While the stars of the music industry shone in Los Angeles during the Grammy Awards Sunday evening, and different galaxy of stars brightened the night at the L. A. Poker Classic at Commerce Casino.
Four hundred twenty seven contestants also ponied up four hundred and two rebuys to make the guaranteed one million dollar event more that what it was promised. The final total, after all the action: $1,206,195. Of the multitude that started the event, only one of the ten could take the top prize of over $400,000. However, the top five would also find themselves in the World Poker Tour Championship Event, to begin later this week.
The final table was a great mixture of fantastic local talent and some of the best names the professional tours could offer. Leading the way was Amir Vahedi, who went into the final table with the chip lead at 234,000. Here was the layout for the final table Sunday night:
Seat 1: Former WPT Aruba champion Juha Helppi, 136K
Seat 2: Steve Crockett, 47K (Short stack at the table)
Seat 3: Jason Chan, 88K
Seat 4: Jim "The Cincinnati Kid" Lester, 95K
Seat 5: Former WPT Foxwoods champion Paul Darden, 105K
Seat 6: Greg Hopkins, 54K
Seat 7: Michael Sigel, 229K
Seat 8: Peter Tran, 143K
Seat 9: Amir Vahedi, 234K (Chip Leader)
Seat 10: Aram Zerounian, 111K
Action was quick to happen with the blinds at 3K/6K, as on Hand 5 we had our first casualty of the evening. A short-stacked Steve Crockett was pushed all-in by the betting of Aram Zerounian. Crockett held a less than impressive Q-7 against Zerounian's A-8 and, when the board came off rags, Zerounian took down the pot and Crockett claimed his tenth place prize of $14,474.
Greg Hopkins decided the very next hand was the one he wanted to push, and he did so against originally Jason Chan and, after a reraise and Chan's fold, Michael Sigel. Frantic betting ensued into a board of 10-6-3-K-8 and when Sigel turned up a pocket pair of kings, Hopkins was seriously crippled for the rest of the event.
Two players established early command of the table. Amir Vahedi was talkative and good natured, while Paul Darden made moves to get his way up the leader board. There was also a good deal of verbal jousting between many at the table through the run of the event. On Hand 11, the intensity picked up as there was a war of words between Vahedi, Darden and Sigel over the discussion of hands during the play of the hand. The odd thing was that neither Vahedi or Darden were involved in the play. Peter Tran was, and he chose the timing of the debate to lay down his hand as Sigel angrily spiked his nut flush for the table to see.
Hand 15 found a three way pot between Juha Helppi, Paul Darden and a down-to-the felt Greg Hopkins. Hopkins was all-in on the flop and Darden was able to push Helppi off his hand to make it a two way battle. When Paul turned up his pocket eights into Greg's K-Q and the board provided no help, Hopkins left in ninth place.
Hand 17 was the spot for the next victim, as Jim "The Cincinnati Kid" Lester found a J-10 of hearts that he felt were good enough to go home on. He found a willing caller in Amir Vahedi, who also had hearts, only they were K-9. The board had no help for Jim, and he went away from the table in eighth place.
Action, as far as the cards, calmed down for a bit. But there was a constant tension at the table, possibly because of the stakes and possibly because of the actions of some players. Michael Sigel never seemed like he was in a good mood, although he had worked his way into the chip lead at several points. He walked away from the table at several times to commiserate with his friends regarding the actions of his opponents, which didn't lend itself well. Peter Tran, on a couple of occasions, made rookie mistakes, even attempting to touch the deck while the dealer was shuffling. It made for a tense atmosphere throughout the night.
On Hand 30, Aram Zerounian decided it was time to act with a suited 7-6. Juha Helppi came along for the ride, and when Zerounian saw a K-9-5 rainbow flop, pushed the action so he was all-in. Unfortunately, Juha turned up pocket nines, and the set stood up through a 4 on the turn and a rag on the river. Aram walked away from the table in seventh place.
Both Peter Tran and Jason Chan held their own against the big boys. On Hand 36, after a furious round of betting, the two found themselves at the river with a board of Qs-Js-7c-Kc-4s. When Chan turned up a nine high and Tran a A-4, as Tran raked the pot both Sigel and Darden literally fell out of their chairs.
Once again, on Hand 40, the animosity raised its head as Peter Tran was whispering to Amir Vahedi during play. This raised the ire of first Paul Darden and then the Tournament Director, who chided Tran about discussions of hands. On Hand 47, Peter Tran found himself short stacked and on the button. Juha Helppi called him from the big blind with J-8 and, when the flop came down 9-2-J, it spelled the end of the road for Tran.
As we reached the break, five players still remained in contention for the victory. However, there was a great prize for the remaining five. All had just earned their way into the World Poker Tour $10,000 event, which starts Friday. "I'll take the congratulations when this is done," Paul Darden smiled and said to me when I remarked about his prize.
Michael Sigel said it was "poker from outer space". As the players colored up and prepared to come into the next round, with the blinds at 5K/10K, it would also spell the end of the tournament. Jason Chan held the lead, with Amir Vahedi close behind. Juha Helppi was in decent shape, but Paul Darden and Michael Sigel were both on short strings.
On Hand 63, Paul Darden made the final run as he went all-in against Juha Helppi and Jason Chan. When Chan was able to chase off Helppi and the cards were shown, Darden had no chance as his A-3 could not draw out against Chan's pocket nines. Paul went into the California night with fifth place.
There was no talk of any deal as play continued. Michael Sigel fought a great fight to get back into the game, but was never able to mount much of a challenge due to his low stack. His A-5 was no match for Juha Helppi's pocket queens as the board on Hand 68 fell Q-7-2. Sigel was able to go home with a nice fourth place finish.
Talks of a deal started, then fell apart. Play continued, and at Hand 75, Juha Helppi fell victim to Amir Vahedi's nut flush. After a few more hands, the discussions picked up again, with an agreement being reached this time. An equitable split of the remaining pot between both Amir Vahedi, who held the majority of chips, and Jason Chan was reached, with Amir taking the championship amidst the applause of his supporters in the crowd.
On Valentine's Day, no love will be held as the $1000 No-Limit Holdem Tournament wraps up, as we head into the final events of the L. A. Poker Classic. We can count on some of the men we saw tonight making some noise in the Main Event.
Amir Vahedi, $446,292
Jason Chan, 229,177
Juha Helppi, 114,589
Michael Sigel, 72,372
Paul Darden, New Haven, CT 54,279
Peter Tran, 42, 217
Aram Zerounian, 30, 155
Jim Lester, Cincinnati, OH 24, 124
Greg Hopkins, Redondo Beach, CA 19, 299
Steve Crockett, Costa Mesa, CA 14, 474