It was supposed to be historic. It was supposed to be the biggest moment so far of the 2008 World Series of Poker. Instead, the final table of Event #28 ($5,000 Pot Limit Omaha w/rebuys) wasn’t either of those – it was however the coming out party for Phil “OMGClayAiken” Galfond.
When the final table began, two of the most storied players in the game had a shot at adding to their legacy. Phil Hellmuth, the shortest stack at the table, had a chance to win his record-setting 12th WSOP bracelet. Johnny Chan was as close as he’s ever been to being in position to tie Hellmuth with his 11th bracelet. But, as the night progressed, neither of those storylines emerged. Instead it was Galfond, one of online poker’s biggest names, who became the focal point.
The 23-year-old came out on top of a final table that included poker legends Hellmuth, Chan, Daniel Negreanu, John Juanda, Kirill Gerasimov and high-stakes cash game wrecking ball David Benyamine. All told the final table players held an impressive 28 bracelets, but the order of eliminations meant it was going to be a first bracelet for somebody.
Despite starting the day second in chips Brian “tsarrast” Rast was the first player eliminated. After doubling up Hellmuth twice, Rast was left as a short stack and was eliminated by Chan in ninth. While Chan looked like his shot at history was alive and well, Hellmuth’s hope was about to be cut short. All-in against Benyamine’s pocket aces, “the Poker Brat” was unable to catch up and was sent home in eighth.
The next elimination was another superstar as Negreanu was sent to the rail in seventh place when he ran his K-K-J-5 hand into the A-A-2-2 hand of Galfond. Only a few minutes later Juanda would find the rail. The rapid-fire eliminations caused a line-up with the ESPN360 team as they interviewed players upon elimination. That left only Galfond, Gerasimov, Benyamine, Chan and Adam Hourani at the felt.
When play became five-handed Galfond had moved into the chip lead with Chan right behind him. Then, with Gerasimov’s elimination at the hands of Galfond, it appeared as though the youngster and the 10-time bracelet winner were settling in for a heads-up duel for the ages. But things quickly went south for Chan who would go out in fourth at the hands of Benyamine.
“I like David a lot, but I was rooting against him every time he got all-in because he’s just so tough. I really wanted him to lose,” said Galfond. “But he kept winning.” That is until he ran into a slow-played set of queens from Hourani and was out in third place. The heads-up play that followed was not for the faint of heart.
Over the next 3.5 hours Galfond continuously applied the pressure but was unable to put away his opponent. Just when it appeared he was dead, Hourani doubled up and had Galfond worried.
“The truth is, I did kind of freak when he doubled up,” said Galfond. “I’ve played so many hands of PLO at all different stack sizes it’s almost second nature. I was focused even though I was nervous and stressed out about it. I still knew what to do; I’m so used to it.”
Instead of letting the momentum slip Galfond continued to apply the pressure. After taking down a number of smaller pots the much-anticipated all-in confrontation came. Hourani raised from the button and Galfond called to see a flop of Ad-Qs-8c. Galfond bet the pot and Hourani called all-in. When the cards were revealed Galfond found himself behind.
But the 6h on the turn gave Galfond two-pair and when the river failed to produce a king, queen, jack or ten Hourani was eliminated and Galfond was $817,781 and a gold bracelet richer.
“The public and the poker community as a whole views (winning a bracelet) as so important, and because of that, I did,” said Galfond, who was into the tournament for $25,000 thanks to only four re-buys. “I felt that I had proven myself playing in the toughest games online for a long time now, but I hadn’t really proven myself to everybody. To me it means proving myself to everybody else.”
Hourani’s second place finish pocketed him $493,748. For complete payout information visit the WSOP Results page.