The Bay 101 World Poker Tour stop in San Jose is always one of the most exciting for fans and players alike. Each table includes at least one professional poker player with a bounty on his or her head, and the fans come out in droves to get autographs from said pros as well as see them in poker tournament action. The Season 7 Bay 101 “Shooting Stars” event was no different.
Many pro players enjoy the attention from the fans, who gather in droves around the casino and the tournament area to watch players like Daniel Negreanu and Chris Ferguson make a great play or bust out of a $10,000 buy-in event, but the bounties on their heads makes it more difficult for them to play their best game, as others are gunning for them and the $5,000 they receive, along with autographed tee shirts, by knocking them out of the tournament. It adds an interesting aspect to the tournament, and more opportunities to win money abound.
The starting action was split into two days to accommodate the large crowds into the relatively small tournament area, and Day 1A launched it with 135 players, 23 of them pegged as “shooting stars.” But by the end of the day, only 50 players remained in the field, and Hoang Nguyen was the chip leader with 198,300 chips. For that feat alone, he received a $10,000 bonus, which was the return of his buy-in for the day. In addition, however, he had received $5,000 for knocking John Juanda out of the event earlier in the day, so he was already in the money, so to speak. Shawn Buchanan was also in the money, as he had claimed three bounties and $15,000 for doing so.
With Nguyen in the chip lead, there was a shooting star on his heels, and David Pham sat in second position on the leaderboard, followed by Conner Stockett, Jonathan Little, and Matt Lessinger. Other shooting stars still in the field included Chad Brown, Annie Duke, Freddy Deeb, Joe Sebok, Kenny Tran, Hoyt Corkins, Erick Lindgren, Paul Wasicka, and Gavin Smith.
The second starting day was the busier of the two, as 256 players joined the tournament and made the overall total number of registrants 391. That put the total prize pool above $3.7 million to be split among the final 45 finishers, and first prize was set at $1,025,500.
Out of the 256 starting players for the day, there were about 27 shooting stars, but the story when the action concluded was Isaac Baron, who jumped into the chip lead to claim the $10,000 leader bonus and did it by knocking out Chris Ferguson on the last hand of the night to pick up the $5,000 bounty as well. The rest of the top five out of the remaining 95 players were, in order, Vivek Rajkumar, Wook Kim, Luis Velador, and Gary Tighe. Shooting stars left in the game included Kathy Liebert, Daniel Negreanu, Allen Cunningham, Howard Lederer, T.J. Cloutier, Brandon Cantu, Eli Elezra, John Cernuto, Men Nguyen, and Jennifer Harman.
Day 2 began with 145 players preparing for a long day. For those who succeeded, they would end up in the final 36 and in the money at the end of action. As the money bubble approached, play slowed and several double-ups for all-in players kept the tension high. But finally, with a hand at one table finding Steve Brecher doubling up, another take found Vincent Shaw pushing all-in. Hoyt Corkins and Farzad Bonyadi were the callers, and once the board showed , Hoyt bet and won the pot with 9-8 and the straight. Shaw mucked his cards and took his place as the tournament’s bubble player for his 46th place exit.
That left the last 45 survivors guaranteed to receive at least $12,500 for their two days of play. Wook Kim took the first of that in 45th place, and play continued. Notable Daniel Alaei took 38th place, and though it looked like Corkins would be the last player out for the day after he was crippled to only 10K in chips, he proceeded to quadruple up and double after that. Finally, Osman Wakili took the 37th place honors to end the day.
With 36 players remaining, it was Michael Kamran in top chip position with 570,500 chips, followed by Tony Behari, Chris Moore, Dan O’Brien, and John Monnette in the top five. The only shooting stars left in the tournament were Kathy Liebert, Paul Wasicka, Hoyt Corkins, and Joe Sebok.
Day 3 was the day the final six players would be determined, and it was off to a start that involved Jeremy Meier taking 36th place for $15,000, followed by Paul Wasicka in 35th place. As the day wore on, other notable eliminations were Joe Sebok at the hands of Freddy Bonyadi in 25th place, Luis Velador by Amnon Filippi in 24th place, Hoyt Corkins in 21st, Vivek Rajkumar in 16th, and Amnon Filippi in 12th. Bonyadi went on to eliminate Dan O’Brien in 11th place but proceeded to get involved in the biggest pot of the day, one worth nearly 2.5 million chips, and lost the hand to Steve Brecher when his kings couldn’t crack aces. Finally Bonyadi went out in ninth place, which was worth $60,000.
