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'Playgirls' Grab APT Manila Celebrity Charity Poker Challenge

'Playgirls' Grab APT Manila Celebrity Charity Poker Challenge 0001

The initial event of the 2009 Asian Poker Tour Manila series kicked off Tuesday night at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City, Philippines with a celebrity charity event, the RayBan FHM Celebrity Charity Poker Challenge presented by JBET Poker. The no-limit hold'em event attracted 25 total entrants (including a couple of multi-player entrants), a few more than the expected 20. It was a fun-filled night where the focus for the celebrities was poker, not the paparazzi. Some won, some lost, but the real winners were the many charities for which the players competed.

Festivities got underway sometime after 8:00 pm local time as tourney hostess Riza Santos, the Filipina beauty queen who represented Canada in the 2006 Miss Earth pageant, introduced the winner of the 2008 APT Manila charity event, Lal Gopwani, and last year's runner-up, Jinno Rufino. After Gopwani and Rufino wished luck to the gathered celebrities, Santos introduced the competitors and soon cards were in the air.

As is often the case with charity events, usual tournament rules were somewhat relaxed in order to accommodate the fact that planners had only anticipated 20 entrants. Play therefore began with two ten-handed tables, and as the first players were eliminated those waiting on the sidelines were allowed to take their seats. Even those early casualties came away winners — that is to say, their charities did — as all of those finishing outside the top eight were still rewarded with PHP$5,000 to donate to their chosen charities.

Players finishing fifth through eighth then earned PHP$10,000, fourth place took PHP$15,000, third place PHP$25,000, second place PHP$50,000, and the winner's charity received a much-needed PHP$100,000.

Players began with starting stacks of 10,000 and 100/200 blinds, and on just the second hand of the night, actor John Estrada found himself in the enviable position of holding {9-Diamonds}{4-Diamonds} in his hand and eyeing a flop of {4-Clubs}{6-Hearts}{4-Hearts}. Estrada pushed all in and Cynthia Carrion — who finished fourth in this event last year — called him with {a-Spades}{7-Spades}. No miracle runner-runner came for Carrion, who was left severely short-stacked after that encounter. Meanwhile, with his double-up Estrada became the early chip leader.

Levels rose every fifteen minutes, and by Level 4 we had our first elimination of the night when model and actor Will Devaughn was eliminated. Two more were bounced in a single hand soon thereafter when four players — Geoff Rodriguez, Cynthia Carrion, Erik Mana, and Vince "The Prince" Hizon — all moved in preflop. On that hand, Mana held {k-Spades}{k-Hearts} and Hizon {a-Clubs}{j-Diamonds}, while Rodriguez with {q-Hearts}{10-Hearts} and Carrion with {k-Diamonds}{3-Diamonds} needed some serious help.

The flop came {a-Diamonds}{8-Hearts}{8-Diamonds}, giving Hizon the lead with a pair of aces and the short-stacked Carrion a flush draw. The turn was the {4-Diamonds}, giving Carrion her flush. The {3-Spades} on the river gave Carrion the small main pot, Hizon the large side pot, and sent both Mana and Rodriguez to the rail.

Soon the field was pared down to 20, with nearly everyone sitting around the two tables sporting sunglasses provided by event sponsor RayBan. While the celebrity players may not have demonstrated above average poker skills, the average attractiveness of this collection of television personalities, film stars, and models was certainly higher than one normally encounters at your typical poker tournament. All the more reason to check out the photo gallery from Tuesday night's event.

Within another hour of play the final eight had been reached, with the Playgirls team enjoying the chip lead with 65,000, followed closely by fashion columnist Tessa Prieto Valdez, whose bright blue outfit, large earrings, and stylish tilted hat couldn't quite obscure her stack of 55,000. However, soon after the final table began the Playgirls managed to knock out Valdez to take an commanding lead with seven players remaining.

Soon thereafter, a short-stacked Vince Hizon had to play {4-Diamonds}{3-Spades} against the Playgirls' {a-Diamonds}{8-Spades}, and when the board ran out {j-Clubs}{4-Clubs}{8-Diamonds}{k-Spades}{10-Spades} the girls had knocked out another competitor. John Estrada — who had been forced to leave the tournament after building up a stack early — was next to go, finally blinding off to finish in sixth.

Model and actress Maggie Wilson then moved all in for 11,000 with pocket queens and was called by both television and film star Troy Montero and the Playgirls. When the Playgirls bet out on a {7-Clubs}{8-Hearts}{6-Clubs} flop, Montero stepped aside. The Playgirls then turned over {5-Spades}{9-Clubs} for the flopped straight! No help came for Wilson, who was out in fifth place.

The Playgirls quickly claimed two more victims, knocking out 2004 Miss Earth winner Priscilla Meirelles in fourth and television host and singer Aubrey Miles in third. Heads-up play between Montero and the Playgirls began with the women holding a significant chip advantage, and before long the Playgirls had 210,000 chips to Montero's 40,000.

Finally, a little over three hours after play had begun, came the tourney's final hand. The Playgirls limped from the small blind/button and Montero checked his option. Both checked the {k-Hearts}{a-Hearts}{k-Spades} flop. The turn brought the {7-Diamonds}, Montero pushed all in, and the Playgirls called. Montero showed {q-Spades}{3-Diamonds} while the Playgirls held {7-Spades}{8-Clubs} for kings and sevens. The river brought another seven, and Montero was runner-up, collecting PHP$50,000 his charity.

The Playgirls meanwhile took the PHP$100,000 prize for their charity, the Ciara Marie Foundation, an organization founded in memory of Ciara Marie Abalos who died from an illness caused by E. coli bacteria. The foundation was founded in 2005 and actively promotes education and health programs in poor communities in the Philippines.

Fun was had by all, and attention now turns to the more serious poker destined to be played at the Dusit Thani Hotel this week. On Wednesday several satellites are scheduled, as is the first preliminary event of the series. But most are looking forward to the Main Event which begins Thursday at noon local time. Be sure to come back to PokerNews on Thursday for the first of four days of wall-to-wall coverage of the 2009 APT Manila Main Event.

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