The Bellagio is the place to find well-known professional poker players year-round, as the Las Vegas casino is the home of Bobby’s Room for the “Big Game” and some of the favorite cash games in the country. But several times each year, the World Poker Tour rolls into town and offers up a WPT Main Event to compliment the Bellagio’s regular tournament series, and players come from all over the world in search of a World Poker Tour title.
The WPT Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic is an especially well-attended tournament each year. Not only is it held at the Bellagio, but it is the last of the high-stakes tournament opportunities of the year. With a $15,000 buy-in and a start date of December 14, the eighth season of the WPT rolled on with this ever-popular event.
One of the new features of Bellagio tournaments has been the chance for players to register through the end of Level 8, which allows them the opportunity to buy in on the first or second day of the tournament. Day 1 found 292 players total at the tables, though the field was not yet complete. But of those players, including some of the biggest names in tournament poker, only 235 survived the day, and Darryll Fish was the chip leader of the pack with a stack of 236,625 chips. Jonathan Turner was in second place with 227,325, and the top five was rounded out by David Woo, Billy Kopp, and Carlos Mortensen.
The second day of action brought another 37 players to the tables, bringing the grand number of players in the tournament to 329 and the total prize pool to $4,761,450. Of that, the ultimate winner would be guaranteed $1,428,430, and the top finishing 27 people would receive a minimum of $28,569 for making it into the money. Among those who stepped into the fray near the end of the registration period were Doyle Brunson, Eli Elezra, Andy Bloch, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Freddy Deeb, Hoyt Corkins, and Mike Matusow. But on the other side of the coin, opting not to play were Phil Ivey and Phil Hellmuth. When the day ended, only 130 of the original players were left standing, and it was Steven Landfish in the chip lead with 385,900, with Brent Hanks holding down second place with 383,000. The rest of the top five were Matthew Waxman, Chad Batista, and Sorel Mizzi.
Day 3 saw the field thin quickly from the starting number of 130 to 36, just a few players from the money bubble. As the day came to a close, players like Andy Bloch, Kristy Gazes, and Sorel Mizzi were eliminated, but soaring into the chip lead was Daniel Alaei, who finished the action with 1,664,000 chips. Coming in second place was the previous day’s leader, Steven Landfish, and rounding out the top five were Josh Arieh, Scotty Nguyen, and Matt Waxman.
Day 4 was the day to reach the money for some of the players, and it happened not long into the action after Peter Gould was eliminated and hand-for-hand play ensued. Hasan Habib pushed all-in from the small blind with , and Jeremy Brown decided to call with from the big blind. The board came , and the pair of kings for Brown eliminated Habib from the tournament on the money bubble. That made way for Mike McClain to exit in 27th place for $28,569, and other notables eliminated throughout the day included Amit Makhija in 26th place, Steve Brecher in 25th, Antonio Esfandiari in 23rd, Steven Landfish in 21st, and Matt Stout in 20th. Brent Hanks was the last to go in the evening hours, taking $38,092 for the 17th place finish, which left 16 players to bag their chips. Curt Kohlbert led the pack with 2,856,000 chips, followed by Faraz Jaka in second place with 2,768,000. The rest of the top five were Daniel Alaei, John Juanda, and Chad Batista.
Day 5 started with the elimination of Joseph Elpayaa in 16th place, and others went down in this order: Matt Waxman, Carter King, Mike Sowers, Lee Salem, John Juanda, Chad Batista, Curt Kohlberg, and Eric Hershler. That left seven players and the final table bubble. It was then that Joe Cassidy began a hand with an all-in move for his last 715K chips. Josh Arieh came over the top all-in to try to isolate, but Shawn Buchanan looked down at pocket queens in the big blind and called both players. Arieh turned over pocket tens, and Cassidy showed . The board came , which gave Buchanan the entire pot and eliminated short-stacked Cassidy in seventh place, for which he received $154,747.
