Event #23: Seven-Card Stud Championship
Location: Rio, Las Vegas
Buy-in: $5,000
Number of Entries: 192
Total Prize Money: $902,400

Poker's popularity is skyrocketing. But it will never be as popular, especially on an international scale, as the game of soccer (what the rest of the world refers to as "football"). Jan Sorensen grew up in Europe, where most boys dream of becoming a soccer stars. In most cases, those fantasies gradually end up on a delusional ash heap, due to the obligations of school, family, and career. But in rare instances, dreams of becoming a professional athlete do come true.

Jan Sorensen was 18-years-old when he first started playing pro soccer for money. His skills improved to the point where he was playing on a major team in the Danish Premier League. By age 30, Sorensen was a veteran of many soccer matches. He began to think of what he would do in his post-athletic life. But before Sorensen could make a decision, he was dealt soccer's worst equivalent of a "bad beat." Sorensen blew out his knee in an on-the-field injury. He would never play soccer again.

Fortunately, Sorensen picked up some skills in a different game during his soccer career.

"We used to play poker all the time when we were traveling," Sorensen said moments after winning the $5,000 buy-in Seven-Card Stud championship at the 2005 World Series of Poker. "We played on trains and airports while we waited around killing time."

Shortly after his injury-forced retirement, Sorensen made a trip to Las Vegas. The World Series of Poker just so happened to be going that same month. Sorensen played poker and became more interested in the game. Little did he know that a decade later, he would be sitting at a final table, playing for a gold bracelet. With ESPN television cameras recording the event for a later broadcast, poker's "Great Dane" shed the underdog role, topped a tough field of 192 players, and scored a different kind of goooooooooooooal -- $293,275 in cash.

The final table included an interesting assortment of poker players. Of the eight finalists, four were from Las Vegas - including the defending champion from this event last year, Joe Awada. Players were eliminated in the following order:

8th Place: Tom McCormick, $27,070
This was Tom McCormick's second final table appearance at this year's WSOP. Unfortunately, his stay was short. Desperately low on chips, "The Shamrock Kid" was not dealt any four-leaf clovers. Instead, he lost his final hand to Joe Awada's full-house.
7th Place: Gerard Rechnitzer, $36,095
Steven S. Deano was on life support, but managed to avoid elimination when the other short-stack, Gerard Rechnitzer got steamrolled. Rechnitzer, a Beverly Hills-based real estate investor, started with a pair of fives, picked up a straight draw, and ended up with two pair (6s and 5s) on his final hand. Joe Awada flattened the two small pair with two larger pair (Ks and Js) and ended up dragging Rechnitzer's final chip.
6th Place: Steven S. Deano, $45,120
Deano managed to make an extra nine-grand by folding a few hands. After Rechnitzer went bust, Deano moved all-in with a pair of jacks, which failed to improve. John Phan ended up with two pair (aces up) and skimmed off Deano's final chips. Steve S. Deano is a professional gambler based in Las Vegas.
5th Place: Joe Awada, $58,665
Defending champ Joe Awada was the next player to exit. After an early rush which propelled him up near the chip lead, Awada went card dead for nearly two hours and finally perished in 5th place. Awada picked up A-K (x), which was enough to move all-in, but he failed to make a pair against John Phan's straight. Awada is a fine champion with an inspiring human interest story (he arrived in the US as a teen, didn't speak English, traveled with a circus, and ended up owning a highly-successful gaming and entertainment business).
4th Place: John Phan, $72,190
John Phan has been one of poker's hottest players over the past year. He has placed high and won several major events. However, the one item not yet on his resume is a victory at the WSOP. Phan will have to wait a bit longer to win a gold bracelet. He played quite aggressively throughout, but lost a few key pots late in the tournament. On his final hand, Phan started with three big cards A-K (10) but watched helplessly as four successive bricks rolled off the deck, resulting in getting busted by Keith Sexton's two pair.
3rd Place: Chip Jett, $99,265
Keith Sexton had a sizable chip lead, about 2 to 1 over Jan Sorensen. Meanwhile, Chip Jett was teetering on the brink of elimination. Down to his last 55,000 playing at the 8,000-16,000 level, Jett made his final stand with a pair of sixes. Sexton picked up two queens, which was enough to eliminate Jett. This was a nice jinx breaker for Jett, who was red-hot in tournament poker a few years ago and has recently been striving to get back to the winner's circle. It wasn't the win he was hoping for, but was a nice cash, nonetheless.

Runner up: Keith Sexton, $162,430
When heads-up play began, Keith Sexton enjoyed a significant chip lead over Jan Sorensen -- 605,000 to 395,000. The final duel lasted 90 minutes. The first critical hand saw Sexton starting with a pair of aces and failing to improve while Sorensen ended up with two pair. Had Sexton caught a second pair, the final table might have ended sooner and crowned a different champion.

The two battled back and forth for over an hour, each seemingly one big hand away from victory. Then, the final barrage of bets broke out when Sexton started with a pair of kings versus Sorensen's pair of nines. The final decisive hand went as follows:
SEXTON: (K-K) 8-3-2-J (X)
SORENSEN: (9-7) 9-3-7-8 (9)
Jan Sorensen's full-house scooped the final pot of the tournament.

Keith Sexton is Dayton, OH-born poker player and home builder (no relation to poker celebrity Mike Sexton).

1st Place: Jan Sorensen, $611,145
Jan Sorensen is a 45-year-old former professional soccer player from Denmark. This was his fifth time to cash at the WSOP. This was also his third appearance at a final table.

After his win, Sorensen was asked to express his sentiments, including the comparison between playing in the European soccer leagues versus competing at the poker table. He noted that both games require many of the same qualities, including skill and stamina. Sorensen was also asked a hypothetical question, which truly shows how far poker has come in comparison to major sports.

When asked which he would prefer - winning the 2005 World Series of Poker plus an estimated $7 million in prize money, versus scoring the winning goal for Denmark in the finals of next year's World Cup - Sorensen didn't even hesitate.

"I would rather win at the World Series of Poker," he said. "The World Cup doesn't pay me $7 million."

View final results.

Tournament reporting by Nolan Dalla / worldseriesofpoker.com