Reaching back-to-back final tables in any event is a phenomenal accomplishment. Is it the player’s comfort with the familiar surroundings, a streak of above-average play or simply a run of good luck that brings a player to this level? The answer is probably a combination of all three factors. But that was the theme as play concluded at the WPT Season X event in South Florida at the Seminole Hard Rock Showdown in Hollywood.
With the television lights and cameras in place, the six-man final table started with Joe Serock holding a huge chip lead with 36 percent of the chips.
Reaching his second straight TV final table after a third-place finish six weeks earlier at the Bay 101 event in San Jose, Serock was in control for the first several hours of the final day.
However, it was Tommy Vedes, the 40-year-old from the Queens borough of New York, hoisting the WPT Champions Cup and eyeing the nearly $790K pile of cash on the felt. Coming off a final table in the Hard Rock’s inaugural WPT event last year, where he was eliminated in sixth, Vedes looked to dance a bit longer this year, and saw the numbers falling into place. Before action started, Vedes shared on Twitter that he was in sixth place at a six-man table on Day 6 with almost 600K chips.
“Gotta like the underdog with those numbers across the board,” he tweeted. Still, it was an uphill battle all the way; from his late start (he entered the event at the start of Day 2) to his short stack entering the final table.
“Actually, I was really relaxed once I realized I was OK with another sixth-place finish,” he said after winning the title, “but I knew that I was more dangerous when I’m short-stacked.”
Kyle Bowker, a transplanted New Yorker who moved to Hollywood last year, was the first player eliminated this time, as Vedes’ A-K outflopped Bowker’s pocket 10s. Vedes then knocked out the only remaining South Floridian, Israeli-born Sharon Levin of Pembroke Pines, when Vedes’ set of sixes eliminated Levin when his A-3 failed to improve. In keeping with the back-to-back theme, Levin’s fifth-place finish was his second straight WPT Hard Rock final table, after finishing fourth in February’s Lucky Hearts event.
Craig Bergeron then went all-in with pocket sixes, but he ran into Vedes’ pocket queens. That left Serock still in control with 4.5 million chips, ahead of the 2.4 million of Vedes and 1.9 million of Bonita Springs’ John Dolan, the 2010 November Niner who won the main event of the Beau Rivage Million Dollar Heater in January.
Dolan grabbed the lead from Serock when pocket sixes again would fail to improve. The 24-year-old skateboarder from Albuquerque was knocked out 90 minutes later when Dolan paired his king on the turn to eliminate Serock’s pocket queens. That set up a head-to-head battle for the title between Dolan and Vedes, and while Dolan held a 2-to-1 advantage, Vedes seemed calm and in control of the match. There was little movement in the chip counts over the next 20 hands, when Vedes finally found his spot to set a trap. Holding QD-3D, Vedes flopped a flush but checked, giving Dolan the impression his pair of nines with an ace kicker had him in good shape. After several raises, both players went all-in and Vedes had the no-sweat double-up. Dolan still had the lead, but his confidence appeared shattered.
“After that double-up, I was really confident,” Vedes said, and showed it a few hands later with a dramatic call of Dolan’s all-in in a strange hand that would give Vedes the lead. On a board of 7-5-3, Dolan held 7-4, giving him a pair and a gutshot straight draw. Vedes had the same pair, holding J-7, added a flush draw on the turn, but a blank on the river gave him the lead with his jack kicker. Eight hands later, Dolan flopped two pair, but Vedes filled a Broadway straight on the turn and Dolan failed to improve, giving Vedes the trophy and big cash.
As anticipated, South Florida players fared well, with six Broward residents cashing in the final 27. In addition to Levin and Bowker, Fred Goldberg of Hollywood finished eighth ($69,600) on the heels of his final-table appearance at the Borgata event. Scott Zakheim of Cooper City finished 17th, Michael Lind (Davie) was 22nd and Ricky Leger (Lighthouse Point) was 23rd.
The lower-than-expected attendance of 290 players was down about 33 percent from last year, underscoring the view that stiff competition around the poker world is pulling big-name players in all directions.
“Sure, we’re a little disappointed with the turnout,” tourney director Matt Savage said, “but we know big tournaments in Europe (Berlin and Monte Carlo) are very attractive to many of our regular players.”
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— Big Dave Lemmon is Ante Up’s South Florida Ambassador. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.