Mortensen's victory came at the end of a long final table marked by some terrific play, horrific beats, and, of course, record-setting blind levels as the Matador's epic battle with the Captain stretched into the night.
Approximately seven hours before a jubilant Mortensen posed for pictures with his winning cards, his chipset, and most importantly, his cash, Day 6 of the most ballingest WPT tournament in history began with founder Steve Lipscomb toasting assembled media and suits in a crowded Bellagio suite as he commemorated the taping of the poker tour's 100th episode.
It's a remarkable accomplishment for any television program, and one that speaks to the tremendous strength of Lipscomb's vision in harnessing the Moneymaker-effect to create a compelling new sport. With the WPT switching to the Game Show Network for its 101st episode and beyond, there is no reason to think that the tour can't survive to see a 200th episode celebration in five years or so.
Speaking of remarkable accomplishments, when the players, media and suits had torn themselves away from the free beer, champagne and Erica Schoenberg and made it to the TV final table, Mike Sexton presented J.C. Tran with the WPT Player of the Year award for the fifth season. Tran, as PokerListings.com readers will know, went on an incredible run to close out Season 5, finishing fifth in Tunica's World Poker Open in January and second in the Los Angeles Poker Classic in early March before taking down the World Poker Challenge in Reno one month ago.
Tran's assault on the WPT PoY points leaderboard was ferocious and relentless, and he entered the WPT Championship virtually a lock for the title. Eliminations to Joe Pelton and Daniel Negreanu early in the tournament sealed the deal, and Tran was money, joining Howard Lederer, Erick Lindgren, the aforementioned Negreanu and Gavin Smith as recipients of the award.
Finally, the toasting and boasting were concluded and action began with Paul Lee holding a massive chip lead and your eventual champion leading the charge of usurpers with a little more than half of Lee's stack.
Lee continued to play his trademark game, which meant he faded into the background and seemed to wait to trap his opponents while others, like Mortensen and Morrison around him, did the heavy lifting.
The first casualty came in the form of Mike Wattel, who fell with J♦ 9♦ to Morrison's K♣ J♠ when the board came T♦ 4♥ 3♥ 8♣ A♥. Cyndy Violette's sweet baboo receives $309,405 for his sixth place finish.
After a few more rounds of action that saw some serious check-raising all-in from Cirque du Soleil founder and Ballingest Canadian Guy Laliberte, short-stack Tim Phan finally flamed out when he moved all-in from the button for his last $1.7 million and ran into Morrison's pocket aces. Phan turned over pocket nines and couldn't get any help from the board, which came J♠ 8♦ 4♠ J♥ 7♥, sending ya boy to the rail in fifth place for a nice (but relatively meager, all things considered) $464,110 payday.
After some small ball and cautious maneuvering that saw no big pots played and the tide of chips ebb and flow around the table away from Paul Lee and towards Mortensen and Morrison, the Matador and the Captain played a large pot that nearly decided the championship. Mortensen put Morrison all-in on a flop of Q♣ J♣ 9♦, and for some reason Captain Kirk tanked, taking five minutes to make the call with pocket jacks for middle set to Mortensen's A♠ Q♠ for top pair. The board bricked out and the Matador was crippled, and it seemed like curtains for the 2001 WSOP Main Event champion.
It was not curtains for Mortensen, however, who found no opponents willing to deliver the coup de grace and so built his stack back up by stealing the lucrative, late-WPT blinds and antes worth millions and by parlaying those chips into a near complete recovery when he doubled through Kirk Morrison a few rounds down the line.
Things did not go so smoothly for Guy Laliberte, however, who called all-in with A♦ J♣ against Kirk Morrison's pocket ducks on a board of Q♣ 6♣ 3♣ and could not pair his overcards or catch a club as the board bricked out, sending him to the rail in fourth place for $696,220.
It seemed like Morrison and Mortensen had been dancing around each other for the entire evening, and with Laliberte out of the way the men turned their sights on Paul Lee, who had seen his chip stack erode as he seemed simply dominated by the play of his better-known rivals.
Lee would not last long, hitting the bricks after doubling-up Carlos Mortensen in a head-scratcher that saw Lee put Mortensen all-in with T♦ 9♦ to the Matador's A♦ 9♥ on a board of A♥ T♠ 4♣. The board finished out J♣ 5♥ and just like that, Mortensen had most of Lee's chips. Kirk Morrison would take the last of them a few hands later with A♥ T♠ against Lee's A♠ 9♣. Thus, Mr. Lee finished in third place for a $1,082,920 payout.
And so the heads-up battle began, with Morrison holding a 3:2 chip lead and looking to close out the deal. From the start, both players seemed to play a very cautious, Paul Kraus-esque style, with plenty of check-calling from Mortensen and plenty of call-folding from Morrison. Both players won their share of pots, with the tide seeming to turn in Morrison's favor as he built his advantage to 3:1.
But try as he might, Captain Kirk could not deliver the crushing blow and by virtue of his insidious call-folding habit, let Mortensen back in the game by gift-wrapping a series of small pots for his opponent. Within a few rounds, Mortensen had taken over the chip lead, and only a couple of sick suck-outs on the river - both with the T♦ - could prolong his opportunities for advancement.
In the end, however, Morrison was unable to capitalize on his bocoo chip leads, as he once again let Mortensen back into the match, back on top of the chip leaderboard and eventually into the winner's circle. The final hand saw Mortensen holding a 3:2 chip lead and calling Morrison's all-in with K♥ J♥ to the Captain's A♠ 4♦. The board came 7♣ 4♥ 3♣ J♣ 3♦ and the epic battle was over.
Mortensen wins $3,970,415 for his second WPT victory, and becomes the first person to ever win both a WSOP Main Event and a WPT Championship. For his inspiring runner-up performance, Kirk Morrison gets $2,011,135. That both players will now enjoy the respect and adulation of hundreds of millions of avid PokerListings.com readers worldwide is a given.
Congratulations to both finalists, and especially to the WPT on the successful conclusion to another wildly entertaining season. PokerListings.com will be on hand to cut the ribbon on Season 6 from the Mirage Hotel and Resort on May 19, but readers hungry for more tournament action can catch our coverage of the WSOPC event at Caesars Palace from the Las Vegas Strip starting April 30. See you there!