After a week of non-stop poker action, the WPT Championship concluded on Friday night with the final table. Held in the Bellagio Ballroom at Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas, the final table was being taped for the 100th episode of the WPT. It's also the last show that will be aired on the Travel Channel as the WPT switched channels and heads over to the GSN for Season 6.
There was a little extra hoopla surrounding the final table. Plenty of WPT execs and suits were milling around because of the 100th episode. In addition the tournament was the WPT Championships... and the largest tournament that the Bellagio has ever held and the largest prize pool in the history of the WPT. Aside from the last three WSOP Main Events, no other poker tournament had awarded a richer first place prize.
Final Table Players
(Photo courtesy of BJ Nemeth)
Despite all the distractions that the WPT had to endure in Season 5 (the lawsuits, the headache with French authorities, the death of Paul Hanum, and ending the relationship with the Travel Channel), the final table of the WPT Championships truly epitomized everything that is great about poker. At the same time everything that is absolutely wrong with the industry was magnified at the WPT Championships. The yin and the yang. Bottom line... the poker boom would not have been possible without televised poker and without online poker. The WPT and ESPN play a major role in igniting the boom from helping bring poker into your living room and spreading the excitement and addictive quality of poker to the farthest corners of the globe.
The final six players entered the ballroom hoping to make poker history and take down $4M. I picked Carlos Mortensen to win for a reason. He was the best player at the final table and he's played under the bright lights. Playing in the Fontana Room is one thing. Having to bring your A-game on a TV set in a room filled with press and fans is an entirely different beast. Players have to deal with more distractions. That's when the entertainment side takes precedent and poker becomes the afterthought. Poker tournaments usually have their own rhythm. Sitting at a WPT final table can be erratic with unscheduled breaks due to technical issues like mics falling off or lights not working. Plus the crew has to take breaks to load more films into the cameras. The worst thing about the final table is having players recreate some of the action after it happens. Such as folding your hand again or showing your cards to the hole cams because the crew didn't get a good shot. Alas, that's part of poker these days.
Carlos Mortensen was also chasing history and when it was all over he smashed a few records and made a distinction for himself that may never be replicated ever again. After winning the 2007 WPT Championships, Mortensen became the first ever player to have won a WSOP Main Event and won the WPT Championships. Mortensen also set a record at Bellagio by being their first $5M man. No other person has won that much in multiple Bellagio tournaments. Mortensen made one of the most amazing comebacks that I have ever witnessed at the final table of a major tournament. Mortensen also won the richest prize in WPT history and made a few leaps on poker's all time money list. If there was ever a doubt who's the best tournament player to ever come from Europe, Mortensen's track record will be hard to dismiss. El Matador is not just one of the best players to hail from Europe, he's proven that he's one of the best tournament players... of all time.
Mortensen had a little help at the final table. Chipleader Paul Lee played super passive and allowed Mortensen to jump into the lead. The shortest stacks in Mike Wattel and Tim Phan busted out and out of the four remaining players, Mortensen was by far the most experienced. He'd need to use ever bit of his poker acumen when he was crippled down to just over 1M. It was an odd hand against Kirk Morrison. Mortensen flopped TPTK with A-Q but Morrison flopped a set of Jacks. All the money went in on the flop as Morrison doubled up. It appeared that El Matador was toast. Down to just 1M with WPT's hyper accelerating blinds, the future looked bleak for Mortensen.
He never lost his cool and fought back. He stole some blinds and doubled up to 2M. Then 3M. Then he caught a break. Guy Laliberte, one of the richest men from Canada, busted out in 4th place. Laliberte played fearless poker over the last couple of days. Since he was already filthy rich, the prize money did not mean that much to him. He was able to separate the money from the game and that's part of the reason he played so well. With the rich guy out of the tournament, Mortensen found himself as one of the last three players. Morrison held the monster lead and the passive Paul Lee became a target for both Morrison and Mortensen.
Mortensen patiently waited for his moment to strike and fought back into contention after he doubled through Lee on Hand #86. He went from 1M to 12M in one of the most remarkable comebacks in WPT final table history. Lee busted out on the next hand courtesy of Kirk Morrison. When heads up play began, Mortensen trailed Morrison 19.4M to 12.8M in chips. The majority of the pros in the room gave the edge to Mortensen despite the chip count.
