Demonstrating once again the level nature of poker's playing field, a previously unknown player burst on the scene last night, as Eric Hershler bested 791 entrants to win the LA Poker Classic $10,000 Championship. Hershler is a Los Angeles attorney who hails from South Africa. In this, reportedly his first ever live tournament entry, Hershler took home the largest first prize for a WPT $10K event, a whopping $2,429,970.
Hershler's win is even more impressive considering the class of the field, and especially the toughness of this final table. To achieve victory, Hershler had to beat some of the top tournament players in the world. Among them were Paul Wasicka, the runner-up to Jamie Gold in the 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event; JC Tran, winner of the Poker Stars World Championship of Online Poker and almost $3 million in live tournament cashes, including recent victories in the $3,000 No-limit event at Foxwoods' 2006 World Poker Finals and the $2,000 NL event at the Bellagio's 2006 Five Diamond Classic; and Chau Giang, an all-around great player with over $2 million in tournament winnings, who plays regularly in some of the largest cash games available and holds three World Series of Poker bracelets. Also contending for the top prize were Jacobo Fernandez, with two recent cashes at the 2007 Borgata Poker Open under his belt, and David "the Gunslinger" Bach, a professional poker player with over $300,000 in tournament winnings.
Chip counts at the start of the final table were as follows:
JC Tran: 3,470,000
Paul Wasicka: 3,390,000
Jacobo Fernandez: 3,370,000
Eric Hershler: 2,160,000
David Bach: 2,070,000
Chau Giang: 1,370,000
With the chip lead a virtual three-way tie, it was not surprising that play was initially very tight, with players seeing almost no flops for the first 50 or so hands. Tran benefited most from the situation, increasing his chip position to approximately $5 million in roughly the first hour of play. Finally, after dropping below 700,000 chips, Giang made a crucial double-through on Bach, holding to Bach's , when the board bricked out with . Two hands later, with blinds at 80K/160K and a 15K ante, there was multiway action as Hershler limped in, Tran called in the small blind, and Bach checked the big blind. On a flop of , Tran bet 300K. Bach got out of the way, Hershler raised to 1 million and Tran folded.
Bach, the short stack with only $205K, moved all-in on Hand #69 for not much more than the big blind. He received calls from Hershler, Fernandez and Giang. Everyone checked on a flop of . When the came on the turn, Hershler moved all-in. Fernandez and Giang folded. Hershler turned over pocket deuces for a set, and Bach's two pair with was no good. The on the river sealed his fate, but it was a lucrative one. Bach, of Athens, GA, took home $257,425 for sixth place.
Blinds increased to 120K/240K with a 30K ante shortly thereafter. By now, Tran had increased his stack to around 6.5 million. Giang was next out as he went all-in for about 1 million chips holding . Tran moved all-in over the top, and Hershler folded his pocket sixes face-up. Tran held . The flop of was about as good as Giang could have hoped for, but alas, the turn and river of gave the pot to Tran. The lively and gracious Giang received $341,710 for his fifth place finish.
Just a few hands later, Wasicka made his last stand. Facing a raise to 600K from Tran, Wasicka moved all-in for 1.22 million holding . Tran called with pocket threes, and flopped a full house when the cards came . It was over for Wasicka as the turn and river came . Wasicka, who has had great success in the two years or so he has been playing poker, took $455,615 home to Westminster, CO for fourth place.
As three-way action commenced, Tran held 9 million chips to Fernandez' 4 million, and Hershler's mere 2.6 million. But Hershler proved to be still very much in contention. With only 980K left, he called Tran's all-in on Hand #96 with what proved to be the best hand: to Tran's . The board came , a welcome double-up for Hershler.
Just two hands later, Hershler made it two for two as he doubled through Tran again. With the -Tc] Hershler moved all-in from the button. Tran called holding and was dominated. The board of - brought Broadway for Hershler. At that point, he took charge, reraising all-in over a $1 million bet by Fernandez on a flop of . Fernandez folded, but his tournament life was all over two hands later, when he moved all-in with and ran into Hershler's pocket Aces. Fernandez, of Hollywood, FL earned $607,490 for third place.
Hershler now held the chip lead, with 8.7M to Tran's 7.4M. Their heads-up confrontation only lasted one hand. Holding , Hershler called in the small blind, and then called Tran's 700K raise. The flop came , giving Hershler two pair. Tran, with bet 1,200,000, and Hershler paused for several minutes before raising all-in. His opponent called immediately but was trailing. The on the turn and the on the river to brought no help to Tran. He received $1,177,010 for second place.
Previously unknown, Eric Hershler has made his mark on the poker world, winning $2,429,970 and the championship, along with a $25,000 seat in the Bellagio Five Star WPT Championship, to be held next month.