L.A. Poker Classic
|Dates||Feb 21 - 24, 2004|
|Final Table Date||Feb 24, 2004|
|Buy-In||$9,900 + $100|
|Number of Entrants||382|
This week marks the return of the WPT to Los Angeles, and the classy confines of the Commerce Casino for the L.A. Poker Classic. Befitting a card club with a design reminiscent of Hollywood's bygone age of lavish films set in colonnaded, multi-staircased southern plantations, a record field of 382 players turned up, forking out $10,000 each to play for a mammoth prize pool of $3,781,500, which is itself a record for a WPT event. Gathering in the largest card room on the globe, it took three days to shave the field down to the six survivors who would fight it out to become the next WPT instant millionaire with a $1,400,000 payday, and here's how play began at the final felt...
In seat 1, in 3rd chip position with $701,000, retired investor and former Associated Press reporter, pro Adam Schoenfeld. In seat 2, short-stacked at $219,000, Boston-born Mike Keohan, a 42 year old software consultant and the only amateur. In seat 3, and 5th in chips with $276,000, WPT Paris champion, French master pro David Benyamine. In seat 4, chip leader with $1,148,000, 25 year old, 2-time WPT finalist, razor-sharp pro currently residing in San Francisco, Antonio "the Magician" Esfandiari. In seat 5, 4th in chips with $452,000, high-stakes, cash game poker pro from Las Vegas, Bill Gazes. In seat 6, in 2nd chip position with $1,026,000, a well respected, unpredictable pro from Houston, Texas, Quoc Al "Vinny" Vinh.
Suiting its close proximity to Hollywood, storylines were quickly rewritten. In the second hand, Adam Schoenfeld raised $100,000 with A-Q off, only to be re-raised $200,000 by Vinny Vinh with Kc-8c. Adam pushed all-in, sensing Vinh didn't want a call, and was correct, instantly becoming the new chip leader in the process. Antonio tried to regain the chip lead, raising out of position with 8d-6d, but Bill Gazes called with Ah-Tc after it was folded around to him. Flop came A-8-4 rainbow, with one diamond, and Antonio backed off. After check-check, Ad fell on the turn, bringing a backdoor flush draw to Antonio, who again checked. Gazes, sensing his winner, gave Antonio yet another free card. When it was 4c, Antonio fell into the trap, raising $69,000. Gazes massaged him with a $100,000 raise, and was paid off, restructuring the leader board again.
In the first critical hand, Mike Keohan took Qh-9h all-in with his short-stack of $176,000. David Benyamine was his only caller, his pocket 8's giving him a slight advantage. After the board went 5s-3h-2s, 5d, Keohan was on the ropes. But he sucked out when a miracle 9 came on the river, and it was a crippling blow to Benyamine. Though he came back on the next hand, doubling up when he made a straight with T-8 against Gazes' As-5s, Benyamine was forced to regroup early. Esfandiari, now with half the chips he started with, made a move to steal with Td-6d, but when Vinny, with A-2 offsuit, re-raised him $110,000 and the rest of the field folded, Antonio faced a tough decision. In a bold move, he went all-in, raising $607,000. Vinny mucked, and Antonio showed the bluff, then performed his trademark ‘magic carpet ride,' to the delight of the crowd.
As soon as antes and blinds went up to $5,000 and $20,000/$40,000, the action intensified. A psychological scuffle of the blinds broke out between Esfandiari, with Kc-2s, and Gazes, with Ad-7d, when Gazes announced a raise, then sat for a good two minutes trying to decide exactly how much. After Antonio called the clock on him, Bill went all-in, and Antonio folded. A few hands later, Keohan, the small blind, caught wired J's, and pushed it in for $297,000. Benyamine, smelling a pot-purchase, called. Bad timing. Even though the flop came K-Q-J yard-sale, giving David the nut straight draw, an A on the turn ruined that, and a 4 on the river sent him home, twice the victim of big blows from Keohan, the sole amateur in the bunch. Benyamine strolled in 6th place, with a fine payout of $132,355.
Vinny, with Ac-4s, and Antonio, with Qs-Js, again squared off when Vinny tried to muscle through a $100,000 raise. But again, a large, pre-flop re-raise of $400,000 from the Magician made Vinny vanish. This time, though, Antonio decided not to show, even though Vinny flashed his ace as he mucked. The next hand was another case of bad timing, this time for Schoenfeld. Keohan, in first position, bumped it $125,000, and Schoenfeld pushed in all of his $650,000 on Ks-3s. His hopes were crushed when Keohan turned over Kd-Kc, and he went packing in 5th place when the board went Qh-4s-3h, 5h, 4c, taking a pain-softening $170,170.
