Just Good Luck?
It's been quite a week for Jason Mercier who finished second in the 100,000 euro Super High Roller, seventh in the main and won the OFC event at the EPT Grand Final. What's up next? ListenNeil Stoddart/PokerStars
The main event at the EPT Grand Final struggled in attendance, but the final table made poker enthusiasts around the world forget about the 20 percent year-over-year decline in participation. A star-studded final few tables ultimately resulted in a battle between eight faces of the game: Daniel Negreanu, Jason Mercier, Steve O'Dwyer, Johnny Lodden, Jake Cody, Noah Schwartz, Grant Levy and Andrew Pantling. Each had his eye on the $1.6 million top prize, and it seemed fitting that the man who has dominated the European felt since Black Friday reigned supreme. O'Dwyer picked up the victory and the largest score of his career to move into fifth on the 2013 money list.
"People are saying this was the toughest final table of all time, so for me to be able to say that I won is unbelievable. I am in shock," O'Dwyer told PokerStars. "At the start of the final, I knew I needed to get lucky to win because these guys are so good. It's very satisfying to finally have that title."
O'Dwyer wasn't just deservingly talking up his win; every player at that final table has at least $1.8 million in lifetime career tournament earnings. Freddy Deeb (ninth), John Juanda (11th), Victor Ramdin (13th), Andrew Lichtenberger (14th), Kevin Iacofano (17th), Mickey Petersen (18th), Paul Volpe (20th), Luke Schwartz (22nd), Noah Boeken (26th), Oleksii Kovalchuk (28th) and Ville Wahlbeck (29th) also made deep runs out of the 531 entries.
Making his fourth appearance at an EPT final table and second over the past two months, O'Dwyer entered action on the final day with a slight lead over Pantling. Cody, Negreanu and Lodden were essentially knotted up at third through fifth while Schwartz, Mercier and Levy all were "short stacks" with less than 36 big blinds. Each player had plenty of time to maneuver, but the action started quickly as Pantling eliminated Levy within the first hour of play. Pantling took out his second competitor at the final table shortly after, knocking out Mercier who three-bet all-in with Q-10 and was called by Pantling's A-Q. The seventh-place result, worth $179,642, was Mercier's largest score since his win in the $100,000 buy-in High Roller at the Five Diamond in December of 2011.
Negreanu, fresh off his WSOP Asia Pacific main event victory, had a rough time moving in the right direction at the start of the day, but regained the momentum as he eliminated both Schwartz and Cody by picking up aces at the perfect time. Negreanu opened, Schwartz three-bet all-in with K-10, Cody four-bet all-in with J-J and Negreanu happily called and watched the board run clean. Moments later, in perhaps the largest pot of the tournament to date, Negreanu dominated Lodden with Q-Q to 9-9 and was set to compete with Pantling for the chip lead. This time the cards wouldn't oblige. A nine on the turn gave Lodden the win and put Negreanu on the short stack. Now sitting with a comfortable stack, Lodden risked a coin flip and finished off Negreanu with A-Q to Negreanu's 4-4. Negreanu's $420,912 gives the Canadian pro his third consecutive year of at least $1.5 million in tournament earnings.
Pantling had control of the match with three remaining and as witnessed on the live stream of the final table, was able to make tremendous reads at key times. However, his reads couldn't overcome O'Dwyer's domination of Lodden. O'Dwyer first doubled through Lodden after a bold four-bet all-in that resulted in a race with (Q-10 over 6-6), then knocked him out by inducing an all-in on the turn with ace-high to O'Dwyer's top pair. Lodden's payday of $612,355 was the highest of his career.