The final table was then set with six professional poker players, all with results and none strangers to final tables. The amateur-free table was set as follows:
|Seat 1: ||Daniel Alaei ||3,925,000 |
|Seat 2: ||Faraz Jaka ||5,385,000 |
|Seat 3: ||Josh Arieh || 1,710,000 |
|Seat 4: ||Steve O’Dwyer ||1,050,000 |
|Seat 5: ||Scotty Nguyen ||4,900,000 |
|Seat 6: ||Shawn Buchanan ||2,800,000 |
When action began on Saturday, December 19, blinds were at 30K/60K with a 5K ante in Level 23. Players went into it slowly and cautiously, all well aware of the WPT title and $1.4 million-plus awaiting the winner.
The several few levels contained little stack-altering play, except when Jaka took down a pot worth 2.9 million chips from Alaei in the second round. It wasn’t until the 39th hand of the night that an all-in move was followed by a call, and the result was Arieh doubling through Alaei when A-8 held up against K-J on a blank board.
Less than ten hands later, another situation occurred. This time it was O’Dwyer all-in from the small blind for his last 1,935 million holding , but Nguyen woke up to pocket jacks in the big blind and made the call. The flop only helped Nguyen when it came , though the on the turn gave O’Dwyer outs. But the on the river ended the hand and sent Steve O’Dwyer out of the tournament in sixth place with $202,362.
Alaei came back after taking some hits in the beginning, and he scored a pot worth 2.4 million from a hand with Buchanan. Then it was Arieh’s turn to soar, first doubling through Nguyen with pocket sevens over A-J. Arieh then took a 3.3 million-chip pot from Jaka by calling the latter’s bluff to take it down.
It was eventually Nguyen who became short-stacked over a series of relatively small hits, and he pushed all-in for his last 1,365,000 with pocket nines. But Jaka pushed all-in over the top to isolate, and it worked when original raiser Arieh folded. Jaka then showed the dominating pocket kings, which held up on the board. Scotty Nguyen was eliminated in fifth place with $249,976.
Action then sped up. Three hands later, Arieh struck against Jaka and the former claimed a monster 7.2 million-chip pot, though Arieh was on the losing end of a double-up on the very next hand when Alaei moved all-in and survived the showdown.
One hand later, Buchanan decided to move all-in for his last 1,540,000, and Alaei pushed over him to isolate with . Buchanan turned over and needed quite a bit of help to double up. But the board produced no help when it came , leaving Big Slick as the winning hand. Shawn Buchanan was gone in fourth place with $333,302 for his efforts.
Several rounds later, Jaka tried to find a spot to recover from the earlier loss to Arieh. Jaka pushed all-in for 2.59 million from the button with , and Alaei was the caller from the big blind with pocket kings. The flop only helped Alaei when it brought for the set. The on the turn did little to change the situation, and the ended the tournament for Faraz Jaka, who left in third place with $571,374.
Heads-up action then began with the following chip counts:
Daniel Alaei 6,780,000
Josh Arieh 12,990,000
It was the 123rd hand of the final table that kicked things off between the final two players amidst Level 28 with 100K/200K blinds and a 15K ante.
Alaei came on strong by taking the first pot of the match, then risking it all on the second. After a raise by Arieh and reraise by Alaei, Arieh pushed all-in with , and Alaei quickly called with pocket queens, which held up on the board. The double-up put Alaei firmly in the lead with more than 14.6 million to Arieh’s stack of just over 5.1 million.
Play continued with small pots and little action for the next twenty-plus hands, with Arieh unable to make any headway, only lose small amounts of chips consistently. But finally, Arieh moved all-in with in a double-up attempt, but Alaei called with the dominating . The flop was innocent when it came , but the came on the turn to give Arieh the advantage. The on the river granted Arieh new life in the tournament, along with 150,000 more chips than Alaei when the chips were distributed.
But Alaei took the next two small pots to regain his lead, which took the two into another monster hand. The 154th hand of the night began with the two going to see a flop of . Alaei was the first to bet, and Arieh check-raised all-in with pocket sevens. Alaei decided to call with , and his top pair beat the pocket pair of his opponent. The on the turn changed little, and the ended the match. Josh Arieh was eliminated in second place with $952,290.
Daniel Alaei won his first ever World Poker Tour title, which came with a WPT bracelet, Rolex watch from Bellagio, and $1,428,430 in prize money.