Gold, Cunningham Control Final Table

By RYAN NAKASHIMA
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 9, 2006; 9:47 PM

LAS VEGAS -- Luke Chung called it "murder row." He should know, he was one of its victims. For several hours Wednesday the two leaders at the World Series of Poker, former talent agent Jamie Gold and tournament pro Allen Cunningham, were sitting uncomfortably side-by-side, both with imposing chip stacks.

Chung, a 31-year-old corporate finance manager from Atlanta bet into the breach with his entire stack of some 3 million in chips riding on two pair, with an ace and five in his hand, and an ace, five, four on the board.

It was his last mistake.

Gold called with an ace and jack and hit another jack on the turn, giving him a higher two pair. Chung was gone in 14th place, but with his biggest payday ever of $907,128.

Heading into the final table Thursday, Gold and Cunningham had almost half the chips in circulation. Gold had the dominant lead with 25.7 million, while Cunningham had 17.8 million when play stopped in the early morning hours on Wednesday.

"I want to see if he can actually pull it off," Chung said of Gold's chances of winning the top prize of $12 million. "He's really loose. I think he needs to change gears."

Perhaps it was witnessing Gold's bad-acting bluff that peeled several million in chips off Prahlad Friedman's stack with an unsuited, unpaired king and 10 earlier that sent William Thorson, a 23-year-old poker player from Sweden, off to an early demise.

Thorson committed all his 4.6 million in chips into a heads-up pot with Gold, despite Gold's ominous 1 million re-raise one bet earlier. Thorson turned over two jacks and Gold turned over pocket kings. And that was that. Thorson finished 13th for $907,128 _ becoming Gold's sixth victim of the session.

"I probably would lay down against any other player but he raised like every single hand," Thorson said.

As play resumes on the 12th day of play in the World Series of Poker, only nine players remained from an original field of 8,773. Each player put up a $10,000 buy-in for 10,000 in tournament chips in the no-limit Texas Hold 'em tournament.

Richard Lee, a 55-year-old businessman from San Antonio, Texas, who was third with 11.8 million in chips, acknowledged that Gold was a tough player to read.

"He's hard to put on a hand right now. He plays everything," he said. "It doesn't matter what he's got."

Some reaching the final table were youngsters who had honed their skills on one of dozens of Internet poker sites that are based offshore because they are illegal in the United States.

Douglas Kim, a 22-year-old who graduated in May with an economics degree from Duke University, spent $3,000 buying into online satellite tournaments before winning the last one available.

Dan Nassif, a 33-year-old newspaper ad salesman from St. Louis, qualified for his second World Series main event in two years online. Last year he busted out in five hours. This year, he's guaranteed to go home a millionaire.

Rhett Butler, a 45-year-old insurance agent from Rockville, Md., returned to his former profession after taking a decades-long hiatus to get married and have children. "My buddies put up half the money. They're here rooting me on."

Nassif had the smallest stack at 2.6 million chips, while Swedish pro Erik Friberg was fourth with 9.6 million, Internet player Paul Wasicka was fifth with 8 million, Kim was sixth with 6.8 million, and Butler was seventh with 4.8 million.

Michael Binger staved off elimination late in the day, doubling up to about 3.1 million for eighth place, when his ace and queen caught a miracle ace on the turn, beating Fred Goldberg's pocket 10s.

"The burden is off," said the 29-year-old poker pro from California. "I'm at the final table and now I can play poker and go for the win."

Gold, of Malibu, Calif., said he followed mentor Johnny Chan's advice to build up a massive chip stack to give himself the best shot at winning it all.

"I feel like I've done pretty well," Gold said early Wednesday. "Johnny told me if I could get to 25 million today I'd be the king of the world and I did it."

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On the Net:

World Series of Poker: http://www.worldseriesofpoker.com


© 2006 The Associated Press