LAS VEGAS – Former Hollywood talent agent Jamie Gold pulled off his best acting job ever early Friday, bluffing his way to victory at the World Series of Poker and taking home the grand prize of $12 million.
Gold, of Malibu, Calif., somehow convinced Paul Wasicka he had a weaker hand, getting him to push all his chips in the pot. The 36-year-old Gold screamed for joy to see Wasicka's pocket 10s to his pair of queens.
It was the last bit of overacting for the former agent to the stars, who had bluffed and cajoled his way to the chip lead during the last four days of play.
"I knew that he was weak, but he had a hand. And then I knew it was my chance," Gold said. "I went all in, and then I just went into my act. I actually talked him into calling with the worst of it, and that won the whole tournament."
Wasicka said he felt he could tell when Gold was bluffing even after he fell into his trap.
"I felt like I had a perfect read on him all day, whenever he would show his bluff, I thought he was bluffing," said Wasicka, a 25-year-old former restaurant manager from Westminster, Colo. "But against a player like that it makes it really difficult. You kind of just have to go with your gut. That's what I did, and it was wrong."
Still, the second-place finish earned Wasicka $6,102,499.
The nine players at the final table — four pros, a former talent agent, an insurance broker, an ad salesman, a recent college grad and a retired businessman — were guaranteed at least $1.5 million in winnings.
By the time Gold and Wasicka were the last two players left from a field of 8,773 entrants, huge bundles of cash were deposited on the poker felt. But most of the chips were on Gold's side of the table.
He eliminated six of the previous seven players himself, and Gold's 79 million in chips covered a good corner of the table. Wasicka's 11.2 million was badly overmatched.
Each player Gold wiped out fell victim to a different game.
Dan Nassif, a 33-year-old newspaper ad sales executive from St. Louis, busted out in the first 20 minutes of play when he went all-in with an ace and king and a plain-looking board of five, three and two. Gold was holding "pocket" twos — the two cards dealt face down to a player — giving him a killer three-of-a-kind.
Nassif jokingly apologized "to everyone back home who ordered the pay-per-view" after his short final table run to finish ninth. He said he would return to his job despite going home $1.57 million richer.
"It's been a great experience, it's been a wild ride," he said.
Gold also knocked out Swedish pro Erik Friberg, when Friberg went all-in with a pair of jacks but ran smack into Gold's pocket queens. For good measure, Gold hit another queen on the river, sending the 23-year-old Friberg home in eighth place with $1.97 million.
"I'm feeling disappointed," said Friberg, the third Swede to make it to the World Series' final table in the past three years. "I don't know what happened out there."
Doug Kim, a 22-year-old recent Duke University graduate from Martsdale, N.Y., went out in seventh when he pushed in for all of his some 4 million in chips holding pocket nines and a flop of three, four, four. But Wasicka had him covered with pocket queens.
"I thought this was as good a spot as any to stick it in there," said Kim, who finished with a $2,391,520 payday. "I'm satisfied with my play. I have no regrets."
Gold's third victim of the final table was 55-year-old retired San Antonio businessman Richard Lee, who Gold had been reraising all night.
Just calling the big blind, or limping, with pocket queens, Gold watched as Lee raised to 1.2 million. Gold set the trap by reraising to 4 million and Lee, holding pocket jacks, went all-in for twice that amount, which Gold called instantly.
Lee busted out in sixth for a payday of $2,803,851.
A gracious Lee denied that the bluff set him up for a fall. "I knew he had some kind of a hand, I just didn't give him credit for that big of a hand."
Later, Rhett Butler, a 45-year-old insurance agent from Rockville, Md., busted out in fifth for a $3.22 million payday when he moved all-in with pocket fours but Gold called with a king and jack and got a jack on the board for a higher pair.
Michael Binger, a 29-year-old from Atherton, Calif., with a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford, was wiped out in third, for $4.12 million. Gold called an all-in bet holding an unsuited three and four and made a straight on the turn.
Even tournament pro Allen Cunningham, 29, of Las Vegas, fell in fourth when his pocket 10s failed as Gold's king and jack made a pair of jacks on the board.
Cunningham, who won his fourth World Series event last month, was favored by some to win the main event because of his experience. But once Gold controlled more than half the 87.7 million chips in circulation, he made it difficult for other players to raise pots with anything but undoubtedly the best hand.