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Mike Gorodinsky wins the 2015 Poker Players Championship

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Courtesy Melissa Haereiti

LAS VEGAS – Mike Gorodinsky won the prestigious Poker Players Championship at the Rio Friday morning, but his story will be remembered just as much for whom he defeated in the final heads-up battle: Jean-Robert Bellande.

Gorodinsky, 29, of San Diego (via St. Louis and originally from St. Petersburg, Russia) already had a WSOP bracelet to his credit as he won a mixed-game event, the $2,500 Omaha/seven-card stud high-low eight-or-better event, in 2013. Bellande, 44, of Las Vegas, is a mixed-game pro himself, but that is often overshadowed by the fact he was a L.A. nightclub promoter and then turned to promoting himself in televised poker events and on the reality show “Survivor: China.”

But in the Poker Players Championship, it was Gorodinsky who was able to “outwit, outplay, outlast” the competition in the grueling five-day, 11-hour-a-day event that culminated with Gorodinsky and Bellande waging a nearly three-hour (minus breaks) back-and-forth battle. Gorodinsky held a 7.55 million to 5.05 million edge in chips when heads-up play began. He ran that up to nearly a 3-to-1 advantage before Bellande fought back and took the chip lead several times.

Eventually, Gorodinsky pulled away and led 9.885 million to 2.715 million as Level 25 came to a close and the players took a 20-minute break right around midnight. Gorodinsky closed out his victory at 12:32 a.m. in a hand of pot-limit Omaha as Bellande flopped two pair (queens and nines) while Gorodinsky flopped a set of eights. Bellande also had a gutshot straight draw, but the turn and river cards came up empty for him and gave the victory to Gorodinsky.

First prize was $1,270,086 as well as the WSOP gold bracelet, plus the Chip Reese Trophy (named after the 2006 inaugural winner of this event, who passed away in 2007). But perhaps more important, this event’s winner gets the respect of fellow pros.

The Pokers Players Championship is regarded as determining the game’s best all-around player, as it is a 10-game mix of no-limit hold ‘em, limit hold ‘em, Omaha high-low split eight-or-better, razz, seven-card stud, seven-card stud high-low, pot-limit Omaha, 2-7 triple draw Lowball, 2-7 no-limit draw Lowball, and Badugi.

“This is the tournament I wanted to win,” Gorodinsky said. “It [mixed games] is my thing, so I’ve literally gone to bed dreaming of winning this. I never got to meet Chip Reese but I’ve only heard good things, and the names on the trophy are all top all-around players.”

Bellande also earned a lot of respect for his performance, and not just because he has his biggest tournament cash for $784,828. In fact, during a hand at 11:17 p.m., he announced that he had received a text from Phil Hellmuth (who earlier in the night finished 16th in a $1,500 no-limit event as he was looking to add to his record 14 WSOP bracelets) and replied from the table after he folded and talked tournament emcee Robbie Thompson into snapping his photo.

Bellande called Gorodinsky “a good sport” after the tourney as his demonstrative and distracting antics aren’t appreciated by everyone, yet Gorodinsky mostly laughed along and went about his business. Bellande proved to be a good sport, too, as he posed with Gorodinsky and his railbirds with a pout on his face and pretending to try to steal the bracelet and/or trophy and posting the photos on Twitter.

“I’d like to think that I’m playing really great,” said Gorodinsky, who now has three top-three finishes in this year’s WSOP and is the current leader in the player of the year race, “but the cards are hitting me in the face. I’m running really good.”

Thursday’s final table of six started at 2 p.m. PT and went for two hours before Dan Kelly of Potomac, Maryland, was eliminated in sixth place and earned $164,222. Another two hours passed before Chris Klodnicki of Philadelphia exited in fifth place with $251,314. Thirty minutes later, right before 7 p.m. PT, Ben Sulsky of Brewster, Massachusetts, was ousted in fourth to earn $353,928.

David Baker of Katy, Texas, was the chip leader over Gorodinsky in second and Bellande in third heading into Thursday’s final table, but he finished third to earn $514,926. This was his second career cash in the event.

The tourney started Sunday with 77 entrants, who were given 150,000 in chips, triple their entry fee. Registration stayed open until the 2 p.m. PT start of Monday’s action and seven more players signed up for a final field of 84, down from last year’s field of 102. Among the late entries was Gorodinsky.

“I had the flu or whatever was going around,” said Gorodinsky, who followed the Day 1 action on his computer from his hotel room. “I don’t like to play sick and don’t like it when others play sick, but I had to make an exception for this.“

It wasn’t until 9:30 p.m. on Day 4 for the money bubble to be reached and burst as Joe Cassidy of Las Vegas was eliminated in 13th place. Matthew Ashton, who won this event in 2013, finished 12th to collect $87,010. John Racener of Port Richey, Florida, the 2010 main event runner-up, was out next in 11th place ($87,010), followed by Justin Smith of Los Angeles ($110,073).

Abe Mosseri of Longboat Key, Florida, finished ninth ($110,073) after entering Day 4 as the chip leader for the second straight year. He also is the only player to cash in the Poker Players Championship each of the past two years.

Shawn Buchanan and Jason Mercier earned $139,265, finishing in eighth and seventh, respectively.

The final table turned into the Gorodinsky and Bellande Show, which even Gorodinsky didn’t realize was a sequel until reminded after the tournament that his first win as a pro was an eight-game mix PCA title in 2010, in which he beat Bellande heads-up.

Reality shows aren’t scripted this well.