$1,500 Entry 7-Card Stud Championship: "A Lady Beats the Seven Studs"
When the lovely Jerri Thomas sat down at the final table of the WSOP 7-Card Stud event today, she faced long odds. Few women have ever won World Series events, six of her seven male opponents had more chips than her, the hugely talented Stan Goldstein was sitting across the table behind a big pile of chips, and the equally fearsome David Chiu also had a reasonable stack.
To make things worse, she hadn’t played much poker in the last year, having given birth to son Harry Thomas III (nickname: Trey-the III, trey, get it?) only three months before, and having helped husband Harry, a former WSOP bracelet winner, through open-heart surgery only five months before.
Gee, a short stack, two superstar opponents, lots of big family goings on, and a rusty game. The built-in excuses were certainly there. But Jerri Thomas wasn’t interested in excuses. She wanted a winner’s gold bracelet, and she got one. This wasn’t some case of “luck being a lady tonight.” In no way did the cards run over Jerri Thomas. She played solid poker throughout, shifted gears at the right times, and was one of the coolest, calmest, and most relaxed final table participants I’ve ever seen. Maybe dealing with things like childbirth and open-heart surgery for a beloved husband gave her some perspective on what real pressure is.
Rafael Perry and Dale Phillips had already exited in 8th and 7th positions when the game started getting interesting. David Chiu got most of his money in with aces in the hole, but never improved them, and on the river, Downey, CA’s Phongthep Thiptinnakon had both an open-end straight draw and a flush draw. A nine gave Phong the straight, and the likeable Tournament of Champions winner exited 6th.
Jerri’s first big chip move followed shortly thereafter. In a hand much more probable in hold’em than 7-stud, her A-A-K-K-10 beat Phong’s A-A-K-K-6. Phong’s aces had been in the open, Jerri’s in the hole, and the narrow victory shifted a big pile of chips to Jerri.
“I was pretty sure he had aces and kings too,” she said during a break, “and it didn’t look like he could have much of a kicker. I was pretty sure my ten would be good.”
At this point, Jerri and Stan were the chip leaders, and Goldstein looked very much the confident leader. When a relatively minor ruling went against him (the limits had just moved from $3,000-6,000 to $5,000-10,000, and Stan had tossed $6,000 into the pot, intending to raise, but the bet was correctly ruled a call at the new higher limit), Stan smiled and in his best Regis Philbin asked, “Is that your final answer?”
Tom Elias, running the game with his usual smile, good humor, and good sense, indicated it was. What Stan couldn’t have known was that would shortly be in dire need of a lifeline, because the cards treated him cruelly at the higher limit.
The first tough beat came on a big pot with Bill Gibbs, a Las Vegan who usually plays 5-10 stud at the Mirage. Gibbs was all-in for his last $30,000, so everyone got to see that he held a pair of eights and a club flush draw, while Goldstein held two pair, queens and sevens, and a club flush draw of his own (in an oddity that only became odd two hands later, Gibbs had paired his eights on 6th street, the same round Goldstein paired his sevens. Stay tuned).
Gibbs spiked a third eight on the river, and Goldstein could find nary a club, queen, nor seven on his river. Instead of being on the rail, Gibbs was back in the game. It couldn’t have been easy for Goldstein, sitting right next to Gibbs, to see that big pile of chips, every one of which would have been his without the eight.
Only two hands later, Richard Tatalovich beat Goldstein out of another big pot, pairing his eights on 6th street when Stan paired his sevens. I think Stan can be forgiven if anytime in the next few years, he gets a bit irritable when someone pairs eights the same round he pairs sevens, particularly if it happens on 6th street. In five minutes, Stan went from being the jovial chip leader to a glum-faced short stack.
Rubbing some salt in the 6th street wounds, Jerri shortly thereafter paired her doorcard king on 6th street, wiping out most of the rest of Stan’s chips. I would not blame Stan for switching to 5-card stud after this, thus avoiding the 6th street difficulties.
Stan got a brief reprieve when, showing a board of 2s-10s-9s, and with $30,000 already in the pot, Gibbs declined to call Stan’s last $5,000. Phong, who like any sane player was hoping to get a menace like Goldstein out of the game, exclaimed “Jeez!” rather loudly in disbelief that Gibbs wasn’t willing to risk $5,000 to claim a pot eight times that size with two cards yet to come. Maybe Gibbs knew what he was doing. With the ammunition he saved, he deprived Tatalovich of the chips he’d taken from Goldstein with a set of rolled up sevens, and knocked Richard out in 5th.
Phong finished off his feared opponent himself on the very next hand, starting off with 7-8-9 and catching running sevens on both 4th and 5th street. Going to the river, the trips were still leading Stan's two pair, twos and threes. In two nasty “close but no cigar” moments, Stan first saw Phong catch the very three he needed to fill up, and then, as he sweated his own final down card, he peeked and saw the card had VERY few pips: it had to be something small. But bending it back just a bit further, he saw the ace of hearts, and Stan went out fourth.
