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  1. In recent days, thousands of eyes were trained squarely on the felts at the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas for the conclusion of the WPT500. Days 2 and 3 of this gigantic event were held on Sunday and Monday, respectively, and when all was said and done, Craig imgrinding Varnell (pictured) took home the trophy and $330,000. The WPT500 is an interesting tournament with a unique schedule. Not designed to specifically compete with the World Series of Poker, it still appears to have been created as a way for the WPT to capitalize on the thousands of poker players in Las Vegas for the WSOP. Held right before the Main Event, it gives players the opportunity to compete in a large-field tournament for a much lower buy-in, just $500. Tournament organizers guaranteed a $2 million prize pool. There were ten starting days for the WPT500. The first six, Days 1A through 1F, were held May 31 to June 8, while the last four took place July 2 to July 5. In between, Aria hosted a string of smaller buy-in tourneys. There was a bit of controversy surrounding the WPT500 last year, although it really emanated from just one person: 2012 WSOP Main Event champ Greg Merson(pictured). The weekend the 2014 WSOP Main Event began, Merson went on a Twitter rant about the WPT500 being disrespectful to the WSOP, calling it a "money grab." Merson felt that it was wrong that the WPT500 was being held right before the WSOP Main Event. However, most everybody understood that a $500 buy-in tournament was not going to compete with the $10,000 Main Event and that, although the two events overlapped slightly, players could easily do both if they made sure they understood the schedule. That might have been good press for the WPT, though, as the field skyrocketed from last year's 3,599 to this year's 5,113, making the 2015 WPT500 the largest event in WPT history. The prize pool was $2,556,500, clearing the guarantee by more than half-a-million dollars. The WPT also made sure it pushed this year's WPT500 a little bit earlier so that there was not as much overlap with the start of the WSOP Main Event. Certainly, anyone who made it to Day 2 would not have been able to play in Day 1A of the Main Event and those who reached Day 3 would not have been able to play in Day 1B of the Main Event, but that did not affect that many people in the grand scheme of things and that still left Day 1C for those who wanted it. Varnell was absolutely thrilled with the win, telling the WPT after the match, "This feels surreal. You have no idea how happy I am. I love poker; I love the game. I'm blessed to be here." The $330,000 first prize more than doubles his lifetime live tournament winnings, taking him up over $600,000 for his career (figures courtesy TheHendonMob). His previous best score came just last week when he finished third in the $1,000 WSOP online event for $73,079. Varnell is also a member of PocketFives, registered under the screen name imgrinding. In online tournaments tracked by us, he has won $332,586, with a top cash of $90,734 from winning a $216 No Limit Hold'em Deep Stack event on Full Tilt in January 2007. If our records are any indication, it appears that that Black Friday put the kibosh on his internet play, as his last online cash was in March 2011. Want the latest poker headlines and interviews? Follow PocketFives on Twitterand Like PocketFives on Facebook.
  2. The World Poker Tour and Aria Casino team together for a third annual WPT500 – an event that’s quickly found favor with players looking for a break from the grind of 2016 WSOP. The $565 buy-in event, complete with a $1 million guarantee, kicks off Monday with the first of nine starting flights. The innovative structure was tweaked a bit this year – the top 11% of each field makes the money and only the top 5% bag up chips and advance to Day 2. Players are allowed multiple entries but players can only move their best stack forward. Players from 8-11% cash for $950, 5%-8% earn $1,200 and the min-cash for all Day 2 survivors is $1,500. The first year featured a $1 million guarantee that it crushed by more than 50% with 3,599 entrants. Organizers bumped the guarantee up to $2 million in 2015 and crushed it again with a $2.55 million prize pool. Players start with a 15,000 stack with late registration open until Level 9 on the traditional Day 1s. There are two Last Chance Turbo events on July 4 where players have until Level 7 to enter. The format was changed in 2015 to allow for a final table on Day 3 – the first year had a Day 2 that didn’t finish until 8 AM. Craig Varnell took down the 2015 event as part of a five-way deal with Lucio