Some things are certain. The earth will revolve around the sun. Poker players will be found at the Commerce Casino in February to compete in the WPT L.A. Poker Classic main event. Those are facts.
The LAPC has always been one of the most popular tournament series in the United States, especially with the hosting of the main event by the World Poker Tour for seven years. But this year, Commerce brought renowned tournament director Matt Savage to manage the entire series, which gave it a new level of respect and subsequent attendance. The preliminary events were well-received, along with new additions to the LAPC like the $10K HORSE and $10K heads-up tournaments. So, when the NLHE main event began on Saturday, February 21, it was no surprise to see that 696 players forked over the $10K buy-in to participate in the second-most well-attended LAPC main event ever. And the tables were simply stacked with well-known players - of the live and internet varieties - all chasing a WPT title and a $1,686,760 million first prize.
With the Commerce ready for the numbers, organizers felt the need to have only one starting day, so players consumed every table in the tournament room. Notable poker pros were scattered throughout the room, with everyone from defending champion Phil Ivey to stars like Daniel Negreanu, Barry Greenstein, Chris Ferguson, Phil Hellmuth, Jennifer Harman, and Erick Lindgren.
Day 1 saw many leave early, such as John Juanda and Chino Rheem, but it was the recognizable names that finished the day in good shape that received all of the attention. While it was KC Nam who sat atop the leaderboard at the end of the day with 141,000 chips, Negreanu was holding on in second place with 128K, followed by Jeff Madsen at 112,500. All others in the top ten were under the 100K mark but included, in order, Bertrand Grospellier, Danny Wong, Nick Schulman, Phil Ivey, Kofi Farkye, David Chiu, and Steve Paul-Ambrose.
Day 2 was no less exciting, as more than 400 players returned to see the field thoroughly narrowed. The action sent more than half of the remaining players to the rail, as only 167 survived. Antonio Esfandiari held the lead with 405,000 as the day came to a close, with Kofi Farkye in second place with 391K. The rest of the top five included Mike Sowers, Anthony Venturini, and Haralabos Voulgaris.
The third day of play hoped to see the money bubble burst for the final 63 players to be paid. It didn’t happen until late in the day, however. And in the middle of the action, the previous day’s chip leader, Esfandiari, took his exit along with numerous others who were out a cool $10K for the experience. The money bubble came at the end of the day, and though it looked like the bubble player might be David Daneshgar, he actually won some late pots to sit with 4K when the dust settled. When the 64th place player was discovered to be Patrick Stemper, play was called with Kofi Farkye at the top with 837,500 chips, followed by Mike Sowers and his 741,500 stack. The rest of the top five were Donnie D’Auria, Jeremy Kottler, and Chris Karagulleyan.
Day 4 aimed to get closer to the final six players, but play was relatively slow during the six levels of play. Quite a few notables were able to take a walk to the cashier cage and receive a bonus for their play in the LAPC, including Daneshgar in 63rd place, Paul Darden in 62nd, David Pham in 50th, Nick Binger in 49th, Steve Paul-Ambrose in 47th, Maria Ho in 43rd, Nenad Medic in 42nd, Haralabos Voulgaris in 40th, Erica Schoenberg in 37th, Men Nguyen in 36th, Bertrand Grospellier in 32nd, Paul Wasicka in 28th, Hoyt Corkins in 26th, Greg Mueller in 25th, and Nancy Todd Tyne r in 21st place.
Amidst the action, Kofi Farkye lost his position on the leaderboard and fell in dramatic fashion to the one player who made the most notable rise to the chip lead, Chris Ferguson. It was a monstrous pot early in the day that built between the two, with Ferguson all-in with A-K and Farkye risking most of his chips with 6-5 of clubs on an A-Q-6-7-3 board with three diamonds. Ferguson’s top pair crippled Farkye, who exited the tournament altogether soon after. Ferguson then ended the day with 1,721,000 and the lead. He was followed by Payman Arjang, Chris Karagulleyan, Xuan Nguyen, and Binh Nyugen to round out the top five.
