By Sean Chaffin
Poker can be a numbers game – probabilities, bankroll management, game theory, expected value, equity, and a whole host of formulas, theories, and equations. For 50-year-old Bala Patur, the math may be the easy part. With master’s degrees in physics, computer science, and the philosophy of physics from universities in India, analyzing the odds seems like a natural part of his thought process. In his day job, Patur creates quantitative models for investment banks.
However, at the final table of the WPT L.A. Poker Classic on Monday in Las Vegas, Patur also included plenty of pressure on opponents – especially in heads-up play against Champions Club member Matas Cimbolas. His entire repertoire added up to his first WPT title and first-place prize money of just over $1 million.
“It’s incredible,” he said afterward. “I can’t express my happiness right now. To me, it was such a long time … and the table, with such good players, it was anybody’s game and I played well and ran well.”
Patur faced a tough table indeed. Cimbolas, who took home $600,060 for runner-up, was looking for his second WPT title after also finishing runner-up in the LAPC in Season XVII. James Carroll sought to join the three-time winner’s club while WPTDeepStacks champion Upeshka De Silva hoped to add a title on the Main Tour.
In the end, however, Patur made use of an intellectual mind and some savvy poker skills to come out on top. The final table was originally to be played last year, but COVID-19 disrupted those plans. True to his mathematics and academic background, Patur used that time to fine-tune his game. He studied, read several strategy books, and watched WPT videos to prepare. He even worked on heads-up skills, anticipating some players he might face and their likely play and strategy against him.
That work paid off to the tune of seven figures. While he may not be a full-time poker player, Patur’s name will now be etched onto the Mike Sexton WPT Champion’s Cup alongside great LAPC champions like Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen, and Michael Mizrachi. The win also vaulted Patur into second in the Hublot WPT Player of the Year standings, a nice finish that includes a $7,500 WPT Passport for use in events next season.
“I can’t express the feeling right now,” he says. “Every poker player dreams of getting a WPT. Getting next to these big big names that you watch all the time … getting my name next to them is an awesome feeling.”
Being listed alongside Sexton is also a major honor for the married father of two daughters from Parsippany, New Jersey.
“Mike is such a nice guy, an incredible guy,” Patur says. “He’s such a good person and always a pleasure to talk to. To see him is a great pleasure, he’ll be remembered for a long time. I wish he was here next to me winning this.”
Back at the Commerce Casino in March 2020, Patur surged midway through the tournament and claimed the chip lead on Day 3. That run continued through the end of Day 5 and he came into the final table as chip leader. Getting to the winner’s circle wouldn’t be easy, however. He eliminated three of the other five players as the day played out. That included landing pocket Kings to send Carroll to the rail in third.
Heads-up play began with Patur holding about a 4-million chip lead over Cimbolas, 11.8 million to 7.8 million, with blinds at 75,000/150,000. His pressure didn’t allow Cimbolas to get much traction and one key hand saw Patur make a nice call. After raising to 375,000, Cimbolas called and the flop brought . Patur bet 375,000 and Cimbolas called. Both players checked the on the turn and the fell on the river.
Cimbolas bet 950,000 and Patur took some time before calling. Cimbolas showed Ace-high and Patur tabled to take the pot, and continued to press the action. On the final hand, Combolas moved all-in with his last 3.7 million with and Patur called holding . Cimbolas flopped a flush draw but didn’t improve any further and Patur had a life-changing win. Clad in a hoodie and cap, he raised his hand in victory.
The championship gives a massive boost to Patur’s career live tournament winnings. Prior to the LAPC, that record included $220,000 with his best finish in 2019 in the €5,300 EPT Barcelona Main Event. He took 11th for $113,233 in that event. In 2018, Patur also had a nice finish at the WPTDeepStacks Montreal, taking ninth for $17,012.
More recently, Patur came close to a WPT title playing online. The tour ran the first WPT Online Poker Open in December at partypoker US Network in New Jersey as part of the Main Tour. He finished runner-up for $164,868. That event saw Patur bluff away a huge number of chips heads-up for the title against pocket Kings. He found some nice redemption on Monday.
“That was such a disgusting moment for me,” he says. “This time, I made sure I wasn’t going to do that. I wanted to be energized and make sure to stay focused at all times.”
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.