Antunes, Alexander Lakhov, Nick Binger and Chad Roudebush. Varnell’s win kicked off a yearlong hot streak where he’s had seven cashes of $15,000 or more. He cashed in the 2015 WSOP Main Event, won an IPT Malta Six Max event for $85,259 and final tabled a $2,000 No Limit Hold’em event in 2016 for $58,569. The inaugural event's final table had Scott Clements and Christian Harder but it was two relatively unknown players, Sean Yu and Kareem Marshall, who battled until sunrise before Yu took down the event. Amazingly, both players qualified from the Last Chance Turbo and spent 24 hours straight in the tournament where they won $260,000 and $180,000 respectively. Yu’s career took a big upswing after his win; a few months later he won the WSOP Circuit Rincon Main Event for $101,881 and the LA Poker Open at the Commerce for $124,590. He also finished runner-up in a LAPC Doublestack Turbo event for $52,020. The event offers a lower buy-in during a stretch of the WSOP schedule that includes two $5,000 events, two $10,000 events and the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. The Aria offers a special poker room rate during the event for $99 + $32 resort fee per night. WPT500 Schedule Day 1A – Monday, June 27 Day 1B – Tuesday, June 28 Day 1C – Wednesday, June 29 Day 1D – Thursday, June 30 Day 1E – Friday, July 1 Day 1F – Saturday, July 2 Day 1G – Sunday, July 3 Day 1H/1I – Monday, July 4 Day 2 – Tuesday, July 5 Day 3 – Wednesday, July 6
  3. [caption width="640"] James Mackey won his first World Poker Tour title in Choctaw, Oklahoma (Photo courtesy Joe Giron/WPT)[/caption] Just over nine years ago James Mackey joined the rare group of 21-year-old players to win a WSOP bracelet. On Tuesday night in Choctaw, Oklahoma, he joined another exclusive group when he won the World Poker Tour Choctaw event, earning $666,758 in the process. Mackey began the final table third in chips but thanks to an early double-up, found himself in the driver’s seat for most of the night. Matthew Smith came into the final table with the shortest stack and barely made through the first hour of play before busting. Benjamin Zamani opened to 350,000, Jack Duong called from the cutoff before Smith moved all in for 1,725,000. Zamani folded but Duong called and tabled [poker card="kc"][poker card="ks"] while Smith showed [poker card="9c"][poker card="9s"]. The [poker card="7c"][poker card="5d"][poker card="4d"] flop offered Smith no relief and after the [poker card="3h"] turn and [poker card="8d"] river he was out in sixth place. Duong’s run didn’t last much longer after a big clash with Mackey. Action folded to Duong in the small blind and he raised to 400,000 and Mackey defended his big blind. After the [poker card="kc"][poker card="5d"][poker card="4d"] flop Duong bet 425,000 and Mackey raised to 900,000. Duong moved all in for 3,555,000 total and Mackey called all in. Duong tabled [poker card="ad"][poker card="jd"] for the nut flush draw and Mackey showed [poker card="ks"][poker card="jc"] for top pair. The [poker card="6s"] turn and [poker card="4h"] river both missed Duong and he was left with just 275,000 while Mackey doubled-up. Duong was eliminated on the next hand by Craig Varnell. Varnell claimed another victim just an hour later when he opened to 450,000 from the button and then called Bastian Fischer’s small blind shove for 3,500,000. Varnell showed [poker card="qh"][poker card="qs"] which put him ahead of Fischer, who showed [poker card="ad"][poker card="8c"]. The board ran out [poker card="kc"][poker card="6d"][poker card="2d"][poker card="8s"][poker card="tc"] to eliminate Fischer in fourth and send Varnell back into the chip lead. His spot at the top of the chip counts didn’t even last a full level though and Varnell found himself on the outside looking in when heads-up play began. Varnell’s fate was sealed in an all in preflop confrontation with Mackey. After a raised to 600,000 from Mackey, Varnell made it 1,825,000. Mackey announced he was all in and Varnell called all in for just under 9,000,000. Mackey showed [poker card="9d"][poker card="9s"] and Varnell was behind with [poker card="ac"][poker card="7s"] The [poker card="kc"][poker card="8s"][poker card="6s"] flop didn’t help Varnell and neither did the [poker card="jh"] turn or [poker card="2s"] river and the former WPT500 champ was out in third place. That hand propelled Mackey into a better than 3-1 chip lead over Zamani when heads-up play began. It took 37 hands of play over less than an hour for Mackey to emerge victorious. On the final hand of the night Zamani limped fore 300,000 before Mackey raised to 1,000,000. Zamani responded by putting his entire stack of 7,400,000 at risk