Event #11: Pot-Limit Hold'em Championship
Location: Rio, Las Vegas
Buy-in: $2,000
Number of Entries: 540
Total Prize Money: $993,600

Anyone questioning poker's international popularity would be advised to take a look at the final table of the Pot-Limit Hold'em championship (Event #11) at the World Series of Poker. The setting looked more like a conference at the United Nations than a poker game. Eight different countries were represented - including Armenia, Belgium, England, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, and the United States. And it just so happened that the American-born winner was nicknamed "Bolivia."

Edward Moncada, a 31-year-old professional poker player now living in California, won first place and $298,070. He also captured his first gold bracelet in what was his first and only WSOP in-the-money finish. Moncada seized the chip lead in the sixth hour of play when there were three players remaining. He then lost the lead when heads-up play began. But in the end, Moncada caught a powerful rush of cards, maximized his advantages, and locked up the victory.

The total prize pool amounted to $993,600. In contrast to previous final tables so far at this year's WSOP, this final table included only one former gold bracelet winner - Freddy Deeb. Belgian-born Shah Ajay enjoyed a comfortable chip lead when play began. Players were eliminated as follows:

9th Place: Yoshitaka Oku, $18,870
Twenty minutes into play, Yoshitaka Oku took a horrible beat when he was dealt pocket kings. He pre-flop re-raised all-in and was called by Edward Moncada, who was holding A-8. Moncada must have known what was coming, as the flop came with two 8s, giving Moncada three-of-a-kind. Yoshitaka Oku is the first known Japanese player ever to make it to a WSOP final table. The computer engineer from Tokyo also finished 112th in the main event last year.
8th Place: Elia Ahmadian, $29,810
Elia "Danger" Ahmadian was low on chips and made his final stand with 7-7, and was raised all-in by David Cossio, holding K-K. A seven failed to rescue Ahmadian, which meant the car dealership owner drove off in 8th place. Most interesting is the fact that Ahmadian came to the WSOP last year to watch, and was so captivated by the game that he returned this year to play. The transition from poker fan to poker player certainly paid off nicely.
7th Place: Marco Traniello, $39,745
Italian-born Marco Traniello (spouse of poker superstar Jennifer Traniello Harman) made his first WSOP final table in this event. Traniello showed he could play with the best in the world by outlasting 533 players. It looked like Traniello would double up with A-10 when the flop came A=K=2, good for top pair. But Freddy Deeb had 5-5 and rivered a five (making trips) to take down the 220,000 pot.
6th Place: Sharbel Koumi, $49,680
Cypriot-born Sharbel Koumi now lives in England. He has made a number of cashes in Europe and broke into the WSOP this year with his first final table appearance. Koumi took a tough beat when he was dealt K-10 and flopped top pair (K=3=3). Ajay Shah had A-9 and caught runner-runner spades to make a flush, thus eliminating Koumi.
5th Place: Kassem "Freddy" Deeb, $59,615
If poker has a court jester, it is most certainly Kassem "Freddy" Deeb. The Lebanese-born poker pro, who now lives in Las Vegas, won a gold bracelet in the Deuce-to-Seven championship (1996). His charismatic banter failed to cast a spell at this final table as Deeb was unable to challenge for the chip lead. He played his last hand of the night (K-Q) and watched as the flop came Q=6=5. Deeb moved all-in with top pair, which was called instantly by David Cossio (with 6-6). The set of sixes held up and Deeb was de-railed.
4th Place: Ajay Shah, $69,550
Ajay Shah arrived in the finale as the chip leader but could do no better than 4th place. Shah made an over-the-top pre-flop re-raise with A-Q, which was called by Steven Hudak, holding J-J. With the biggest pot of the night thus far and the chip lead at stake, Shah lost the proverbial "coin flip" battle when the jacks held up. Ajay Shah, an Indian-born expatriot now living in Antwerp, Belgium finished in 4th place.
3rd Place: David Cossio, $79,490
Mexican-born David Cossio was low on chips and made his final stand with A-Q. Steven Hudak was in the blind with an ugly hand, 3-4 offsuit, but the ugly duckling turned into a swan when a four flopped. Cossio is a math professor at UTEP.
Runner up: Steven Hudak, $159,970
When heads-up play began, Steven Hudak enjoyed a slight chip lead. Then, the most important hand of the tournament took place when Hudak was dealt 9-9 against Moncada's J-5. The flop came J=8=5. Moncada played the hand perfectly by betting out 50,000. Hudak, with his pocket nines, raised 190,000 more. Moncada re-jammed the pot with an 180,000 all-in re-raise. Hudak was trapped and reluctantly called. Moncada's two pair held up, and the winds of change had blown to a gust. Twenty minutes later, that gust would turn into a tornado.

On the final hand of the tournament, Hudak was dealt A-8. He made a pot-size raise, and was re-raised instantly by Moncada, holding 8-8. Hudak moved the remainder of his chips forward and grimaced when he saw the showdown. Hudak desperately needed an ace. The board came 9-4-2-Q-Q giving Moncada two pair and, more importantly, the victory.

Steven Hudak played marvelously. The 22-year-old student-turned-poker player (University of Maryland) has been playing for four years and was making his first-ever visit to the WSOP. He could certainly be proud of his finish in this tournament.

1st Place: Edward Moncada, $298,070
Edward "Bolivia" Moncada was born to Bolivian parents, grew up in upstate New York, and attended UC-Berkeley. In 1997, he graduated with a degree in civil and environmental engineering. After working a for few years in his chosen field as a project manager, Moncada decided he valued his independence over a structured corporate lifestyle. Playing poker gave him the freedom to pursue many of his personal interests, including music. Moncada honed his new trade online and also received helpful advice from two close friends, Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari.

"We all started to play together and came up at the same time," Moncada said of his time spent with Laak and Esfandiari in northern California. "They found out I was Bolivian, and that's how I got my nickname."

When asked to explain the reasons for his success, Moncada stated: "I was able to use my strong analytical background and combine that with the advice from my close friends. I was very fortunate to have some people around me who really helped me become better in tournaments."

Moncada had an interesting perspective about the World Series of Poker, which might serve others who are seeking to become champions. "I came here with all of my buy-ins already set up. I knew in advance exactly what I wanted to play - so I came here with a really solid game plan," he said. "I planned to play in 14 events and I sold off 30 percent of myself (to backers). I treat this very much as a business."

"I did not come here thinking to myself 'oh, I have to earn money the night before so I can play in the next tournament.' Then, you are tired and you play all night hoping to get into the next event. That's not the way to do it. I get my rest, go swimming in the morning, and come in fresh, and that gives me a comfortable feeling. I think that helps me to play a better game."

The realization that he had joined an elite group of poker players had not yet sunk in for the new champion. "I don't think I have had time yet to understand how much this really means. It might take me another week or another month. Maybe then, when I look back on the World Series, I can get a better p