The World Poker Tour Winter Poker Open Championship at Borgata began with 1,171 entrants, and on Friday the final six returned to battle down to a winner. Just missing out on a final table appearance was defending champ Aaron Mermelstein, who saw his title defense come to an end in 19th for $16,868.
Replacing him as the new WPT WPO champ is Chris Leong, who emerged victorious to capture the $816,236 first-place prize. Leong, who hails from New York, began the final table as the short stack but managed to outlast all the rest to etch his name on the WPT Champions' Cup.
Leong had $378,722 in lifetime earnings prior to the score, with his largest being $66,171 for a third-place finish in the 2015 Phamous Poker Series $100K Maker. Back in April, Leong won the Borgata Spring Poker Open Event #7: $300 No-Limit Hold'em Deep Stack for $52,151. He also has two World Series of Poker Circuit rings to his credit.
Final Table Results
Notable Finishes: Keith Morrow (7th - $131,193), Aaron Overton (11th - $44,793), Kou Vang (15th - $29,987), Kane Kalas (17th - $20,054), Aaron Mermelstein (19th - $16,868), and Mukul Pahuja (24th - $16,868)
According to updates from the event, the first elimination came in Level 31 (60,000/120,000/20,000) when Rafael Yaraliyev raised to 285,000 from the cutoff and Matthew "Bucky" Wantman three-bet to 700,000 from the big blind. Yaraliyev responded by moving all in, and Wantman, who won a WPO event in 2015, called off for 3.4 million.
It was a flip, but not after the flop paired Yaraliyev. Neither the turn nor helped Wantman, and he hit the rail in sixth place for $166,803.
From there, the 2009 WPT World Champ, Yevgeniy Timoshenko, fell in fifth place after getting his short stack all in preflop holding the and failing to get there against the of Leong, and then the reigning WSOP Main Event champ, Joe McKeehen, followed him out the door in fourth place.
It happened in Level 33 (100,000/200,000/25,000) when Yaraliyev opened for 400,000 under the gun and McKeehen three-bet all in for over 3.1 million. Yaraliyev made the call and the cards were turned up.
McKeehen was behind but drawing to two live cards. The flop paired both players, but Yaraliyev stayed ahead with aces. The turn was no help to McKeehen, and neither was the river.
Not long after, Liam He was bounced in third place – the result of a bad beat when his pocket sevens were cracked by the pocket fives of Leong – and that set up a heads-up match between Yaraliyev and Leong with the former holding 21.8 million of the 35 million in play.
The heads-up match turned out to be a back-and-forth affair that last over 100 hands. Then, on Hand #199 of the final table, with the blinds at a hefty 400,000/800,000/100,000, Leong shoved his big stack and Yaraliyev called off for 10.1 million.
Yaraliyev was in prime position to double, but then disaster struck when the flop paired Leong's ace. The turn meant Yaraliyev needed a queen on the river to survive, but it wasn't in the cards as the blanked. Yaraliyev had to settle for runner-up and a $487,288 consolation prize.
*Photos courtesy of WPT Live Updates and Joe Giron Photography.