The spotlight in poker really is fleeting. Just ask Nenad Medic, the winner of the 2008 World Series of Poker's Event 1, the $10,000 buy-in World Championship pot-limit hold 'em. When you win a tournament, as Medic did back in 2006, you're suddenly a poker legend, but a few months later the spotlight shifts elsewhere if your name isn't at the top of the next leaderboard. The 25-year-old Canadian almost went out fourth in the first event of the 2008 World Series of Poker when he was all-in with As-Ks against chip leader Andy Bloch's pocket kings. However, Medic flopped a flush to win the hand and begin his comeback. After watching poker ambassador Mike Sexton exit fourth, Medic finally confiscated Bloch's seemingly eternal chip lead when all three remaining players got all-in with pocket pairs: Kathy Liebert held 6-6, Bloch 9-9 and Medic Q-Q. The ladies held up, and the lady was gone.
With the three-pair hand giving Medic a 5-to-2 chip advantage, Bloch couldn't chip his way back. It took fewer than 20 hands to end the hope for a bracelet for Bloch, who was celebrating his 39th birthday. For Medic, winning at the WSOP was sweeter than the bracelet itself.
"This year, I came in hungry not for the bracelet, but the money," Medic said as he celebrated. "I'm not crazy, [$794,112] is a lot of money. The bracelet doesn't define the player. There are a lot of great players who don't have a bracelet, like my man Grinder [Michael Mizrachi]. It means a lot, but there are a lot of great players without bracelets."
The 2008 WSOP's first event featured an unbelievable final-table roster, a record-setting buy-in for a pot-limit tournament and the rekindling of old story lines. In the end, it came down to four remarkable players who had each been forgotten or overlooked in some sense. When this event airs on July 22, we're all going to remember it for a while.
Medic can be hailed as the most successful live no-limit cash game player in the world. That means that despite a win at the WPT's 2006 World Poker Finals -- to the tune of $1,717,194 -- and a third-place finish there a year later, tournaments are considered his "leak." OK, not really, but to think he may be better-suited elsewhere is an astonishing revelation in light of his consistency.
Runner-up Bloch maintained his label as poker's bridesmaid. He has made multiple World Poker Tour final tables; he finished second in the inaugural $50,000 HORSE event (and would have won if Chip Reese hadn't won all five times that he got all-in); he finished second at this year's NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship and third two weeks ago in Full Tilt Poker's $25,000 heads-up championship. Bloch's profile suffers from the company he keeps: Flashier pros like Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Howard Lederer and Phil Ivey are always in the spotlight and are more-easily branded. Bloch is the beautiful girl next door who hangs out with supermodels.
Finishing third at the final table was Liebert, the woman with the most career earnings in live tournament history. While Annie Duke and Jennifer Harman get more press, and Annette Obrestad, Vanessa Rousso and Anna Wroblewski are hailed as the next generation, all Liebert has done is win $4.7 million in tournament play. She's also won a WSOP bracelet and was the first woman to win a seven-figure prize. Despite all that success, she didn't even have a sponsor coming into the event.
Fourth-place finisher Sexton loves poker above everything -- except perhaps his new wife. Sexton loved something, so he set it free: In the process of educating the world about the game he loves, he was forced to practically give it playing because of his WPT hosting duties and scheduling conflicts with WSOP. Nonetheless, his sparse play has still produced results -- most notably in the form of a win at the 2006 WSOP Tournament of Champions, where Daniel Negreanu, Mike Matusow, Chris Reslock, Andy Black, Darrell Dicken and Chris Ferguson finished second through seventh, respectively.
Each of Event 1's final four has been forgotten in some sense: Liebert out-flashed, Bloch overshadowed, Medic underexposed, Sexton remolded. They've each also won at least $1,000,000 in a single tournament -- something that Phil Hellmuth has never done. Good luck finding many scenarios with four players who can make that claim. These four players put on a poker clinic at the final table, showing us how much they all wanted the bracelet. The result could be described in the same number of letters as participants: E-P-I-C.
In the end, it was Medic who won.
Wise beyond his years, "Big Serb" wasn't going to do much celebrating after the win. Along with Mizrachi, David Williams and a host of other young pros, Medic was planning to go for a quick drink then call it a night.
"I'm coming back tomorrow [to play event No. 4]," Medic explained. "Hopefully, I will get gold bracelet No. 2. I'm not going to be satisfied until I get gold bracelet No. 3, but of course, I have to be realistic. I'm joking, of course -- just to make it to a final table is tough enough."
His friends had plenty of good things to say about the man -- both before and after the win -- but now, with this event recorded for television, the world may finally know just how good Medic really is. It's a fate deserved by the entire final four in the first event of what's looking like a remarkable WSOP.
Gary Wise will be covering WSOP in its entirety for ESPN.com, worldseriesofpoker.com and in his blog at wisehandpoker.net.