and Mackey called. Zamani tabled [poker card="5c"][poker card="5h"] but found himself behind the [poker card="8d"][poker card="8h"] of Mackey. The [poker card="8s"][poker card="7s"][poker card="6s"] flop gave Zamani more outs for a win, but neither the [poker card="js"] turn or [poker card="6h"] river were of any help for Zamani and he was out in second place. The win pushed Mackey’s lifetime earnings to $3,575,959 and the $666,758 first place payout is the second largest of his career behind only the $730,740 he earned for winning his WSOP bracelet. The closest he had come to winning a WPT prior to this was a third place finish at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown in April 2014. He’s also won $3,874,095 online and won a PocketFives Triple Crown in 2006. Final Table Payouts James Mackey - $666,758 Benjamin Zamani - $412,234 Craig Varnell - $306,346 Bastian Fischer - $230,300 Jack Duong - $175,122 Matthew Smith - $134,720
  4. Sunday was another extremely busy day at the 2018 World Series of Poker with three more players walking away with a shiny, new WSOP bracelet. Those winners included a player grabbing his second career bracelet, a WPT500 champion and a European Poker Tour winner. But while those events were playing down to a winner, some of the best poker players in the world were putting up $10,000 to play one of their favorite events, the No Limit Deuce to Seven Championship. Adam Friedman Chooses His Way To WSOP Bracelet #2 Adam Friedman has a special place in WSOP history thanks to his emotional reaction to being eliminated from the 2005 WSOP Main Event. Yes, Friedman is the "crying guy" - but he's worked hard to change public perception of him and on Sunday took another step in that direction by winning his second career bracelet. Friedman beat out a final table that included Marco Johnson, David 'ODB' Baker, Chris Klodnicki, Andrey Makarov and Stuart Rutter to win the $10,000 Dealers Choice Championship event. Winning this event, against a tough final table, holds special value for Friedman. “In terms of the $10K’s, this one is right up there,” said Friedman. “You need to know how to play 20 games. How many people are at least competent in at least 20 games? Not many. I think this takes as much skill as any other event.” The event allows players to pick from 20 different game variants throughout the tournament. Friedman believes that other players make mistakes when picking their games and haven't put enough thought into the deeper strategic impact involved. “To be honest, I don’t want to give too much away because I think a good amount of people don’t pick the games right and it’s as much of a key as anything else,” said Friedman. “I will say this. You need to pick games not strictly based on, not your ability, and not even necessarily your opponents’ ability and what they are good or bad at. You need to think about chip sizes and certain ICM considerations.” Friedman's first bracelet came in the 2012 $5,000 Seven Card Stud 8 or better event. Final Table Payouts Adam Friedman - $293,275 Stuart Rutter - $181,258 Alexey Makarov - $127,487 Chris Klodnicki - $90,713 David "ODB" Baker - $65,308 Marco Johnson - $47,579 Craig Varnell Grabs First Bracelet in $565 Pot Limit Omaha Craig Varnell has had a few close calls in his WSOP career. A third-place finish from 2015 and a seventh-place finish in 2018. He finished the $565 Pot Limit Omaha event on Sunday night on top, outlasting a field of 2,419 players to win $181,790. “It felt good to finally close one out,” Varnell said. "I almost didn't play this event. But when I did, and I got a stack, I had a big advantage over the other players. Before Sunday, Varnell was probably best known for winning the WPT500 in 2015. Seth Zimmerman finished second for $112,347. 2010 WSOP Main Event champion Jonathan Duhamel finished sixth for $33,477. Other big names to finish in the money included Ryan Laplante (20th - $5,830), Vivian Saliba (54th - $3,495), Ludovic Geilich (58th - $3,304), Dutch Boyd (79th - $2,397) and James Obst (99th - $2,019). Final Table Payouts Craig Varnell - $181,790 Seth Zimmerman - $112,347 Omar Mehmood - $81,852 Maxime Heroux - $60,190 Christopher Trang - $44,677 Jonathan Duhamel - $33,477 Shaome Yang - $25,325 Jason C Lipiner - $19,344 Bulgaria's Ognyan Dimov Wins Third Bracelet for Homeland When the final table of the $1,500 Six Max NLHE event started, four of the six players were previous WSOP bracelet winners. That didn't seem to matter to the only two players without one though. Ognyan Dimov and Antonio Barbato outlasted all four bracelet winners to get heads-up before Dimov finished Barbato off to win his first bracelet. “You don't expect