J.C. Tran has done in his career what most tournament poker players can only dream of. He has more than $6 million in winnings, a World Series of Poker Circuit ring, a World Poker Tour title, a WPT Player-of-the-Year award and he currently sits at the pinnacle of the Bluff Magazine/ESPN Poker Power Rankings.
The one noticeable absence on his career record was a World Series of Poker bracelet. He's been at a half dozen WSOP final tables, including one in 2008, but has always fallen short of the bracelet. He'd been widely considered to be one of the best players in the world to have never won a bracelet.
All that changed on Monday at the WSOP when Tran won Event #49 ($1,500 No Limit Hold 'em) to take the $631,053 first place prize and, more importantly, his first bracelet.
"The whole way, I didn't really think about the money, I just thought about the bracelet." Tran said after the victory. "As a matter of fact, I don't even know what first place [pays]. I just wanted the bracelet."
With a huge crowd of supporters sitting in the stands, Tran began the final table second in chips behind Rasmus Nielsen, a 26-year-old Danish poker pro. Nielson had a huge lead on the rest of the table, the result of a Day 2 rush that ended when he picked up aces versus kings to bust Anderson Silva on the final table bubble.
With play five-handed Joe Pelton, a WPT champion and the short stack at the table, moved all-in from the small blind. Pelton had been moving in regularly and Tran elected to call from the big blind with K-J. Pelton had Q-6, although he hit a 6 on the flop to take the lead. With his huge rail calling for a king or a jack, Tran spiked a king on the river to take back the pot and eliminate Pelton in 5th place.
Eleven hands later the other short stack at the table, Peter Nguyen, moved all-in from the button and this time it was Nielsen who picked up K-J and made the call from the big blind. Nguyen tabled 9-7 and the flop came 7-7-4 to the delight of Nguyen's fans, many of whom were also supporting Tran. A king on the turn kept Nielsen's hand alive and Nguyen leaned over next to the dealer, hoping to get a peek at the river card before it hit the board. His friends all laughed at his light-hearted mannerism, but when the river came out another king, the entire audience gasped in shock as Nguyen went running out of the Amazon Room. Nguyen was good natured in defeat and returned a few minutes later to shake hands with the remaining players and wish everyone good luck.
Nielsen then eliminated Irishmen John Conroy in third place when his A-8 sucked out against Conroy's A-Q after getting all-in before the flop. Conroy was awarded $278,255 for third place and the heads-up match was set with Nielsen holding 6 million versus Tran's 2.3 million.
"Rasmus is a great player," Tran said. "I didn't like the fact that I was out-chipped . . . and I didn't know what to do. I came out and I tested a little bit. I tried to be aggressive, tried to be passive. And cards helped. I was on the right side of the cards this time."
Over the next 90 minutes Tran chipped away at Nielsen's stack, taking the chip lead without ever being all-in and risking his tournament life. On the last hand of the tournament Tran raised pre-flop and Nielsen called to see a flop of Q-8-2. Nielsen checked the flop, Tran bet and Nielsen called, bringing a 4 on the turn. Nielsen check-raised all-in on the turn and Tran stood up with his cards in his hand before nodding and announcing a call.
Tran tabled K-Q and Nielsen smiled and shook his head, signaling that Tran was ahead. Nielsen turned up Q-J and Tran's supporters starting yelling for a deuce. The river was, in fact, the deuce of spades and Tran's fans rushed the stage and surrounded him.
"I'll probably be excited for the rest of the Series. This is huge."
Tran said that his quest for a WSOP bracelet has been very difficult and disappointing up until Monday, something he used as motivation coming into the final table.
"I just told myself, play this like it's your last tournament, your last chance," Tran said."That made me play harder."
Tran wins his first WSOP bracelet and $631,053 for beating the 2,718 player field. Nielsen gets $389,557 for his second place finish.
The WSOP results page has a full list of payouts from Event #49.