07/18/2007 11:00PM

Aggressive moves pay off for new poker champion


As much as poker is about the cards and knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, it's also about how to read your opponents and confuse them so they don't know what you have.

Jerry Yang, a 40-year-old psychologist from Temecula, Calif., played that mind game better than any of the 6,358 entrants in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker and took home the top prize of $8.25 million, the coveted gold bracelet, and instant poker immortality.

Yang was in eighth place of the nine players when the final table started shortly after noon Tuesday in the Amazon Room at the Rio. Though he had a good poker face behind mirror sunglasses, he wore his religious beliefs on his sleeve and pledged 10 percent of his winnings to charity, including the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Feed the Children, and the Ronald McDonald House. The scouting report on him was that he was a tight player who would turn the other cheek.

The meek might inherit the earth, but it's the aggressive players who win big poker games, and Yang went on the attack in the early action Tuesday, raising at every opportunity and watching his chips grow.

"I had a strategy last night," Yang said "The only way that I could win this tournament was by being aggressive from the very beginning, and that's exactly what I did. And thank God I was also able to pick up some good cards at the same time."

He certainly got good cards, as well as some fortunate flops, but he played the game well and was the chip leader within an hour. He won the first two hands, five of the first nine, 12 of the first 28 and, very reminiscent of Jamie Gold's dominating performance at last year's final table, personally eliminated the first four players (and ended up taking out seven of the eight).

Yang was running through the table, and it looked like it might be an early night as they headed to a 90-minute dinner break at 7 p.m. with Yang holding $71.2 million and his closest competitor, Raymond Rahme of South Africa, a distant second at $33.2 million. Alex Kravchenko of Russia was at $11.75 million and Tuan Lam of Canada had $11.25 million. But it took more than 4 1/ 2 hours for the next player (Kravchenko) to be eliminated. Kravchenko earned $1.85 million for his efforts, and was followed out 20 minutes later by Rahme with $3.04 million.

In the final heads-up battled, Yang had $117 million in chips to only $10 million for Lam, so it was just a matter of time.

Lam waited for a good spot to double up and did so with a pair of fours early in heads-up play, but he wasn't so lucky when he tried to double up again. He went all-in with K-Q offsuit. Yang called with pocket 8s. The flop came Q-9-5 to give Lam the lead with a pair of queens, but when a 7 came on the turn, that gave Yang more outs with a straight draw, which he hit with the 6 on the river to claim the championship to the chants of "USA, USA, USA."

Lam's second-place finish was worth $4.84 million.

Yang calls the United States the greatest country in the world, but he hasn't forgotten his roots. He's a native of Laos and he made his way here to escape Communist oppression. He showed his softer side again when continuing to pledge his charitable donations and helping people in his homeland.

"I know what it's like to be poor," he said. "I know I can do a lot with this money. Hopefully I can make a difference."

With his world view, sincere attitude, and determination, that's a good bet.

Sports book notes

A few years ago, a Winky Wright-Bernard Hopkins matchup would have been a contender for the fight of the year. In the aftermath of this year's overhyped Mayweather-De La Hoya megafight and with Wright and Hopkins in the twilight of their careers, this Saturday's bout at the Mandalay Bay Event Center is approaching under the radar. But it should be an entertaining matchup nonetheless. Wright is a consensus -135 favorite at sports books around town, with the will go/won't go set at 12 full rounds. The will go is at -550 because a knockout isn't expected between these two experienced warriors.

* Barry Bonds continues to chase Hank Aaron's career home run record of 755. After not homering since July 3 and missing three games with sore legs, Bonds hit Nos. 752 and 753 versus the Cubs on Thursday. Bonds's chase had slowed so much that the Wynn sports book took down its props on when Bonds would break the record. Earlier this year, the week of July 23-29 was the 5-1 favorite, but he would have to go on a major tear to pull off that feat.

Station Casinos has stepped up with a few props, such as whether Bonds will hit No. 756 off a right-handed or left-handed pitcher A righty is the -170 favorite with a lefty at +140. There are also props on which inning Bonds will get the record-breaker (first and second innings are both 7-2 and most of the rest are between 5-1 and 7-1, with extra innings at 8-1) and on what pitch count (not enough space to go through all combinations, but 1 ball and 1 strike is the favorite at 3-1). While the righty/lefty prop will be refunded if Bonds fails to reach No. 756 this season, the last two both have "756 not hit" at 12-1, which is down from the opening price of 15-1.

* Michael Vick's indictment on dog fighting charges hasn't had much of an impact on the Falcons' future-book prices. For one thing, it's expected that Vick will be able to play unless he's proven guilty, and a potential trial might not take place until after the season. Besides, oddsmakers have suspected something might come of the investigation, so it's already been factored into the line, but bettors have also been betting against the Falcons this spring. The Falcons' over/under season win total opened at 7 1/2 at the Las Vegas Hilton with the over favored at -160. Even before the news came out about the indictment, the under had been bet to favoritism at -120. The Falcons were raised from 3-1 to win the division to 4-1 earlier this week. In the season opener on Sept. 9 at Minnesota, the game opened at pick-em, but now the Vikings are -3.

* Despite a sore ankle, David Beckham was expected to play in Thursday night's MLS All-Star Game in Denver and then make his much-anticipated debut with the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday versus Chelsea. Jeff Sherman, oddsmaker at the Hilton, said Beckham isn't much of a scorer and he doesn't impact the line as much as many people might think. The Hilton has Chelsea favored by 1 1/2 goals with a money-line price of +120 attached, meaning if you take the Galaxy +1 1/2, you have to lay -140.