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The World Poker Tour heads to the West Coast to start the closing portion of Season XVI. The first tournament on the list is the prestigious L.A. Poker Classic hosted inside the Commerce Casino. One of the few $10,000 buy-in events on the WPT schedule, the schedule mainstay features a $1 million guaranteed first place prize for 2018. LAPC opens on Saturday, February 24 and, as is tradition, is a freezeout event. The final table takes place on Thursday, March 1 and airs via live stream on PokerGO. Can Anyone Overtake Art Papazyan for Player of the Year? Season XVI storylines entering the event are not hard to find. At the top of the list is current Player of the Year leader Art Papazyan. The Los Angeles local opened his WPT season by winning the Legends of Poker event at the Bicycle Casino, a few miles from Commerce, by beating Phil Hellmuth heads up. Papazyan built on that run by winning WPT Maryland a few weeks later and carries 2,400 points with him into LAPC. The lead for Papazyan shrinks with every event he doesn’t cash and Eric Afriat is the first player to levy a serious challenge against Papazyan. Afriat followed up his WPT Montreal final table by winning the WPT Winter Poker Open at the Borgata two weeks ago. The 1,700 points sitting next to Afriat’s name leave him needing one more final table to come close to or pass Papazyan. It remains to be seen how seriously the real estate professional is about playing a full schedule in order to win WPT Player of the Year. Coming off of his controversial win in Fallsview, Mike Leah is a favorite to be in attendance and brings 1,050 points with him to California. Tradition of Prestige The recent trend at LAPC is for players who are under the radar by the national viewing audience standard to earn their formal breakout. Anthony Zinno’s win in Season XIII launched him into stardom as he went on to win that season’s Player of the Year honors. German Dietrich Fast earned his original seven-figure score in Season XIV by defeating a final table of former WPT POY Mike Shariati, Farid Jattin, Sam Soverel, and Anthony Spinella. Finally, California’s own Daniel Strelitz took down the first major title of his career last season. All three players earned over $1 million by overcoming respective fields of 538, 515, and 521. A similar attendance figure is expected in 2018. Season XVI Hits the Homestretch Immediately following LAPC, the World Poker Tour travels to Northern California for WPT Rolling Thunder. Only two North American Main Tour events remain on the schedule once the WPT leaves the West Coast. Papazyan’s lead is safe for now but that could change by the end of the month. The best players move to Los Angeles in one week to take their shot at $1 million and joining the likes of Gus Hansen and Michael Mizrachi as L.A. Poker Classic Champions.
Last August, Art Papazyan entered and won the first World Poker Tour event he ever played when he beat Phil Hellmuth heads-up to win the Legends of Poker event. That scenario repeated itself Thursday night as Dennis Blieden, playing in his first WPT event, beat Toby Lewis heads-up to win the L.A. Poker Classic and walk away with $1,000,000. When the final table began, Manuel Martinez was at the bottom of the chip counts looking up. That situation didn't last long - but not in the way that Martinez had hoped. From UTG, Martinez raised to 60,000 and Blieden defended the big blind. After the [poker card="8h"][poker card="8s"][poker card="2h"] flop, Blieden check-raised Martinez's 50,000 bet to 175,000 and Martinez called. The turn was the [poker card="6c"] and Blieden lead out this time for 230,000 before Martinez moved all in for 675,000. Blieden called and tabled [poker card="8c"][poker card="6d"] for a turned full house while Martinez was left looking for two outs with [poker card="qc"][poker card="qd"]. The river was the [poker card="6s"] to eliminate Martinez in sixth place. Blieden continued to build his stack and picked up another elimination just eight hands later. Blieden raised to 65,000 from the cutoff before Peter Hengsakul moved all in from the big blind for 560,000 total. Blieden called and showed [poker card="ah"][poker card="7h"] which had him ahead of Hengsakul's [poker card="9h"][poker card="8h"]. The board ran out [poker card="as"][poker card="6h"][poker card="4d"][poker card="6d"][t2] to miss Hengsakul and send him out in fifth place. The first two eliminations came quickly, but the third took some time. 43 hands after Hengsakul was eliminated, Marc Macdonnell clashed with Toby Lewis and saw his run end early. Macdonnell moved all in for 1,105,000 from the button and Lewis called from the big blind. Macdonnell showed [poker card="ac"][poker card="7h"] while Lewis showed [poker card="9d"][poker card="9h"]. The [poker card="qc"][poker card="9s"][poker card="7d"] flop gave Lewis middle set and as the [poker card="5d"] turn and [poker card="8d"] river were dealt, all Macdonnell could do was watch as he was eliminated in fourth place. Blieden continued his push towards the title just 20 hands later when he sent yet another player to the rail. Lewis folded the button before Derek Wolters moved all in for his last 355,000 and Blieden called from the big blind. Wolters was behind but drawing live after tabling [poker card="qc"][poker card="7c"] and seeing Blieden show [poker card="ks"][poker card="2d"]. The [poker card="kh"][poker card="8s"][poker card="4s"] flop moved Blieden even further ahead and the [poker card="2s"] turn [poker card="as"] river actually gave Blieden an unneeded flush as Wolters busted in third place. When heads-up play started, Blieden had Lewis out-chipped by a nearly 4-1 margin. It took only two hands for Blieden to end the tournament. Lewis raised to 120,000, Blieden made it 300,000 and Lewis clicked back to 750,000. Blieden called and then checked the [poker card="6d"][poker card="6s"][poker card="3s"] flop. Lewis bet 400,000 and Blieden called. The turn was the [poker card="qh"] and Blieden checked again. This time, Lewis moved all in for 2,200,000 and Blieden called after asking for a count. Blieden showed [poker card="as"][poker card="qd"] and Lewis could only watch in disbelief after tabling [poker card="tc"][poker card="ts"]. The river was the [poker card="6h"] to eliminate Lewis and give Blieden his first major live win and $1,000,000 and entry into the WPT Tournament of Champions this May in Las Vegas. Final Table Payouts Dennis Blieden - $1,000,000 Toby Lewis - $600,630 Derek Wolters - $430,210 Marc Macdonnell - $319,310 Peter Hengsakul - $244,430 Manuel Martinez - $186,325