As the last table tried to eliminate two more, play continued for an hour and a half before double-ups turned to an elimination. Eventually, Tony Behari took out John Monnette in eighth place, and soon after Steve Brecher and his queen-high flush took out Michael Kamran and his nut flush draw, leaving Kamran with $90,000 for the seventh place finish.
And the final table of six was set for the following day as follows:
Seat 1: Chris Moore 1,476,000
Seat 2: Thao Le 711,000
Seat 3: Steve Brecher 2,016,000
Seat 4: Tony Behari 2,046,000
Seat 5: Kathy Liebert 1,180,000
Seat 6: Chau Vu 352,000
Kathy Liebert went into action on Friday, March 20 with an average chip stack but with clearly more experience than the others at the table, as well as the only “shooting star” left in the tournament, which keeps that extra $5,000 bounty on her head. She was also at her sixth WPT final table and desperately seeking her first victory on the World Poker Tour.
Play began cautiously, which turned out to be an indication of how the action would continue through the night and into the morning. But Chau Vu wasn’t able to get anything going with his short stack, and as it quickly dwindled down to 202K, he pushed it all-in with on the eighth hand of the night, only to be called by Tony Behari and his pocket eights. The board came , and the pocket pair held up to send Vu out in sixth place with $135,000.
Three hands later, Thao Le decided to tangle with Liebert, and the two went to see a flop of . Liebert bet, and Le check-called, which brought the on the turn. Le was the first to bet, but Liebert raised, and Le pushed all-in for his last 796K with pocket queens. But Liebert insta-called with pocket aces for the best two pair. The on the river changed nothing and eliminated Le in fifth place with $180,000.
That was when the action truly slowed. As live reporters pointed out, the extremely slow blind structure gave the last four players plenty of play, especially when the short-stacked Chris Moore still had more than 125 big blinds. Moore then came on with some aggression and chipped into the lead, while Liebert saw her stack diminishing quickly. She was able to double through Moore at one point, and that sent her into a card-friendly tear as she consistently chipped up from there. As action approached the 100th hand of the night, she doubled again, this time through Behari.
Liebert then bought the entire crowd a round of drinks. She was the fan favorite to start but solidified that position with free alcohol for the excited crowd.
It wasn’t until the 117th hand of the night that another elimination was had. Behari had seen most of his stack disappear and pushed all-in preflop for his last 388K from the small blind. Liebert called with pocket tens, and Behari showed . The board ran out , and Behari couldn’t improve, finally accepting his fourth place finish and $230,000 in prize money.
The final three players then took cautious play to an entirely new level as night turned to morning and the action was slow. Over the next 100 hands, Moore doubled through Brecher and Brecher doubled through Liebert. When Moore then took a monstrous pot from Liebert and left her on the short stack with only 890K, it looked like Liebert was the next to go, but she chipped back up.
On the 265th hand of the night, which surpassed the 2:30am mark, Moore and Brecher got involved in a hand to see the flop. Moore pushed all-in with , and Brecher called with . The on the turn helped no one, but the on the river gave Brecher the flush and eliminated Chris Moore in third place with $291,500.
At last, heads-up action began with blinds at 25K/50K, a 5K ante, and chip counts as follows:
Steve Brecher 5,540,000
Kathy Liebert 2,280,000
The two began play cautiously, but both having many years of experience in live tournament poker combined with quite a few chips, there was no reason to force action. Liebert had a difficult time gaining ground on Brecher, though, until she doubled through him on the 288th hand of the night. Still, her double-up only gave her 1.4 million to the 6.4 million of Brecher.
As play continued, the two helped set a new record for the most hands played at a WPT final table when they reached the 304th hand.
It wasn’t long after that. The 319th hand of the night, which incidentally happened just before 4:30am, brought the game to a close.
Liebert started it with a raise to 175K, but Brecher pushed all-in behind with . Liebert called all-in for her tournament life with . The board then dramatically came , and Brecher’s ace kicker on the double-paired board gave him the pot. Kathy Liebert graciously, as always, accepted the second place finish and the $550,000 that went with it.
Steve Brecher scored his first major tournament victory after many years on the circuit. The $1,025,500 prize was his biggest to date, and he claimed a coveted WPT title.
(Thanks to WPT Live Updates for specific hand and chip count information.)