Down to a three-handed game ($140,000 for Jerri, $118,000 for Bill, and $108,000 for Phong, the players decided to redistribute the prize money a bit. Although I’m not a big fan of deals (easy enough to say on the sidelines), I liked this one: looking at prize distribution of $135,975 for first, $69,825 for second, and $34,910 for third, the remaining trio agreed to shift $15,090 from the winner’s share to the bronze medallist’s total (making it an even $50,000), leaving the second-place money untouched. This left quite a lot of money in play while still guaranteeing the next player out a more reasonable win.
It was after this “mini-deal” that Jerri Thomas started taking over the game. She built her small chip lead into a big one with one hand where her aces in the hole became trips, hurting Phong, and from then on, she played her big stack brilliantly, not looking to get involved in any big pots, chopping away at her opponents in a fashion that would have done Doyle Brunson proud.
Phong, who had earlier made the loud criticism of Gibbs’s non-call on Goldstein, found himself drinking a cup of instant karma shortly thereafter. He got into a big pot with Gibbs, who had been leading out the whole way, and who was showing a board that included, amongst other things, the A-K of clubs. Gibbs bet $10,000 on the river into a pot that already had $50,000 in it, and Phong called.
Gibbs turned over the two sixes he’d started with, and nothing more. Phong had been right. Gibbs had been bluffing.
Phong couldn’t beat the two sixes.
The crowd was shocked. Phong never turned his hand over, but by a process of elimination, he had to have something better than the visible A-K and something worse than two sixes. It’s one thing to be reasonably sure your opponent doesn’t have much, but to merely call in that situation, when you have almost nothing yourself, didn’t seem to make any sense. The crowd buzzed for a while over this one. Phong had had to fold, or raise; the call was his worst option.
Judge not, lest ye be judged, I guess. Phong had only $40,000 left as the limits moved up to $8,000-16,000, with a $2,000 ante. His last few chips didn’t last long.
Meanwhile, Harry Thomas and his trademark Cincinnati Reds baseball cap were assembling a nice little Ohio cheering section for Jerri. He brought son Trey in-an underage viewer if ever there was one, at a fake-ID impossible three months-and confided that “being on the rail watching Jerri is a lot harder than playing at the final table myself.”
Rick Steiner, a Thomas family friend, explained that the Thomas’s had a bunch of little “Trey Thomas, 2021 WSOP Champion” t-shirts made up when the little tyke was born. “He’ll be getting poker lessons at an early age,” Steiner proclaimed, “but not from Harry, because Harry’s on this side of the rail.”
Two-handed, Gibbs and Thomas decided to chop the rest of the money and play for the bracelet. With Thomas holding a $211,000-152,000 chip lead, and $50,000 in real cash left as the difference between first and second place, Harry negotiated a deal where $30,000 of the $50,000 would go to his wife, with Gibbs to receive a total of $90,000 for his day’s efforts.
As with yesterday’s limit hold’em event, removing the cash from action did not pull the plug on the drama. It took almost two more hours of back and forth infighting to decide the event. Baby Trey remained alert and interested the entire time, and never cried once, which put him ahead of most of the poker players in the room, I would guess.
As the battle dragged on, Tournament Director Bob Thompson joked to Gibbs “It’s a hard way to make an easy living, isn’t it?” Gibbs agreed. On one break, he went to the Ohio cheering section and asked Harry Thomas if he could get Jerri to “Let up a bit.” Jerri wasn’t in a yielding frame of mind.
Jerri’s aggressive, chopping style, and her unwillingness to call with shaky holdings, eventually wore down Gibbs’ stack, and after having bet her doorcard seven into Gibbs’s door ten, she checked when she caught an ace on fourth street and Gibbs caught a king.
“If this isn’t a check-raise coming, I’m turning in my poker writer’s union card,” I said to myself, and sure enough, Gibbs went for it. He bet $10,000, and the re-raise left Gibbs with few options. Folding would leave him impossibly short on chips, so he called, and when Thomas caught a jack on 5th street and he caught a seven, the rest of the money went in. The cards got turned up, and sure enough, Thomas had aces and sevens, Gibbs had kings, and when he didn’t pull a two-out miracle, Jerri leapt up in victory, but perhaps not as high as Harry, who vaulted the rail with a leap that would have done Michael Jordan proud.
As a smiling and almost tearful Jerri Thomas embraced her family and friends, she related her poker background. She first started playing only in 1993, “Learning everything from Harry, who is a great, great player.” She’d been lucky to get to the final table, she felt, but once there, she had felt very good all along about her chances to win. Living in Ohio, she can’t play all the time, but goes to about six tournaments a year, and isn’t shy in the side action, favoring 75-150 stud games.
She’s had lots of second place finishes, including the 1998 Ladies WSOP stud tournament, and has been at more than a dozen final tables, including five alongside Harry, but had never won a big tournament before. “This has been a dream for a long time,” she said. “I don’t think the layoff really hurt me. Harry getting well was such a blessing, and the baby has brought so much joy into our lives, that maybe it helped. It has really been a wonderful year.”
A healthy, loving family, a sense of perspective about poker’s place in what really counts, and a piece of World Series jewelry to boot: a wonderful year indeed. Two of the nicest poker players I’ve ever met are at least for now the First Family of poker. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it any better.