to not have better players at the final table. You expect to have bracelet winners,” said Dimov. The Bulgarian is no slouch though. He won the EPT Deauville Main Event in 2015 and now has $1.44 million in live tournament earnings. Barbato ended up with $233,992 to console himself for his runner-up finish. Nick Schulman finished third for $163,785 and his second cash of the 2018 WSOP. Ryan D'Angelo and Joey Weissman finished fourth and fifth respectively while Yue Du, who won the $5,000 No Limit Hold'em event in 2016, finished sixth. Final Table Payouts Ognyan Dimov - $378,743 Antonio Barbato - $233,992 Nick Schulman - $163,785 Ryan D'Angelo - $116,118 Joey Weissman - $83,396 Yue Du - $60,686 Shawn Buchanan Takes Chip Lead to Final Table of $5,000 Big Blind Antes Event Shawn Buchanan has become a mainstay on the "Best Players Without a WSOP Bracelet" list. He's finished second three times and has made seven final tables. Thanks to a strong Day 3 in the $5,000 Big Blind Antes Event, Buchanan has a chance at getting off that list. Buchanan finished Day 3 with 2,580,000 chips, good enough for the chip lead over a final table that includes David Peters, Eric Blair and Jake Schindler. Buchanan started Day 3 sitting fifth in chips with 24 players remaining. Included in the 18 players that busted on Sunday were Kristen Bicknell, Stephen Chidwick, Michael Gagliano, Jan Christoph Von Halle, Seth Davies and Chris Bolek, who actually started the day on top. Action resumes at Noon PT. Final Table Chip Counts Shawn Buchanan - 2,580,000 Jeremy Wien - 2,455,000 David Peters - 1,925,000 Eric Blair - 1,825,000 David Laka - 1,655,000 John Amato - 1,005,000 Jake Schindler - 880,000 Richard Tuhrim - 625,000 Millionaire Maker Day 1B Lands All Players in the Money Italy's Andrea Buonocore finished Day 1B of the $1,500 Millionaire Maker with 209,900, good enough for the biggest overall stack heading into Day 2 on Monday. Buonocore was one of 4,315 entries on Day 1B, pushing the total field size to 7,361 - exactly 400 entries less than the 2017 field. Former #1 PocketFiver Sorel Mizzi bagged a top 10 stack on Day 1B, finishing with 158,300. He will be one of 1,105 players returning to action on Monday. Those players - roughly half of them - will get some good news when they unbag Monday afternoon. Thanks to double elimination at the end of Day 1B, all remaining players are now in the money. The structure of the event, which sees Day 1A and 1B each play down to 15% of the field rather than a set number of levels, left some players extremely frustrated. Some of the more well-known players who will be in action on Monday include Jared Jaffee, James Dempsey, Anthony Spinella, JC Tran, Blair Hinkle, Tuan Le, Faraz Jaka, Qui Nguyen, Taylor Paur and Anton Wigg. Top 10 Day 1B Chip Counts Andrea Buonocore - 209,900 Thanh Nguyen - 199,500 Artan Dedusha - 191,600 Jared Jaffee - 171,900 Thomas Taylor - 169,600 Ryan Rivers - 169,000 David Eldridge - 165,000 Anthony Spinella - 162,500 Viktor Lavi - 159,200 Sorel Mizzi - 158,300 Negreanu, Bach, Zinno Amongst Final 16 of $1,500 Eight-Game Mix Nicholas Seiken has just $72,692 in career tournament earnings but finished Day 2 of the $1,500 Eight-Game Mix event with the chip lead. If he hopes to outlast the remaining 15 players to win his first career bracelet, he'd be best served to not look up the lifetime earnings of some of his opponents. David Bach, John Racener, Anthony Zinno, Daniel Negreanu, Robert Williamson III and Mike Matusow have a combined 16 career bracelets and all still have a shot at adding to their total. Seiken bagged up 360,000 as one of the 16 survivors from the 184 players that started Day 2. Philip Long is right behind him with 357,000. Day 3 sees the final 16 players play down to a winner when action resumes at 2 pm PT. Nicholas Seiken - 360,000 Philip Long - 357,000 Jean Montury - 345,000 Nicholas Derke - 338,000 Per Hildebrand - 278,500 David Bach - 263,000 Robert Williamson III - 250,500 Devin Looney - 234,500 John Racener - 226,500 Anthony Zinno - 198,000 Galen Hall Leads Star-Studded $10,000 No Limit Deuce Field Just 85 players ponied up the $10,000 to play the $10,000 No Limit Deuce to Seven Championship event in one of the toughest fields of the year. Topping Day 1 was Galen Hall with Benny Glaser and Timothy McDermott right behind him. Just 38 players made it through Day 1 including Stephen Chidwick, Dario Sammartino, Scott Seiver, John Hennigan, Paul Volpe, Mike Gorodinsky, Nick Schulman, Billy Baxter, Erik Seidel and defending champion John Monnette. Action resumes Monday at 2 pm PT. Galen Hall - 389,800 Benny Glaser - 352,000 Timothy McDermott - 304,800 Stephen Chidwick - 222,800 Dario Sammartino - 212,500 Ray Dehkharghani - 203,900 Daniel Zack - 165,600 Scott Seiver - 142,600 John Hennigan - 135,100 Mike Wattel - 132,500
