Wencheng "Richard" Huang, licensed as a brain surgeon in his native China, and who has a medical equipment company in this country, performed a successful operation at the final table to run off with a win in the fourth event of the Harrah's WSOP Cicruit event at Harrah's Atlantic City, $500 no-limit hold'em. The key hand for him came in the late stages of the final table when he was all in for 324,000 with Kh-9h against Harry Frankel's pocket 7s. He caught two more kings to win and take a big lead which he never gave up.
Huang, nicknamed "Powerhand," learned poker from books, playing online and watching televised tournaments. He said he patterned his style after John Juanda's, playing carefully in the early stages, then reading opponents and playing aggressively later on.
Huang's victory officially was worth $44,480. However, with seven players left, a deal was made for everyone to lock up $14,000, with the winner getting the remaining $12,000 or so. Heads-up, Huang had exactly a 4-1 lead over runner-up law student Steve Safran. Then, after Safran had come close to pulling even, the two chopped the remaining money.
Huang, 42, lives in Hillsboro, New Jersey, came to this country 15 years ago, and did years of medical research before forming his medical equipment company. His best prior tournament cash was fifth in a Borgata Holiday Weekend event.
Once again, first-day play was cut off at 2 a.m. The 13 finalists returned the next day, and an hour later we got down to the final nine when Jimmy Nunez's pocket kings were dethroned by Jeremy Wagner's pocket aces. The final table started with J.J. Hurley, a builder/developer, having built and developed a chip lead of 243,000.
Play started with 3,000-6,000 blinds and four minutes later went to 4,000-8,000 with 1,000 antes. Early action saw five all-ins with no calls. The first showdown came on hand 13. With a board of Q-Q-2-7, John Ruggiero moved in with A-Q and doubled through against Frankel's Q-10.
Three hands later we had two all-ins. First Richard Blanchard pushed in for 35,000, and Ron "Rocket" Rhoads followed him all in for 52,000. After some hesitation, Safran called the 44,000 raise with pocket 5s and was surprised to see that his opponents both had Q-J. With a board of A-9-8-7, the two needed a queen, jack, or 10 (for a straight) to survive, but a river 5 gave Safran a set. He busted the two players and moved into the chip lead with about 300,000.
Blanchard, a 35-year-old U.S. Customs officer from Plattsburgh, New York, got $2,780 for ninth. He's 35, has played poker for 17 years, and his main accomplishment was lasting to day three in this year's WSOP main event.
Rhoads, with more chips, took eighth, worth $4,170. Rhoads, who lives in Douglassville, Pennsylvania, has a double occupation as auctioneer and poker pro. His biggest poker highlight was winning two events, $500 and $1,000 no-limit, at Binion's Ten Days of Hold'em in 2004. He's also in the Softball Hall of Fame.
Returning from break, Ruggiero proposed a chop. Safran, the chip leader, at first resisted, saying he had once before made such a deal and regretted the outcome. But after a lot of negotiation, he finally went along, asking and getting an extra $560 to cover his buy-in.
Blinds were now 6,000-12,000 with 2,000 antes. On hand 35, with a board of A-9-2, Hurley tried a bluff, moving in for 171,000 with just Q-10. Huang called with A-J and hit a third ace on the river. He now had the chip lead with about 530,000, while Hurley finished seventh. The chop deal proved especially good for him, because he signed for an official $5,560 while really making $14,000. Hurley, from Wayne, Pennsylvania, has played four years, cutting his teeth on the Internet. His prior poker highlight was winning a $100 event at the Taj.
On the next hand, Steven "Quietstorm" Rodriquez doubled through with pocket queens, and now all of Huang's five opponents were in the 100,000 range. Just before the level ended, Frankel moved in for 110,000 with A-7 and was called by Ruggiero with A-10. Two 7s and an ace gave Frankel a full house, leaving Ruggiero with about 20,000.
On the next hand, blinds went to 8,000-16,000. Ruggiero's remaining chips went in, and he found himself a tiny underdog with 10-3 against Rodriguez's pocket kings. He was slightly worse off when a Kh-Kd-Ah flop gave Rodriguez quads. Ruggiero still had plenty of outs, though. All he needed was a runner-runner Qh-Jh for a royal flush, but for some reason the cards didn't come and he finished sixth, paying an official $6,950. Ruggiero, a mortgage banker, is from Galloway, New Jersey, and has played poker for 25 years.
After a dinner break, the count was: Huang, 483,000; Frankel, 435,000; Rodriguez, 238,888; Safran, 169,000; and Wagner, 80,000. Blinds were now 10,000-20,000 with 6,000 antes.
Rodriguez lost chips when Wagner beat his K-7 with pocket jacks, and on hand 80 lost the remainder. He called all in with K-J after Safran raised with A-K. The board came Q-8-3-2-2, and Rodriguez got $8,340 for fifth. He's 39, from Staten Island, New York, learned poker 30 years ago from his father, and works in real estate.
Now came the deciding pot on the 84th deal when Huang's K-9 beat Frankel's 7s, giving him a big lead of about 700,000.
Wagner, meanwhile, had been low-chipped for a long time, but kept catching enough good cards to stick around. He managed to go past the 200,000 mark when his pocket queens beat Huang's Q-J on the 91st hand. That was as far as he got. A hand later, Wagner pushed in on the button with A-Q. Huang called with pocket 9s. Neither player helped, and Wagner was out in fourth place, which paid $9,730. Wagner, 33, is from Detroit, works for Daimler Chrysler, and started playing poker 12 years ago.
Blinds went up again, to 15,000-30,000 with 3,000 antes. Huang was still well in front. Hand 106 seemed to clinch the tournament for him. He opened for 60,000 and Frankel moved in for 226,000 more. Huang had pocket treys and Frankel Kd-8d. Huang was still in front when the flop came Ah-Jd-2d, but Frankel, with 15 outs, was now the favorite. He couldn't pair or catch a diamond, and went out third, which paid $12,510. Frankel, 36, is a full-time player from Monsey, New Jersey who's played for eight years.
Heads-up, Huang led by 1,112,000 to 278,000 for Safran, but after doubling through a couple of times, the law student had mostly closed the gap. Huang then pulled further ahead and ended it on hand 128. After Safran opened for 100,000, Huang raised 150,000 and Safran, holding his head and undecided, finally pushed in for his last 290,000. He had Qh-Jh to Huang's pocket kings, finishing second for an official $24,464 when the board came A-6-2-2-7.
Safran is studying to practice in the relatively new legal field of construction law, following in his father's footsteps. The 26-year-old lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and has been playing five years. This is his best finish to date. -Max Shapiro
SEAT 1 Harry Frankel 146,000
SEAT 2 Jeremy Wagner 186,000
SEAT 3 Richard Blanchard 65,500
SEAT 4 John Ruggiero 201,000
SEAT 5 J.J. Hurley 243,000
SEAT 6 Ron Rhoads 137,500
SEAT 7 Steve Safran 185,500
SEAT 8 Steven Rodriguez 84,500
SEAT 9 Richard Huang 142,500