We began the day with 18 contestants, including chip leader J.C. Tran, as well as pros like Bill Edler, Jason Strasser, Paul Wasicka, Chau Giang and Kristy Gazes. At first it looked like Tran, who entered the day with a $2 million chip lead over his closest competitor, might run away with the tournament before the WPT crew could bang and crash their way into constructing the TV soundstage for tomorrow. But Day 5 was full of surprises, and as it turned out, Tran's lead wasn't as safe as we'd all assumed.
The story of the early going was the downfall of Jason Strasser, who entered the day as a chip accumulator amongst the upper echelon on the chip leaderboard, but who almost immediately began showing his philanthropic side, doubling up Vincent Procopio and Jay Chang and nearly doubling up Chris Bell as well when he called Bell's all-in with 52o and sucked out on the river to prematurely end his opponent's day.
Strasser's chip stack was not indefatigable, however, and within a few hands of his Bell elimination, the young Internet legend was gone, the victim of "The Juggernaut" Jacobo Fernandez, who re-raised "Strassa" all-in with ace-jack and managed to stay out in front of his opponent's queen-ten all the way to fifth street. Strasser joined Kristy Gazes at the rail as the most notable of the early eliminations.
Strasser and Gazes were not alone at the rail, however. As in previous days at the LAPC, Day 5 was marked by a rash of early eliminations that saw the field nearly cut in half before the dinner intermission after four hours of play. Amongst those to get a jump on the buffet line were Richard Munro, Shan Jing, the terribly bedeviled J.C. Alvarado, Joseph Cordi and Tad Jurgens.
Meanwhile, there was plenty of good poker action shaping up besides eliminations and double-ups, including rivalries between J.C. Tran and Ben Johnson, and Vincent Procopio and Jacobo Fernandez.
Both pairs of players went to war repeatedly on Day 5, with a pair of notable hands seeing Tran show a massive bluff with Q♠ T♥ on an A♣ 8♠ 3♦ board to relieve Johnson of a good $600,000, and Fernandez crack Procopio's aces by flat-calling massive bets all the way down with K♠ T♠ and hitting the spade flush on the river as the media fanboys at PokerListings.com positively swooned with delight.
After the break, Eric Hershler put a massive dent in Tran's stack by taking down a pot worth over $2 million with T♠ 9♠ in his hand and a ten and a nine on the board. Following the hand, a power-drunk Hershler raised pre-flop on four consecutive hands and refused to stack his winnings in any semblance of order, although he eventually simmered down a little as the thrill wore off.
Meanwhile, Jay Chang was making a concerted effort to avoid being the first person eliminated at the final (albeit 10-handed) table, nursing a stack worth little more than $250,000 for hours before finally succumbing to J.C. Tran and his set of fours.
A few hands later, Ben Johnson was eliminated after doubling up David Bach and leaving himself with naught but a $5,000 chip with which to pay the ante. Johnson was forced all-in and fell to the combined efforts of Bill Edler and J.C. Tran, and headed to the rail destined to be the victim of many steroid-related jabs in elimination updates worldwide.
Johnson's disqualification left only eight players remaining, and with six destined to get face-time under the spotlights of the WPT soundstage, it seemed a given that the two short-stacks, Vincent Procopio and Paul Wasicka, would be the men to fall by the wayside. Procopio fought valiantly, but couldn't escape his destiny as it came in the form of Eric Hershel, and he hit the bricks in eighth place for a tidy $151,870 payout.
Wasicka, however, had other ideas and quickly doubled up after making an impressive call on Bill Edler. Edler put him all-in with Q♦ J♠ and Wasicka tanked for some serious minutes before calling with ace-ten, surviving the board and crippling his opponent.
Edler was left with his last $480,000 at a stage where a round of poker cost each player $160,000, and began moving all-in nearly every hand. Eventually, he went back to the well one time too often after pushing all-in on the button with 4♣ 3♠ and running into J.C. Tran, who called with big slick and promptly flopped the nut flush.
Edler, a consummate professional and all-around classy dude, hit the rail in seventh place for a $189,840 payout that is nothing to laugh at as a consolation prize. He can also take heart in the fact that Isaac Haxton will probably have nightmares about his face for the rest of his poker-playing career.
Irregardless, as they say, we have reached the final six, and they are Jacobo Fernandez ($3,370,000), Chau Giang ($1,370,000), Paul Wasicka ($3,390,000), J.C. Tran ($3,470,00), David Bach ($2,070,000) and Eric Hershler ($2,160,000). As these things go, it's a pretty stacked final table and one not without some appealing stories - not the least of which is Tran's quest to finally take down one of these WPT events after three previous final table appearances.
Action beneath the mood-lighting gets underway at 5 p.m. (PST) tomorrow evening, and if that isn't an excuse to stay at work late on a Thursday night, I don't know what is. As usual, PokerListings.com will have comprehensive coverage from wire to wire, so keep us locked and we promise to keep it poppin'.