  5. The World Poker Tour Gardens Main Event came to a conclusion on Thursday when Simon Lam turned in a fantastic final table performance to secure his first WPT title. Lam defeated the 584 player field, taking home the $565,000 first place prize, a brand new Mercedes and claiming a spot in the WPT Champions Club. The event, the first held at the Gardens Casino in Los Angeles, generated a prize pool of over $2.9 million. The final table was flush with talent including high roller phenom Jake Schindler, controversy magnet Men “The Master” Nguyen, poker pro Jared Griener, Los Angeles local Saya Ono, recent World Series of Poker bracelet winner Craig Varnell as well as Lam himself. Lam held a comfortable lead at the start of the Day 5. He started the final table with over 100 big blinds but with so many experienced players vying for the trophy, it was still anybody’s tournament to win. It took nearly four hours for the first player of the final table to fall. Decked out in his New England Patriots attire, Griener, the California based pro, shipped his stack of just over 10bb in while under the gun. Varnell, having him slightly covered reshoved holding [poker card="ac"][poker card="kh"]. Griener was a slight favorite showing down [poker card="jh"][poker card="jd"]. The red jacks, however, did not hold as Varnell spiked an ace on the flop and one on the river for good measure. Griener finished his tournament in sixth place for $115,885. Roughly 40 minutes later, after having slipped down to under 10 big blinds, Ono made her last stand. Folder to Ono on the button she shipped her short stack holding [poker card="qh"][poker card="jh"]. Nguyen peered down at [poker card="ac"][poker card="jc"] and isolated Ono by reshipping. The turn completed a club flush for “The Master” sending Ono to the rail. Her fifth-place finish for $151,995 is a career-high score for Californian, nearly quintupling her previous highest cash. After losing a large pot to Nguyen (which resulted in Nguyen shouting “All you can eat, baby!”), Varnell dropped into the 10bb range. In a blind versus blind confrontation with Schindler, Varnell moved all in with the [poker card="as"][poker card="js"]. Schindler made the call with his [poker card="qs"][poker card="tc"]. Schindler out flopped Varnell on the [poker card="td"][poker card="6s"][poker card="6c"] flop. Needing some help for his tournament life, Varnell watched as two bricks completed the board. It has been an incredible couple of months for Varnell who earned his first bracelet in Event #19: $565 Pot Limit Omaha during the WSOP and now earns another $201,615 for his fourth place finished at WPT Gardens. With the elimination of Varnell, the stacks evened out between Lam, Schindler, and Nguyen. Play continued three-handed for another hour and a half before the next elimination took place. Simon Lam picked up [poker card="ad"][poker card="ks"] and raised the button. Nguyen then, looking down at the [poker card="td"][poker card="7d"] shipped his roughly 30bb stack. Lam took his time but eventually made the call. Men “The Master’s” tournament life was at stake on a 62/38 flip. Lam took an even bigger lead on the [poker card="kh"][poker card="js"][poker card="8h"] flop. However, Nguyen still had a gutshot straight draw, The [poker card="5c"] turned and when the [poker card="6c"] completed the board, the Nguyen show came to an end. Men Nguyen finished his run in third place for $270,430. Heads-up play began between Lam and Schindler with Schindler a 4.5-1 chip underdog. It only took 10 hands of heads-up play for Lam to find his winning moment. In a bit of a cooler hand, Lam raised and Schindler made the call. Lam held [poker card="jc"][poker card="9s"] barely out-pipping Schindlers [poker card="jd"][poker card="8d"]. When the flop came [poker card="js"][poker card="7c"][poker card="2c"] the writing was on the wall. Neither could get away from top pair. The action unfolded as Schindler checked, Lam bet, Schindler check-raised and Lam applied maximum pressure by moving all in. Schindler, with roughly 10 big blinds remaining quickly made the call. The board ran low and clean for Lam, allowing his nine kicker to play. Schindler ended the evening in second place for $366,740. The score pushes his to over $20 million in lifetime earnings. Lam takes home $565,055 for first, a career-high cash. He also secured a $15,000 entry into the 2019 WPT Tournament of Champions and a brand new Mercedes to take him there. The World Poker Tour's next stop begins on August 3 in Oklahoma for WPT Choctaw.
