History was made on Sunday at the 2009 World Series of Poker (WSOP). Thang Luu won the $1,500 buy-in Omaha High-Low Split Eight or Better event for the second consecutive year. In 2007, he finished as the tournament’s runner-up.
By winning the event, the third of the ongoing 2009 WSOP, Luu became the first player since Johnny Chan to record two victories and a second place in an event over three consecutive years. Chan won the 1987 and 1988 Main Events before falling to Ultimate Bet pro Phil Hellmuth in 1989. Hellmuth became the youngest Main Event winner at the time at age 24, a record that stood for 19 years before Peter Eastgate won poker’s most prestigious tournament at age 22 in 2008. On Luu’s feat in Omaha High-Low, a press release from WSOP officials noted, “In the future, poker historians will debate poker’s greatest accomplishments and this feat is certainly among them.”
This year, Luu defeated a record-breaking field of 918 entrants, the largest Omaha High-Low event in WSOP history. In 2008, he bested Spencer Lawrence after navigating through a field of 832 players. In 2007, the number of opponents was considerably smaller, as Luu fell heads-up to Frankie Odell. The 2007 version generated just 534 runners, half of the number of players that turned out this year. Luu had a ninth place finish in a $1,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em event in 2006 for $49,000. That tournament, which was won by Jon “pokertrip” Friedberg, represented the second to last $1,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em freezeout before this year’s Stimulus Special.
Many will now compare Luu’s performance to Chan’s. The 1987 WSOP Main Event attracted 152 players and featured a showdown between Chan and Frank Henderson when play was heads-up. In 1988, the field grew by 10% to 167 runners and ended with Chan besting eight-time WSOP bracelet winner Erik Seidel in a final table that also included Humberto Brenes, T.J. Cloutier, and former Main Event winner Jim Bechtel. In 1989, Chan could not outlast Hellmuth, who recorded the first of 11 gold bracelets, a WSOP record; Hellmuth outlasted a field of 178 players.
Luu banked $263,000 for his win in the $1,500 buy-in Omaha High-Low Split Eight or Better event, the richest prize ever doled out for that genre of poker. He was atop the chip counts for the majority of the tournament and, on the final hand, took advantage of a severely short-stacked Ed Smith, who called for his tournament life with J-9-9-3 after a flop of Q-5-4 for a pair of nines; Luu showed Q-9-8-7 for queens. The turn was the five of hearts and the river was the 10 of diamonds, sealing the win for Luu. All was not lost for Smith, however, who earned $162,000 for his efforts. Entering heads-up play, Luu held a slight chip lead, 2.3 million to 1.8 million.
The 34 year-old transplant from Vietnam affectionately dubbed “Tiger Luu” told WSOP officials after play had concluded in Event #3 of the 2009 WSOP, “It feels even better than the last one. I think these kinds of $1,500 buy-in events are the best for me. There are a lot of new players in the (lower buy-in tournaments).” Coincidentally, blinds were 30,000-60,000 when play wrapped up, the same as when Luu won it all in 2008. He summed up the emotions of taking down his second consecutive bracelet in the event by saying, “I know one thing for sure: I will play in this event every year from now on!” He’s a cash game grinder by trade and can be found in $80-$160 Limit games around Sin City, where he now lives.
A $1,500 buy-in Pot Limit Omaha tournament (Event #5) begins today. We’d also expect to see Luu take to the felts in the $10,000 buy-in World Championship of Omaha High-Low Split Eight or Better, which starts on June 7th and runs for three days.