After holding the lead since the second day of the event, Daniel Strelitz continued his domination of the proceedings at the Commerce Casino in Bell Gardens, CA on his way to winning the World Poker Tour’s L. A. Poker Classic Main Event championship.
Strelitz took the lead after Day Three of the tournament and really didn’t have a threat. Coming into the final table, his 6.485 million chip stack covered everyone on the table. His closest competitor, Simeon Naydenov (2.86 million), couldn’t even muster half the chips that Strelitz held, while Jesse Martin (2.54 million) looked to catch Naydenov first before concentrating on Strelitz. Covering the bottom three slots were Jared Griener (1.895 million), Season XV WPT champion Mike Sexton (1.165 million and looking for his second title of the year) and the short-stacked Richard Tuhrim (680,000) as the cards hit the air on Thursday afternoon.
Tuhrim needed chips badly and had to find a hand early to become relevant in the tournament. On the second rotation around the table, Tuhrim found an A-7 to his liking in the big blind and pushed it to the center of the table after Strelitz had opened the betting from the button. Strelitz’s K-Q was live, but the 7-4-3-9 flop and turn not only kept Tuhrim in the lead but strengthened said lead. A King on the river was a fortunate card for Strelitz, not because by winning the hand he saved some chips but because he eliminated Tuhrim from the tournament in sixth place.
After Tuhrim’s departure, the remaining five men settled into a slog but Strelitz’s stack kept growing. After 45 hands of play, Strelitz held more than 50% of the chips on the table and nothing seemed to slow him down. Griener would knock off Martin in fifth place and, on Hand 78, Strelitz would score the knockout that seemed to seal the deal for him.
A short-stacked Sexton moved in from the button and, quickly glancing at his cards, Strelitz made the call. Sexton held a powerful pair of Kings to start the hand and, while Strelitz only could muster an A-7 off suit for battle, it still statistically had a good chance against the Cowboys (roughly 30% of the time winning). That “good chance” became a great one when the flop came A-J-7, giving Strelitz two pair and leaving Sexton looking for one of the two Kings in the deck. The nine on the turn didn’t help him and another Ace on the river only made Strelitz’s hand stronger in sending Sexton out the door in fourth place.
Down to three players, Strelitz (8.895 million) had more chips than his two competitors, Griener (3.38 million) and Naydenov (3.35 million) combined. That didn’t seem to bother either Griener or Naydenov as, over the next 30 hands, they held their own against the massively stacked Strelitz. In fact, on Hand 103 Naydenov would double up through Strelitz to pull him closer and, four hands later, would knock Strelitz from the top spot for the first time since Tuesday.
The lead change lasted for all of seven hands. After Naydenov kicked the action on Hand 114 to 200K, Strelitz took it to 680K out of the big blind. Naydenov called and the duo eyed each other on the J-7-4 flop and, after a five came on the turn, Strelitz check-called a 550K bet out of Naydenov. Both players checked the ten on the river and Strelitz, first to act, turned up pocket nines. Surprisingly, Naydenov had air as his cards headed to the muck and Strelitz picked up the sizeable pot to retake the chip lead.
As Strelitz and Naydenov ping-ponged the chip lead, all Griener could do was watch. His chip stack would slowly dwindle until, on Hand 143, Griener felt he’d found his spot. After Strelitz raised and Naydenov called, Griener pushed his 1.7 million-plus stack into the center. Although Strelitz wanted nothing to do with Griener as he quickly mucked, Naydenov wanted to take a look in making the call.
It was a race situation, Naydenov’s pocket eights with the edge over Griener’s Big Chick (A-Q), and an Ace in the window bode well for Griener. Unfortunately, when the dealer fanned the flop, there was an eight as well to give Naydenov a set. A Jack on the turn opened the possibility of a straight for Griener, but the Queen that came on the river only made him Queens up against Naydenov’s winning set, sending Griener to the rail in third place.
Down to heads up, Naydenov was doing something few had against Strelitz in the tournament – take the lead from him. Holding a roughly 1.3 million chip lead over Strelitz, Naydenov’s time at the top would only last two hands. On the second hand of heads up play, Naydenov would river a spade flush which, under other circumstances, would have been a great hand. Unfortunately for Naydenov, Strelitz had trapped him well after turning a full house, treys over Queens, that couldn’t be caught. The 4.6 million pot shifted the lead back to Strelitz and he would not let go of it again.
That was not from the lack of Naydenov fighting the good fight. It would take another 38 hands before the penultimate moment would occur and, when it did, it would be in the fashion that Strelitz had played the tournament – dominantly. On a Q-7-6-8 flop and turn, Naydenov checked to see Strelitz fire a sizeable 1.35 million bet into the pot. Reading it for a bluff, Naydenov check-raised Strelitz all in, only to see Strelitz immediately make the call. Naydenov showed a nice K-Q off suit for top pair, but the tournament was over; Strelitz’s 5-4 completed its open ended straight draw on the turn to leave Naydenov drawing dead. Once the formality of the final card was dealt (a four, for the record), Strelitz seized the championship of the WPT L. A. Poker Classic and the largest payday of his career.
1. Daniel Strelitz, $ 1,001,110
2. Simeon Naydenov, $ 672,190
3. Jared Griener, $ 431, 340
4. Mike Sexton, $ 300,690
5. Jesse Martin, $ 230,380
6. Richard Tuhrim, $ 191,490