  6. On Monday morning, 31 players woke up with the chance to make the final table of the World Poker Tour Choctaw event knowing full well they'd have to wait 11 more days before playing down to a winner. Over the course of six hours of play, 25 players were sent to the rail with the final six needing to get themselves to Las Vegas by the end of the month. Will Berry made his way through those 25 eliminations and now holds the chip lead heading into the final table on May 31 in Sin City. Berry was responsible for five of the 25 players sent packing on Monday. He made quick work of the unofficial final table, eliminating Joe Elpayaa in eighth place with [as][ks] against Elpayaa's [qd][qh] and then was on the good side of a cooler when sent Denny Tran out in seventh with [ad][as] against [kc][kh]. Those two pots mean Berry returns to a stack of 7,575,000 (189 big blinds) when action resumes at the HyperX Esports Arena at the Luxor. The most decorated player at the final table, Craig Varnell spent a good amount of time on Monday as the chip leader. He eliminated six players on his way to bagging up 6,230,000 (156 bb). Varnell finished fourth at the WPT Gardens Poker Festival last July weeks after winning his first World Series of Poker bracelet earlier that month. He also won the WPT500 event in Las Vegas in 2015. Nick Pupillo sits in third place with 3,135,000 (78 bb). Pupillo has two Heartland Poker Tour titles and two WSOP Circuit rings to his name. His previous best WPT finish came last September when he finished 13th in the Borgata Poker Open. He has six WPT Main Tour cashes for a little over $108,000 in winnings. Trung Pham and Austin Lewis make up the fourth and fifth spots with nearly identical stacks. Pham, who has three WSOP Circuit rings, has 2,600,000 while Lewis has 2,560,000. The short stack is Stacey Jones with 980,000 (25 bb). Jones has by far the least amount of previous tournament success of the remaining six players. He's won just $42,476 through 13 cashes and has no recorded live wins according to Hendon Mob. The sixth place payout of $76,980 - which all players received at the conclusion of Monday's action - nearly triples Jones' lifetime earnings. Arthur Morris began the day as the chip leader but was eliminated in 21st place by Austin Lewis. The $3,700 buy-in event drew 577 entries to create a total prize pool of $1,958,915 with the eventual champion earning $379,990, which includes entry into the Baccarat Crystal WPT Tournament of Champions. WPT Choctaw is one of three final tables being filmed at the HyperX Esports Arena at the Luxor in Las Vegas to close out Season XVIII. The Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown final table will play down to a winner the night before. The average stack at the start of the six-handed final table will be 3,850,000 and play will start with blinds of 20,000/40,000 (40,000 ante). Final Table Chip Counts Will Berry - 7,575,000 Craig Varnell - 6,230,000 Nick Pupillo - 3,135,000 Trung Pham - 2,600,000 Austin Lewis - 2,560,000 Stacey Jones - 980,000
  7. The World Poker Tour is back in Las Vegas to close out Season XVII, and the grand finale includes the final table of WPT Choctaw. Headed up by chip leader Will Berry, just six players remain from the 577 entries. What’s Up for Grabs? The winner of the Season XVII WPT Choctaw will receive $379,990, a seat into the season-ending Baccarat WPT Tournament of Champions, and a luxurious Hublot Big Bang watch. Each player in the final six has locked up at least $76,890 1st Place: $379,990 2nd Place: $243,330 3rd Place: $179,430 4th Place: $133,770 5th Place: $100,850 6th Place: $76,890 Click here to read about how the WPT Choctaw final table was reached. Of note, this is the second WPT Choctaw event of Season XVII. Back in August 2018, Brady Holiman topped a field of 755 entries to win $469,185. Also at that final table were WPT Champions Club members Tony Ruberto and Anthony Zinno. How To Watch the WPT Choctaw Final Table The final table for the Season XVII WPT Choctaw is May 31. If you’re in the area, you’re able to head over to the HyperX Esports Arena at the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas to view the conclusion of the event in person, but of course not everyone is within reach of Sin City. For those looking to tune in as it’s happening, the final table can be viewed on PokerGO. If you don’t have a subscription to PokerGO, sign up today using the promo code “POCKET5S” for $10 off the PokerGO annual plan. You can also follow along with written coverage on WPT.com. The event is also being filmed for broadcast as part of the WPT’s televised schedule of events that you’ll be able to catch later on FOX Sports Regional Networks. [caption id="attachment_624461" align="aligncenter" width="1354"] Nick