After nearly a year of hiatus, the World Poker Tour has returned to the live felt, and it returned in force with 1,573 entries in its Lucky Hearts Poker Open $3,500 Main Event at Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida.
An unlikely champion emerged in satellite winner Ilyas Muradi. A player with minimal live cashes on record, Muradi managed to navigate to three-handed play, where he battled Ronnie Bardah and Robel Andemichael.
There, the remaining players came to a deal, one that saw each player secure a minimum of $545,500, with Muradi taking $580,000 as the chip leader. They then played for the remaining $40,000, which includes a WPT Tournament of Champions seat valued at $15K, which also went to Muradi.
“This is amazing, it’s making me want to cry,” he said afterward.
Final Table Results
*reflects final table deal
The swell of entries allow the event to rocket past its $1 million guarantee to a laughable degree as more than $5 million went into the prize pool. Some of the players who cashed among the 197 paid places were Sam Panzica, Kevin Eyster, Joe McKeehen, recent WSOP runner-up Joseph Hebert, Aaron Mermelstein and Justin Liberto.
One major storyline picking up steam late was Darren Elias’ chase for an unprecedented fifth WPT title — he’s already the record holder with four. However, he lost a monster flip to fellow WPT champ Andy Hwang when jacks didn’t hold against ace-queen to bust in 10th, according to the venue’s live updates.
Muradi was able to surpass Hwang just before the final table, though, when he got pocket kings in versus the queens of Albert Barney Jr. Barney Jr. flopped a queen but a king on the river saved the day for Muradi and gave him the chip lead at the final table.
Bardah Has Early Success
A deep-stacked, lengthy final table was in store for Tuesday’s play down to a champion.
Muradi hit a rut early on when he semi-bluffed all in with a combo draw on the turn drawing dead against Andemichael’s full house.
In the mean time, while plenty of big pots were played, nobody went bust for awhile until Hwang, who had sunk to the short stack, couldn’t improve with ace-king against pocket sevens of Francis Margaglione.
Then, former “Survivor” contestant Bardah woke up with queens following an open by Jesse Lonis and a shove of 22 blinds by Philip Shing. He called and faded Shing’s to bust him in sixth.
Muradi’s Big Hold
Bardah and Muradi then played a three-bet pot that would prove a key turning point. At 125,000/250,000, Bardah opened for 550,000 first to act and Muradi made it 1.3 million on his left. Bardah peeled and flopped. Bardah checked, Muradi bet 1,550,000 and Bardah shoved for about 7.6 million more. Muradi quickly called.
If Bardah could topple the aces, he’d have more than half of the chips and be in command three-handed. Unfortunately for him, it ran , to flip their positions and give Muradi north of 20 million.
Former leader Margaglione then slid down to the short stack and busted to Bardah raise-calling for about 11 blinds with and failing to best .
Deal Made, Trophy Won
Play continued for a bit until break, when a deal was reached that saw each player lock up half a million. With plenty still on the line, though, nobody was ready to just gamble all in and call it a tournament.
Andemichael went from shortest stack to chip leader, while Bardah slipped down to 13 big blinds when he three-bet shoved and ran into the of Andemichael. He couldn’t overcome the dominating hand, leaving Andemichael heads up with Muradi and stacks close to even.
Andemichael widened his lead at first, but Muradi brought it back and retook the lead when he got a river bet paid after turning aces up and rivering a full house.
The battle stretched well past midnight until Muradi finally won a flip for all the chips with pocket fours holding against .
Lead photo courtesy of Seminole Hard Rock Poker