The sixth day of play at the LAPC began at 5 p.m. (PST) in the Crown Ballroom at the Commerce. Six competitors braved the make-up artist and the lengthy pre-interview process to play for the lion's share of the $7.6 million prize pool, and with no player holding a clear-cut advantage over the rest of the field, the game was truly wide-open.
Pros like Chau Giang and Paul Wasicka joined lesser-knowns like Jacobo Fernandez and David Bach, while rounding out the table were a man who had never played a poker tournament before in his life and another who had played three previous WPT final tables but who, in a tradition of futility not unlike the NFL's Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s, had found himself unable to capitalize on any of his previous trips to the big dance.
As the first five days of the tournament had been characterized by protracted bouts of maneuvering and strategizing, so too were the first hours of the final table, with the amount of flops seen countable on one hand, and with nobody really wanting to risk any substantial chips and find themselves on the short end of the pay scale.
This was alright, however, because the WPT has a built-in method for forcing their participants' hands (sorry) at the final table - a blind-structure faster than Phil Ivey's Mercedes-McLaren SLR and twice as daunting in your rear-view mirror.
These record-breaking blind levels are both the WPT's strength and its worst weakness. On the one hand, they keep play exciting and certainly prevent the final table from dragging on, but they have the effect of making the final day a crapshoot, and after five days spent fighting for every chip, it is more than a little unfair to subject the cream of the crop to an all-in fest in order to determine the ultimate champion.
In any case, the escalating blinds did their job on Day 6, with David Bach the first to fall. He found himself all-in with four callers, and could not make his A♣ 2♣ stick against Eric Hershler's set of deuces, and thus hit the bricks in sixth place for $257,425.
After Bach's elimination, the blinds went up again, such that even taking down the blinds and antes represented an increase of 50% in some of the short stacks. Chau Giang was quickly forced all-in, and despite finding himself ahead with Q♣ 4♣ compared to J.C. Tran's A♣ J♠ on a board of Q♣ 9♣ 4♦ 3♠, was forced out of the spotlights after Tran hit a miracle ace on the river to take down the pot. Giang received $341,710 for his fifth place finish.
Paul Wasicka was the next to go, getting his short stack into the middle with A7o and getting called by Tran again, this time with pocket treys. The flop brought a third trey and two kings, and Kwickfish couldn't catch the running cards he needed to stay alive, heading to the rail in fourth place for a healthy $455,615.
By this point, it looked like a certainty that J.C. Tran would best his inner Thurman Thomas and come out with a victory at his fourth WPT final table. He held a commanding chip lead over his two remaining counterparts, and appeared set to cruise to the title. Then Eric Hershler got his Jimmy Johnson on.
Down to his last $980,000 at one point, Hershler doubled through Tran twice to rebuild his stack and then woke up with aces at the best possible juncture - when Jacobo Fernandez had moved all-in in front of him. Just like that, Fernandez was dunzo and the South African-turned-Californian who was playing in his first-ever live poker tournament was getting primed to play heads-up against one of the best in the business - and with a slight chip lead, no less.
It didn't take long for things to come to a head. On the first hand of heads-up, Hershler flopped two pair with J♦ 6♦ on a board of A♦ J♣ 6♣ and initiated a bidding war that soon saw Tran getting all of his money in the middle with A♣ 7♠. The board finished out 4♦ 9♥ and that was the end of J.C. Tran and the abrupt end of the LAPC as a whole.
Even Mike Sexton was stunned, repeatedly and erroneously claiming that it was the first time in WPT history that the tournament had been decided on the first hand of heads-up (see: Scotty Nguyen v. Michael Mizrachi, 2005 World Poker Open, Tunica). Tran, however, was more stunned, shocked into near silence by the cruel trick that fate and the escalating blinds had played on him, although the man does receive $1,177,010 as a salve for his wounded psyche.
Meanwhile, Eric Hershler takes home $2,429,970, an entry into the WPT Championship, a WPT ring, and that most lusted-after of prizes, the WPT chip set. He also gets the distinction of being the most deliberate and glacially-paced player to ever cross a PokerListings.com live update, although if we were playing heads-up with J.C. Tran we would probably be quadruple-checking our moves as well.
So that's a wrap from the Los Angeles Poker Classic, but stay tuned, celebrity junkies: PokerListings.com begins coverage of the WPT Celebrity Invitational from the very same Crown Ballroom on Saturday. We're at the red carpet starting at 5 p.m. (PST), play begins at 7 p.m., so tune in for all of the glitz and glamour - and don't forget your cummerbund!