Now down to 3 pros and 1 amateur, the amateur, Keohan, got a quick and perhaps championship-altering lesson in betting from Vinh. Vinny raised $110,000 with Kh-Jc, and Keohan, on the button with Ad-Qs, congenially, if cockily, re-raised over the top $200,000, quipping "let's dance." But when Vinh obliged, turning up the music with an all-in, $755,000 re-re-raise, Keohan balked at the edge of the dance floor, mucking the superior hand, and giving Vinny the chip lead at the same time. The next big hand was another unfortunate turn for the big Bostonian, when Keohan found Jc-9c in the small blind, raising a healthy $200,000 and hoping for no callers. Antonio considered, and with a confident "alright, let's go," pushed all-in, $470,000. Costing him only another $270,000 to call, Keohan did, and was not happy to see Antonio's hand. With over a million in the pot, the board helped neither of them, going Th-7s-4s-5h-Qc, doubling up Antonio.
Almost immediately, Antonio found Qd-Qc, and raised a moderate $170,000. Gazes quickly pushed all-in, $570,000, for the first time of the day, with Ac-8h. Vinny, with As-Jc, was suspicious of Bill's quick move, and called. Antonio then came over the top of both of them, all-in! As Mike Sexton humorously quipped for the home audience, Vinh was "a sick puppy right now." Truly, as he laid it down, showing it as he did. Down to two players, a 9h-8s-3h-3d-Jh board was the last thing Gazes would gaze upon, going out in 4th with a nice payout of $226,890. And now, after consecutive doublings, the Magician had taken a commanding chip lead, with $2,600,000 to Keohan's $625,000, and Vinh's $525,000.
Blinds now up to $50,000 and $100,000 continued to press the issue for the now short-stacked duo. Vinny discovered wired 8's, and immediately went all-in. Antonio, sensing the possibility of knocking out another competitor, called the $525,000 raise. The flop came a raggedy rainbow 9-7-3, no help to Antonio. A T on the turn suddenly gave him a boatload of outs for the backdoor straight or overpair, but a 5 on the river sunk him, doubling up Vinny. Now almost even, Antonio and Vinny tag-teamed the Boston amateur when Keohan went all-in $250,000 on Qd-Jd. The pros, with identical K-7 offsuit, both called, and checked the board all the way to a 9c-9d-5c-6d-Th chop-chop victory. Oh, and sending Keohan back to the land of lobster and crab with a 3rd place total of $359,245.
Vinh and Esfandiari instantly went to work on each other, almost dead even with Antonio just $90,000 ahead with $1,955,000 at the start of heads up play. Antonio instantly established his aggressive game plan with a raise his friend Gus Hansen (in the crowd along with pal Phil "Unabomber" Laak) would certainly approve. Raising $350,000 on 7s-2h, he earned a pot when Vinny laid down a weak, albeit superior, Js-5s. Vinny got him back a few hands later, with Qs-5s, when he smelled a bluff on Antonio's $325,000 3c-2d raise. Vinh went all-in, and Antonio had to muck, giving Vinh the slight chip lead. The next hand, Vinny found another medium pair, 7c-7d, and limped. So did Antonio, with As-3s, hitting bingo when the flop came 9c-3c-3d. Expertly massaging his trips with a $100,000 raise, Vinh came back over the top $200,000, only to have Antonio come right back over him for another $300,000, practically forcing Vinh's all-in raise. After Antonio called, the turn and river came Qc-Qd, giving him the unbeatable boat, and crippling Vinny. Adding insult to Vinh's injury, Antonio next looked down to find pocket Aces, and came out with a stealthy $150,000 raise, making it look like a move. Vinny misjudged mightily and went all-in on Q-4 offsuit. Antonio couldn't call fast enough, raising up his titan of a hand for the appreciative crowd to see. When the flop came K-9-2 rainbow, Vinny was on fumes, and when the turn came 3 he was drawing dead. With that, Hollywood hoisted a new hero in Antonio Esfandiari, 25 year-old poker phenom and former magician, as he became the WPT's latest instant millionaire, cashing out a record $1,399,135, including a coveted $25,000 seat at the WPT Championships. Vinh may have finished 2nd, but his $718,485 was no villain's share, and certainly made it a lot easier to accept. A story any Hollywood screenwriter could be proud of...
This tournament is included in the World Poker Tour Season Two DVD Collection. Special features include commentary by Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, Antonio Esfandiari, Daniel Negreanu and Erik Lindgren.