When Jeff Cabanillas first strolled through the doors of the mammoth Rio poker tournament room three days ago, few people recognized him. Few appreciated his talent. Fewer still gave him any chance whatsoever to win one of the toughest competitions in all of tournament poker – the $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event at the World Series of Poker.
Cabanillas is the epitome of all unknown poker players who walk through doors hoping that on this day, at this moment, this will be the tournament where everything changes. On July 4, 2006 Cabanillas took his seat along with 621 other aspiring champions to compete in an event rich in history and tradition. The list of previous event winners – in what for years was been the second-toughest test in all of poker – reveals the prominence of the title – Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, and T.J. Cloutier, just to name a few.Cabanillas won his way into this event through a single-table satellite. He played the best poker of his life and survived the first day. On Day Two, Cabanillas made it into the money. Then, ten hours later—he was all set to return for the final table on Day Three. And so, the Cinderella story that started 22-years ago in East Los Angeles now continues.
Cabanillas, who attended Cal-State-Los Angeles and owned a cell phone store before becoming a low-stakes professional poker, was set to take a seat on poker’s grandest stage. When he sat down on the ESPN set in seat number five, few people recognized him. Few appreciated his talent. Fewer still gave him any chance whatsoever to win. But this would be the tournament where everything would change.
It was not just that Cabanillas won, but how he won and who he won it against. Phil Hellmuth – part icon, part bad boy, part poker legend, part egotistical leviathan—all wrapped up into a towering 6-foot, 5-inch frame just that is just as psychologically as physically intimidating. Hellmuth, poker’s Goliath facing a sea of potential slayers, and one David in the end. Hellmuth enjoyed other advantages, too. It seemed almost everyone sitting in the huge gallery packed inside the Rio Convention Center was rooting for the nine-time WSOP gold bracelet winner. Many of the biggest names in poker sat right at ringside, including Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson, who both distanced themselves from Hellmuth at last year’s World Series by winning their record-tenth gold bracelets. All were present to bear witness to poker history being made. In the end, the history they witnessed was a much different version that might have been expected.
It’s hard to say how much pressure was on young Cabanillas. In one sense, he may have been on both an emotional and financial freeroll, which allowed him to continue playing daring, but stress-free poker. After all, no one except a few close friends lost in the mob of Hellmuth worshippers expected the kid to win.
Fittingly, Hellmuth sat in the nine seat. It is a seat he has, at least symbolically sat in for three long years. After winning his last WSOP title in 2003, Hellmuth (with nine WSOP titles, currently second on the all-time list) was forced to take a backseat in the gold bracelet chase to longtime legendary rivals Chan and Brunson. Fact is, on this night Hellmuth had the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Every eye was on the captivating 1989 world poker champion – every second or every minute of every hand.
From the onset of play on Day Three, it appeared that chip leader Vinny Vinh would be Hellmuth’s biggest obstacle. Dutchman Marcel Luske, French-Canadian star Isabelle Mercier, and five other formidable opponents would also pose significant challenges.In a World Series already packed with memorable moments – from Mike Sexton’s crowd-pleasing victory in the Tournament of Champions two weeks ago to Dutch Boyd’s conquest of world champ Joe Hachem a few days ago—this final table was, quite frankly, as good as it gets. History, colorful personalities, and great poker – it was all there.
|Name||Chip Count||Seat #|
|Douglas “Rico” Carli||$273,000||6|
|Phil Hellmuth, Jr.||$461,000||9|
Unfortunately, Danny Smith did not get the chance to stay around long enough to witness much of the drama that would later unfold. Smith, a student from northern California was expelled from the final table and finished ninth. He received $58,468.
The next player to go out was a total shock. In a stunning reversal of fortune, the reckless Vinny Vinh, who had arrived with a substantial chip lead, squandered most of his chips off to Marcel Luske. Then, what chips remained went over to Phil Hellmuth. The backbreaker was when Vinh moved all-in with king-queen suited, which was bested by Hellmuth’s ace-ten after an ace flopped. Vinny Vinh, the flamboyant Vietnamese poker pro from Houston, collected $87,702 for a disappointing eighth-place finish.
Next, Douglas Carli went out when he was short-stacked and was forced to play a weaker hand than he would have liked under the circumstances. Jeff Cabanillas made a pair and knocked Carli off the stage. Douglas Carli, a retired stockbroker from Ohio, cashed out for $116,936.
