It was, in every way, an unusual end to an unusual tournament. Chuck Kelley, underdog, was overlooked at a final table that included seasoned professionals John Gale, John Hennigan, and top internet pro Joseph Simmons, but battled his way to heads-up with Hennigan and managed to make it stick for 21 tough hands, pulling to nearly even with Johnny World before the wheels fell off.
Kelley's downfall - and the key to John Hennigan's biggest poker victory ever - came when Kelley inadvertently showed his hand after betting had finished on fourth street with the board showing 7♠ 3♠ 3♦ A♥. Thinking the hand was over, Kelley showed Q♥ 7♥, and although he was given a warning, play was allowed to continue.
After the 3♥ was dealt on the river, Hennigan immediately pushed all-in, despite the fact that Kelley had shown him a full house. Kelley obviously read bluff, because he made the call, but Johnny World had an ace and, just like that, the tournament ended.
Although Phil Ivey-like in the value he gives to his privacy, John was gracious enough to give PokerListings.com a few moments of his time before he left to celebrate his victory.
John, you just won $1.6 million and a WPT title. How does it feel?
It feels incredible - to beat a field of that size, and it being the first time I've ever won a tournament of that size, I'm very excited. Just happy; I don't know how else to put it. I'm just shocked. It will take a while for it to sink in.
Talk about that last hand - what was going through your head?
Yeah, Chuck, when I called the second bet, I think he thought the hand was over. And when he exposed his hand, obviously I was very happy that he didn't have me beat, and he also had a hand that wasn't drawing to beat me. He couldn't even catch a queen anymore; there were two threes on the board, and he had two outs to win.
And also, in those kinds of situations, especially when the three came on the end, and it looked like he was going to call and I was going to win the tournament, I was just trying to stay as calm as I could and project that I might be bluffing. I don't know if that worked or whatever, but he called, so I guess it did.
What was your strategy coming into the final table?
I kind of started thinking about it, but by the time I got here I kind of just threw out strategy, which I usually do anyway. I mean, strategy comes while you're at the table and you're looking at what other people are doing. You can't really figure out what you're going to do until you see what they're doing.
What can you say about Chuck Kelley and his play?
Chuck Kelley, I thought he played a hell of a tournament. He was putting so much pressure on me - I had the chip lead heads-up, but I felt like I was handcuffed. I mean, I thought I played fantastic. You know, he did a few things that I thought were a little unorthodox, but that's good; he took a lot of people by surprise. I thought he played great, and he was a real gentleman, a real class act.
You're well-known and well-respected in the poker world, but your name isn't so well-known outside of the circuit. Do you feel like this win will change things for you?
No, I don't. And I'm okay with how things are.
How are you going to celebrate your win?
Oh, I'll probably just end up going to dinner with my family and friends. I don't think it will sink in until a few hours later, and then I'll be really excited.
Thanks very much, John, and congratulations.
Thank you, Owen.
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John Hennigan is truly one of the class acts of the game. A quiet man who plays by intuition and a great deal of raw talent, "Johnny World" has made his name as one of poker's greats without attracting a lot of attention for his efforts. Many players, Daniel Negreanu and Gavin Smith included, have stated that Hennigan is one of the best players they've ever faced, and while I got the impression that John would rather keep flying under the radar at these events and in life in general, tonight's accomplishments will certainly make that goal a lot harder. Congratulations, John!