Coming to the final table of the $50,000
Poker Players’ Championship at the 2019 World Series of Poker on Friday, there
were plenty of eyes on the “stars” of the show. Josh Arieh, who had been
hovering around the top of the leaderboard since the start of the tournament;
Shaun Deeb, the defending WSOP Player of the Year; even sexagenarian John
Esposito had his fans in the stands. But it was a stunner when Phillip Hui,
barely a year removed from $150 buy-in tournaments, emerged as the champion of arguably
the truest test of poker skill in the game today.
Arieh Continues Domination Early
There wasn’t much of a feeling out process
before Arieh extended his lead over the six players left in the tournament. In
Pot Limit Omaha, Esposito fired from the hijack and found action from Arieh in
the cutoff and Cates in the big blind. A 7♣ Q♣
6♥ flop saw Cates pot the action and, after Esposito dropped his cards in the
muck, Arieh went with a pot raise to 1.3 million. Cates, with only about 3000
more chips than that, moved in and Arieh called.
Cates had flopped a pair of sevens, a gut
shot straight draw and a flush draw with his J♣ 9♣ 7♥ 5♠, but he was drawing
thin against Arieh’s A♣ 10♣ 8♠ 4♦ (two over cards, nut flush draw, double gut
shot straight draw). Although technically Cates had the lead, Arieh was the
statistical leader and the stats proved right when the 2♣ hit the turn to end
all discussion. Once a meaningless seven hit the river, Cates’ chips were in
Arieh’s 7.4 million stack and Cates was out in sixth place.
Arieh continued to torment the table as
his stack ratcheted up. He took chips liberally from the rest of his opponents
at the table until his chip stack was within sight of the 10 million chip mark
(the other five players had 12.6 million amongst themselves). Arieh would crack
that mark in a round of PLO that saw Esposito check-fold a 700K pot to the chip
leader to reach 10.1 million
It wasn’t like the other players sat
around. Esposito took out Deeb in fifth place in Omaha Hi/Lo after he scooped
with a wheel and a six-high straight against Deeb’s turned two pair. But when
Arieh reestablished control by knocking out Bryce Yockey in fourth place in Deuce
to Seven Triple Draw (hitting the lowball equivalent of the wheel – 7-5-4-3-2),
he was looking good for the title with his 12.1 million chips.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the
Holding more chips (12.1 million) than
both Esposito and Hui (6.8 million) and Hui (4.3 million) combined, it seemed
everything was going Arieh’s way. After Arieh knocked out Esposito in third
place in Pot Limit Omaha, Arieh held almost a 3:1 lead over Hui (16.2 million
to six million). But the battle was only beginning between Arieh and Hui.
As soon as heads up play began, it seemed
the tide turned in favor of Hui. He meticulously worked through the games and
gradually picked up chips in each discipline. Hui earned a 1.7 million pot in
Limit Hold’em when he four-flushed Arieh’s inferior flush, then grabbed another
million in Stud Hi/Lo and Deuce to Seven Triple Draw. Even in No Limit Hold’em and
Omaha Hi/Lo Hui came out on the positive end. After about an hour of play, Hui
pulled even with Arieh and it was anyone’s tournament.
The lead would see-saw between the men,
each demonstrating the skills it takes to play mixed game poker at an extremely
high level, before Hui took command. After more than four hours of heads up
play, Arieh was down to fumes as he put all his chips to the center in Deuce to
Seven. Both he and Hui drew two cards on the first draw and, on the second, Hui
only took one while Arieh took two. On the final draw, Hui stood pat and Arieh
again took two cards and the hands were revealed.
Hui would show a nine-five (9-5-4-3-2), but Arieh started in outstanding shape by showing a 6-5-2. He squeezed the first of his final two cards and revealed a magical trey to make his hand 6-5-3-2. Needing a seven or an eight to win the hand, Arieh would dejectedly show an Ace on his final card (in Deuce to Seven, Aces count high) to end the tournament and award Phillip Hui the WSOP bracelet, the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy and the $1,099,311 first place prize.
1. Phillip Hui, $1,099,311
2. Josh Arieh, $679,246
3. John Esposito, $466,407
4. Bryce Yockey, $325,989
5. Shaun Deeb, $232,058
6. Dan Cates, $168,305
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