Ari Engel has emerged victorious from a field of 996 to take down Event #48: $2,500 No-Limit Hold'em and claim his first WSOP bracelet. With nine WSOP Circuit rings to his name and 15 years of WSOP experience, Engel had never bagged a bracelet at the World Series of Poker until today.
“Never give up,” was his advice. “With us huge field no limit players, you play these expecting to win one in a lifetime. It’s a relief to not mess it up, because usually, I mess it up.” The self-deprecating champion acknowledged his able heads up opponent Pablo Joaquin Melogno, saying that when they reached the final table, he thought, “I'm going to try to get heads up with him and then he’s going to win it.”
That turned out not to be the case, as two huge hands in a row at the bitter end turned the tables on his experienced Uruguayan rival to hand Engel the $427,399 top prize and winner’s jewellery. On how it felt to win such an event in a field dotted with prior champions, Engel said, “The competition in this was way tougher [than the Circuit]. It means more from the poker accomplishment perspective.”
Final table results:
|3rd||Wilbern Hoffman||United States||$186,392|
|4th||Ben Keeline||United States||$133,306|
|5th||David "Bakes" Baker||United States||$96,632|
|6th||James Hughes||United States||$71,010|
|7th||Truyen Nguyen||United States||$52,909|
|8th||Ryan Olisar||United States||$39,980|
|9th||Josh Arieh||United States||$30,643|
Day 3 began with 24 players still in the running for the title, but there was a flurry of early eliminations including those of double bracelet winners Mark Radoja and Kristen Bicknell to condense the players, redrawn, onto two tables.
It was at this point that Baitai Li, chip leader since the end of Day 1, began to lose ground, with Engel (who busted Barny Boatman in 18th with kings vs. eights) and Ryan Olisar edging in front of him while every large pot that Li contested being shipped to someone else. Josh Arieh was also building stacks, taking two scalps in a row in level 22, cracking Gal Yifrach’s queens with some quads-spiking pocket sixes to bust him in 17th, and then watching his overpair (jacks vs. tens) hold to send Jose Brito to the rail in 15th place ($15,058). Li himself ran ace-queen into the pocket kings of eventual finalist Truyen Nguyen to bust in 14th place.
Next to be eliminated was Michael Finstein (12th for $23,828) and as the final two tables’ action slowed down approaching the final table bubble, Engel increased his chip lead, busting Pedro Marques with a fortunate spiking a seven against his opponent’s . Just missing out on a place at the final table was Harald Sammer, sent packing in a huge three-way preflop all in in which Engel was involved but not victorious. The winner of that monster pot was Wilbern Hoffman, his aces seemingly cracked when Sammer flopped two pair with only for a counterfeiting river pair to grant him a triple up. Hoffman sailed on to his first WSOP final, having only started playing poker last year.
A third of the final table’s competitors had already claimed a bracelet – in the case of Ben Keeline and David "Bakes" Baker, two apiece. Arieh’s hopes of scoring the double were soon ended, however, when Ben Keeline (who had navigated his short-to-medium stack from the start of Day 3 all the way to the final) picked up kings when Arieh shoved with and busted him in 9th. At this stage it was Melogno who increased his stack most steadily, recovering from the few losses with unflappable equanimity.
After Olisar lost his final flip with Engel to exit in 8th place ($39,980), his eliminator went on to claim four more scalps at the final, starting with Nguyen, again a huge flip pitting jacks against ace-king. Engel’s jacks held; Nguyen picked up $52,909 for 7th. James Hughes, who had hung on with determination to a very short stack since the two-table period, finally got it in with , given a spin by Keeline with . A nine on the board sealed his fate and he exited in 6th ($71,010).
Engel returned to race-winning form, busting Baker in fifth when his pocket sevens held against Baker’s overs as the latter announced his all in as if he was in a TV commentary booth. Bracelet-holder Keeline was eliminated in 4th soon after, collecting $133,306.
Action hardly slowed for a moment after this, with big pots traded between the final three players, none of them desperately short or willing to sit on their chips for long. It was Hoffman who finished in 3rd ($186,392), after a huge pot saw him all in on the turn with a flopped two pair against Melogno’s straight and flush draws. The latter came in for Melogno, giving him a 3:1 chip lead going into heads up play.
Engel won the first three pots in a row after the restart, the last one an enormous full double through which left Melogno playing just seven big blinds. Most of the chips in play went in the middle on a flop, Engel making the final, largest bet with and being called by Melogno with top pair – . Engel turned a flush draw with the turn but it was the card of the tournament for him on the river, the straight-completing .
The very next hand Engel shoved his button with , was called by Melogno with a dominating but today belonged to Engel; he flopped a seven and it was all over. Melogno picked up $264,104 for second place, while Engel gained a bracelet, $427,399, and “confidence", if not for too long.
“I lose my confidence very easily so I should be good tomorrow, for at least one day,” Engel said. His plans for the Series remain the same after his win, which many of his fellow players stated has been on the cards for a while now. “I sucked out so many times in this tournament, it’s ridiculous,” he noted, but luck is part of the game and today it was on the experienced Canadian’s side.