The first weekend of action at the 2006 World Series of Poker had something for everyone to take in at the Amazon Room. Event #5, the $2,500 Short Handed (Six player) tournament was moving into its second day with a wealth of star power at the tables (including Daniel Negreanu, Gavin Smith, Dutch Boyd and defending World Champion Joseph Hachem) and the first $2,000 No-Limit Hold 'Em event was starting its first day of play. There was a final table going on that proved to be well worth the time seeing in the final nine of the $1,500 Limit Hold 'Em event as well.
It is interesting to note that this is the first final table at the 2006 World Series that had a woman make the final table. The nine players that were there, while not household names, were well worthy of being there; they had to battle through a field of 1,068 players to reach this point and someone at the table would take home the gold and diamond World Series bracelet and a very nice payday of $335,289. The final table players came to the felt promptly at 2PM and lined up like this:
Seat 1: Tournament poker veteran Vipul Kothari, 132K
Seat 2: Short stacked Matthew Elsby, 51K
Seat 3: 2005 UltimateBet runner-up Josh Schlein, 243K
Seat 4: Michele Lewis, the 1st female final table player this year, at 225K
Seat 5: Valley Stream, NY's Eric Buchman, 213K
Seat 6: Kianoush Abolfathi, 75K
Seat 7: Lars Hansen, 156K
Seat 8: Hank Sparks, tied for second at 243K
Seat 9: Chip Leader Patrick Maloney, 259K
With the action starting with twenty four minutes left with the blinds at 3K/6K and the betting levels at 6K/12K, a couple of players distinguished themselves as being in charge of the table in the early going. Kianoush Abolfathi was particularly active as, from being the second shortest stack at the table, he went on the offensive to accumulate a nice stack of chips and avoid an early elimination. Twenty one year old Josh Schlein, who finished second to professional poker player Freddy Deeb in Aruba last year, has been making quite a bit of noise on the poker scene since he became legal and has done well on the tournament circuit. He too was particularly active in the early going and was able to rise into the chip lead in the early going.
Our first elimination came just prior to the end of the round when our short stacked player, Matthew Elsby, found a hand to stake himself with and entered into battle with Abolfathi. Abolfathi raised from early position and was reraised by Elsby. Abolfathi was not going to back down against Elsby's short stack, though, and put in a third bet which would put Matthew all in. He called and flipped up pocket Aces against Kianoush's K-Q. The flop opened a few doors for the Iranian born player when he flopped a King. Matthew grimaced when it hit the flop and was further disappointed when Kian caught a second King on the river to eliminate him in ninth place.
The players came back to battle with the blinds at 4K/8K and 8K/16K action and immediately the chips began to fly. Vipul Kothari battled back with a key double up and Schlein continued to add to his chip lead. Michele Lewis and Eric Buchman also were keeping pace in the tournament, but there were a couple of players who had an unfortunate time with the final table and were the next two to leave the event.
Lars Hansen never seemed to be able to catch a break at the final table and was scraping by with small double ups that kept him hanging by his fingernails. After taking a devastating blow to his stack, he found himself with the chips on the line and only a J-5 in his hand. He was thoroughly at the mercy of the cards and Buchman, who held an A-J when the two men went to war. When the board blanked out, the Scandinavian was eliminated from the final table in eighth place, worth $36,446.
Another player who had some tough breaks was our chip leader, Patrick Maloney. While he started with the chip lead, he never continued his charge after he came to the final table. Through talking with his girlfriend Laura, I found that he is a recent student of the game who is looking to make his mark in the poker world. "His best game is Limit and Omaha and he really is working on his No-Limit game," Laura stated to me while we watched Patrick play on Saturday night. The chip leader was cold decked at the final table though and was eliminated by Michele Lewis' set of tens to leave for the night in seventh place.
There really seemed to be action aplenty at this final table. Normally a Limit tournament can be a long, drawn out affair with players rarely mixing it up. These players came to battle for the bracelet, however, and many pots were raised multiple times on each street. While it made for excellent action for the fans surrounding the final table, it made it incredibly precarious for those players who lacked the chips to continue to fire their guns.
Schlein and Buchman continued to be the class of the field as the blinds went up to 5K/10K with the betting levels at 10K/20K. In a highly interesting hand, Hank Sparks and Michele Lewis capped the betting preflop and hooked into a battle that would leave to the elimination of one of the combatants. With the board reading Ks-4s-2s, the two continued to raise and reraise each other, capping once again and leaving Sparks with one 5,000 chip remaining. It went in on the turn card, the Ace of diamonds, and Sparks showed pocket nines with a spade. Lewis had control of the hand from the start, however; her pocket tens with a spade left Hank drawing to two outs and, when the river was dry, Hank Sparks was dismissed from the proceedings at the final table in sixth place.
As play continued five handed, Abolfathi, Schlein and Buchman continued to increase their stacks and distance themselves from Vipul Kothari and Lewis. Kothari, after some early success, slowed down considerably as the players were eliminated and, after taking out Sparks, Lewis admitted to me later she "made some mistakes" which led to her chips heading to the leaders' stacks. They both were eliminated before we reached the dinner break, with Abolfathi doing the deed to Kothari in fifth place and Lewis taking home the fourth place check of $72,891 after falling to Schlein.
After the dinner break, there was a delay as the three remaining players milled just outside the tournament ropes. Rumor has it that there were discussions of a cash breakdown between the triumvirate but that there would be some cash set aside and the bracelet to be played for. Once action resumed at the tables with the blinds at 10K/15K and the betting levels at 15K/30K, the already rapid pace accelerated once again. Schlein was repeatedly yo-yoing with his chip stack and Buchman was attempting to gain an advantage, but it was Abolfathi who repeatedly cut into his opponents' chips. He gained the lead as three handed play continued during the round.
Schlein, in particular, seemed to be getting the worst of the action at the table and was the next player to leave the tournament. While he has great skills (as he proved against Deeb in Aruba), he was unable to get the cards to work for him on this evening. His final hand against both Abolfathi and Buchman was odd as well in its selection and thought. With the board showing Q-9-2-K rainbow, Kian bet into the pot and Schlein called for his last chips (with Buchman bowing out). Schlein turned up the very interesting hand of K-5 and was drawing dead to Kian's set of deuces. It was the end for the young Internet player as he was gone from the tournament in third place.
Heads up action started off with the chip stacks shaping up as this:
With nearly a three to one lead on Buchman, it was Abolfathi's tournament to lose. He continued to apply the pressure to Buchman and, while Buchman was able to double up on two occasions to stay alive in the event, the continuous assault of Abolfathi was eventually too much to overcome. The final hand came with Kian getting Eric's chips in the center and Kian having the slight edge, 10-6 versus a 9-8. When a ten flopped and no straight appeared to save Buchman, Kianoush Abolfathi was the latest World Series of Poker champion.
1. Kianoush Abolfathi, $335,289
2. Eric Buchman, $174,938
3. Josh Schlein, $101,318
4. Michele Lewis, $72,891
5. Vipul Kothari, $58,313
6. Hank Sparks, $51,024
7. Patrick Maloney, $43,735
8. Lars Hansen, $36,446
9. Matthew Elsby, $32,801
While Abolfathi celebrated his victory with his friends, the final two tables battled into the Las Vegas night for the right to appear at Sunday's final table, the $2,500 Short Handed No-Limit event. It is shaping up to have a couple of premier names at the final table and should be another outstanding tournament as the World Series of Poker starts the month of July.
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