It wasn't supposed to happen like this. JC Tran was not only the most experienced player at the World Series of Poker Main Event final table, he was also the chip leader. The Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino listed him as a 9/5 favorite against the other eight players in the field – an astounding favorite considering he held less than 20 percent of the chips in play.
But Tran held WSOP and World Poker Tour titles. He'd won nearly $10 million in tournaments in his career. Surely he was the favorite.
But sometimes, the cards just don't come your way. Tran was unable to battle through a card-dead afternoon and evening, falling from chip leader to fifth place.
"I definitely didn't expect this," said Tran. "Finishing fifth was definitely possible in some other ways, but not the way I went out. I had zero pairs all day, ace-king once, ace-queen a couple times in really tough spots. To be honest, I'm not 100 percent happy with how I played, but when you're on the bottom end of the cards, you're facing tough decisions all the time."
Perhaps the toughest decision he faced was a four-bet all in from Marc-Etienne McLaughlin, after Tran had (incorrectly) sensed weakness from McLaughlin's open, and three-bet holding ace-seven. McLaughlin moved all in, and Tran called to find himself dominated by ace-king.
"I felt like there was some money jump equity," said Tran, who hoped that his three-bet would get McLaughlin to fold his hand. "When he jammed, I asked myself, 'What range of hands will he gamble with?' And then I was priced in with some of the range that I thought he would gamble with. I definitely could have folded that hand."
The hand was just one of a series of frustrations for Tran, who said he didn't see one pair all day, was dealt ace-king just once, and faced a myriad of difficult decisions holding ace-queen.
One of those decisions came against Jay Farber, the only amateur at the table. Tran raised holding ace-queen, Farber three-bet, and Tran responded with a four-bet of about a quarter of his stack. Farber then five-bet for half of Tran's stack, holding pocket sixes and forcing Tran to fold.
Despite the disappointing finish (which netted Tran $2.1 million), Tran says he will learn from the experience and move on. And believe it or not, Tran has something even more life changing than a Main Event championship on the horizon. His wife is due with their second child in just a few short weeks.
Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi. Follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.