It is said that winning one bracelet at the World Series of Poker is a difficult feat, especially in this day and age of the massively large fields. It is also said that winning multiple bracelets is a true indicator of poker talent; anyone can get lucky once, doing it twice means you’ve got some game. Thus, not only does former World Champion Joe McKeehen etch his name into the roster of winners at the 2017 WSOP, he also scratches his name on the history books as someone who broke the “Champion’s Curse.”
The $10,000 Limit Hold’em World Championship final table played out on Wednesday as 15 players returned from the 120-player starting field to determine a champion. With the large buy-in, the field was replete with big names vying for the next piece of jewelry in Las Vegas. At the start of the action, J. C. Tran was at the head of the pack with over a million chips, while such contenders as 2017 WSOP bracelet winner Ben Yu, Sorel Mizzi, Daniel Negreanu, Ian Johns, Jon ‘Pearljammer’ Turner, Terrence Chen and McKeehen looked to chase Tran down and take the title.
Tran defended his chip leader status immediately, taking out Turner and Negreanu to pump his stack to 1.5 million chips. Yu looked poised to become the second man to win two WSOP bracelets in 2017 (David Bach was the other…how soon we forget!) in taking down Johns to bring the final 10 men to the unofficial final table redraw only an hour into the action. McKeehen, for his part, had increased his stack nearly tenfold (to 854K) to put his name into contention alongside Tran and Yu.
Once the redraw was complete, McKeehen continued to make some moves. His elimination of Tom McCormick in tenth place set the “official” nine-handed final table and, as the hands rolled by with little action, McKeehen maintained his position on the heels of Tran and Yu. Once Level 25 began – with its blinds of 40K/80K cutting into the stacks of even the deeper players – it was basically anyone’s tournament to take down, however.
McKeehen very nearly didn’t get to be a part of it. He would watch his stack slip perilously close to the felt, becoming the short stack with only 375K in chips (roughly 4bbs), before mounting a charge for the ages. He doubled up through Tran to get over the million-chip mark and doubled again through Mizzi in three-handed play – his A-7 rivering a better boat against Mizzi’s pocket Jacks on a J-8-7-A-A board – to become a viable stack. Mizzi never could come back from that, with McKeehen taking him out a few hands later to take over the chip lead against Jared Talarico.
Talarico gave the former World Champion a bit of a battle, but the cards just seemed to go McKeehen’s way. He got three streets of chips out of Talarico on a K-Q-5-K-8 board when McKeehen showed Big Slick, then got a bit lucky in hitting with his A-7 against Talarico’s A-J on an 8-2-2-7-6 board the very next hand. As his stack whittled away, Talarico could only watch in aggravation as the tournament ended.
On the final hand with all his chips in on the blind, Talarico saw McKeehen call blind and turn up an unseen 10-5 off suit. Talarico, for his part, was alive with his 4-3, but the flop couldn’t have come much worse for his situation. A Q-J-8 hit the baize, extending McKeehen’s lead to including some straight draws, and a five on the turn didn’t change anything. Once the Ace of Spades rolled on the river, McKeehen made history in winning his second WSOP bracelet.
1. Joe McKeehen, $311,817
2. Jared Talarico, $192,717
3. Sorel Mizzi, $135,985
4. Ben Yu, $97,904
5. J. C. Tran, $71,949
6. Robert Campbell, $53,995
7. Ray Henson, $41,399
8. Terrence Chan, $32,443
9. Aaron Sacks, $26,000
Along with the baubles and cash for winning at the WSOP for the second time, McKeehen etched his name in the history books.
Since the “Internet Age” of poker began (deemed started when Chris Moneymaker won the World Championship in 2003), only three men who won the World Championship went on to win additional bracelets. 2014 champion Greg Merson won two bracelets in the same year (so it is arguable he might not be counted), but 2010 world champion Jonathan Duhamel has won three total bracelets and 2009 victor Joe Cada has won two. McKeehen now joins their small fraternity who have backed up their World Championship runs by performing the difficult trick of winning again on the battlegrounds of the WSOP in Las Vegas.