The final table of the recent Borgata Winter Poker Open in Atlantic City, N.J., was one of the most entertaining I’ve seen during my time with the World Poker Tour. It wasn’t because the table was packed with big-name pros playing up or melting down for the cameras. In fact, the table was made up of lesser-known players conducting themselves very seriously and in near silence throughout.
The chip leader was an unknown young professional named Andy Hwang. He came to the final table with 9.5 million in chips, but by the time play was four-handed, he was down to 4.5 million and in third place.
Hwang had lost many of his chips to an online player on his left named Matt Haugen. In 2010, Haugen was the winningest player in multitable tournaments on Full Tilt Poker — and Full Tilt was at the peak of its tournament volume that year. Haugen had played an excellent final table, which he began in third but now was leading. He had been trading small pots back and forth with Hwang, and it was clear that there was now enough history between the two for things to escalate. In a series of three consecutive hands, Hwang launched himself back into the chip lead.
First, Hwang opened the 100,000-200,000 blinds for a raise to 450,000 with Ad 2s, first to act, leading to a call from Haugen with 7s 5s on the button. The player in the big blind, James Anderson, also made the call, and the players went to the flop three-handed.
The flop came Jh 4s 3d, and when Anderson checked, Hwang bet 625,000. Haugen called, both for the value of his draw and with the intention of taking the pot away on later streets if Hwang checked to him. Anderson folded, and the two rivals saw the turn, which came 9d. Hwang moved all in for 3.2 million with just ace high and a gutshot straight draw, leading to a quick fold from Haugen.
The very next hand, Anderson raised the button with Js 8d against Hwang in the big blind. With Ad 5h, Hwang reraised to 850,000, a play he had been making often against Anderson up to that point. Anderson had been folding to Hwang’s small reraises, but this time he made a four-bet of just over 1.4 million. Hwang went all in, and Anderson was forced to fold.
In the hand after that, Hwang raised from the small blind with Qd 10d, and Haugen called from the big blind with 10c 4c. Both players started the hand with around 6.5 million, and when the flop came Qc Js 2c, Hwang put out a bet of 450,000. Haugen raised to 900,000, and Hwang made a surprising reraise with his top pair to 2.25 million.
Haugen needed a moment to think, and when he was done he announced that he was all in. Hwang called immediately, showing that he fully believed he had the best hand and was willing to put his tournament life at stake. The board ran out 6h Ad, and in three hands Hwang had gone from 4.5 million to over 13 million, giving him a chip lead he would never relinquish.
Hwang had realized that Haugen would adjust to his recent aggression and would probably be willing to get all the money in with several draw combinations that were well behind Hwang’s top pair. The three of us providing commentary in the WPT booth could hardly believe how fast the money got into the middle, but there was never any doubt in Andy Hwang’s mind.