With days 1a and b out of the way and the small stack, small blind poker behind them, those players returning were ready to step up their game. Within three days one of the 246 remaining players would be $800,000 richer and by Saturday night a new Ultimate Bet Aruba Poker Classic winner would emerge.
Before the start of day 2, Thursday morning, there was a younger player in the elevator who couldn't help but blurt out how nervous he was. With a lot of the players qualifying online for less than $200, that is a common emotion for some people to be feeling.
Most of the players returning for day 2 were ready for action and were standing outside of the tournament room before it even opened. There were only a few stragglers that showed up late.
Poker H0 commented, as he was waiting to sit down, that he was free rolling after catching some runner, runners last night and was just happy to be there. He also said he won $1000 in his last longer prop bet with Phil Hellmuth and he was excited about that. "If you see that donkey tell him to pay me," he joked.
Michael Gracz snuck into Aruba quietly and tried to steal some chips the same way. He started day three with 39,000 chips.
Robert Williamson showed up on time for day 2 and it was a good thing he did. In one of the first few hands he won a 20,000 pot holding on a 8-Q-Q-5-5 board.
By Thursday the beer chugging Victor Bigio had moved on to harder things. His card protector was a mini bottle of Grey Goose, which he called ‘the bad beat shot.' Any time he gave or received a bad beat, the vodka went down his throat.
Also making an appearance at the tournament room on day 2 was a crab. After startling a few guests, including Robert Williamson's wife, it found its way back outside. I guess you know you are playing in Aruba when something like that happens.
Play moved quickly on day 2, with three tables being broken within the first hour. Ultimate Bet's own Mark ‘Poker H0' Kroon was one of those casualties after getting his 9-9 all in preflop and being dominated by K-K. Even though he said he was free rolling he still seemed bummed that he had busted.
Annette wasn't able to go back-to-back and was knocked out right before the dinner break when her attempted steal with K-4 ran into K-K. (On a side note- she didn't have too much to be sad about because she won the $200 Sunday Mulligan on Full Tilt 3 days later).
The day finished at 1am with 54 players going into day 3 and in the money.
A little before midnight a bunch of the pros ended up playing a $120 sit-n-go ran by the casino. Poker H0, Debo34, Joe Reitman, Annie Duke, Hollywood Dave, some of the guys from the WSOP Academy and yours truly all sat down and tossed some chips around. I won't say who won (me) but I will say that everyone had a great time.
Going into day 3 online pro Jonathan ‘FireyJustice' Little led the pack with 300,000 in chips. Mike Matusow and Mike Gracz started the day with a healthy chip stack, opposed to Robert Williamson and J.J. Lui who started the day short.
Williamson was once again lucky he arrived on time because on one of the first hands of the day he doubled up.
Just after Williamson got some chips, Michael Gracz took a bad beat. He got all in on a K-Q-9 flop holding K-J to his opponents K-10. The turn was a J and even though Gracz paired his jack it gave his opponent a straight and the meaningless 8 on the river crippled him - down to 6300 chips. Gracz wasn't able to recover and ended up busting a few hands later in 45th place.
Evelyn Ng and Robert Williamson's wife hung out on day 3 sweating their respective others, although Robert's wife didn't get to hang out too long. Williamson busted early in the afternoon when his pocket jacks ran into aces.
Mike Matusow joined him on the rail shortly after, less than two hours into play for the day and just in time for the final Ultimate Bet afternoon event, wine tasting. Zins, cabs, merlots and chardonnays, if you like wine this was the place to be Friday afternoon.
Once it got down to 35 people, in the mid-afternoon, they redrew seats and started playing down to the final table. They played 6 handed tables to get the final 6. J.J. Liu was the last big name pro to bite the bust after her A-J got in dominated by A-K. Play continued 6 handed until the final table was set shortly before midnight.
At the same time the last few players were fighting for their shot at the final table, Phil Hellmuth threw a lavish private party in his penthouse suite. He hired a DJ and of course had plenty of bottles of Dom Perignon and Grey Goose. Joe Reitman was spotted trying out some new moves along with Absolute Poker hostess Serinda Swan.
A storm hit the island that night which delayed the start time of the final table on Saturday. It finally kicked off a little after 2pm eastern, about two hours after they had originally scheduled it to and the final 6 took their seats.
Final table chip counts:
Travis Rice - 1,549,000
Brad Smithson - 1,495,000
Jim Mordue - 997,000
Nick Blackburn - 949,000
Jordan Rich - 700,000
Jason Gray - 247,000
Gary ‘Debo34' Debonardi, Annie Duke, Phil Hellmuth, another crab and lots of fans gathered around and watched the action play out right by the sand and surf. Also watching the action with a vested interest was Poker H0, who had 50% of Brad Smithson's action.
Jordan Rich was the first player eliminated and took $77,075 for his efforts.
In one of the bigger hands of the night Brad Smithson got all in on the river holding versus Travis Rice's on a board.
Smithson may have nightmares about aces after this, especially because this was the third time during this tournament they have been cracked. He leapt from the table when he saw the full house, visibly upset. "What can I do? I had pocket aces!" he said. "I'm out."
He wasn't out, though. He still had about 200,000 left and got up to 400,000 quickly after moving all in several times.
Rice continued dominating the table and after making a big call holding 4-4 he took out Nick Blackburn's K-Q. After a measly $120 buy-in online Blackburn took home a whopping $146,180 for his fourth place finish.
The chip counts when it got down to the final three were:
Travis "TravestyFund" Rice - 4,000,000
Joe Mordue - 1,000,000
Brad "BlackHat" Smithson - 400,000
Rice used his chip lead to his advantage and played an active role at the table most of the night. He was hyper-aggressive and raising every other hand.
Smithson got all in once with vs. Jim Mordue's pocket sevens and hit trip nines to double up, but Mordue quickly came back for the revenge when he busted Smithson with A-K vs. Smithson's A-J.
A little after 10pm, 29 year-old Brad Smithson finished 3rd for $252,490 after H0's payday of $126,245.
Head's up play didn't last long and the final two got it all in with A-K vs. K-10.
Jim Mordue raised preflop, Travis Rice reraised and Mordue pushed all in. Rice thought for awhile, the crowd inched closer and then finally Rice called.
Rice showed K-10 and was dominated by Mordue's A-K. The flop blanked out for Rice, coming out Q-8-4. The turn, though, changed everything when a ten hit. The meaningless king on the river ended it all and Travis Rice was the new Aruba Poker Classic Champion.
Jim Mordue got in with the best, but as everyone knows in poker, that can only get you so far. Mordue's second place finish earned him $478,405.
After Phil Hellmuth congratulated Travis Rice on his win, he celebrated his even $800,000 pay day by taking a leap in the pool and then celebrating along with the guests at the Ultimate Bet closing party.
Sunday saw the departures of most of the players still left on the island...some a lot richer than others. Ultimate Bet proved this week that they are the Ultimate site for great poker, great fun and great players.