The 2006 World Series of Poker is in the books and now that we’ve all had a week to collect our thoughts and reflect back on this summer’s poker festival, here are some of the highlights from the six weeks:

Teeming Masses

Eight thousand seven hundred seventy three players. Eighty two million dollar prize pool. Those were the figures for the Main Event, the largest poker tournament ever. It took two weeks to complete, with the first two “days” of play spread across almost an entire week because there simply wasn’t enough room to fit everybody.

Twelve people became millionaires in that one event, with the winner, Jamie Gold, receiving twelve million dollars, immediately vaulting him to the top of the all time WSOP money list.

Several events had more than two thousand players, which is more than all of the Main Events before 2004. Both the seniors and ladies no-limit hold’em events had more entrants than did any main event until 2004, as well.

Speaking of Gold, the Hollywood television producer dominated the tournament for the last few days in a way which may never been seen again. He held the chip lead to start Day 4 and never relinquished it. He never once had all of his chips at risk. Never. At the final table, he crushed the opposition. Absolutely mauled them. When he bluffed, his opponents folded. When he had the best hand, they called. He just had this uncanny knack for getting the other players to do what he wanted, even when he told them the cards he was holding.

It was fantastic big stack poker. Yes, he did get slapped in the face by the deck, both pre and post flop. At the final table, he had pocket Queens twice against pocket Jacks. He flopped straights, he turned straights, he won coin flips. But thing is, he could play a lot of hands because he had a mountain of chips. And even if you play speculative cards or have a marginal holding after the flop, when you have the lead Gold had, you can put people to tough decisions. Even if you lose the hand, it doesn’t make much of a dent.

One for Each Wrist

As amazing it was last year when Mark Seif won two bracelets at the World Series, not many people felt that the feat could be matched in 2006, not with the huge numbers of people expected to play in each event. The odds of someone making multiple final tables, let alone winning them, were long.

But two players defied the odds and captured two gold bracelets: Jeff Madsen and Bill Chen.

Madsen, for all intents and purposes, became the star of the 2006 World Series of Poker. He went largely unnoticed when he came in third in the Omaha high-low eight or better event, most people were probably thinking he was just another flash-in-the-pan, anonymous internet kid. But then he won the $2,000 no-limit hold’em tournament, becoming the youngest player in WSOP history to win a bracelet, besting Eric Froehlich’s mark from last year. That turned some heads.

But Madsen wasn’t finished. Less than a week later, he took the title in the $5,000 short-handed no-limit event. He was now the youngest player ever to win two bracelets, again knocking Froehlich out of the record books, who had just set the mark. It is amazing enough that someone could win two WSOP tournaments in one year (heck, two ever is an accomplishment), but Madsen is only twenty-one years old! Just a couple months earlier, he would not have even been allowed in the Rio. He became an instant celebrity. But he wasn’t done.

The poker world got excited just a few days later when Madsen made his fourth final table of the Series, this time in the seven card stud high-low eight or better event. He started as the short stack, but he powered his way into the final three before finally bowing to eventual champ Pat Poels. So, in his first ever WSOP, just after hitting the legal gambling age, Madsen had two bracelets and two third place finishes. That will work.

And what’s nice is he’s not your typical, brash internet phenomenom. He is soft spoken, humble, and has a great respect for the history of the game. And while he might play online at times, he actually cut his chops at Native American casinos from the time he turned eighteen. Madsen, while understanding that he’s young and has options, plans to return to UC-Santa Barbara in the fall to complete his film degree.

Then there is Bill Chen, the double bracelet winner who sort of got lost in the shuffle. He won the $3,000 limit hold’em event on Independence Day, then grabbed the bracelet in the $2,500 short-handed no-limit event less than two weeks later. An immensely likable guy, Chen is easily one of the most intelligent players at the WSOP, having earned a PhD in mathematics. He has co-authored a new poker book, due out this year, called The Mathematics of Poker. The other author, Jerrod Ankenman, almost won a bracelet himself, falling just short in a later $3,000 limit hold’em event.

Chen, like Madsen, made one more run at a third bracelet, in one of the $1,500 no-limit hold’em events held during the Main Event. He made the final table, but was eliminated in seventh place.