As heads-up play began, Pantling had a 24 big-blind edge over O'Dwyer and maintained that lead as the two swapped small pots for the last hour before the dinner break. When they returned, Pantling came out firing. As it turned out, it wasn't in his best interest. O'Dwyer earned nearly a 3-1 edge after Pantling got creative at the wrong time with 6-3, then found himself in a crazy spot with 10-8 to earn the title. On the final hand, O'Dwyer opened with the 10c-8h and Pantling called. The flop was Js-8s-8d giving O'Dwyer trips to Pantling's flush draw. Pantling checked, O'Dwyer bet and Pantling called. The turn 4s gave Pantling the flush and once again he checked. O'Dywer then bet, Pantling raised and O'Dwyer moved all-in. Pantling called in a heartbeat with excitement, but the eight on the river crushed his best intentions and gave O'Dwyer quads for the victory.
"Thank god I played it bad and shoved the turn, because he would have probably check folded the river," O'Dywer said to ESPN.com via Twitter. O'Dwyer's sights are now set on the Spring Championship of Online Poker.
Here are the results of the 10,000 euro buy-in EPT Grand Final main event in Monte Carlo:
1. Steve O'Dwyer (1.2 million euros)
2. Andrew Pantling (842,000)
3. Johnny Lodden (467,000)
4. Daniel Negreanu (321,000)
5. Jake Cody (251,000)
6. Noah Schwartz (189,000)
7. Jason Mercier (137,000)
8. Grant Levy (103,000)
Small blinds: Steven "Zugwat" Silverman, Tony Gregg and Fadi Jamar chopped the 121-entry 25,000 euro high-roller event at the EPT Grand Final. Silverman earned the extra 15,000 euros as he emerged with the victory. Vanessa Selbst, Body Levis, Chris Moore, Igor Kurganov and Victor Sbrissa, fourth through eighth, also made the final table and earned at least 116,100 euros. The PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker began over the weekend. Early champions include Benny Spindler ($2,100 no-limit hold 'em), Paul Volpe ($2,100 badugi) and Ana Marquez ($1,000 no-limit hold 'em rebuy). Nancy Birnbaum became the second woman in WSOP Circuit history to win three rings. On May 17, the WPT will present "Tiger's Poker Night," an exclusive event hosted by Phil Hellmuth and Tiger Woods. Proceeds go toward the Tiger Woods Foundation. Amir Babakhani won the 735-entry PartyPoker WPT Canadian Spring Championship for $442,248. His previous best tournament cash was worth $8,810. The WPT now heads to Vegas for the WPT World Championship and Super High Roller. Phil Ivey filed a lawsuit against Crockfords for them withholding his $12.1 million in winnings from a Punto Banco session. Crockfords responded by saying the cards were flawed. Rex Clinkscales won the WSOP Circuit Philadelphia main event for $121,097.
The Nuts is a monthly feature that takes a look at the best poker players in the world. This feature aims to produce a list of the best players at the moment. Our panel of 10 is composed of ESPN.com's poker contributors (Bernard Lee and myself), ESPNDeportes.com poker editor Nahuel Ponce, Bluff magazine editor-in-chief Lance Bradley, senior writer Tim Fiorvanti and information manager Kevin Mathers, WSOP.com managing editor Jessica Welman, PokerNews editor-in-chief Donnie Peters, World Poker Tour's Eric Ramsey and Pocketfives' Dan Cypra.
From Melbourne to Florida to the virtual felt, April offered the pros plenty of opportunities for big money left and right and three new faces are part of the top 10 in this month's rankings.
The April highlight for many has been the debut of the WSOP Asia Pacific (APAC) and the additional five bracelets up for grabs in 2013. When the jewelry is up for grabs, the biggest names in the world are sure to attend and the Crown Casino played host to one of the most talked about events of the year. Phil Ivey's reign at No. 1 was in question after months of mediocre online results and a disappointing live tournament run. Doubt had settled into the minds of the panel and it was clear that it was time for the world's best player to make something -- anything -- happen. Ivey came through with a win in the mixed game event at APAC, albeit over a small field of only 81. Feel that his win isn't impressive enough? Take a look at the names that entered that event. Forget the buy-in and prize pool, to beat that field is a great accomplishment and, with his ninth WSOP bracelet, Ivey retained the top spot.
