WSOP 2017: Fun while it lasted for start-of-day leader Christian Pham

Before the start of play today, Anton Morgenstern was here in the Brasilia room, having stopped in to have a look and likely to wish his roommate Jack Sinclair well before play began. Morgenstern then exited, reviving for a moment the memory of his having made Day 7 exits himself on a couple of occasions during recent years.

Two years ago Morgenstern finished 22nd in this tournament. Even more memorable was 2013 when Morgenstern was the chip leader with 27 left, inspiring uncharacteristic optimism from the PokerStars Blog regarding his prospects. But a sudden Day 7 slide meant a 20th-place finish for Morgenstern that year.

Something similar happened to start-of-Day-7 leader Thomas Kearney in 2015 who finished 15th, and Marc-Andre Ladouceur in 2012 who led the final 27 before being eliminated in 13th place. (By contrast 2014 champ Martin Jacobson led with 27 left and won the whole shebang, while last year's leader with 27 left Vojtech Ruzicka finished fifth.)

We'd just gotten to know this year's start-of-day-7 leader, the friendly Christian Pham, having chatted with him at the first break when he was still with a top five stack with 22 left. Alas Pham won't be around for break number two today, having been ousted in 19th in a hand versus Benjamin Pollak.


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Christian Pham

Pham came into Day 7 having earned the headlines thanks to his chip lead. Even so, he remained under-the-radar for some, despite being one of four former bracelet winners among the last 27. Pham has earned gold once at the WSOP, as have Ben Lamb, Bryan Piccioli, and Richard Gryko.

Actually you might have heard about Pham's victory in a $1,500 2-7 NL draw event two years ago.

Intending to register for a no-limit hold'em event, Pham mistakenly bought into the 2-7 and took his seat, not realizing he'd entered the wrong event until it was too late.

He made the best of the situation, though, explaining afterwards he essentially learned the game at the table. Over three days he beat out a 219-entry field and a final table including Daniel Ospina, Matthew Smith, Huck Seed, and Mike Leah to win the bracelet.

Among the notable hands he played early on Day 7, Pham knocked out a Florian Lohnert in 24th when his pocket nines held over the latter's pocket sixes. A little before that he endured a small double-up by Marcel Luske before Luske later fell in 23rd.

Meanwhile foremost on his mind was another hand in which he thought he might have pushed an opponent off a hand on the turn only to have to fold himself to a bet on the river.

"I got a wrong read," said the player from St. Paul, Minnesota.

"No!" he interrupted himself, holding up his hand. "The right read, but the wrong play."

Pham grinned after the correction, and continued smiling while explaining the misstep hadn't bothered him too much.

"The way I play... for so many years, my way is right," he explained. "I'm still feeling good."

Pham mostly enjoys cash games, though has spent the last several weeks at the Rio playing tournaments nearly every day. He notched three cashes in NLHE events with low buy-ins (all costing $1,000 or less to play), while also playing lots of satellites and the popular Daily Deepstacks with the $235 buy-in version the one he preferred.

We half-jokingly asked him to compare the fields in those Deepstacks with the players he was up against today, among them Pollak and Lamb at one of the outer tables.

Pham laughed heartily, but acknowledged that while some of his opponents in the $235 tourneys "play crazy... like they don't care about anything," playing those events was still worthwhile, giving him a chance to practice against a wide variety of opponents -- such as one encounters in the Main Event.

"Some people play tight, some people play many different hands differently... it helped me a lot."

Pham also spoke a little about how having a big stack helps greatly in tournaments, no matter the buy-in. But after the break Pham lost one hand to Pollak to dip below 20 million, then dropped a few more before meeting his end.

Having flopped a pair of aces and turned a flush draw, Pham had a decision to make when Pollak shoved on fourth street while having Pham covered.


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Pham thinks

Eventually Pham called, putting his stack and tournament life at risk.


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Pham calls

Pollak then showed pocket aces for top set, and when the river blanked, Pham was eliminated in 19th.

Whether it was the wrong read, or the right read and wrong play, doesn't matter too much for Pham now. Even so, we suspect the $263,532 consolation prize will go a long way toward helping Pham handle the defeat.

He'll likely benefit from the experience, too, when it comes to his future play. After all, as evidenced by his 2-7 NL win in 2015 -- a tournament that went so right for him after making a wrong read (of the event number) -- Pham is a quick learner.


WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.