Jack Binion Gets Forced Out
1998 saw the number of entrants to the main event make another leap, growing to a total of 350 players. The final 3 came down to Scotty Nguyen, a very accomplished pro who would end up winning over 11 million dollars in tournament poker, including 5 WSOP bracelets; T.J. Cloutier, with almost 10 million won and 6 bracelets, and newcomer Kevin McBride, who played his first big tournament only a few months prior.
Nguyen almost didn't make it to the tournament, and after running his personal bankroll up to a million dollars from playing cash games, he was on a streak of bad luck and didn't even have enough to buy into a satellite tournament. He had less than $700 to his name, but managed to borrow the little over $300 he needed from Mike Matusow just to get in on the satellite. He of course won his seat to the big dance and was then looking to be the second player in a row to win the championship without having the money to buy into the tournament, following Stu Ungar who needed to be staked as well the year before.
Once the play got three handed, Cloutier was itching to get heads up with rookie McBride, who was calling way too much and playing a very loose passive style. However, Nguyen had position on McBride, and used that to full advantage. Scotty would bet or raise, McBride would call, and Cloutier would end up having to fold. After Cloutier watched 1/3 of his stack disappear this way, he finally got his chance to shove on McBride.
Kevin called his all in with only a draw, a true beginners' mistake, and needed to hit it in order to take out T.J. McBride got lucky though and hit one of his outs, leaving Cloutier shaking his head and missing out on yet another opportunity to win the championship that proved so elusive over the years.
Once Nguyen and McBride were heads up, Scotty's superior skills really started to take over. Kevin had almost a 2 to 1 chip lead after cleaning out Cloutier, but most still considered Scotty to be a big favorite. Nguyen continued to be the aggressor, McBride continued to call too much and play too passively, and finally the less experienced player was playing a dwindling stack.
In the final hand, there was a full house on the board, 99888. Scotty shoves, telling Kevin that if he calls, it will be all over for him. Is he telling the truth, or is he just saying that to get McBride to fold? McBride decides to call, and declares that he's playing the board. Nguyen shows him a 9, for a better full house, and takes down the hand and the title. Matusow's $330 stake in Scotty ended up netting him a cool $333,000, and was probably one of the best investments of all time.
After being involved in the WSOP for almost 30 years and being the main force behind it for over half of that time, an internal family struggle in 1999 saw Jack Binion excluded from the operations of the big tourney. This caused a number of big name players, like Doyle Brunson, to boycott the World Series of Poker over the next few years in protest of their friend being squeezed out.
However, Jack was far from being out of the gaming picture altogether, as he had formed his own company a few years prior to this and was expanding far beyond Las Vegas. Not all of the business decisions were good ones though, and among other things, he ended up buying a casino in Illinois, only to be denied a gaming license there, and had to then turn around and sell it.
His sister Becky was now in charge of the WSOP, which disappointed a lot of players, especially those close to Jack and his father Benny. Benny had started the operation back in the 1940s, as a bootlegger offering floating crap games, and built the family business to the point where he was one of the biggest gambling operators in Las Vegas. His clear choice was to have Jack take over and continue the legacy, who he groomed for this role since Jack was ten years old.
Not only that, but it was Jack who rescued the casino and got it back into family hands 40 years earlier. Benny had been convicted of tax evasion in the 1950s, and not only went to prison, he lost his casino license and had to sell off Binion's Horseshoe to a group of investors. A few years later, Jack started to come to the rescue, and bought an interest in the Horseshoe, and then continued to buy a bigger stake until his family was back in control again. Now, after all these years of dedication, he now had to watch control of the world's biggest poker tournament become wrestled away from him. However, as always, the show must go on.
Things definitely showed signs of going downhill at that point though, with a marked increase in disputes at both the WSOP and the Horseshoe in general. In spite of many longtime pros staying away, the 1999 WSOP did manage to grow again, reaching almost 400 entrants to the main event. The top 3 featured two Irish players, professional Padraig Parkinson, and amateur Noel Furlong, along with former junk bond trader turned poker pro Alan Goehring.
Noel owned a carpet manufacturing company back in Ireland which took up most of his time, and confined his play to only the biggest of tournaments. He had been coming over to play in the WSOP since 1989, where he finished 6th in the main event on his first try. He also at this point had won the Irish Poker Open twice, against the best players Europe had to offer, so although he was an amateur, he did know a fair bit about what he was doing.
The first of the three to fall was Parkinson, who shoved on Furlong with a flush draw. Furlong, after a long deliberation, decided to call with the nut flush draw and a better high card. Parkinson would now have to hope to pair up, and avoid either the flush hitting or Furlong pairing one of his two cards. Furlong hit a pair of aces on the turn, which left Parkinson drawing dead and in spite of his pairing on the river, it was curtains for his chances that year.
So Furlong now had to look to dispose of Goehring. Both players entered the heads up segment with a similar amount of chips. Furlong continued to put on the pressure though, and by all accounts played extremely well the rest of the way, establishing a big chip lead and not giving Goehring much opportunity to get back in the match. Finally, with a 3 to 1 advantage, Alan min raises $300,000 on the turn, with pocket sixes on a QQ52 board, a reasonable hand. He had pot committed himself though, and with only $400,000 in chips behind, he was in a difficult spot if he'd be forced to call a shove.
This is exactly what Noel threw at him though, which Alan pretty much having no choice but to call. Noel turned over pocket fives for a full house, leaving Alan only 6 outs to survive. In a spot like this though, it was pretty much all in the cards, and there really wouldn't have been any way Goehring could have gotten through this hand without it costing him his tournament life. The river card was no help to him and his fate became sealed, having to settle for the runner's up share of $768,625 to Furlong's customary million dollar prize. Still though, not bad for either player for 4 days work.