At the final table of Ivey's victory was Daniel Negreanu, whose quest for a fifth bracelet was halted with a fourth-place finish. Just a few days later, Negreanu was over the disappointment as he rebounded to defeat the strong field of 405 in the APAC main event. The victory resonated with the panel as Negreanu, who hasn't been ranked since last May, returns at No. 3. Negreanu spoke on the latest Poker Edge about his plans for the summer and, as the current leader in the WSOP Player of the Year race, he is poised to be as active as ever in Las Vegas.
Jim Collopy, Bryan Piccioli and Aaron Lim earned the three other bracelets from Melbourne and out of that group, Lim's efforts resonated most with the panelists, earning him a spot on the bubble. The Australian has been on an absolute tear as of late with three six-figure scores over the past two months. APAC's non-bracelet High Roller 50,000 Australian Dollar (US$51,000) buy-in event attracted 44 entries and featured a final table filled with star power. Philipp Gruissem defeated Joseph Cheong heads-up for the win and the US$863,386 pay day, but it was Cheong who kept the momentum for the rest of the month, ultimately leading him to his debut on this list at No. 10. Cheong left APAC for Manila and captured the Manila Millions title for $1.3 million, enough to move him over the $8 million mark in tournament earnings for his career.
Marvin Rettenmaier held strong at No. 2 with his ninth-place finish in the pot-limit Omaha event while last month's No. 3, Sam Trickett, dropped to sixth. Besides Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth was the biggest mover this month as he jumped from eighth to fourth with only one cash at APAC. Unlike Dan Shak, who fell out of the rankings after just one month and a fifth-place finish in the pot-limit Omaha event at APAC, Paul Volpe stayed in fifth place with two strong efforts on the WPT and a deep run in an EPT Berlin side event.
The star of the WPT this season, Matt Salsberg, makes his debut this month at No. 7. Salsberg has three final tables, one win and six top-13 finishes during Season XI and has officially transitioned from being considered a celebrity on the felt (for his work on Showtime's "Weeds") to simply another player on a course to poker stardom. Tied with Salsberg at No. 7 is Scott Seiver, who made two final tables at EPT Berlin (third and eighth). Seiver has nine cashes so far in 2013, with his smallest result a $15,110 score.
Some of the other big winners in April include WSOP Circuit champions Kevin Saul (Foxwoods), John Bowman (Cherokee) and Blair Hinkle (Council Bluffs), last year's October Niner Jeremy Ausmus who won the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza II for $121,853, WPT champions Kevin Eyster, Chanracy Khun and Michael Linster, and Daniel-Gai Pidun who defeated a field of 912 players at EPT Berlin. Eyster also recently won $333,680 and his third FTOPS title win a win in the $2,100 High Roller event. He defeated Sami "LarsLuzak" Kelopuro heads-up.
Did we leave out your favorite player? Who should be ranked higher? Who should be completely off the list? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below. Here's a look at March's top 10:
On the bubble
Talk about a big bubble. The panel had a tough time determining the final few spots and as result, this month's bubble is filled with some of 2013's best. Antonio Esfandiari bubbled the WSOP APAC main event final table as well as these rankings. The game's all-time earnings leader (thanks to One Drop), has $353,901 in earnings so far this year. Dan Shak's tenure in the top 10 lasted only one month and even with his APAC final table, he fell out of favor with the panel. Shak, still considered an amateur, also took some time away from the felt over the past month. "Too much work and beautiful weather equals don't want to be indoors," said Shak on Twitter. He'll be playing a pretty full WSOP schedule, where he cashed seven times in 2012. Michael Mizrachi hasn't cashed in a tournament since February and his win at WSOP Africa, but his record over the past nine years is enough to constantly keep him in this conversation. With the WSOP ahead, Mizrachi's name is sure to reappear on many ballots next month. #&133; Jason Mercier found the winner's circle in the first week of May in the 2,000 euro Chinese Poker side-event at the EPT Grand Final. Will it be enough to push him out of this group next month? It seems unlikely, but possible. Not only did David Sands finished second in the WPT Seminole High Roller and 20th in the WPT Jacksonville main event, but he also got married. He continues to sit on the bubble despite $1.5 million in earnings this year and will have his eyes on earning a SCOOP title in a few weeks. Viktor Blom's $2 million upswing over the past 30 days has helped his cause, but the true cash game specialist hasn't entered the top 10 yet. His swings are substantial and that may continually limit his potential. Alexander Kostritsyn, Phil Galfond and Tom Dwan also received support after their strong online cash game efforts so far this year. Tobias Reinkemeier, Aaron Lim, EPT Berlin Highroller champion Griffin Benger, Mike Watson, Dan Smith, Gruissem and Jonathan Duhamel also received consideration this month.
