Twenty-four-year-old Valdemar Kwaysser beat out 397 competitors, including an extremely tough final table, to claim the LAPT-San Jose title on Saturday night.
Along the way, Kwaysser played a ferocious game, attacking at every opportunity and never hesitating to put his opponents to decisions for the entirety of their (dwindling) stacks.
Oh, and he got a little lucky, too. Make that very lucky.
But before he was lucky, Kwaysser was just third in chips, coming into the final table behind American online pros Steven Silverman and Ashton Griffin after a remarkable Day 2 that saw him take advantage of the bubble to build a massive stack and then basically go to sleep for the remainder of the day, letting Silverman and Griffin do the hard work in eliminating most of the field.
Joining the above among the final nine were a number of top young online players (at 24, Kwaysser was second-oldest at the final table), including Alec "traheho" Torelli and Joe "Ender555" Ebanks, while the popular vote rested with 28-year-old Costa Rican Steven Thompson, whose every move on Day 2 was greeted with thunderous applause and the approval of the dean of poker in Costa Rica, Mr. Humberto Brenes himself.
Unfortunately, Thompson wouldn't last long at the final table, coming in with the short stack and busting out in the first hand of play. Thompson got all-in from the small blind with no action before him and saw Steven Silverman make the call with A-9.
Thompson had A-Q, but the board came cruel, running T-8-7-Q-J to make Silverman a straight and send the People's Champ home in ninth place. Thompson earned $14,477 for his time.
Action quieted down again for an entire level, but the 21st level of the tournament more than made up for its predecessor's lack of action. First it was Ebanks going broke in a bizarre hand that saw Max Steinberg move all-in for his last $390,000 over the top of Ashton Griffin's $32,000 opening raise.
Ebanks tanked (or is that Etanked?) for a substantial amount of time before calling off his own $380,000 stack on the strength of a suited big slick, only to see Steinberg turn up a pocket pair of aces for complete and utter domination. Despite picking up a flush draw on the turn, Ebanks couldn't engineer the suck-out and hit the road in eighth with $19,303 and a cloudy conscience to boot.
Almost immediately after Ebanks' departure, Griffin himself was eliminated. The former high school wrestler lost a big pot early in the day with A-Q against Pawel Sanojca's aces and Alexander Soderlund's kings and could never recover, finally biting the dust after calling all-in from the big blind against Kwaysser's small blind all-in.
Griffin got it in good with A-8 against Kwaysser's 8-4, but the board ran 9-7-3-4-J and the young Floridian was history, out in seventh place for a $29,955 score. Meanwhile, it was only the start of a gruesome string of suck-outs for Kwaysser.
Pawel Sanojca would complete the Level 21 trifecta, getting all-in pre-flop against Kwaysser with A♦ 5♦ to the Hungarian's pocket treys. The board came K♠ 7♦ 7♥ 2♥ T♥ and the young Polish pro was gone, eliminated in sixth place and earning $38,606 for his troubles.
Level 22 would be the last for Alec Torelli, the 21-year-old high-stakes cash-game specialist from the O.C. who thought so highly of his chances in this event that he brought along a personal assistant to deal with the expected influx of endorsements.
Torelli missed his chance for the big score after getting into a raising war with Max Steinberg pre-flop, an altercation that culminated with Torelli shipping his last $711,000 into the middle on the strength of a pocket pair of treys and seeing Steinberg insta-call with aces.
"Oops," Torelli muttered as he awaited his demise, and after the board ran K-J-9-Q-7 the Californian was dunzo, bustified in fifth place and earning $57,909 in a losing cause.
Alexander Soderlund played a quiet game on Saturday, avoiding many big pots and coasting along while the rest of the table went to war. Eventually, however, his dwindling stack forced him into action and the Swede made a desperation shove with Q-2, only to be looked up by Kwaysser with A-K. The board gave Kwaysser two pair and Soderlund nothing, and he hit the road in fourth place, taking $77,212 back across the Atlantic with him.
Then Kwaysser decided to get nasty, destroying Steven Silverman in a pair of nauseating hands that left even the Hungarian feeling a tad guilty. In the first, Kwaysser was somehow compelled into a pre-flop raising war with Silverman, eventually committing the entirety of his stack with T♠ 5♠ against Silverman's pocket kings.
The flop came A♠ 9♦ 8♦ and Silverman looked primed to take a dominating chip lead into heads-up play with Steinberg, but then the board finished 2♠ 7♠, giving Kwaysser the flush and a new lease on life.
A few hands later, Silverman got his last $535,000 (still a workable amount at $12k/$24k blinds) into the middle after another raising war and Kwaysser made the call on the strength of his pocket deuces (2♣ 2♠).
Silverman had pocket fives (5♣ 5♦) and again was in great shape, but after the flop came Q♠ 8♣ 4♠, the turn was the J♠ and the river the K♠, again giving Kwaysser the runner-runner flush and this time bouncing Silverman from the tournament. The Maryland native would have to settle for bronze, earning $106,167 in a disheartening loss.
Kwaysser brought a 3-1 chip lead into heads-up play with Max Steinberg and dominated the proceedings, chipping away at his 19-year-old rival's stack after twice flopping top pair with weak aces and finding Steinberg willing to bet into him on every street.
It seemed only a matter of time before all of the chips were in Kwaysser's corner and after only about seven hours of final-table play, young Valdemar clinched the victory. In the climactic hand, Kwaysser limped in with a pocket pair of aces and Steinberg checked his option with J♠ 9♦.
The flop came 9♥ 8♠ 8♣ and that's when the fireworks started, with the two adversaries initially aiming for death by a thousand cuts with a series of post-flop raises and min-raises before Steinberg was finally compelled to put his tournament life on the line.
Kwaysser insta-called with his aces and after the board finished out 6♠ 4♥ the tournament was won. For the victory, the Hungarian (who in the post-game wrap seemed sheepish, if not ashamed, of his performance) earns $274,103, as well as a giant vase, a smaller vase, a gigantic novelty check and a PokerStars sponsorship at the LAPT finale in Punta del Este in August.
For his second-place finish, Steinberg (who started playing poker last year with a $50 account on PokerStars shared with his twin brother) takes home $144,773.
Congratulations to all who cashed and a big thank you to PokerStars for hosting such a tremendous event. See you in Uruguay!