Pupillo (photo: WPT)[/caption] Seat 1: Nick Pupillo - 3,135,000 Making his first WPT Main Tour final table, Nick Pupillo has quickly made a name for himself on the poker scene. His first live tournament cash was recorded in 2013 and he’s had a fair amount of success since. In 2015, Pupillo won his first of two Heartland Poker Tour titles for $120,537, with the second coming in 2019 for $194,478. In 2017, he won a WSOP Circuit title for $170,286. He nearly won a Hollywood Poker Open title in 2015 but had to settle for second place, and his largest live tournament score was in 2017 for $217,535 from a second-place finish in a preliminary event at the Season XVI WPT Borgata Poker Open. All told, Pupillo currently has more than $2.5 million in live tournament earnings. A second-place finish or better in this event would give Pupillo the largest live tournament score of his career. [caption id="attachment_624464" align="aligncenter" width="1354"] Will Bery (photo: WPT)[/caption] Seat 2: Will Berry - 7,575,000 The chip leader for the WPT Choctaw final table is Will Berry. Berry ran deep in the first WPT Choctaw tournament this season on the World Poker Tour, but ultimately finished in 38th for $11,995. This time, he’s found his way to the final table and could very well be on his way to the largest live tournament score of his career and first WPT title. Berry’s career-best live tournament score was a WSOP Circuit win in 2017 for $180,806. Berry also has a final table in the WSOP Circuit Choctaw Main Event back in 2016 to his credit. There, he took fourth for $136,812. On the WPT Main Tour, Berry now has three cashes. He had yet to make a final table, but Berry did take 15th in the Season XVII WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic in December for a score of $85,542. [caption id="attachment_624462" align="aligncenter" width="1354"] Stacey Jones (photo: WPT)[/caption] Seat 3: Stacey Jones - 980,000 With a big cowboy hat and an even bigger smile, Stacey Jones worked his way to the WPT Choctaw final table. He’ll be the short stack when play resumes on Friday, but what his stack may lack he’ll be making up for in entertainment value. Jones is one who always looks to be having fun at the poker table, which is a nice carryover from his business life where he’s a nightclub owner. Although he only has $119,366 in lie tournament earnings when you include the $76,890 he’s already earned in this event, Jones isn’t one you should sleep on. He’s been playing poker for decades, so there’s plenty of experience within his arsenal. [caption id="attachment_624460" align="aligncenter" width="1354"] Craig Varnell (photo: WPT)[/caption] Seat 4: Craig Varnell - 6,230,000 Second in chips, Craig Varnell has been in this position before. In Season XV, Varnell reached the WPT Choctaw final table and finished third for a little more than $300,000. He’s back again and looking to end with an even better result that includes his first-ever WPT Main Tour title. Earlier this season, Varnell finished fourth in the WPT Gardens Poker Festival Main Event for north of $200,000. In 2015, Varnell won the huge WPT500 Las Vegas event for $330,000. In that tournament, he topped a field of 5,113 entries to take home the title. He won another large-field tournament in 2018 when he topped 2,419 entries in the $565 Pot-Limit Omaha event at the World Series of Poker. All told, Varnell has nearly $2 million in live tournament earnings. [caption id="attachment_624459" align="aligncenter" width="1354"] Austin Lewis (photo: WPT)[/caption] Seat 5: Austin Lewis - 2,560,000 Austin Lewis’ first WPT Main Tour cash has turned out to be quite the impressive run, as it’s this one and turned into a final table appearance worth at least $76,890. Coming out of Texas, Lewis has had plenty of success on the Oklahoma tournament scene. Earlier in 2019, he took fifth in the WSOP Circuit Choctaw Main Event for $84,375. Another bit of poker success in Choctaw for Lewis came when he won the 2014 CardPlayer Poker Tour Choctaw Championship Event for $183,025. [caption id="attachment_624463" align="aligncenter" width="1354"] Trung Pham (photo: WPT)[/caption] Seat 6: Trung Pham - 2,600,000 Rounding out the WPT Choctaw final table is Trung Pham. He’s another player from Texas making his first WPT final table. It’s the second WPT Main Tour cash for Pham. Pham’s best live tournament score came in 2018 when he won a $360 preliminary event at the Season XVII WPT Seminole Rock N Roll Poker Open. For that win, Pham scored $123,364. He also has three WSOP Circuit gold rings and a fourth-place finish in a WSOP Circuit main event in Choctaw. Pham’s only other WPT Main Tour cash came during the Season XVI WPT Borgata Poker Open, when he took 33rd from a field of 1,132 entries to win $14,132.