Bradley:Nobody has had a more mercurial relationship with The Nuts than Daniel Negreanu. He's been as high as No. 2 and some months he's been nowhere near the voting, never mind the top 10. That said, his performance at WSOP APAC has once again put the poker world's spotlight squarely on him. It's interesting to me that the WSOP APAC and WSOP Europe main event champions, Negreanu and Hellmuth, are both on this list but reigning WSOP main event champ Greg Merson, who also won the $10,000 six-max event last summer, isn't on the list - those are two of the toughest no-limit hold 'em events to win.
Feldman: This month was tough on me as a member of the panel. There have been so many outstanding efforts as of late that giving everyone the credit that they deserve is a challenge. The one player that sparks the most debate in my mind is Vanessa Selbst and there is zero doubt that she's among the top 10 in the world. That said, she's been quiet for a few months and watching players like Shak, Lim, Mizrachi, Esfandiari, Mike Watson and basically anyone else mentioned above on the bubble miss is frustrating. At what point do we say, hey, it's been three months with no scores, time to move on? I guess it's a good debate and considering this list is entirely subjective, the exercise is pretty much that.
Salsberg's debut at No. 7 is pretty debatable and I'm struggling to figure out how Joseph Cheong, who has been quietly crushing the tournament arena for years now, falls behind the WPT wiz. Additionally, if we think about the necessity of being a well-rounded player, Salsberg hasn't proved it yet. I do believe he's excelling as a tournament player, but I would've preferred to see him come in at 10, rather than tied with one of the game's annually dominant players in Scott Seiver and ahead of Selbst and Cheong.
The next set of rankings is sure to be an interesting one. May's schedule includes the WPT Championship and High Roller, the start of the WSOP, the EPT Grand Final, the Circuit National Championship and the Spring Championship of Online Poker. Plus, now we get to see the true potential of Nevada's online poker market. It's going to be a very busy month for the industry and for the top 10, it's time to produce.
It's been just over two years since the poker world was rocked by "Black Friday" on April 15, 2011. After the Department of Justice indicted 11 key players in relation to the three major online poker sites, the online poker industry in the United States went essentially dormant. Some professional players chose to relocate overseas to poker friendly countries such as Canada, Mexico and European nations. Others decided to play exclusively live poker. Some even took a well-deserved break.
The tides began to change on Tuesday as online poker officially returned to the United States well, at least Nevada. At 9:00 a.m. PT, UltimatePoker.com made history by becoming the first Nevada based online poker company to launch a legal real-money online poker site.
"We are proud to be the first company to deliver legal and secure real-money online gaming to poker players," said Ultimate Poker Chairman Tom Breitling. "We have worked closely with state gaming regulators to demonstrate our unique and compelling poker platform that, above all, players know they can trust. Ultimate Poker is dedicated to being the players' choice for online poker."
"This day has been a long time coming. Online poker in the United States is finally here and totally legit," remarked brand ambassador Antonio Esfandiari.
With this launch, there is finally a glimmer of hope for the U.S. poker player.
