I covered the final table of the 2010 WSOP main event, otherwise known as the November Nine, and sat in the orchestra pit with some of the press corps. We were all buzzing with excitement after we witnessed a hand—pocket nines versus A-Q—that conjured up flashbacks of the final table bubble at the 2003 WSOP main event.
Let’s step into our time machine to May 2003. Before poker exploded on the internet and created an international tsunami, the most prestigious tournament in the world was held in the shadows of Downtown Las Vegas. It gave the WSOP a tough and gritty side, sort of a constant reminder of the shady and deviant origins of poker.
The final ten players in the main event were cramped inside Benny’s Bullpen, located upstairs inside historic Binion’s Horseshoe. Chris Moneymaker, an accountant from Tennessee, had qualified through an online satellite at PokerStars. With ten to go, the unknown amateur held the chip lead, but Phil Ivey was still left in the hunt. Even in 2003, Ivey was regarded as one of the best no-limit players in the world and was the most feared player remaining in the main event. Fate pitted the amateur against the shark and the result was disastrous for Ivey.
Moneymaker opened for 60,000 with Ah-Qd. Phil Ivey called with 9s-9h in late position and Jason Lester called with 10d-10s from the big blind. The flop came down Qh-Qs-6s. Lester checked. Moneymaker, who flopped trips, pushed out a teaser bet of 70,000. Ivey called, but Lester bailed. The turn was the 9c. Moneymaker fired out 200,000. Ivey turned a boat and shoved. Moneymaker insta-called. When Ivey tabled his nines, a dejected Moneymaker stood up and knew that the last thing he wanted to do was double up Ivey. Alas, the As spiked on the river and Moneymaker won the hand with a bigger boat. A baffled Ivey hit the road in tenth place.
Moneymaker advanced to the final table as the chip leader and the rest is history. That decisive hand with 9-9 versus A-Q between the then unknown Moneymaker and Ivey helped ignite the poker boom, because if Moneymaker did not knock Phil Ivey in tenth place and did not win the main event, everything we know about poker today would be entirely different.
At the 2010 November Nine, a similar outcome occurred with A-Q facing off against 9-9. The ghosts from Binion’s Horseshoe haunted the stage of Penn and Teller theatre inside the Rio. With eight players to go, short-stacked Matt Jarvis from Canada got it all-in against crowd favorite Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi.
Jarvis took 9c-9h to battle against Mizrachi’s Ad-Qd. Classic race. Mizrachi pulled ahead with trips on a flop of Qc-Qs-8d. Mizrachi’s supporters unleashed a boisterous reaction, while a look of dejection blanketed Jarvis’ friends and family. His magical run in the main event appeared to be over, until the dealer dropped the turn card on the felt. The 9s appeared and Jarvis seized the lead. Mizrachi’s fans were stunned, while the rest of audience unleashed a howl that rattled around the theatre. Jarvis was about to dodge an elimination when, to his dismay, the ace of spades spiked on the river. Mizrachi won the pot with a bigger boat. His crew went berserk, but on the other side of the stage, Jarvis’ family fell into utter shock. His father, who had been fighting cancer all year, was on the brink of tears. Jarvis busted in eighth place. Mizrachi would later finish fifth.
Sure there were a few subtle differences such as the suits of the cards and the fact that Mizrachi-Jarvis got it all-in pre-flop, but the Moneymaker-Ivey confrontation saw it go all-in on the turn. However, the similarities were just too eerie to ignore. The outcomes for the Mizrachi-Jarvis hand and Moneymaker-Ivey hand were downright spooky: A-Q vs. 9-9, with two queens on the flop, a nine on the turn, and a miraculous—yet somewhat cliché—ace on the river to complete both exhilarating hands.
The ghosts of poker’s past once again made their presence known at the WSOP main event.
Paul ‘Dr. Pauly’ McGuire is the author of the upcoming book ‘Lost Vegas’. You can read his poker blog, Tao of Poker, over at www.taopoker.com.