  8. On his 36th birthday, Craig Varnell stormed back from 3.5 big blinds to score his first World Poker Tour title. The victory came in the 577-entry Season XVII WPT Choctaw Main Event and was worth a career-best $379,990. "It feels great," Varnell said about getting the victory on his birthday. "When I found out [the final table] was on my birthday, I said 'well that's good.' The day didn't start out too well, and I was down to three or four big blinds. Then, I didn't know what happened. I won a couple of all ins and all of a sudden I was back in it. It's crazy. I had a big support group here, people watching from everywhere, it's pretty crazy. Best birthday present you can ask for." On Hand #42 of the final table, Varnell flopped top and bottom pair on the [poker card="Kh"][poker card="Tc"][poker card="6h"] board in a hand against Nick Pupillo. After Varnell checked with the [poker card="Kc"][poker card="6d"] in his hand, Pupillo bet 180,000. Varnell check-raised to 530,000, and Pupillo made the call to see the [poker card="3d"] hit the turn. Varnell moved all in for 2.405 million, and Pupillo quickly called with the better [poker card="Ts"][poker card="Th"]. The river was the [poker card="Qs"] to give Pupillo the double up and knock Varnell all the way down to 210,000. At the time, that was only 3.5 big blinds. Varnell doubled up through Trung Pham on the next deal of the cards, then doubled again a few hands later. The second double came through Stacey Jones. Immediately after that, Varnell doubled again through Pham and all of a sudden he was back up to 3.12 million in chips. Varnell took that momentum and rode it to victory, ultimately defeating Will Berry in heads-up play. Final Table Payouts Craig Varnell - $379,990 Will Berry - $243,330 Nick Pupillo - $179,430 Trung Pham - $133,770 Stacey Jones - $100,850 Austin Lewis - $76,890 This wasn't the first time Varnell had made a WPT final table, and it wasn't the first time he made the WPT Choctaw final table. In Season XV, Varnell took third in WPT Choctaw for $306,346. Earlier this season, Season XVII, Varnell took fourth in the WPT Gardens Poker Festival for $201,615. Although he did win a WPT500 title back in 2015, Varnell was still looking for that redemption after coming ever so close in WPT Main Tour events before. [caption id="attachment_624493" align="aligncenter" width="1354"] Craig Varnell all smiles after his first WPT title victory (photo: WPT)[/caption] "It feels really good," Varnell said of being able to close this WPT Main Tour final table out with a win. "I made a really bad call when I was three handed, and I was pretty upset with myself for a while, but after I got short and then doubled up I think I played really well." Varnell had a roller coaster ride at the final table, but he said everyone experienced the same thing, with the chip lead changing multiple times and different players being at the bottom at various times, as well. Varnell also made sure to point out that everyone else at the table player very well. Austin Lewis was eliminated first when his [poker card="Jd"][poker card="Jc"] couldn't hold up against the [poker card="Ac"][poker card="Kd"] for Jones. Jones fell next when he ran pocket kings into the pocket aces of Pham. After that, it was Pham out in fourth and then Pupillo out i third to set up a Varnell-versus-Berry heads-up bout. Varnell entered heads-up play with almost a 2-1 chip lead. Berry quickly pulled back into the lead, but then Varnell stretched a lead back out. On the final hand, the two got all the money in with Varnell holding the [poker card="Ad"][poker card="Td"] to Berry's [poker card="8s"][poker card="8c"]. Varnell flopped a ten and held from there to eliminate Berry in second place. "I try to follow my instincts, which a lot of players don't do anymore," Varnell said of the style and speed of his play. "It's all math and game theory. That's a part of the game a lot of people don't have. They're always on their phone on Twitter, they're always doing something. I look at people and I try to pick up on things and pay attention a lot, and that's why I have success. I don't study, I don't do all of this stuff. These kids have no lives. They're either on the computer or playing poker all the time. I don't want to live my life like that. I love playing poker, but I'm not going to just play all the time. I've got family, friends, a girlfriend. I can't just be studying all the time." Varnell can now add his WPT title to his trophy case that already includes a World Series of Poker gold bracelet, in addition to the aforementioned WPT500 crown. Varnell's WSOP bracelet came just last summer when he won the $565 Pot-Limit Omaha event for $181,790. "Never would I have thought I'd have a WPT title and a bracelet," Varnell said. "It's crazy to just think about all of that. Now I get to play with all of the best tomorrow [in the Baccarat Crystal WPT Tournament of Champions] with all of the added money. I like being challenged." [caption id="attachment_624494" align="alignnone" width="1354"] Craig Varnell embraced by his girlfriend after the win (photo: WPT)[/caption] Next up for Varnell will be the season-ending Baccarat Crystal WPT Tournament of Champions on Saturday, June 1, when he'll face off against only fellow WPT Champions Club members in the rake-free $15,000 buy-in event.
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