"Before Black Friday, 90 percent of my time was spent playing online poker, that's where I made my living," said 2012 October Niner Jeremy Ausmus. "And ever since Black Friday, I became a live grinder so, I'm pretty excited about it. It's an exciting development and a step in the right direction. If the games are available, I will stay home more and will enjoy the convenience and efficiency of online poker."
Availability is the key question thus far. As the legal online poker market develops, building a substantial player pool is essential.
"I'm cautiously optimistic, but excited after not being able to play online poker for two years," said Eric Baldwin. "I will definitely be playing at some point, if nothing else to have fun and experience playing online poker again. On days where there is not a great live option in Las Vegas, it will be nice change of pace to be able to play online at home."
As the games launched, the early offerings at Ultimate Poker showed limited stakes, a concern for many.
"Based on the population of Nevada, which is about three million residents, this number is just a drop in the bucket compared to the entire world. I'm concerned that the games will not be big enough for it to be a viable option for professional poker players to make a living," described Baldwin.
"I think it is a step in the right direction and, if the stakes are high enough, it could interest me," 2011 WSOP Player of the Year and bracelet winner, Ben Lamb. "With such a small player field in Nevada, it will be many years before we see the fields like we did before Black Friday."
There's no question that the player pool is the issue, but in the next few months, that may not be such a problem. Anyone within the state's borders can play and with the WSOP coming later this month, the field sizes could dramatically increase during that time.
As a non-Nevada resident myself, I'm looking forward to being able to play this summer during the WSOP. Other players are excited about this launch as well.
Recent WSOP Circuit Council Bluffs main event champion, Blair "blur5f6" Hinkle, a resident of Kansas City, Missouri, was the only player ever to win over $1 million in a single event on Full Tilt. He's excited about the recent developments and plans to give the Nevada sites a try in a few weeks.
"I am going to be mostly focusing on my WSOP events, but it will be cool because on my days off, I may test out the site," said Hinkle. "It will be a nice option to have on your days off if you feel like still playing poker. It will be nice and convenient. Overall, this is great news for the poker community."
There is now some hope that this development will lead New Jersey and Delaware to expedite the release of their offerings which are expected later this year. Additionally, other states may follow, eventually leading to a national regulation of online poker.
For now, U.S. poker players, you can begin to come out of hibernation. Welcome back.
The Nuts is a monthly feature that takes a look at the best poker players in the world. This feature aims to produce a list of the best players at the moment. Our panel of 10 is composed of ESPN.com's poker contributors (Bernard Lee and me), ESPNDeportes.com poker editor Nahuel Ponce, Bluff magazine editor-in-chief Lance Bradley, senior writer Tim Fiorvanti and information manager Kevin Mathers, WSOP.com managing editor Jessica Welman, PokerNews editor-in-chief Donnie Peters, World Poker Tour's Eric Ramsey and Pocketfives' Dan Cypra.
WSOP season has officially started. As WSOP-APAC debuts in Melbourne to award the first five bracelets of the year, we're poised to see major changes in these rankings. No one single tournament series can change the perception of who the best are in the game than the WSOP and with additional opportunities for players to shine, the volatility on this list is ready to pick up over the next few months. There's no doubt there are great times ahead in the poker world, now a full two years removed from its darkest day, and as we continue to turn the page from Black Friday, it's also time to mark the end of an era here in these rankings.
Jason Mercier was one of the original faces in "The Nuts" rankings back in December 2009. Originally ranked seventh, Mercier's run to the 2009 Player of the Year award was followed by millions in earnings, both live and online, in every type of game imaginable. Up until 2012, Mercier had made at least seven figures in each of his four years as a pro and when Phil Ivey stepped away from the game, he was the one to emerge as the No. 1 player in these rankings.