He May be a Brat, but He’s Good?

Phil Hellmuth holding a bracelet and cards in front of a stack of chips

Despite their tremendous success, neither Madsen nor Chen was the WSOP Player of the Year. That honor went to the man everybody loves to hate, Phil Hellmuth. Hellmuth cashed in a record eight World Series events, making four final tables.

Early in July, Hellmuth experienced a great disappointment, coming in second in the $5,000 no-limit hold’em event to young Jeff Cabanillas. He entered the star studded final table, which included Isabelle Mercier and Marcel Luske, as the chip leader and odds-on favorite. He kept and increased his lead throughout the day and during heads-up play, he amassed as much as a 2-to-1 lead on Cabanillas. But Hellmuth appeared to play a bit passively, not putting enough pressure on his opponent, and let Cabanillas hit a few big hands. Hellmuth was visibly upset with his runner-up finish and vowed to get a bracelet this year.

And he lived up to his promise, capturing his tenth World Series of Poker gold bracelet by winning the $1,000 no-limit hold’em event with rebuys. That table was also tough, with Juha Helppi, John Spadavecchia, David Plastik, Tony G, and Rafael Perry (who had already won a bracelet in 2006) competing for the title. As was the case with his first final table of the summer, the crowd was large and vocal, and many poker dignitaries came on over to watch. When he finally won, Hellmuth appeared honestly touched by the fan support he received in his quest to tie Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan at the top of the all-time bracelet leader board. Mission accomplished.

Hellmuth almost won his eleventh bracelet in the last event of the WSOP (not counting the Main Event), when he came in third in a $1,500 no-limit hold’em championship. That finish allowed him to edge out Madsen for POY honors.

The “Other” Main Event

In response to requests from professional poker players, the WSOP added a grand event to the schedule this year – a $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. event. Many top pros had been getting tired of no-limit hold’em event after no-limit hold’em event and wanted more tournaments that would showcase the diversity of poker. This new tournament guaranteed an all-star field with its high buy-in and many people thought of it as the “real” main event. The person who emerged as champion would have to be strong in multiple games: hold’em, Omaha, razz, stud, and stud high-low.

Even though the players were happy that the tournament was offered, two problems emerged. First, more players entered than officials had expected. Because of the tremendously deep starting stacks, the fact that all of the levels were limit poker, the skill level of the field,
a
nd the relatively large number of players (143), it was an event that required four days instead of the scheduled three. On the first day, the competitors played until the wee hours of the morning. On the second day, they went longer – until 9:00am. Because of this, the final table did not start until 9:00pm on the third day, which resulted in a champion not being crowed until after 9:00am the next day. It was hard on both the players and the fans.

Second, the final table was no-limit hold’em, rather than continuing with the H.O.R.S.E. structure. The reasons for this were because it was easier for television. It is understandable, as the general viewing public probably doesn’t understand the other games as well, plus editing would be a chore. But, it would have been nice if the structure had held true throughout – it took a little bit of the glamour out of the event.

In the end, it was a fantastic final table, with twenty-seven gold bracelets represented. The old guard, Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, T.J. Cloutier, and Dewey Tomko were there. The new generation, Patrick Antonious, Phil Ivey, Andy Bloch, and David Singer were there. Even the one guy that the casual fan may not have heard of, Jim Bechtel, won the main event.

Chip Reese, the man that many of the top pros consider the best all-around player in the world, was able to out-duel Andy Bloch after over seven hours of heads-up play to win over $1.7 million dollars. More importantly for Reese, however, was that he captured his first bracelet since 1982 (he sticks to cash games) in an event which many consider to be the test of the true world poker champion.

Tight Poker Staff

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Tight Poker Staff

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For nearly two decades, we’ve provided the best in class for poker site reviews, top online poker bonuses, strategy tips, poker news, and exclusive free poker content.  Consisting of a team of poker and gambling experts, we deliver the best online poker brand experience for players of all levels, from the fish to the sharks.
For nearly two decades, we’ve provided the best in class for poker site reviews, top online poker bonuses, strategy tips, poker news, and exclusive free poker content.  Consisting of a team of poker and gambling experts, we deliver the best online poker brand experience for players of all levels, from the fish to the sharks.