WPT Tournament of Champions, Final Tables Run in Shadow of WSOP
5 June 2019
PokerBrave (863 articles)
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The World Poker Tour, if you didn’t know it, is running their Tournament of Champions this weekend at the HyperX eSports Arena in Las Vegas. It also has concluded the final three events of their Season XVII schedule – the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown, the WPT Choctaw and the WPT ARIA Summer Championship – on their delayed final table program. Unfortunately, those in charge at the WPT seem to have forgotten that the World Series of Poker’s opening weekend was…well, this weekend…ensuring that there are few eyeballs on the action at the HyperX eSports Arena.

Here’s a quick rundown of what should have been the conclusion of a stellar season for the WPT (and perhaps a suggestion…don’t run your tournaments right up to the doorstep of the WSOP next year…if your events are special, they should get the attention they deserve, not to be shuttled off to a spot where few are going to make the trek to see it).

WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown

The big story of the final table of the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown, which was set back in mid-April, was the drive by Women in Poker Hall of Famer Maria Ho’s to taking a WPT championship. Ho made a nice run at that rare honor (in the history of the WPT, only one woman – Ema Zajmovic – has ever won an “open” event), but in the end would come up just short in third place. Ho fell to eventual champion James Carroll when her A-5 failed to hold against Carroll’s K-Q on an A-J-Q-K-4 board.

Carroll, who came into the final day as the chip leader, faced a nearly 2:1 disadvantage to former WPT champion Eric Afriat at the start of heads up play. He would whittle Afriat’s lead down within the first eight hands and take over the chip lead when Carroll got Afriat to lay down Big Slick on a 10-10-Q-5-7 board. The duo would slug it out over another two dozen hands before the final hand would play out.

After an Afriat raise, Carroll responded with a push that would put Afriat at risk if he called. Afriat was ready for a battle, making the call and tabling a leading pair of sixes against Carroll’s K-8 off suit. The flop basically ended it, coming down K-Q-K to give Carroll trip Kings and a hammerlock on the hand. A trey on the turn hit nobody and, after another Queen peeled off on the river, Carroll had captured his second WPT title.

1. James Carroll, $715,175
2. Eric Afriat, $465,120
3. Maria Ho, $344,960
4. Jerry Wong, $257,815
5. Ami Alibay, $194,610
6. Chad Eveslage, $148,380

WPT Choctaw

The big story of the WPT Choctaw was the comeback of the eventual champion Craig Varnell. After coming into the day with the second largest chip stack, Varnell at one point saw that once-mighty stack chopped down to only three big blinds at this final table. Undaunted, Varnell would go on to win FIVE consecutive all-in situations that allowed him to overcome Will Berry for the championship of this tournament, which was originally played in mid-May before being delayed.

1. Craig Varnell, $379,990
2. Will Berry, $243,330
3. Nick Pupillo, $179,430
4. Trung Pham, $133,770
5. Stacey Jones, $100,850
6. Austin Lewis, $76,890

WPT ARIA Summer Championship

The big story might have been that the WPT ARIA Summer Championship was allowed to play out under its normal linear timeline, with the tournament starting on May 27 and concluding on Friday (May 31). This was the final championship of the Season XVII schedule where players could qualify for the WPT Tournament of Champions and to earn points for the WPT Player of the Year award. The battle for the POY was the first story that was concluded.

Two-time Season XVII WPT champion Erkut Yilmaz had held the POY for much of the year, but two men, Jake Schwartz and three-time WPT champion Anthony Zinno, still had a chance to catch him on Day 3. Schwartz needed to finish fourth or better and Zinno needed to win the tournament to be able to wrest the POY award from Yilmaz. Zinno didn’t make the money on Day 3, but Schwartz would give Yilmaz a bit of a sweat. He wouldn’t be eliminated until the evening of Day 3, at which point Yilmaz was crowned the Hublot WPT Player of the Year and the recipient of a $50,000 prize package.

Oh, yes, there was a tournament played, with the final table also held at the HyperX eSports Arena. Matthew Wantman rocketed out of the gate to dominate the final table action on his way to the title. When we say, “out of the gate,” we mean it; on Hand #4, Wantman used pocket Jacks to knock off Ryan Laplante. On Hand #10, he used pocket Queens to take down Jim Collopy in fifth place. And on Hand #15, Wantman would use pocket Queens against to eliminate former WPT champion Kevin Eyster to build a dominant stack on the way to the title.

Igor Kurganov was able to eliminate the 2018 WPT Player of the Year, Art Papazyan, to reach heads up with Wantman, but he couldn’t take the final step. On the final hand, Kurganov shoved with an A-6 and ran smack into Wantman’s A-J and a significant disadvantage. A Jack on the flop lengthened Wantman’s edge, but a six on the turn brought Kurganov some hope. That hope was dashed on the river four, giving Wantman the championship and the final seat from the Season XVII WPT champions into the WPT Tournament of Champions.

1. Matthew Wantman, $443,475
2. Igor Kurganov, $285,650
3. Art Papazyan, $209,980
4. Kevin Eyster, $156,220
5. Jim Collopy, $117,640
6. Ryan Laplante, $89,685

WPT Baccarat Crystal Tournament of Champions Underway

The WPT Tournament of Champions is in action at press time. All the winners of the Season XVII schedule are in on a freeroll (actually, their $15,000 entry fee was deducted from their championship winnings) and any former WPT champion can buy into the tournament for $15,000. The tournament has several sweeteners to try to get the players out, including $100,000 added to the prize pool and another $50,000 in prizes from WPT sponsors. Each player would also receive a “SWAG bag” that is valued at over $1000 just for taking part in the tournament.

With late registration in the books, the field for the 2019 WPT Baccarat Crystal Tournament of Champions is 76 players. The final ten players in the tournament will be the only ones divvying up the prize pool, with tenth receiving $37,540 and the eventual champion taking down a healthy $440,395 payday. The tournament is set to conclude on Monday night, which will put the finishing touches on the Season XVII schedule for the World Poker Tour.