The joke of #whenwillitend transitioned from positive to negative in 2012 as Mercier struggled on the felt and openly admitted to a losing year. Down on his luck at the felt, his stock in these rankings fell. From the top spot as recently as May of last year to ninth last month, Mercier would need to come up big in March to stay in the top 10. Despite making some money in the Premier League and running deep at EPT London, one of the true faces of the game is now on the outside looking in. Mercier was the only player since the debut of this list to be present each and every month.
The newly-signed Ultimate Poker ambassador Antonio Esfandiari also fell out of the rankings this month, making way for two of the game's hottest tournament players in Paul Volpe and Dan Shak. Volpe's emergence into the widespread poker conscious began at the WSOP main event, but in reality, those that followed the online space closely knew that his 20th-place run was no fluke. Playing as "paulgees81," Volpe amassed millions in earnings and right at the time of Black Friday, he was ranked as the No. 1 online poker player in the world.
Regardless of where he's played recently, he's found success. Since his main event run, Volpe made back-to-back WPT final tables (finishing second and third), won hundreds of thousands online and is No. 1 in the GPI's Player of the Year race. Volpe debuts in these rankings at No. 5.
Shak, making his debut a No. 6, stands out on this list. The rest of the top 10 are all professional poker players, but Shak, while playing for years and probably convincing many that he's a pro, remains a commodities trader. Shak's 2013 includes an eighth-place finish in the Super High Roller at PCA ($228,960), twin fourth-place finishes in the Aussie Millions majors ($422,279 and $250,201), a runner-up in the 10,000-pound eight-game event at EPT London and just last week, a victory in the Premier League worth $528,000, as Shak defeated No. 3 Sam Trickett for the title.
Shak's win stands out as one of the most impressive in March given the incredible field that participates in the Premier League, but there were many other strong performers during the month. WeiKai Chang earned his first WPT title at Bay 101 (defeating a final table that included Volpe and Erik Seidel), Ruben Visser won the EPT main event (Steve O'Dwyer fifth, Chris Moorman eighth), Talal Shakerchi won the EPT London High Roller (Faraz Jaka runner-up, Volpe fourth) and Rocco Palumbo won the WPT Venice main event (Mike Sexton third, Matt Salsberg seventh).
Trickett's jump from nine to three was the biggest move among the top 10 this month. Phil Ivey retained the top spot despite a tough month online, and as Vanessa Selbst dropped two spots to No. 4, Marvin Rettenmaier's three cashes have him at No. 2. The bottom four, Scott Seiver, Phil Hellmuth, Michael Mizrachi and Dan Smith, had limited success, and with WSOP-APAC, WPT Barcelona, Jacksonville, Seminole and Montreal, LAPT Brazil (featuring Ronaldo's debut), IPT San Remo, WSOPC Foxwoods and Harrah's Chester and EPT Berlin, they'll need to find the money in order to stay in the top 10.
Did we leave out your favorite player? Who should be ranked higher? Who should be completely off the list? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below. Here's a look at March's top 10:
On the bubble
This month's bubble boy was discussed at length above. Jason Mercier fell to the bubble, just edging out Antonio Esfandiari for that spot. Both are definitely among the best in the game, but the past month hasn't featured substantial scores. The bubble debate should truly begin with Matt Salsberg and Tobias Reinkemeier. Salsberg finished seventh at the most recent WPT event in Venice, placing him in a tie with Volpe for the Season XI Player of the Year award. Reinkemeier finished sixth in the Premier League for $162,000 and putting his 2013 tournament earnings at $1.6 million. As impressive as both have been on the tournament felt, one player has equaled their efforts in the online cash games. Viktor Blom is back to his winning ways, up nearly $3 million over the past 30 days. The challenge with Blom's inclusion in this list is that his bankroll fluctuates substantially month-to-month and although he's up huge as of the time of this article's posting, by tomorrow, he could be in the red given the nosebleed stakes he's playing. Bertrand Grospellier, Chris Moorman (winner of a recent FTOPS event), Mike Watson (who added another $151,160 to his bankroll in March), Tom Marchese, Nacho Barbero and Steve O'Dwyer also received consideration this month.
