in evidence) reminded me that the English football season will soon be upon us. For the Mob and myself, Tottenham and West Ham supporters (ignoring Ram’s indiscretion), we can be pretty sure that like 8 players tomorrow (and 8764 already out and waiting for their chance next year) we’ll end up disappointed. Still, if I got a million bucks every time Spurs left me disappointed I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this now would I? Hell, that $12,000,000 first prize wouldn’t mean much!

Here’s hoping for a great final tomorrow.