Chris Leong Wins WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open Championship

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Chris Leong won the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open Friday night. (WPT Live Updates/Joe Giron photo)

While some final tables follow a wire-to-wire run by chip leaders, others see short stacks come from the back of the pack to claim the title. That’s exactly what happened in Atlantic City, as Chris Leong outlasted a massive 1,171 player field to claim the World Poker Tour Borgata Winter Poker Open title and a $816,246 score.

The six-handed table battled through a tactical and slow first level of play, the action really kicked off in one of the first hands of Level 31. Chip leader Rafael Yaraliyev opened to 285,000 from the cutoff and after action folded to Wantman, who was in the big blind, he three-bet to 700,000. Yaraliyev pushed his stack forward to put Wantman to a decision for his remaining 3,400,000 and the Massachusetts native snap-called, turning over QhQd.

It was a flip for the short stack’s life, as Yaraliyev held AdKd and that flip went the chip leader’s way on the As8s7c6s8d runout. Wantman hit the rail in sixth place, while Yaraliyev took control of close to 40% of the chips. Yaraliyev then tried to put that chip advantage to use over the next level, as he had 2009 WPT World Champion Yevgeniy Timoshenko on the ropes a few times.

The first encounter saw Timoshenko flip for his tournament life with KcQc to Yaraliyev’s pocket fours but after the 8h7c5h4s6h runout, he had to settle for a chop. A few hands later, Timoshenko finally did double his short stack, as his JhTh flopped a straight against Yaraliyev’s 8d8s on a board of AcKdQs.

Unfortunately for Timoshenko, the high blinds and antes didn’t allow him to get much traction after that double, as he was eliminated in the next level by Leong. That’s where the New Yorker’s run towards this WPT WPO Championship title started, as he dispatched the former World Champion while holding QcQs. Timoshenko re-shoved over Leong’s early position open for just over 10 big blinds and his 4h4s couldn’t improve, confirming his fifth place elimination.

The only other “world champ” at the final table was next to go, as reigning WSOP Main Event champion Joe McKeehen then found himself as the short stack. He got a handful of shoves through but eventually, he was all-in and at risk to Yaraliyev, who still controlled a sizable chip lead at that stage of the tournament. Yaraliyev held AsTs to McKeehen’s KdQh, with the bracelet winner moving all-in for 3,100,000 after Yaraliyev opened in early position.

The AhKcJs9d7s runout completed the elimination and McKeehen bowed out right before the podium spots in 4th place. In the very next hand off the deck, Liam He, another short stack, was all-in and after some thought, Leong called to put him at risk from the small blind.

In his encounter with Timoshenko, Leong needed to hold to score the knockout but this time, he needed to hit, as he held 5h5c to He’s 7h7c. He did just that, as the 9d5s3s flop gave him a set and left He drawing to running cards or the final two sevens in the deck to stay alive. Neither came, as the 2s and Kd completed the board and moved Leong into heads up play with a 3:2 disadvantage.

That disadvantage quickly disappeared, as Leong won a 20,000,000 chip pot in one of the first hands of heads up play, four-betting pre flop and calling two big bets on a board of Ac8d2s4h9c with AhKs. Top pair-top kicker was good to swing that 3:2 ratio in his advantage and from there, it looked like the title was only going to be a few hands away.

That was, until Leong and Yaraliyev exchanged multiple double ups, shifting the chip lead back and forth close to a half dozen times before Leong scored the title winning elimination. With the level set to go up in just a few seconds, Leong moved all-in from the button and Rafael Yaraliyev snap called in the big blind, tabling QhQc.

Leong threw over Ac8s and he was looking for a bit of revenge with his medium ace, as Yaraliyev doubled through Leong in the previous level Ad7h over 9c9d. This time, it was Leong’s turn to spike the ace though and he did, as the Ad6d4sJd5c runout confirmed the elimination and crowned the newest member of the WPT Champions Club.

Final Table Payouts

  1. Chris Leong – $816,246
  2. Rafael Yaraliyev – $487,288
  3. Liam He – $297,288
  4. Joe McKeehen – $249,267
  5. Yevgeniy Timoshenko – $206,160
  6. Matthew Wantman – $166,803

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