Bradley: It's a really small sample size that we're dealing with, but Dan Shak plays extremely well in high roller events. When your day job requires managing financial transactions bigger than most tournament prize pools, it makes sense that he appears to be under less stress at the felt. That alleviation of pressure might give him an advantage in these situations over his opponents who are most likely backed and have extra pressure on their shoulders. As he plays more, we'll see if he's able to keep this run up and gain further in the rankings.
Hellmuth is typically a WSOP performer who managed to space out some impressive performances through tough fields to keep his spot on this list. The next two weeks for him are huge as he'll try to be the first member of the tri-continent bracelet club and after that, he'll have his sights on Vegas. It'll be interesting to see how many people on this list travel to APAC for shots at bracelets versus those that decide to stay at home and play weaker fields in the WPTs at home.
Feldman: My real question this month is if Mercier was able to make the EPT London final table, how high would that have moved him up and how long would it have kept him in the rankings. There really is no doubt that Mercier has all the ability in the world and I have a hard time believing he won't be part of the top 10 for the majority of the rest of the year. When it comes to the WSOP and putting in the grind, few people can put in the effort that Mercier can.
The one part of this month's rankings that caught my eye was the fact that four players received No. 1 votes. This never happened before. Usually it's either unanimous or maybe a vote here and there gets thrown to a second player, but having some of the most dedicated minds of the industry splitting their votes in this manner is intriguing. I still voted Ivey as No. 1 this month, but I'm not sure what I'll do next month. You can't doubt his ability, but this list should be a "what have you done for me lately" list and the answer to that question in Ivey's case is not too much.
I like the inclusion of Volpe and Shak, but they might be a little too high. I feel that we often debut players on this list in that range while I believe they should probably be at 9 or 10 and earn their way up. In any case, we can't doubt their results and congrats to both on earning their way in.
Lance's thoughts on staying at home is spot on. The prize pools may be smaller, but if the best in the best are competing in Australia, this might be the window that others have been waiting for. One consistent in poker strategy has always been game selection
History has a way of repeating itself. I mentioned on this blog in early 2010 that things were shaping up to be the "Year of Dan Shak." After all, Shak had been cruising at the Aussie Millions, winning the AU$100,000 challenge and coming in 11th in the prestigious Aussie Millions main event. Add to those scores a 85th-place finish in the PCA main event, and Shak was up $1.2 million in just a few weeks. The rest of the year featured some big scores, including a runner-up finish in Event 46 of the WSOP, but Shak's heater wasn't sustained, and he ended the year outside of the top 20 in both the Bluff and CardPlayer Player of the Year races.
The past few years for Shak have been filled with appearances in the game's highest buy-in tournaments and his share of cashes. Three months into the start of 2013, it appears to be 2010 once again. Similar to his efforts three years ago, Shak had numerous strong finishes in January, finishing fourth in the AU$100,000 challenge, fourth in the Aussie Millions main event and eighth in the $100,000 Super High Roller at PCA. In February, he cashed in the LAPC main event, and, earlier this month, he finished second to Ville Wahlbeck in the 10,000-pound eight-game championship at EPT London.
His pattern of close calls came to an end this past weekend as he earned a victory in the Party Poker Premier League VI, a challenge like no other found on the poker calendar. I sang the praises of this event last year and echo those sentiments again this year as it allows the game's best to compete in an unusual fashion. The pros have numerous opportunities to prove their skill (instead of one simple elimination in a typical tournament). While it is a made-for-TV event with a small field and intriguing structure, winning it is truly an outstanding accomplishment.
