Luck, Aggressiveness Turn World Series of Poker to Gold
To the several thousand poker fans and observers who packed the Rio's convention area Thursday night and early Friday morning, Jamie Gold's World Series of Poker championship was a foregone conclusion. Of the 236 hands played during almost 12 hours of poker, Gold, a 36-year-old resident of Malibu, Calif., was involved in nearly 75 percent of the action, mostly on the winning side. "I just feel very fortunate that things went my way," Gold said after winning $12 million and a gold, diamond-encrusted World Series championship bracelet. The two-week tournament had 8,773 entries, and Gold was the chip leader 70 percent of the time. "I was playing the best poker of my life," Gold said. "I was in a zone where I just felt like I could manipulate people." Entering the final table of the $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas hold 'em main event with a seemingly insurmountable chip lead, Gold, a former Hollywood agent, watched his stash grow so much that the multicolored chips covered an area meant for two players. By 3:40 a.m., Gold owned all the game's $87.7 million in tournament chips.
The cards Gold drew to win certain hands in his championship run appeared to have a magical quality. During the event's live satellite radio broadcast, Sirius play-by-play announcer Howard Davis said it seemed that Gold was playing with his own deck.
Two-time world poker champion and 10-time World Series bracelet winner Johnny Chan, who served as Gold's unofficial coach during the tournament, said his pupil made very few mistakes.
"He knocked out seven of the eight players at the final table, and that's pretty strong," Chan said. "He didn't lose more than three pots in a row. He controlled himself pretty good, and he's got a lot of discipline."
Las Vegas poker standout Daniel Negreanu, who was providing analysis on the radio broadcast, said he was at the same table with Gold early in the tournament. The three-time World Series bracelet winner said his prediction that Gold would make mistakes was wrong.
"He was playing a lot of pots, but he was playing aggressive and at the same time very controlled," said Negreanu, who finished the event in 229th place.
"When he wasn't in a great situation, he let the pot go and he didn't get frustrated. I never question a player who's in a zone."
Even the eight other competitors at the main event's final table realized that they were just bit players as Gold, who co-owns Buzz Nation, an entertainment production company, steamrolled to the title.
Third-place finisher Michael Binger of Atherton, Calif., was busted out by Gold when a turn card gave the eventual champion a 7-high straight. The losing hand cost the theoretical physicist, who has a doctoral degree in physics from Stanford University, more than $14 million in tournament chips and his spot in the game. But he was philosophical about the outcome.
"I wasn't terribly shocked (when the 7 came up) because I saw Jamie bust out a lot of people these past few days," Binger said. "He got some incredible cards all tournament."
Gold earned the respect of other players he eliminated, as well.
Rhett Butler of Rockville, Md., who finished in fifth place, said the professional poker players who predicted Gold might catch a bad streak at some point were off-base.
"Jamie is a much better player than people perceive him to be," Butler said. "Obviously, he had a lot of good cards during the tournament. I've never seen anyone have a run like that. But he's a good player."
Dan Nassif of St. Louis, who was eliminated in ninth place less than 30 minutes into the final table, said Gold actually apologized for knocking him out of the tournament.
"He seemed to actually feel bad about it," Nassif said.
Most of the longtime professional players gave an edge in the event to four-time World Series bracelet winner Allen Cunningham, who entered the final table in second place with almost $18 million in tournament chips to Gold's $26 million. Many thought the two would face-off in heads-up play at the end.
However, Cunningham, a Las Vegas resident, caught a bad streak early and never recovered, slipping into fourth place out of the four remaining players by 1:30 a.m.
Gold and Cunningham clashed heads-up on numerous occasions, but Gold ended their competition on the 208th hand at 2:20 a.m. Gold had K-J suited, and Cunningham had a pair of 10s. Cunningham wagered his final $6.5 million in tournament chips before the flop, but the flop gave Gold a pair of kings and eliminated Cunningham.
With Cunningham busted, the feeling in the room was that the tournament would end quickly.
"I play the players, and I don't play my cards," Gold said. "I was just lucky at the end. He's a much more accomplished and experienced player than I am."
Cunningham gave only a few brief comments to ESPN, which was taping the tournament for broadcast in November. He left the Rio without taking additional questions.
When Cunningham's night ended, the stage was set for Gold. With three players remaining, he had $57 million in chips, three times what any other player had in his stack.
After disposing of Binger, Gold set his sights on Paul Wasicka of Westminster, Colo.
The two -- Gold with $78 million in chips and Wasicka with $11 million -- began heads-up play at 3:20 a.m. on the 230th hand. Twenty minutes and six hands later, the tournament was over when Gold paired queens on the flop to top Wasicka's pocket 10s.
In the end, Gold -- with his chip count growing -- said he thought the only way he could have lost would have been for another player to get extremely lucky.
"I think I did OK," Gold said. "No offense to (the longtime professional players), I have nothing to prove to any poker player. I didn't think about the chip count. I just focused on the players I was playing against at each table. I crushed every table, and I think I played pretty well in this tournament."
The main event was the culmination of the 46-event World Series of Poker, which this year generated more than $158 million in total prize money.