It all started this afternoon at 2 p.m. when all nine hopeful final-table participants made their way to the felt for the playdown to a winner. Lee Watkinson and Gavin Smith represented the professional contingent of the group with 21-year-old Edward Sabat leading the charge for the lesser-known players.
Weighing in the lightest chip-wise was Jon Eaton with just $75,000. "I'm in no man's land," was Eaton's assessment of the situation when we spoke to him yesterday and it didn't take long for him to be gunned down as he tried desperately to get his hands on some chips.
He was able to double up once, at the expense of Gavin Smith, but it wouldn't be enough as shortly after that he got all-in and lost against David Peters. Jon Eaton took $14,136 for his trouble and continues to give hope to poker bloggers the world over, having started as one himself.
Next on the chopping block was Australia's Damien Oborne. Damo, as he's known, came to be at this event by a rather circuitous route but, even after busting eighth, he must be glad to have made the journey. A rabid New York Giants fan, Oborne made the trip all the way from Down Under to watch the big game in Las Vegas. Hearing about this tournament, he decided to make the comparatively short trip here to test his luck.
He came into the day as one of the short stacks with $124,000 and managed to move up just one spot in the payouts before being ejected. It was folded around to David Peters on the button and he put in an opening raise.
Oborne, in the small blind, decided to take a stand and shipped the rest of his stack into the middle. The big blind folded and Peters, somewhat priced into the hand at this point, made the call.
When the cards were rolled we saw Oborne had picked a good spot with his A♥ 5♠ leading his opponent's K♣ T♥. The flop changed things though, coming ten-high. Neither the turn nor the river was able to reverse the situation and Damien Oborne was out, $21,204 richer.
With two players down and six more to go we saw a bit more activity from one of the pros at the table, Lee Watkinson. Lee has been extremely successful lately on the tour with a final-table finish at last year's WSOP Main Event, back-to-back final tables in preliminary events at the recent Aussie Millions and a fifth-place finish at the $10k WPT event last week in Atlantic City.
A turning point in Watkinson's final table this evening came when he decided to call the all-in of champion-to-be Mickey Pickett. Watkinson opened the pot and Pickett moved in. Watkinson made the call only to see his A♠ 7♠ was in bad shape against Pickett's A♦ K♦. The board changed nothing and Pickett claimed a large portion of Lee's stack, chips he would put to good use on his road to victory.
Shortly after this loss Watkinson was forced to double up another short stack at the table, Gavin Smith. Watkinson was again priced into calling the all-in, having opened the pot to begin with. This time he was in better shape with T♣ 9♣ to Smith's A♦ 4♣ but would once again fail to receive any help from the board. Left with a dangerously low number of chips, Watkinson would get all-in bad against Smith just a few hands later. Pocket fours for Lee couldn't suck out on Gavin's pocket tens and we were down to six.
Smith, still on the short side even with the majority of Watkinson's stack, saw his holdings slip further before he was forced into action by the rising blinds. He shipped from under the gun and got looked up by Kenny Bedoya who tabled A♠ J♣. Gavin's Q♥ T♦ were live but the A♥ K♠ 4♦ flop changed things considerably. The turn and river bricked and that was that.
Gavin made the final table at this event last year, finishing seventh for $34,674, and was able to improve on that this year, going out sixth. Thanks to the smaller field though, the payout was almost identical at $35,340.
Up until this point we had seen the start-of-day chip leader Edward Sabat's stack shrink with Mickey Pickett's and David Peters' steadily growing. Still short-stacked was Cristiano Avendano. A former U.S. naval officer originally from Ecuador, Cristiano was able to make it to fifth place before getting himself knocked off. He got all-in bad with pocket sevens to the pocket eights of Kenny Bedoya and after his prayers for a two-outer went unanswered he was forced to pick up his $42,408 and hit the old dusty trail.
Mickey Pickett had established himself by this time as the dominant chip leader with close to half the chips in play and, judging by the way he was playing, it looked like he had a chance to make short work of his surviving competition. In the end, however, it was a tag-team effort between Mickey and David Peters that paved the way to the heads-up match.
Pickett busted Kenny Bedoya, getting him all-in on a board of Q♠ 7♦ 6♥ 5♥ and tabling 8♦ 4♦ for the straight. Bedoya threw down A♥ Q♣ and after the irrelevant river card hit the felt he made his way to the exit, $56,544 richer.
Edward Sabat was dispatched by Peters in a pre-flop all-in race when Sabat's A♣ 9♠ failed to improve against the pocket eights of Peters.
Going forward it was Mickey Pickett with a 2-1 chip advantage over his heads-up adversary. From what we had seen to this point Pickett would have had to be the favorite even if they had been even in chips. With all due respect to Peters, his game seemed undisciplined, with much of his heads-up strategy consisting of all-ins or folds. Granted, he was relatively low in chips, but at many points a standard raise would have been just as effective as an all-in, shielding him from the risk of putting his entire stack at risk.
Pickett was able to chip away nicely, taking down many an uncontested pot before the flop and showing down a few big hands on the river. Despite a few double-ups, Pickett had Peters on the ropes going into the final hand.
In an unraised pot both players saw a flop of A♦ 9♣ 3♠. Pickett fired out a small feeler bet and got a call. The turn brought the 7♦ and Mickey fired again. He got looked up and the J♣ hit the river. Reaching deep into his stack Picket pushed a huge bet across the line. Peters immediately moved all-in and Pickett beat him into the pot, tabling T♦ 8♠ for the rivered straight. Peters felted J♥ 9♦ in disgust and just like that it was over.
David Peters laid claim to $120,156 for his runner-up finish while Michael "Mickey" Pickett takes $229,002, not to mention a $10,000 seat to the WSOP Main Event and a brand new Circuit ring.
With another tournament in the bag it's time for PL.com to close up shop and prepare for our next destination. We'll be making the trans-oceanic flight to Denmark for the Copenhagen stop on the European Poker Tour, which begins on February 19, as well as hitting the always-entertaining WPT Los Angeles Poker Classic which gets started on the 23rd. As always we implore you to come along for the ride. After all, you're the reason we do it.