Shak qualified for the final table with ease, finishing second (out of eight) in Heat 1, first in Heat 2, third in Heat 3 and fifth in Heat 4. His 39 points offered him a strong third-place stack to begin the eight-handed finale. Shak maintained his ground during most of the first five levels until the elimination of Talal Shakerchi in eighth. The blinds increased quickly during the final table and, at that point, Antonio Esfandiari moved into the chip lead with 42 big blinds while Jennifer Tilly fell to the short stack with only eight big blinds. Tilly, Tobias Reinkemeier and Daniel Cates fell shortly after in seventh through fifth, respectively. With four players left, it appeared to be a three-horse race with Esfandiari, Jonathan Duhamel and Shak separated by just a few big blinds. Sam Trickett trailed by a 25 big-blind margin, but doubled up through Duhamel to put him back in the hunt and, at the same time, lead to the demise of the 2010 WSOP champion.
According to the Premier League, for most of the final table it appeared that Esfandiari was going to add yet another title to his resume, but one unexpected river card changed his fate. Shak opened with A-2 and called Esfandiari's three-bet all-in, trailing the One Drop champion's 9-9. The flop of Qd-7c-2c gave Shak a pair and a river ace made it two pairs, earning him the huge pot and a 2-to-1 lead to enter heads-up play. Shak's lead vanished quickly as Trickett found value in a flush-over-flush situation, but returned shortly after an unorthodox decision by Shak essentially ended the match. On an As-8h-2h-10s-7h board and a pot of only 200,000, Shak moved all-in for 1.1 million. It was a polarizing move that caught Trickett, holding 10-2, by surprise. After a lengthy internal debate, Trickett called and mucked as Shak showed Qh-4h for a flush. Shak eliminated Trickett on the next hand.
"Don't think I've ever played in a tougher field with a tougher format," said Shak via Twitter. "Grueling doesn't even come close."
Shak earned $450,000 for first in the finals, his fourth six-figure score in 2013. He recently was signed as a member of "Team Ivey," a group of professionals supporting the online training site, IveyPoker.com.
Here are the results of the Premier League VI final table:
1. Dan Shak ($450,000)
2. Sam Trickett ($200,000)
3. Antonio Esfandiari ($150,000)
4. Jonathan Duhamel ($125,000)
5. Daniel Cates ($100,000)
6. Tobias Reinkemeier ($70,000)
7. Jennifer Tilly ($60,000)
8. Talal Shakerchi ($45,000)
Small blinds: The Caesars' Cup will be up for grabs again at WSOP-APAC. The Joseph Hachem-led Asia-Pacific team will face off against the Sam Trickett-led European team for the right to face the Phil Ivey-captained Americas team. None of the captains have announced their five-player rosters as of yet, so who would you put on each team? Jonathan Taylor captured $138,938, a seat in the National Championship and his third WSOP Circuit ring of the season with his victory in the Lodge Casino main event. You can watch the heads-up battle here. Allen Kessler, Ray Henson, Mitch Schock and Ryan Lenaghan also won titles in Colorado. Ruben Visser won the EPT London main event for $895,370. The Dutch pro has nearly $2 million in lifetime tournament earnings. October Niner Russell Thomas won this past week's Sunday Million on PokerStars for $219,184. PokerStars also released its first draft of the 2013 SCOOP. The DeepStacks Poker Tour is expanding once again, this time to Panama. The event will be held Nov. 6-11 and the winner will earn a seat into the DeepStacks World Championship to be held at Mohegan Sun in December. The DSPT is currently at Mohegan Sun and, starting on Wednesday, the WSOP Circuit will start its first series just a few miles away at Foxwoods. Mike Harris won his second Heartland Poker Tour title on Monday in Iowa. The victory, worth $95,663, was his second career cash. Yup, his first cash was also a win. Not bad. Raymond Dehkarghani defeated Sam Stein to win the $5,000 Wynn Classic and $235,931. Tom Marchese finished third. 888 received its interactive gaming license in Nevada. They will be powering numerous sites across the state, but most notably ones for Caesars (WSOP.com) and Treasure Island.
You may not have heard a lot about Alex Masek, but the six-time WSOP Circuit champion is the player that everyone is chasing this spring