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The Razor cuts down field to win WPT Legends
It's turning out to be quite a year for John Phan.
The longtime pro known as "The Razor" nearly took down Player of the Year honors at this year's World Series of Poker with two bracelet wins to his credit. Last night Phan won the 2008 Legends of Poker Championship Event in spectacular fashion, topping a field of 373 to take home $1,091,428 and add a WPT title to his rapidly expanding resume.
The WPT final table - the second of the three-tournament-old season for Phan, and the fourth of his career - was no guarantee for Phan. He was propelled there by a massive suck-out the night before when his pocket sevens flopped a set and turned quads against Layne Flack's A-A, sending his fellow WSOP bracelet winner home in bruising style.
The win also wasn't guaranteed. Standing ahead of Phan in the chip count at the start of the TV table was Amit "amak316" Makhija, who has had a successful 2008 with a 20th place finish at the EPT Grand Final, a 5th place finish in Event 1 of the WSOP, and two more WSOP cashes.
Four other competitors - three Americans and a Canadian - also had their designs for taking home WPT cash and glory. Unfortunately for them, they would all fall short before the heads-up match.
Kyle Wilson, the lone representative of the Great White North, was the first to film an interview on the evening - and he did it on the first hand of the final table to see a flop. Phan had opened for $160,000, only to be reraised another $400,000 by Zachary Clark. Wilson then interrupted the proceedings by shoving for his entire $995,000 stack.
Phan contemplated his move before eventually folding, and Clark made the call with A-J. Wilson showed KK, which were only good until the flop came down A-7-5; he missed his two-outer and finished up in sixth place with $176,035.
Trong Nguyen, who entered the TV table as the short stack, had a heartbreaking two-hand stretch at the end of Level 23 that would see him find his way to payout. First, down to just $598,000, he moved all-in pre-flop holding 6-6 with blinds of $30,000/60,000 and a $5,000 ante; Makhija called with A-K and blanked out to double Nguyen up.
On the very next hand, Makhija opened pre-flop for $150,000, and Nguyen called. He fired $300,000 on the 7♥ 7♣ 2♣ flop and got a call from Makhija. Nguyen then shoved when the 4♣ came on the turn, and after just a moment's thought Makhija made the call with pocket sixes.
The pair was far ahead of Nguyen's K♥ Q♥, and it won out when the river blanked, sending Nguyen home with $211,245 in fifth place.
What will go down as the hand of the night came on Level 24 when Phan opened the pot and Paul Smith shoved all-in over the top. Characteristically, Phan went into the tank for several minutes, contemplating his move and trying to up the pressure on Smith. Then Smith called for the clock, turning the tables and putting the pressure back on Phan.
In the end Phan made a fantastic call with 8-8, but he only stayed ahead of Smith's A-7 until the flop came down 9-7-7. A world-class suck-resuck was in the deck, though, as the turn brought a ten and the river a six to give Phan the runner-runner straight and send Smith home in fourth place with $246,450.
The next four hours or so of the tournament saw a lot of back-and-forth between Phan and chip leader Makhija, while Zachary Clark held on tight and looked for spot to double his stack after he lost more than a million chips to Phan early on in three-handed action.
Several big pots, including one where he picked off a Phan bluff and another where he ran a big move of his own, gave Makhija a $7 million stack, and it looked like he might be getting ready to run off with the crown. Then he had the misfortune of running his pocket tens into Phan's pocket aces pre-flop, evening the two of them back out ahead of Clark.
Clark would finally make his exit in Level 25 on a big blind squeeze play after limps from Makhija on the button and Phan in the small blind; his K-2 was no good against Makhija's A-6, and he finished in third place with $281,645.
The top two incoming chip stacks at the beginning of the night had ended up head-to-head at the end, and for its duration the showdown was as back-and-forth as it could be.
The first big swing came very early on when Makhija opened for $320,000 and Phan reraised to $1,200,000. Makhija's response was an all-in move, bringing Phan to his feet; after some pacing contemplation, he called with A-K.
Makhija flipped up 2-2, which was good all the way through the turn with the board reading J-4-3-J, but the river brought a king and gave Phan a 4-to-1 chip lead.
Makhija fought back, doubling up and giving it back before eventually finding himself with the chip lead once again at the end of Level 26, but in the end a win for him just wasn't in the cards. He gave the lead away to Phan on a Level 27 hand where Phan caught a four-flush, and after that it was all downhill.
On the final hand, well over three hours after the heads-up match began, Makhija's K♦ 7♦ couldn't crack Phan's 3-3. Makhija finished in second place with $563,320.
Phan, meanwhile, has another top finish on this year's record. After years of being considered one of the best players in the world without a major title, he's playing the best poker of his life and running good as well. That's a deadly combination in anyone's hands, but especially so for The Razor.