Day 5 would find the six finalists to return for the final table action, but it would prove not to be an easy task. Play began with Billy Pilossoph taking 20th place, but the remainder of the day was a struggle. Eventually, some of the notable exits included Nick Schulman in 17th place, Teddy Monroe in 16th, Peter Feldman in 14th, and Zach Hyman in the 12th spot.
Well past midnight on the West Coast, bubble play lasted for nearly 30 minutes and finally resulted in Blake Cahail making an initial raise, Chris Karagulleyan reraising, and Cahail pushing all-in with . But Karagulleyan called with pocket kings, and the board ran out . Cahail accepted $180,403 for his seventh place finish, and the final table was set for the following day:
Seat 1: Chris "Jesus" Ferguson 1,565,000
Seat 2: Andrew Cimpan 1,740,000
Seat 3: Pat Walsh 2,200,000
Seat 4: Chris Karagulleyan 4,080,000
Seat 5: Mike "SowersUNCC" Sowers 2,405,000
Seat 6: Binh Nguyen 1,895,000
In Ferguson’s first seat at a WPT final table, he faces Season 1 Legends of Poker champion Chris Karagulleyan, who was trying to make a stellar comeback on the tournament circuit. Sowers would be a force with which to be reckoned, though most of his previous successes had come on the virtual felt. It was set to be another exciting WPT L.A. Poker Classic event.
Exciting may not have been the right word. Action started slowly, with a great amount of caution leading to few flops and even fewer showdowns. But enough chips exchanged hands to take the lead away from Chris Karagulleyan after the 23rd hand of the night and give it to Binh Nguyen, who was not letting his opponent get anywhere without the best hand.
Karagulleyan came back to take a significant pot, but it was Andrew Cimpan who took an even bigger pot worth 2.2 million from Mike Sowers. Sowers then came back to double through Chris Ferguson to stay alive, which ultimately led to the 66th hand of the night.
Ferguson and Cimpan went to see a flop of . Cimpan pushed all-in, which prompted some deep thought followed by a check-call all-in with . Cimpan turned over pocket fours, and they held up when the turn brought a and the river a . Chris Ferguson was the first to be eliminated from the table, taking $240,538 for a sixth place finish.
Pat Walsh proved to be the double-up master early on, having done it through Cimpan, Sowers, and Cimpan again. But despite having climbed past the 3 million mark, he fell again after having lost 2.35 million to Nguyen. At the 97th hand, when Walsh raised preflop and Nguyen came over with an all-in move, Walsh considered it and finally called all-in with , but Nguyen showed . The board ran out , and nothing could save Pat Walsh from leaving in fifth place with $310,694.
Not long after, it was Karagulleyan at risk with against the of Cimpan. The board brought exactly what Cimpan needed with , and the trip queens eliminated Chris Karagulleyan in fourth place with $430,963.
The three remaining players were led by Sowers, but Nguyen was close behind and Cimpan was the short stack by more than a 2-to-1 margin. But Cimpan came back to double through Mike Sowers, making the latter very short stacked.
Sowers then pushed all-in two hands later for his last 2,425,000 with pocket fours, but Nguyen was there with the call holding pocket queens. The board bricked for Sowers when it showed , sending Mike Sowers out in third place with a $654,797 reward.
Heads-up play then began with the 117th hand of the night and the following starting chip counts:
Binh Nguyen 8,450,000
Andrew Cimpan 5,450,000
The match went on…and on. The chip lead changed hands numerous times as the night turned to early morning, and double-ups became fairly common. Action went on in this manner for hours, and just when the final table passed its 302nd hand of the night, one hand would determine the outcome.
The 303rd hand began with an all-in move from Cimpan with , and Nguyen made an immediate all-in call with . It looked like another double-up opportunity for Nguyen until the flop came . Cimpan’s pair of fives then saw a come on the turn and a appear on the river, sending Binh Nguyen out in second place with $935,424 in prize money.
Andrew Cimpan won the L.A. Poker Classic, which came with an LAPC trophy, a World Poker Tour bracelet, a $25,500 ticket into the season-ending WPT World Championship in April, and the grand prize of $1,686,760.
(Thanks to WPT Live Updates for specific hand and chip count information.)