It's one thing to outlast hundreds or thousands of poker players to win one of the World Series of Poker's 68 events and the Las Vegas tournament's coveted gold bracelet. It's another thing entirely to win a game you've never played before. Christian Pham of St. Paul, Minn., did exactly that Thursday, rising to the top of 219 players, including a few poker icons. By accident. The 40-year-old professional poker player says he intended to play no-limit Texas Hold 'em but inadvertently signed up for a different game happening the same day: so-called no-limit deuce-to-seven draw lowball. The cost? A $1,500 buy-in. "It's a totally different game. Different mindset. Different strategies," says a dealer. Essentially, the goal is to have the lowest poker hand, no straights or flushes, and if a player ends up with a pair, it's better if it's a pair of twos. Players can also draw cards.
Pham says he didn't realize his mistake until he was dealt five cards instead of the usual two. He panicked, then observed, leaning on helpful players who advised him what beat what. "At first you suspect an act, but if it was, it was very good," says Chris Mecklin, who was sitting next to Pham when the newbie realized he had made a mistake. He didn't know it would be a fortuitous one. Pham, who moved to the US from Vietnam 15 years ago, says the guidance from his fellow players at the table helped, and he studied up the night in between the two-day contest. In the end, he says it was his tournament acumen for when and how much to bet and manage his chips that got him to the top. On Friday, he was $81,314 richer and held up his gold bracelet. (Read more poker stories.)