When the PokerStars.com Latin American Poker Tour traveled to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico in December of 2008, the plan was to conduct a three-day tournament as had been done in so many other cities across Latin America. But what happened toward the end of Day 1 was odd, if not scary for those at the scene, and the tournament was suddenly canceled. And after months of coming up with and implementing a solution, the final table of the LAPT Mexico was finally played out in Uruguay prior to the start of that particular tour stop.
The Nuevo Vallarta incident began as just a poker tournament, as 242 players bought in to the $2,500 + $200 tournament to compete for the $586,850 prize pool. There were many well-known players in the field, including Greg Raymer, Victor Ramdin, Humberto and Alex Brenes, David Plastik, Shirley Rosario, J.C. Alvarado, Andre Akkari, Alexandre Gomes, and Maria and Max Stern. In the process of getting through the ten levels scheduled for Day 1, tournament organizers ran into a glitch. That glitch was the Mexican authorities, as they suddenly came into the tournament area at about 10:30pm and shut the event down. The media scrambled to gather their technological possessions, but players left their chips on the table and followed orders to leave the area.
Obviously play was suspended, and later the next day, it was announced that LAPT organizers, PokerStars, and Mexican officials were unable to come to an agreement with regard to the legality of the event, so the event was cancelled.
The 89 players still in the tournament were later informed that the tournament would play out online to reach the money, which would be at 27 players, and then the final table. The final participants were then supposed to be flown to the next LAPT stop in Chile (http://pokerworks.com/poker-news/2009/01/23/ortiz-wins-lapt-chile-pokerstars-tournament.html) to play it out live and for television cameras. But the final table was then again rescheduled for Uruguay in March.
That brought the final nine to the resort town of Punta del Este in Uruguay on Tuesday, March 17, to play for the win just before the Punta del Este tournament got underway the following day. They would be playing for a prize pool independent of the one accumulated in Nuevo Vallarta, as everyone had been refunded their original buy-in plus $500 for their troubles.
Rory Cox had a massive chip lead over the rest of the players, and notables Victor Ramdin and Alex Brenes were looking to add their names to the list of LAPT winners. When the action began, the chip counts and seating assignments were as follows:
Seat 1: Rory Cox 1,074,500
Seat 2: Victor Ramdin 104,000
Seat 3: Pavel Naydenov 80,000
Seat 4: Helen Prager 326,000
Seat 5: Leonardo Emperador 284,000
Seat 6: Steven Thompson 135,500
Seat 7: Bolivar Palacios 128,500
Seat 8: Martha Herrera 88,000
Seat 9: Alex Brenes 154,500
The chip leader knew how to wield that massive stack of chips, and he launched that aggressive plan from the beginning by pushing back at everyone who made a move. For nearly 30 minutes, no one found the cards that warranted a battle against Rory Cox, until Steven Thompson came into the picture with pocket fives that turned into a set on the flop versus the pocket nines of Cox. Thompson doubled through to stay alive.
Ramdin is no friend of the short stack and was looking to do something to improve his. He finally pushed preflop from the cutoff with , but he found a caller in Helen Prager and her . The board never looked good for Ramdin as it came , and he graciously accepted his fate as the ninth place finisher, which garnered him a $1,000 prize.
It took a short time for another elimination, but there was no shortage of action. Martha Herrera doubled through Leonardo Emperador, but she still had less than 100K to work with after the survival tactic. And Bolivar Palacios also doubled to just under 200K chips through Steven Thompson, the latter of whom was crippled after the hand with less than 40K left.
But Alex Brenes was also looking for a double-up and pushed all-in preflop for his last 100K with pocket nines. Pavel Naydenov was there for the call with , and it was off to the races for Brenes’ tournament life. The board showed , giving Naydenov the aces for the win, and Brenes was ousted to join his supportive brother Humberto on the rail. He won $1,500 for the eighth place finish.
More chip-ups were in order at that point. Thompson doubled through Bolivar Palacios, who then did the same through Cox. And short-stacked Martha Herrera tripled up through Prager and Emperador when Herrera’s pocket sixes turned into a flush to beat Prager’s pocket sixes.
Palacios tried to double again, this time pushing all-in with versus the of Thompson, but the board didn’t agree with the plan. It came and knocked Bolivar Palacios out in seventh place with $2,000.
Naydenov began to gain some ground, first by doubling through chip leader Cox. And he was there a few hands later to eliminate a fellow final tablist. The hand began with Cox raising and Naydenov and Thompson calling, but Herrera pushed all-in from the big blind. It was only 29K more, so all three called. The got checked around, as did the on the turn, but when the came on the river, Naydenov made a bet that was only called by Thompson. Naydenov showed Q-10 for trips, which won the hand and knocked Martha Herrera out in sixth place with $3,000.
Next at risk was Thompson, who was down to 22K and shipped it preflop with . Cox, Naydenov, and Prager called, but after the flop came , Cox bet and the other two folded. Cox then showed for the pair of sixes. The on the turn and on the river gave the pot to Cox and sent Steven Thompson out in fifth place with $3,000.
Soon after, it was Leonardo Emperador looking for some improvement and pushed all-in from the small blind with , but Cox called with pocket queens. The dealer slowly gave them , and that ended Leonardo Emperador’s tournament in fourth place, which was good for a $5,000 payout.
Moments later, Cox and Naydenov went to see a flop. Cox bet, Naydenov raised, and Cox pushed all-in. Naydenov called and was covered, and he could only show for it, while Cox turned over for the two pair. A came on the turn to help, but the on the river eliminated Pavel Naydenov in third place with $7,500.
That left two players with chip counts as follows:
Rory Cox 1,969,000
Helen Prager 405,000
Not many anticipated the battle that the heads-up match became. It began with Prager doubling up when her 8-5 of clubs made a straight on the turn to crush Cox’s Q-6 and top pair on the flop. And not long after, she did it again, and it happened with 8-5 making a straight on the turn again. Prager was quickly catching up to Cox, only down 3K at the dinner break.
More action ensued after the evening meal. Prager doubled again, this time pushing her stack up to 1.9 million versus the 700K of Cox. But the new short stack came back and doubled through Prager to make the stacks closer to even again. But Cox was persistent and aggressive, chipping back into the lead.
Finally, the last hand of the night came down. After Cox made an initial raise, Prager pushed all-in for 972K with . Cox made the call with , and the board started directly in the chip leader’s favor when it showed . The on the turn left Prager with no outs, so the on the river was simply a formality. Helen Prager finished the tournament in second place, which was worth $11,000.
Rory Cox, straight from America, won the PokerStars.com Latin American Poker Tour Nuevo Vallarta tournament, and he was awarded a trophy and $15,000 to go along with the title.
(Thanks to the PokerStars blog for live updates.)