There is no questiong that 2004 was the biggest year in poker history. The winner of the WSOP took home a cool $5 million. There have never been prize pools like this. In fact, I'm not sure there is a competitive endeavour in the world that gave away more money at a single event.
And the year was full of amazing performances by some truly great poker players. "The Kid" Daniel Negreanu won 2004's Pro Player of the Year award from Card Player Magazine. He made 11 final tables and pocketed more than $4 million. Third in the player of the year standings is, perhaps, the poker world's most under appreciated player, John Juanda. He made a whopping 15 final tables.
But neither had the most impressive performance of the year. And both would probably agree that that award should go to Gerry Drehobl.
That's right, I'm picking Gerry Drehobl (pictured above, courtesy Las Vegas Vegas) as the winner of the 2004 Most Impressive Win award. I'm guessing most of you have no idea who Gerry is. But Daniel Negreanu and John Juanda sure do.
Let me take you back to WSOP $1000 NLHE final table. When it got down to five players, the lineup looked like this: Daniel Negreanu, John Juanda, Paul Phillips, Mike Matusow and Gerry Drehobl. The first four names made 34 final tables last year. Drehobl showed up in Vegas in an RV after playing poker for 6 months. Who do you think won?
After Phillips knocked out "The Mouth," we were down to three players in Card Player's top 25, and a guy who wouldn't have ranked in the top 500 without this win.
First, Drehobl looks at J8o in the BB and calls a modest raise from Negreanu, who's holding pocket 10's. The flop is J-8-2. Both players check, a cagey move from an amateur. The turn is a 3 and Negreanu isn't waiting any longer. He bets out, expecting a fold. Drehobl cold calls and Negreanu can't hide his shock. The river is an Ace, but doesn't fill a possible spade flush.
Negreanu checks wondering where he went wrong in the hand. Drehobl bets just enough into Negreanu's big stack that he's sure to get a call. Negreanu basically announces he knows he's beat, but figures the bet will pay off in the information he gets. After the call, Negreanu realizes he was beat from the flop and probably wonders how he misread Drehobl so poorly.
Soon, Drehobl starts seeing some premium hands as well. He raises with the Hilton Sisters and gets called by Juanda's AJo. Phillips, the short stack, pushes in with Snowmen. Drehobl has to call. Juanda is surprised because he was planning to call, but instead gets out of the way. Paris and Nicky hold up, and Phillps is out.
At this point, you have to figure Drehobl has no chance. He's at the table with the two hottest players in poker. These two pros have slaughtered fish after fish all year long. Drehobl doesn't stand a chance.
After a clash between the two titans, Juanda assumes the chip lead from Negreanu, and Negreanu suddenly becomes the short stack. Juanda is on the button and bets out with A9o. "The Kid" looks down at KQs and moves all-in. Drehobl is probably hoping Juanda's hand holds up. But then he looks down at the Hiltons again, and has to call.
Once again, Juanda gets out of the way, and when the cards are flipped, Negreanu can't believe what he's run into. He quickly calculates his odds and realizes he's way, way behind. The flop only brings one diamond and the turn eliminates any flush possibility. The Player of the Year is about to get knocked out by Dead Money, and when the river brings a 7, another giant falls.
Heads up, it's super-pro John Juanda vs. Gerry Drehobl, the man on a family vacation.
The last hand of the tournament brought the amatuer pocket K's. He bets out strongly and Juanda calls with ATo, another strong heads-up hand.
The flop is 7-Q-7. Both players check. Had Drehobl bet here, I'm not sure Juanda could have called.
The turn is a 6 of clubs, putting three clubs on the table. Drehobl has the K of clubs, but Juanda is on the nut flush draw now. Drehobl checks again, but this time Juanda bets. Drehobl cames back over the top and Juanda either doesn't believe Drehobl, or decides to risk his entire stack on a draw. Juanda re-raises all-in and Drehobl calls.
Juanda is looking at 11 outs. The 8 remaining clubs and the three remaining Aces. The river is a black 4, but it's a spade, not a club, and Drehobl completes one of the biggest upsets in recent poker memory. He slayed dragon after dragon. Had Vegas laid odds when it got down to five, I'd imagine Drehobl would have been about a million to 1.
But that's the beauty of this game we play. It's not like some scratch golfer is going to win the Masters. It's not like some weekend tennis player will win Wimbeldon. It's the only sport in the world where you and I have as much chance as anyone to wear that bracelet.