Jerry Yang Defeats International Field to Win WSOP

by Lou on July 18, 2007

Jerry Yang, a 39-year-old psychologist and social worker from Temecula, California–a man virtually unknown to the world of tournament poker–won poker’s largest and most prestigious event, the World Series of Poker’s $10,000 buy-in, no-limit hold’em tournament.

For Yang, it was a long journey metaphorically as well as physically. Originally from Laos, Yang emigrated to Thailand and then to the United states, where he is now a citizen residing in southern California. Married with six children, he started playing poker only two years ago, and won his seat into the main event in a satellite held at Temecula’s Pechanga Resort and Casino. The socially-conscious Yang pledged 10 percent of his winnings from this tournament to three charities: the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Feed the Children, and Ronald McDonald House.

At the final table, he played aggressive poker from the get-go, winning 30 of the first 80 hands that were dealt. Although he began play that day with the second smallest chip stack, he quickly built a lead he never relinquished, and held a commanding chip lead when heads-up play began.

But he had to overcome a bit of adversity along his road to the championship. Once Jon Kalmar was eliminated in fifth place, each of his opponents took turns doubling-up in confrontations with Yang.

Jerry Yang, Alex Kravchenko, Raymond Rahme, and Tuan Lam–the final foursome–battled it out for seven-and-a-half hours. After 107 hands, Kravchenko, the Russian businessman with a scintillating reputation on the European poker circuit, was first to fall. Three-handed play didn’t last very long. Raymond Rahme, a retired South African bed-and-breakfast operator and the final table’s oldest participant at 62 years of age, was eliminated two hands later when his pocket pair of kings met defeat at the hands of Yang’s A-5 and an ace on the flop.

That left it heads-up between Yang and Tuan Lam, who was born in Vietnam but now lives outside of Toronto, Canada. Yang entered the heads-up phase with a 5-to-1 chip advantage, a huge edge by anyone’s standards. Yang wielded his chip advantage like a club and bludgeoned Lam to the point where Yang’s edge was nearly 12-to-1.

But Lam struck back, doubling up when his 4-3 flopped a four and defeated Yang’s A-9. But that was Lam’s high water mark, and following 16 hours at the final table, Yang won it all on Hand 205.

Here’s how it played out. With $100,000 antes and the blinds at $400,000-$800,000, Jerry Yang raised to $2.3 million on the button. Tuan Lam moved all in for $22.2 million. Yang called after pondering his decision for about 10 seconds.

Yang showed 8c-8d. Lam had Ad-Qd. It was a race situation, though one that favored Yang. Lam had to improve to stay alive. Everyone was standing. The crowd was chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” and “Canada! Canada!”

The USA contingent was silenced when a Qc-9c-5s flop gave Tuan Lam a pair of queens and the lead! With top pair, Lam was a big favorite to double up and make this match a lot closer than it had been. Now it was Jerry Yang who needed help. He needed to catch an eight or two running cards to complete a draw.

The 7d turned, giving Yang a gut-shot straight draw. He could win by catching an eight for a set, or by catching a six, which would give him a nine-high straight. Although he had six outs for the win, Yang was nearly a 7-to-1 underdog at that point.

The river card was Yang’s miracle, the 6h, which completed his straight and gave him the 2007 WSOP Championship, $8.25 million, the coveted bracelet emblematic of his victory and stature in the world of poker, and a custom designed Corum watch.

Tuan Lam’s second place finish was worth $4.84 million.

From the first event to the last this was a unique World Series. It begun in chaos, with long lines, cards no one could read, a hot, windy tent area that looked at one point like it was going to blow away. But things smoothed out, and within a few days of the start, the WSOP was running smoothly.

This year’s WSOP featured 55 events, and no one could play them all. Two events per day, one at noon and the other at 5 p.m., were scheduled most days. Weekends saw $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em events that seemed to set records for attendance each time another was played.

The WSOP threatened to be the province of the very young, with players in their early twenties winning events with regularity. But if youth was to be served, it wasn’t served well in the main event. Of the nine players at this year’s final table, only one player, Hevad “Rain” Khan, at the final table was in his early twenties. His youth was certainly offset by a 62-year old retired South African bed-and-breakfast operator Raymond Rahme, and none of the other final table players could be called kids by any stretch of the imagination.

This year’s main event winner, Jerry Yang looks to be a breath of fresh air for poker. A man of two continents, a socially conscious family man with six children and a commitment to donate a significant portion of his winnings to charity, Yang will be the face of poker for the next twelve months.

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