Thomas Schrieber was eliminated in sixth place when his pocket sevens were cracked by the emerging table terminator, Cabanillas. The ultimate victor showed ace-king and made a straight. The retiree from Connecticut received $146,170.
Isabelle “No Mercy” Mercier was making her first-ever WSOP final table appearance after enjoying much success on the European circuit and at several major tournaments in the United States. The former attorney and casino host who formally worked at the Aviation Club in Paris took a few tough beats and ran card-dead during her last hour, resulting in a fifth-place finish. It was a mixed blessing for Mercier, who collected $175,404.
Marcel Luske’s hopes that this would be a breakthrough victory were dashed in what turned into a heartbreaker. Luske, who has won just about everything in poker except a WSOP title, seized the chip lead for a time before taking a number of beats that obliterated his chip castle. The Flying Dutchman few away in fourth place, good for $204,638.
In what would foreshadow an eventual duel of epic proportions, Jeff Cabanillas provided a hint of what was to come later when he bluffed Phil Hellmuth out of a monster-sized pot. After several rounds of cautious play, on the bluff hand the final board showed Q-J-9-7-6. With 400,000 in chips at stake, Cabanillas moved all-in for 600,000 more. Hellmuth thought long and hard before finally mucking his cards. When Cabanillas flipped over ace-king for no pair, the short fuse that is the Phil Hellmuth psyche was instantly lit. Hellmuth stood up and erupted, slamming his chair against the stage in an apparent rage more directed at himself for not following his razor sharp instincts. Hellmuth must have sensed the bluff for how he reacted afterwards, and was angry for not making what would have been a tough but courageous call. He would certainly regret that gaffe much later in the night.
All that stood in the way of a Cabanillas-Hellmuth heads-up match was Eugene Todd, who went out next. Todd moved all-in with top pair on his final hand and lost to an overpair. Todd, who is a stockbroker from Brooklyn, NY had to ‘fuhgetabout’ a victory. Instead, third place paid $233,872.
In what turned out to be the largest live audience in World Series history – hundreds of spectators encircled the stage. They were crammed a dozen deep around the stands. There was, quite simply, not an empty seat or free standing space anywhere within viewing distance of the final table. It was poker’s Times Square on New Years Eve.
Those sitting and standing in the crowd and listening over the global Sirius satellite radio network (Bluff Radio) who were expecting to see the 22-year old unknown crumble under the pressure playing against one of poker’s biggest superstars were in for a very long wait, and ultimately a shocking surprise.Over the next fours hours, Hellmuth made a number of brilliant plays and took the chip lead several times. But just when it seemed Hellmuth might finish off his opponent, Cabanillas somehow managed to reverse the momentum and frustrate his opponent.
On a night with countless numbers of big hands and exciting moments, the finale was dealt out at just after midnight. Holding more than a 5 to 1 chip lead, Cabanillas called Hellmuth’s all-in move after the flop came 6-4-3 (with two diamonds). Cabanillas revealed five-three of diamonds, for a straight flush draw. Hellmuth showed five-four offsuit, good for a pair with a straight re-draw. Hellmuth caught another four on the turn, which only added to the drama of the final seconds of the tournament. The river card was red, which is exactly what Hellmuth saw when a diamond crashed to the felt. Cabanillas won $818,546 with a flush. Poker’s biggest name had been slain upon poker biggest stage by the least-likely of challengers. The final chapter in the Cinderella story had been written.
It was tough to predict just how many spectators in the crowd were present to see Hellmuth throw a temper tantrum versus making poker history. Many might have expected the nine-time champ to be an emotional basket case following such a crushing defeat. Instead, Hellmuth, who collected $423,983 as the runner-up, was extraordinarily considerate and complimentary. Even Hellmuth, who has seen just about everything in the world of poker, had to admit that Cabanillas had played an exemplary game and – as tough as it was to admit – probably deserved to win.Tomorrow, when Jeff Cabanillas walks through the very same door, into the poker room at the Rio, with a shiny gold bracelet dangling from his right wrist, he will be perceived in a very different way by friend and foe alike. On July 6, 2006 a new era began for Cabanillas. His old life is now over. His new life has begun. He will be recognized and immortalized as the man who did what few have done, someone who met poker’s biggest test under the most trying of conditions, and won. Henceforth, Jeff Casalla will be remembered as a champion – forever.
Dieser Artikel erschien auf PokerOlymp am 19.04.2007.