Psychologist Wins World Series of Poker

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

LAS VEGAS – Jerry Yang, a 39-year-old psychologist who uses his professional training in his card-playing arsenal, won the top prize Wednesday of $8.25 million at the World Series of Poker.

Yang vaulted quickly from eighth to the chip lead soon after play began Tuesday afternoon.

He knocked out seven of the eight other players at the final table, reminiscent of last year when Jamie Gold ran over his opponents. The main difference, Yang did it from the back of the pack.

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“The only way I would win this tournament is to be aggressive from the very beginning and that’s exactly what I did,” he said.

An ethnic Hmong person who grew up poor in Laos, Yang said before the final table began that he would donate 10 percent of his winnings to charity, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Feed the Children, the Ronald McDonald House and his alma mater, Loma Linda University.

He won his way into the main event from a $225 satellite tournament at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula and only began playing poker two years ago.

Despite his 5-foot-3 stature _ often standing up from his seat to move chips or stare down opponents _ Yang was an intimidating force at the table from the beginning.

He aggressively raised pots and became the first player at the table to go all-in. On the ninth hand, he forced Lee Childs, a 35-year-old software engineer from Reston, Va., to fold pocket queens, face up, on a board with a seven, four and deuce.

Yang began heads up play with a giant chip lead against Tuan Lam, a 40-year-old professional online poker player from Mississauga, Ontario. Yang had 104.5 million in chips to Lam’s 23.0 million.

On the last hand, with a huge mound of cash deposited on the felt, Lam moved all-in with an ace and queen of diamonds and Yang called with pocket eights.

When a queen, five and nine came on the flop, it looked like Lam, waving a Canadian flag, would be on the verge of a miracle comeback, making a pair of queens for the lead.

But a seven on the turn and a six on the river gave Yang a straight, sealing a win in which he dominated the final table from the moment the nine finalists sat down.

“I’ve seen the miracles of God with my own eyes,” Yang said. “I did a lot of bluffing, also.”

Lam, who earned $4,840,981 for his second place finish, was also a refugee who found his way to Canada from Vietnam. He said he’d be returning to his village, Bao Trinh, to help those who need it.

“I was patient and waited for the big hand, but the cards came out different,” Lam said. “I have been through a hard life. And I will be going back to Vietnam and giving back.”

Play at the final table began at noon in Las Vegas and didn’t finish till nearly 4 a.m.

The finalists ranged in age from 22 to 62, and hailed from five nations: the U.S., Canada, Russia, England and South Africa. By birthplace, players also were from Laos, Vietnam and Denmark.

Each had their section of fans in the audience, and the arena took on the air of the Olympics as supporters broke out into national songs every time their player won a big hand.

“The final table says a lot about the globality of poker and the globality of our fans,” said Jeffrey Pollack, World Series of Poker commissioner for event owner Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.

Yang burst out of the blocks shortly after play began. But 31-year-old Dane Philip Hilm made a stand with a flush draw and a pair of fives on the flop, pushing all-in against Yang. Yang made the call holding an ace and king for a pair of kings and Hilm never improved, finishing ninth for $525,934.

Lee Watkinson, a 40-year-old poker pro from Cheney, Wash., pushed all-in before the flop with an ace and seven, but Yang read through the show of strength by calling with an ace and nine and Watkinson fell in eighth for a $585,699 payday.

“I was playing for the bracelet,” Watkinson said. “I wasn’t going for third, fourth or even second. I wanted to make a play and be a contender.”

Childs, who quit his job a month ago to play poker for a living, finished seventh with $705,229 when he went all-in with a king and jack against Yang, with a jack and eight. Childs lost when an eight came on the turn.

“My goal when I came in to the tournament was to trust my instincts, make the right decision and hopefully not get unlucky,” Childs said. “I was that close to doubling up.”

Jon Kalmar, a 34-year-old poker pro from Chorley, England, was the only player to bust out against someone other than Yang. He lost a head-to-head bet against South African retiree Raymond Rahme when his ace and king failed to improve against Rahme’s pocket jacks.

Kalmar proclaimed himself “thrilled” with his prize and said he intended to use his winnings to pay bills and perhaps buy a car back home.

Hevad Khan, an Internet poker pro from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., finished in sixth when his ace and queen of spades couldn’t top a pair of jacks belonging to a surging Yang. Khan didn’t seem disappointed with sixth place and his $956,243 payday as he celebrated with friends in the audience.

Alex Kravchenko, 36, was Yang’s fifth victim, when he was all-in before the flop with an ace and king but Yang nailed three of a kind, holding a pocket pair of eights. Kravchenko finished in fourth with $1,852,721.

Finally, Rahme went down when he pushed all-in with pocket kings on a board with an ace. After several minutes of pacing and a staredown, Yang made the call holding an ace and a five, for two aces, and Rahme shook his head in resignation.

“That was the only mistake I made in the whole tournament,” Rahme said.

Nine players who began the day were all that remained from a field of 6,358 players that began to play down in stages July 6. Everyone paid or won $10,000 to enter the main event, the biggest poker tournament of the year.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)