Writing this article I have felt a distinct sense of deja vu. It was exactly seven days ago that I reported on perennial nearly-man John Phan finally picking up a well deserved first World Series bracelet. Yet here I am again reporting on another WSOP victory for the Vietnamese ace, as he becomes the first player of the 2008 series to win two bracelets. This phenomenal haul has propelled him into 3rd position in this years Player of The Year race, in what looks like it could be a gripping contest.
Phan’s success came, this time, in Event #40, the $2,500 2-7 Triple Draw. Otherwise known as “Kansas City Lowball”, 2-7 Draw is a game in which the goal is to get the lowest hand possible. A task made more difficult by the fact that not only are Aces always high, but straights and flushes also count against your hand.
Seeing as this a particularly niche variety of poker it was not surprising that only 238 players began the tournament. Phan generally passed unnoticed throughout the first session, attention focussed more on 2004 main event winner Greg Raymer. Eventual final tablers Shun Uchida and Gioi Luong finished Day 1 first and second in chips respectively. Also in the mix was lowball legend Billy Baxter – The 68 year old master has 7 World Series bracelets, all of which are in lowball events, 5 of them in the 2-7 variety. True to form he went deep in the tournament, just missing out on the final table.
Despite Phan’s inconspicuous first day, by the end of the second he had a firm grip on the chip lead. Sitting alongside him at the final table were accomplished professionals Robert Mizrachi and Ben Ponzia, both of who won bracelets at last years WSOP. Also featuring was veteran pro and influential poker-author David Sklansky, attempting to win his first bracelet for 25 years.
John Phan has travelled a long way to reach this point. Along with the rest of his family, he uprooted from Vietnam in 1982 to make the arduous journey to the United States. Residing in California his interest in the game was piqued at a young age. Saying that, “we love gambling in Vietnam, so my interest in the game came naturally.”
As a boy he worked in the family grocery store, while still finding time to visit the local card rooms to play low stakes limit hold’em. Even at a young age he showed a precocious talent for the game, winning, in one session, $1,000 when was 12 and $10,000 when he was 18. By the time he was 21 he was comfortably turning over enough money to become a full-time poker player.
Over the years he has developed an inimitable playing style: “I want players to guess what I have. Sometimes even I don’t know how I’m going to play a hand. My style deals with each hand individually. I’ll play any two cards.” Whilst many players advocate a tight-aggressive style of play, Phan prefers to eschew the tight part of the equation and mix up his play with a multitude of different hands. Ultimately it is his highly tuned instincts that serve him most at the tables. His natural ability to know when to apply pressure is the key factor in his continuing success.
The chip stacks going into the final table were:
Seat 1: Ben Ponzio (Elmwood Park, Illinois) — 113,000
Seat 2: Shun Uchida (Las Vegas, Nevada) — 200,000
Seat 3: David Sklansky (Las Vegas, Nevada) — 78,000
Seat 4: Gioi Luong (Westminster, California) — 291,000
Seat 5: Robert Mizrachi (Las Vegas, Nevada) — 215,000
Seat 6: John Phan (Stockton, California) — 294,000
David Sklansky started as the shortstack and it didn’t take long before his final table excursion was at an end, eliminated at the hands of Robert Mizrachi. Ben Ponzio was the next to fall, holding 7-5-4-2 he needed a 3 or a 6 on the last draw to beat Phan’s 8-7-4-3-2. He drew a 10 and brought about the end of his tournament. Mizrachi’s run ended in 4th place after a 3-way pot featuring Gioi Luong and Shun Uchida. On the final draw he had 10-high to beat, a drawn jack sealing his fate.
With the field down to three John Phan held a strong chip lead, but it was to be several hours before another elimination occurred. During this perio a huge amount of tension built between Luong and Phan. An incident which sparked the feud came when Phan accidentally posted his blind out of turn. Phan realized his mistake and went to take the chips back, at which point Luong immediately called the floor over in an attempt to get the bet to stand. As no cards had been dealt the floor ruled that the bet could be taken back.
Phan later returned fire after Luong attempted to retrieve a card he had accidentally discarded into the muck. This proved to be something of a tipping point, as Phan called for the floor the two rivals squared up to each other in what threatened to become a physical confrontation. However the decision once again sided with the eventual champion and Luong was forced to draw one more card than intended. In the very next hand Luong misscalled his cards after the final draw and, Phan expressed his disbelief and Luong eventual showed a pair of 6’s. Phan quickly displayed his 9-low and raked in the pot. With the other two players locked in battle Shun Uchida took advantage of the situation, launching himself into the chip lead.
Eventually Luong’s tournament came to an end, fittingly, at the hands of Phan. Strong betting from both players occurred pre-draw, with Phan standing pat and Luong reaching for 2 cards. Luong checked and Phan bet out behind him, forcing Luong to call-all in. Standing pat on the draw forced Phan briefly into the tank. He decided that he needed to make the draw and took 2 cards. After Luong once again stood pat Phan made a desperate double-draw and came out on top, making 7-6-5-4-2 to marginally defeat Luong’s 8-7-6-5-2.
Phan now had a slight chip lead going into heads up play, but it took him less than an hour to take down the tournament. In the final hand Uchida three-bet pre-draw with Phan making the call – Uchida drawing 2 and Phan drawing 3. Uchida continued his aggression after the draw but Phan fired back at him forcing Uchida to make the all-in call. Phan was confident in the strength of his hand and stood pat on the final two rounds of drawing. Uchida drew one card both times, but a strong 8-7-6-5-3 was not enough to stop Phan’s 7-6-4-3-2 from winning him the first place prize of $151,896.
Surprisingly nonchalant about last weeks victory he said of his latest triumph that: “Going into a World Series, I don’t expect to win a bracelet, but it would be nice to win one. The first [bracelet], I didn’t really care that much. But [winning] the second one is so difficult.” Phan’s strong feelings for his country of origin are evident in news that he is, reportedly, planning to give his winnings to a Vietnamese charity. Phan has said about his homeland that people there ” live day to day, many scraping by on less than a dollar a day.” So his generous gift will surely be a welcome gesture.
Final table payouts were:
1. John “Razor” Phan $151,911
2. Shunjiro Uchida $95,795
3. Gioi Luong $61,582
4. Robert Mizrachi $41,055
5. Ben Ponzio $28,738
6. David Sklansky $20,527