Despite facing one of the most stacked final tables in recent memory – with two top flight professional poker players looking for their third titles and one legend of the game looking to etch his name on a piece of hardware he hasn’t touched yet – Art Papazyan beat back all comers from the second slot at the start of the penultimate day to win the 2017 World Poker Tour Legends of Poker at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles, CA, early Friday morning.
Papazyan had a decent chip stack to start the day (slightly over six million chips), but the seas of the final table were awash with sharks. Two-time WPT champion J. C. Tran was the chip leader coming to the table on Thursday while Phil Hellmuth, who has yet to garner the only accolade that has eluded him in poker (a WPT title), lurked in third place with almost three million in chips. A player that has been making a name for himself in 2017, D. J. Alexander (runner-up in the World Series of Poker “Millionaire Maker”) held down the fourth slot (2.73 million chips), while a quiet Adam Swan (1.655 million) and two-time WPT champion Marvin Rettenmaier (1.225 million) brought up the bottom of the leaderboard.
It would only take eight hands for the first elimination to occur at the final table. Swan, with a dwindling stack, was in a blind-versus-blind battle with the 14-time WSOP bracelet winner when he moved all in holding an A-J. Normally that is a fine holding in a heads-up situation, but Hellmuth woke up in the big blind with pocket Queens and immediately made the call. A Jack came on the flop but there was no further help for Swan as he departed the tournament in sixth place.
Rettenmaier short stack of chips bumped up a spot with Swan’s elimination, but that was as far as he would go. On Hand 20, Rettenmaier got the remainder of his stack in the center from the button, not feeling very confident when both Papazyan and Tran called in the blinds. An 8-6-3 flop didn’t seem very impressive but, after a check from Papazyan, Tran’s flop bet ushered him out to get the hand heads up with Rettenmaier. Tran’s flop bet was explained when he turned up pocket eights for the flopped top set as Rettenmaier packed his bags drawing thin with a Q-10. A Jack on the turn kept some drama alive for the gutter ball straight, but those disappeared with a four on the river as Rettenmaier headed for the rail in fifth place.
Tran held nearly half the chips in play after Rettenmaier’s departure while the remaining three players – Hellmuth (5.505 million chips), Papazyan (4.99 million) and Alexander (950K) – were looking like mere footnotes to Tran’s run to the championship. That would be the high mark for Tran, however, as he gradually began to bleed chips from his stack. Within 20 hands of Rettenmaier’s elimination, Tran had come back to the pack, unable to call bets out of his opponents with his meager holdings to maintain his stack. By Hand 40, Tran’s once-insurmountable lead had shrunk to less than 400K in chips over Papazyan.
Papazyan would be the one who knocked Tran off the top of the pedestal when he took a huge hand against Hellmuth. On a 4-2-2-2-6 board and with approximately four million chips in the pot, both Papazyan and Hellmuth had blustered about the content of their hands with heavy three bets (Papazyan’s pre-flop, Hellmuth’s on the flop). The river brought checks from both combatants, however, at which point Hellmuth turned up an A-J for the board’s trip deuces. Papazyan, however, had pocket nines (not the two black nines that Hellmuth won the 1989 WSOP Championship Event with, ironically) for the boat, good enough to take the bounty and the chip lead from Tran.
Tran would quickly come back to retake his lead as the foursome settled in for a drawn-out battle. They would play 130 hands before the next elimination, which came about when Alexander called off his stack of almost three million chips after Papazyan put the squeeze play on Hellmuth’s limp on the button. Holding an A-2, Alexander was behind Papazyan’s A-6 and, once a six hit the flop, he was looking for something runner or that would counterfeit Papazyan’s pair. The turn and river were uncooperative, however, as Alexander’s outstanding play in the tournament earned him the fourth-place slot.
Tran (11.715 million) still was dominating Papazyan (6.36 million) and Hellmuth (4.775 million), but the wheels were about to come off his wagon. Hellmuth started a stunning charge where he would take eight of the next 15 hands to assume the lead, but Papazyan would fight back to knock Hellmuth back down. Tran could find nothing at this point, unable to call big bets from his opponents, as his chip stack slid through his fingers. As the 200th hand of the final table approached, Tran and Hellmuth would finally clash.
On Hand 198, Tran moved all in off the button and Hellmuth looked him up out of the small blind. Papazyan had no interest as his cards headed to the muck, while Tran showed an A-10 that was leading the K-Q of Hellmuth pre-flop. A K-J-5 gave something to both men, momentarily putting Hellmuth in the lead with a pair of Kings but giving Tran a gut shot straight draw to go along with his Ace over card. Looking for one of six outs (three Aces and three Queens), Tran instead saw an innocuous four turn and a river trey to be eliminated by “The Poker Brat” in third place.
Going to the heads-up battle, Papazyan held an 800K chip lead over Hellmuth and wasted little time in putting a hammerlock on the championship. Ten hands into the fight, Papazyan had moved out to a two million chip lead and a few hands later extended his lead. On Hand 211, Papazyan would flop a wheel straight and get three streets of action out of Hellmuth to take a 10 million chip pot and stretch his lead to more than 12 million chips.
On the very next hand, it was all over. Hellmuth min-raised off the button and called after Papazyan moved all in against him. Hellmuth dominated pre-flop, his Big Slick crushing Papazyan’s K-Q off suit, but the Q-10-8 flop had other things in mind. A five on the turn helped neither man and, with Hellmuth looking for an Ace, King, or Jack to earn the double up (10 outs), an innocent trey came on the river. With a double thrust of his arms into the air, Papazyan had defeated one of poker’s legendary names to capture the championship of the WPT Legends of Poker.
1. Art Papazyan, $668,692
2. Phil Hellmuth, $364,370
3. J. C. Tran, $217,040
4. D. J. Alexander, $161,490
5. Marvin Rettenmaier, $120,775
6. Adam Swan, $91,825