The 12th No-Limit Hold’em event of this years World Series came to an end yesterday morning and the result not one to break with tradition; with yet another lucky player taking home his first ever WSOP bracelet. This is not especially surprising in itself, many of the tournament winners every year leave with their first bracelet. What is more interesting is that it was yet another established pro who emerged at the top of the field.

John “The Razor” Phan, yesterday joined Erick Lindgren and David Singer in the elite list of pros that have won their first ever bracelet in 2008. He also becomes a member of a larger, but by no means less prestigious, club – those pros who have won WSOP tournaments this year. Established names such as Mike Matusow, Daniel Negreanu and Barry Greenstein already being fully paid up members. The unprecedented amount of sucess enjoyed this year by the household names has lead some to dub this the “Year of the Pro”.

Of the players never to have won a bracelet, few can have come closer than Phan. He has finished runner up twice in World Series tournaments and, before yesterday, had 10 WSOP cashes to his name. Vast amounts of effort were required this time around as well – Phan and, second place, Johnny Neckar, treating those on the rail to what must be the craziest heads up battle so far this series.

The $3,000 NHLE tournament started with 716 runners, slightly down on last years numbers, but still a sizeable field. Phan built his stack during day one and found himself among the chip leaders. From then on he was one of the favorites to take down the event, although he was closely flanked by fellow professional David Singer – looking to claim his second bracelet of the series.

It seemed that there might be some romance in the air of the Amazon Room on Day 1 and 2. Well known poker couple, Phil Laak and Jennifer Tilly, took part in a lover’s last-longer bet, with Tilly coming out on top. Whilst on Day 2, husband and wife Beth and Dan Shak both finished in the money. Mrs. Shak outlasting her other-half by over 20 places. Once the affection was over and done with it was Matt Vengrin who took the chip lead into the final table after conducting the final knock-out of Day 2.

Chip stacks going in to the final table were:

Seat 1: Sebastian Segovia (Guatemala) — 128,500
Seat 2: Alex Bolotin (Brooklyn, New York) — 534,000
Seat 3: David Singer (Las Vegas,Nevada) — 334,000
Seat 4: Thuy Doan (Williamsburg, Virginia) — 369,500
Seat 5: John Phan (Stockton, California) — 396,500
Seat 6: Matt Vengrin (Red Hook, New York) — 1,007,500
Seat 7: Stewart Newman (Coral Gables, Florida) — 398,000
Seat 8: Johnny Neckar (Madison, Wisconsin) — 796,000
Seat 9: Tony Dunst (Melbourne, Australia) — 333,000

Vengrin must have slept well because his deadly streak continued at the start of the final table. First he faced off against Sebastian Segovia’s A-K, Vengrin holding pocket Queens. The board was kind to Vengrin, missing Segovia’s cards and giving him a set on the end for good measure. Moving on to Australian online whizz Tony “Bond18” Dunst, Vengrin called his all-in with 8-9 suited. Vengrin hit a straight on the turn and dodged a flush on the end to eliminate Dunst and his pocket Kings in 8th place.

The executioners mantle then passed to John Phan, who’s first victim was Thuyen Doan. Phan’s A-J hit two pair against her 9-9. You always need a healthy slice of luck to win a poker tournament and John Phan got his fair share against Stewart Newman. When the two flipped their cards, Newman had Phan dominated – K-Q vs. K-J. Things weren’t looking good for John until a Jack hit the board; eliminating Newman in 7th.

David Singers’ quest to add a second bracelet to his collection was scuppered when he ran into John Phan. Singer called Phan’s pre-flop raise with Q-J and then pushed all-in over the top of Phan’s flop bet. The board read A-K-3 and Phan immediately called, flipping over K-3 for two pair. The final two cards were no help for Singer, who was eliminated in 5th place.

Phan went on to complete his fourth consecutive knock-out by beating Alex Bolotin. Phan victorious in yet another coin flip situation – his AK against Bolotin’s pocket 9’s.

Vengrin’s healthy starting stack had kept him in the tournament up until now, but Johnny Neckar had other plans. All the chips were in pre-flop with Vengrin tabling A-9, only to find he was way behind Neckar’s AQ. An Ace hit the flop, but it was followed by blanks; meaning that Neckar’s kicker played and Vengrin’s tournament was over.

This heralded the start of a mammoth heads up battle that took over 6 hours to complete. The two gladiators swapped chips relentlessly until tiredness got the bettter of them and Phan suggested that they play the next three hands blind and all-in. Neckar agreed, making this one of the most surreal WSOP final tables ever.

In the first blind hand Phan and Neckar flipped Q4 and 79 respectively. The board came K-J-K-9-3 to give Neckar the pot and the chip lead. On the next hand the two pushed in preflop again, but this time resolved to not look at their cards until after the river. The board came J-8-Q-Q-5, Phan then flipped over a 4, Neckar followed suit by showing a 4 of his own, followed by a deuce. Phan then needing anything other than a 2, 3 or 4 in order to claim the pot. Luckily for him his second card was a seven, propelling him into a massive chip lead. The final blind hand was also played the same way: On a board of A-3-9-5-4, Phan showed a King and Neckar a Queen. Phan then revealed a 6 for Ace-high, with Necker showing a 4 to make a rivered pair and keep himself in the tournament

However it was all to no avail as just a few minutes later, after play had reverted to normal, it was all over. Phan re-raised from the button with A9 and Neckar moved all in over the top – Phan called and Neckar tabled QJ. The board came K-7-8-4-A to give Phan top pair and his first ever World Series of Poker bracelet.

In a surprising turn of events, and in spite of huge excitement from his supporters, Phan seemed generally nonplussed. He said that the bracelet was “not all that” and that he would not have taken such huge gambles in the main event. Clearly Phan has set his sights higher than the $3,000 buy-in event.

Final payouts were:

1. John (Razor) Phan $434,789
2. John Neckar $277,452
3. Matthew Vengrin $167,973
4. Alex Bolotin $137,343
5. David Singer $112,641
6. Stuart Newman $88,927
7. Thuyen Doan $69,165
8. George Dunst $54,344
9. Sebastian Segovia $39,523