"Carlos is one of the top 3 heads-up players in the world. Behind myself of course," mentioned a shitfaced Gavin Smith who had been drinking heavily in the crowd. "There's nobody in the world that I'd rather play less than Carlos Mortensen heads-up."
It took 95 hands but Mortensen managed to emerge victorious. Too bad that the heads-up match was a crap shoot thanks to the crazy blind structure at WPT events. The first five days featured 90 minute levels. The final table levels decreased to 60 minutes but when players get heads up, the levels are 30 minutes. At one point the blinds were 600K and 1.2M. Mortensen had about 10 big blinds left. When the level was bumped to 800K and 1.6M with 300K antes, there was 3M in the pot before the dealer dealt the cards! That represented 10% of the total chips in play. The blinds had never gotten that high at a WPT event according to Linda Johnson.
The last twenty or so hands became a push-fest like a turbo SNG on PokerStars or one of those poorly structured tournaments on the Strip that hungover sunburnt tourists play. It's a shame that the biggest tournament on the WPT manipulated the play so badly.
"This is not poker," said Daniel Negreanu. "There's no skill left. It's just go all in. The only way you can screw up is to fold."
"This is a total crapshoot," agreed Joe Sebok. "This is why internet players do better at this point."
But at least it was exciting. Whenever one play got close to busting the other, they'd miraculously spring back to life. Like an old school heavyweight boxing match that you'd see on ESPN Classic, the two just beat the shit out of each other and just when you thought one player was done... momentum swung the other way. Morrison caught the 10d twice on the river to come from behind and double through Mortensen. While Morrison could not deliver the knockout blow to Mortensen.
And on Hand #182 of the final table, Carlos Mortensen raised to 5M and Kirk Morrison raised all in. Mortensen called with Kh-Jh. Morrison flipped over As-4d. He flopped a pair on a board of 7c-4h-3c but Mortensen took the lead when the Jc fell on the turn. The river was 3d and Morrison ran out of river luck.
The Money Winners:
1. Carlos Mortensen (Las Vegas,NV) $3,970,415
2. Kirk Morrison (Topeka, KS) $2,011,135
3. Paul Lee (Los Angeles, CA) $1,082,920
4. Guy Laliberte (Beverly Hills, CA) $696,220
5. Tim Phan (Westminster, CA) $464,110
6. Mike Wattel (Phoenix, AZ) $309,405
Carlos Mortensen - 2007 WPT World Champion
(Photo courtesy of Flipchip)
Erick Lindgren backs Mortensen so I have no idea how much Mortensen actually won, nor do I know who else had a piece of him. What I do know is that the quiet and humble Mortensen said very little after he won.
"I do not have the words to describe how this feels," he said to the audience.
I think Mortensen summed it up best when he said, "I tried really hard."
Mike Sexton described Mortensen as a "player's player." He also remarked that we might never see anyone win both the WPT Championship and the WSOP Main Event.
"Carlos got knocked down so many times," said Gavin Smith. "He got up and kept fighting. If you are going to make it in tournament poker, you to be able to handle adversity and tonight Carlos proved he's the best in the world at handling that."
Kirk Morrison was a gracious second place finisher. He said, "This was fantastic. I couldn't be more happier than to lose to Carlos. I've been gone for a very long time but this is tremendous."
Click here to view the video with Kirk Morrison.
Morrison had taken about five years off from tournament poker. Since his return, he cashed in four straight WPT events which tied a record held by Daniel Negreanu.
Carlos Mortensen used to be known as the quiet guy at the table who erects weird chip sculptures. Now, he'll be known as one of the best tournament players of all time. I'm glad for Carlos Mortensen because there are some really nice guys in poker and he's one of them. I'm thrilled that he won instead of a douchebag like some of the other assclowns on the poker tour.
Don't forget to check out Flipchip's WPT Championship photos.
Also take a peek at the Poker News extensive WPT Championship video gallery that includes dozens of videos by together by our mulitmedia guru Shronk. He has videos if Doyle Brunson, Patriik Anotnius, Gavin Smith, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth and Joe Hachem.
You can review the live blogging updates of last night's final table on Poker News. If you liked our work at PokerNews, tune in Monday for our coverage of the WSOP Circuit evet at Caesar's Palace.
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