Scotty “The Prince of Poker” Nguyen talks his way into a WSOP Main Event title in a dramatic final heads-up hand versus Kevin McBride.
It’s probably the most famous bit of table talk in World Series of Poker history, a line uttered just before the final moment of the 1998 WSOP Main Event.
Scotty Nguyen delivered it, addressing the statement to his opponent Kevin McBride.
And as it turned out, in this case strong meant strong.
There were 350 entries in that year’s Main Event, creating a $3.5 million prize pool ultimately divided among the top 27 finishers. The winner was due $1 million, with $687,500 going to the runner-up.
Just five players returned for the fourth and final day on May 14, 1998. Play started quite early at Binion’s Horseshoe, getting underway just after 10:30 a.m. Vince Van Patten and Jim Albrecht were on the call for ESPN, with Phil Hellmuth Jr. chiming in as well with some analysis.
An investment consultant by trade, McBride was an amateur player without a great deal of experience at the tables. But after enjoying some success in preliminary events (including making one final table), he satellited his way into the Main and found himself making a deep run.
The cards went McBride’s way often enough to get him to the final table, and just a half-dozen hands into that final day McBride knocked out a short-stacked Lee Salem in fifth. Salem had reraise-shoved a short stack with A♥J♣, McBride called him with A♣4♣, and when three clubs came McBride won with a flush.
It was about noon when McBride also eliminated Dewey Weum in fourth in a similar situation. In that hand McBride called Weum’s short-stacked push holding K♦J♦ versus Weum’s A♣7♥, and the board brought a couple of kings to give McBride the hand.
Just like that McBride was three-handed and with the chip lead against two future Poker Hall of Famers, Nguyen and T.J. Cloutier.
At the time Nguyen was known to be a seasoned player, having won a WSOP bracelet the year before.
Cloutier meanwhile had already reached legendary status with three bracelets and two Main Event final tables, finishing second in 1985 and fifth in 1988. (He’d make another Main Event final table, too, finishing second again in 2000.)
Cloutier was also an author, with his Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold’em co-written with 1983 WSOP Main Event winner Tom McEvoy having just appeared the year before.
McBride continued to catch cards, and in fact on two occasions won pots off Cloutier with pocket kings versus T.J.’s pocket jacks. A little after that McBride won a pot off of Nguyen, after which Nguyen jokingly complained about the amateur’s run good.
“You taught me well when we played at the Commerce,” McBride responded with a grin. “I’m a quick learner. I played with you and I read T.J.’s book. That’s all it takes.”
The coverage next shows a hand in which McBride raised from the small blind with J♠9♠, Cloutier three-bet from the big with K♦Q♣, and McBride called. The flop came seven-high — 4♠5♦7♠ — and after McBride checked, Cloutier pushed all in and with his flush draw McBride called. A jack came on the turn, the river blanked, and suddenly they were heads-up.
McBride had the chip lead at that point with just over 2.2 million to Nguyen’s almost 1.3 million. However, over the next couple of hours Nguyen grinded back to even the match and then pull ahead, then started to build a big advantage.
A couple of hours after that the pair had played more than 100 hands when the blinds increased to 25,000/50,000. Then came the climactic hand which began with McBride down to 610,000 while Nguyen had 2,890,000.
Nguyen had something else as well, as chronicled in Tom Sims and Mike Paulle‘s excellent reporting from the event.
“Scotty Nguyen is drinking a Michelob.”
Acting first, McBride raised to 100,000 and Nguyen called. The flop came 8♣9♦9♥ and after Nguyen checked, McBride bet 100,000 and Nguyen took his time before responding.
“He’s probably representing maybe a high pair or ace-king?” wonders Van Patten on the broadcast. Noting that McBride raised preflop, Albrecht agrees he could have two big cards or a pair.
Nguyen asked McBride what he had left, and McBride answered about 350,000 but wasn’t sure (actually it was a little over 400,000). Nguyen waved his hand and indicated that was close enough, and eventually he made the call.
The turn brought the 8♥, and the action went the same — a Nguyen check, another bet of 100,000 from McBride, and another deliberate call by Nguyen.
“Oh, my God… what is going on here?” asks Hellmuth. “Could Scotty be slow playing a nine here, Vince?”
The 8♠ fell on the river, and the crowd immediately reacted to the sight of a full house on the board. Nguyen immediately reacted as well, announcing right away that he was all in.
Nguyen stood up from the table, took a puff from a cigarette, and held his beer bottle aloft as though examining the label. Exhaling smoke, he then uttered the line that would forever be associated with the “Prince of Poker.”
“You call, gonna be all over, baby.”
McBride did call, of course, saying “I play the board,” then asking, “you have a nine?”
Nguyen showed that indeed he did, and indeed it was all over. McBride’s cards aren’t shown on the broadcast, and Sims and Paulle’s report notes how they weren’t able to see them, either, although later it was revealed McBride had Q♥10♥. The eights full of nines on the board McBride was playing were beaten by Nguyen’s nines full of eights.
Played more conventionally, McBride might well have pushed his super-short stack all in on the flop with his two overs and flush draw (and straight flush draw), in which case Nguyen would certainly have called and the result would have been the same.
In any case, McBride was down to just six big blinds when he made his fateful final call. Even so, as McBride confessed afterward to Van Patten, he might still have folded. And in fact, Nguyen’s table talk was a key factor affecting his decision.
“I wouldn’t have called the bet,” says McBride. “The only thing is, Scotty said ‘if you call it, it’s all over.’ I didn’t think he was telling me the truth. He was. It’s all over. It was a great play by Scotty.”
Besides earning a nice return on his satellite entry, McBride earned added credit for his openness and humility after the hand. He also deserves kudos for helping inspire other non-pros to take their shots in the WSOP Main Event, helping the fields grow from 350 to 839 over the next five “pre-boom” years.
But Nguyen got the win. And the glory. And the chance to punctuate one of poker’s greatest hands with one of poker’s greatest lines.