By Sean Chaffin
Cue Elvis Presley and “Viva Las Vegas” – the final table is set at the L.A. Poker Classic, the first final table to be played out as part of the WPT Championship Cup Finals next week at HyperX Esports Arena in Sin City at Luxor Hotel and Casino. This will be the first of three that also includes the WPT Gardens Poker Championship and WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open – all filmed for broadcast on FOX Sports Regional Networks.
The LAPC final table will be played out on Monday, March 11, and brings back a top-notch field of players. The winner adds his name to the Champions Cup, secures a payday of jst over $1 million, and wins a $15,000 seat in the season-ending Baccarat Crystal Tournament of Champions.
The champion also earns 1,400 points in the Hublot Player of the Year race. Here’s a look at the final players heading to Vegas and hoping for the title.
Seat 1: Jean-Claude Moussa – 1,250,000
Moussa certainly ran well here in Southern California this week as he looked for the second WPT final table of his career. Moussa may be one of the less experienced players at this final table, but will be looking to beat the odds in Las Vegas and has scored a few nice finishes in his poker career. One of those came on the WPT also came here at Commerce in Season VIII (2010), when he finished fifth at the LAPC for $321,840.
The 36-year-old from Brighton, Massachusetts, hopes he can top that finish in his third cash on the tour. Other nice finishes include taking 503rd in the WSOP Main Event in 2009 for $25,207. He cashed in that event again in 2012, taking 489th for $24,808. He may be at a chip disadvantage to some of the big stacks at the table, but will be looking to make his deep run continue in Sin City.
Seat 2: Matas Cimbolas – 4,675,000
That second WPT title was so close for this Lithuanian last May in the WPT Tournament of Champions. He ultimately finished runner-up for $265,590, but the 25-year-old now has the opportunity for a repeat performance and is hoping to improve one spot on that result. Cimbolas, who now lives in London, England, has just shy of $2 million in live tournament winnings but can now add to that significantly.
Cimbolas’s first title came in Season XIII (2014) at the PartyPoker WPT UK event, where he topped a field of 354 to take home $313,328. He has a few more wins on his resumé including a £3,000 event in 2014 at the Sky Poker UK Poker Championships for $92,386, and a $1,100 Turbo win on the EPT for $33,371. In 2017, Cimbolas had a nice runner-up finish at the $3,500 Seminole Rock ‘N’ Roll Poker Open Championship for $262,440. Now engaged to be married, Cimbolas has some extra motivation to get back to Vegas and has the skills to add that second WPT title.
Seat 3: John Smith – 895,000
This Californian has become a bit of a fan favorite. At 72, Smith is known for his deep runs the last few summers in the $10,000 Heads-Up Championship at the WSOP. The event has become Smith’s favorite, and he finished 11th in 2014 for $26,584. He followed that up two years later, finishing runner-up for $198,192 and again in 2017 with another runner-up for $200,538. A player for more than 50 years, Smith began playing in casinos in the mid-2000s as a hobby. He now has career tournament winnings of $1.3 million while only playing a few events each year.
On the WPT, Smith has notched several cashes through the years and has $177,310 in winnings. His best finish came in Season IX (2010) – ninth at the Legends of Poker at the Bicycle Casino for $29,000. Smith owns an asphalt company in Los Angeles and works as a road contractor throughout California. While in the Army during the Vietnam war, a tank he was in hit a landmine and he was injured. Everyone else in the talk was killed and he was awarded the Purple Heart. He brings a passion for the game to the table, and describes himself as a “patriotic American.” Smith enters the final table on the short stack, but now has the opportunity to become the oldest player to win a WPT event, a distinction currently held by poker leger Doyle Brunson who won in Season III (2004) at age 71.
Seat 4: Darren Elias – 9,070,000
What more can be said about the four-time WPT champion? He now has an opportunity to separate himself even more from the field. This marks his 13th WPT final table, 33rd cash, and Elias enters the final table with $6.6 million in live tournament winnings. The 32-year-old began his West Coast trip with by speaking with students at the University of Redlands, and the good vibes have carried over to the poker tables at Commerce Casino.
It was less than a year ago that Elias took down title No. 4 when he bested a field of 163 in the Bobby Baldwin Classic at Aria for $387,580 to close out Season XVI. He followed that up only days later with a third-place finish in the Tournament of Champions for $177,060.
His three other titles include: WPT Fallsview Poker Classic (Season XV, $335,436); WPT Caribbean in St. Maarten (Season XIII, $127,680); and WPT Borgata Poker Open (Season XIII, $843,744). Elias has another recent win under his belt after winning a $25,000 High Roller side event at WPT Gardens for $192,500. Other players at the Vegas table will have no easy task dealing with this native of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He has plenty of experience, plenty of skills, and a mountain of chips.
Seat 5: David “ODB” Baker – 4,760,000
While he may not have a WPT title, this longtime pro brings some serious poker chops to the final table. A regular mixed games player with a WSOP bracelet and numerous other big finishes and titles, Baker was chip leader on Day 3 and 4 and described himself as an “old guy” who hoped he could still battle the younger players and finally win a big No Limit Texas Hold’em tournament. So far, so good – and he’ll now have the chance to do just that.
On the WPT, the 46-year-old has $397,785 in winnings with his best finish coming at the Festa Al Lago at Bellagio in Season V (2006), where he took fifth for $125,240. With even a sixth-place finish at the LAPC, worth $201,650, he’s already topped that score. His $4.4 million in live tournament winnings include some wins and big finishes here at the LAPC. In 2006, he took down a $2,600 Limit Hold’em event for $71,040. In 2014 he added another Remington trophy, winning a $2,140 Dealers Choice for $32,670, and in February added a third when he won the $1,100 Deuce to Seven Triple Draw for $12,250. Can this “old man” make that dream come true and win a WPT title? He’s got the skill and desire – and will be looking to bring home one more trophy.
Seat 6: Steve Yea – 1,205,000
This player from Seoul, South Korea, is making his first WPT cash in a big way. Yea, who now spends much of his time traveling the world playing poker, has been on the tournament scene since 2007 and has $632,818 in live tournament winnings. While he may not have some of the big scores others at this stacked final table may have, Yea has several finishes of note. In 2008 in a $5,300 Asian Poker Tour event in Macau, he finished runner-up for $250,000. In 2009, also on that tour, he scored another runner-up in a $2,700 event in the Philippines for $100,000.
More recently, Yea scored another runner-up finish in a HK$506,000 event on the Asian Poker Tour for $65,240. Will this be a breakthrough performance for Yea at the HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas? It will certainly be a challenge. On a shorter stack and at a final table full of poker veterans, Yea will need some things to go his way. But in the world of poker, anything is possible.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas. His work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.
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