April 15th, the traditional tax day for American citizens as many scramble to complete returns and get them to the post office. For the 331 players who bought into the Five Star World Poker Classic Event #9 $2.5k NLH, each hoped for a big payday that would complicate their tax situation next year. The Bellagio was abuzz as it is every weekend, and railbirds craned their necks into the Fontana Lounge to get a glimpse of poker pros and aspiring players as they pursued the $289,740 top prize.
27 players cashed, and top players departed throughout the afternoon and evening. Those busting out short of the money included Dewey Tomko, Amnon Fillipi, Erica Schoenberg, and David Sklansky. The departure of two white-hot players, James Van Alstyne and JC Tran, brought a smile to many players as they knew their chances of cashing had improved.
When the cash bubble burst, the field was a bit of an oddity. It consisted of no one from Las Vegas except for Kenna James (a transplant from California) and Anthony George (from nearby Mesquite). Two premier online tournament players cashed. James "krazykanuck" Worth never had chips for most of the tournament, and he felt fortunate to grab 25th ($4,665). He's cashed six times in the World Series, and last October's 4th place finish at the WPT North American Poker Championship was his top cash for $257,338. He's a fearless player, and his big breakthrough in live tournaments may be just around the corner.
Cliff "johnnybax" Josephy is unparalleled in the sheer number of tournaments that he plays online, as well as the continual success he's had. His live results are strong too, as the WSOP bracelet winner has earned almost $1,000,000 in winnings over the last twelve months. Like Worth, Josephy had a moderate chip stack for most of Day 1. He caught pocket aces shortly before play ended for the evening, and Toto Leonidas called his all-in with pocket queens. Josephy ended Day 1 with 77k, well behind Leonidas who held the chiplead with 328k. No player had half as many chips as they broke for the morning.
Thirteen players started Day 2, with the number thirteen the luck ran bad for some. William Davis spent the first thirty minutes losing chips, then moved all-in for his last 52k after Paul Spitalnic raised to 18k in early position. Spitalnic called with A-10, and Davis meekly turned over . Davis caught a three on the river to survive and double up. A few minutes later, Davis' luck ran out. He busted out on the same hand as Cliff Josephy (13th, $7,770). Starting with more chips, Davis took 12th ($9,325).
By then, the brilliant surge of Day 1 chipleader Toto Leonidas had dissipated, and he was riding a roller coaster with no safety net. His 328k had turned into 69k until he doubled through Spitalnic. The chips were his for four minutes as he moved all-in after Jesse Martin's raise. Martin called with pocket queens, and Leonidas' A-J never threatened the pot after the dealer showed a queen on the flop. He was out in 11th ($9,325), and the Final Table was rid of the most experienced player in the field.
Martin caught queens again to knock out the other warhorse at the table, Kenna James (9th, $12,435). Great "Spiderman" Partho had everyone on the web Googling his name, as his Spiderman moniker was listed in online updates. No, Tobey Maguire hadn't taken a break from his Spiderman 3 press junket to Final Table here. The former resident of White Haven, Pennsylvania has a long list of cashes from his LA home base in the last three years. Spitalnic ended Partho's run, and Great Partho finished 8th ($15,545).
After Scott Clements knocked out Tuan Nguyen (6th, $27,200), the table had two chip leaders: Clements (430k) and Martin (450k). Spitalnic made it a trio with over 400k after he knocked out another online terror, Holland's Noah Boeken (5th, $34,975). Clements moved into a different gear four-handed as he raised continuously.
The other three decided to wait for a hand, and Paul Alterman successfully doubled through Clements. Clements kept up the pressure and called Alterman's 150k all-in with only . Alterman showed and caught an open-ended straight draw with the flop of . Clements dodged all the outs on the turn and river, and his king-high was good enough to end the event for London's Paul Alterman (4th, $46,625).
Clements sent Paul Spitalnic home a few hands later (3rd, $81,605), yet his 585k in chips were almost half of Martin's 1.06M. Heads-up play can be a strategic battle like a heavyweight fight between two proven champions. This one looked more like the fights of young Mike Tyson as it was over with one overhand right to the chin. It was a blow Clements will feel for quite awhile. Martin raised 40k, and Clements called from the big blind. The flop was , and Clements bet 90k. Martin moved all-in and was called. Martin turned over for second pair, but Clements looked strong with . The turn of did no damage, then Martin caught his second pair when came on the river.
Scott Clements (2nd, $163,205) remains a player to watch. He won his first WSOP bracelet last summer, and this cash adds nicely to his $222k finish last October in Ontario and his $151k for 8th at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in January.
For Jesse Martin (1st, $289,740), it was success in a part of poker he'd abandoned. "Last year, I played a lot of tournaments, mainly Main Events. I'd lose or cash a little, then I'd make my money in cash games," said Martin. "I finally said, "What am I doing at these tournaments? I'm just going to play cash games." His $47k win at a PokerStars $200 re-buy in February gave him renewed hope, and his adjustments to his tournament game paid off at the Bellagio. He earned a seat in next week's WPT Championship Main Event, and he'll have another chance to hone his newfound tourney prowess.