Riding the chip lead that he came to the final table with, Bulgaria’s Milen Stefanov earned a few firsts at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on Wednesday night. First, he earned his first major championship in winning the World Poker Tour’s Seminole Rock ‘N’ Roll Poker Open. Second, Stefanov gave his home country their first ever WPT champion, surprising in that it hadn’t occurred before in the 18 years of the WPT.
Come and Get Him!
Stefanov was sitting atop the standings at the start of action on Wednesday, but it was a tenuous lead. Holding just under nine million chips (8.925 million, to be exact), Stefanov had to fend off some tough competition. World Series of Poker bracelet winner Roman Korenev was right behind him with an 8.175 million stack, while three other players – Cesar Fuentes (7.55 million chips), David Novosel (7.525 million) and Fabian Gumz (5.15 million) – were packed tightly in pursuit of the top two. The short stack at the table, Francis Anderson, still had a formidable stack of 2.175 million, just enough to be a threat to any stack that wanted to try to take him out.
Stefanov came out of the gate firing, benefitted by some good cards and good fortune. On the fourth hand of action, Anderson would get his short stack to the center and Stefanov would look him up. Holding pocket sevens, Stefanov had an edge over Anderson’s K♦ Q♦ pre-flop, but that would disappear once Anderson caught a Queen on the turn after a 10-6-2 flop. With a 5% chance of winning the hand (two sevens), Stefanov would miraculously hit a seven on the river to steal the hand back from Anderson and send him to the rail in sixth place.
While players would pull close to him and even pass him for a brief moment, Stefanov would always find a way back to the lead. He knocked out Fuentes in fifth place, his Big Slick in clubs reigning supreme over Fuentes’ Q-10 off suit on an A-8-7-J-4 board. He then would take down Korenev in fourth place when his pocket Aces never were challenged by Korenev’s Q♠ 10♠.
Train Kept ‘a Rollin’
Dominating with three players to go, Stefanov didn’t let his foot off the gas. With a J-10-2-10-6 in front of them, Novosel and Stefanov locked horns in a hand that would see Novosel end up on the short end of the stick. After seeing Stefanov shove enough chips to require Novosel to call for his tournament life, Novosel made that choice and was dismayed to see Stefanov turn up J-10 for the flopped two pair and the turned full house. Novosel disgustedly turned up only a K-6 that had rivered a crushed two pair, tens and sixes, which earned him a trip to the cage for his third-place effort.
Stefanov began heads up play with Gumz with more than a 5:1 lead (33.275 million – 6.225 million), but Gumz would prove to be a formidable opponent. It would take 50 hands for Stefanov to vanquish Gumz, which came when Stefanov shoved off the button and Gumz read him for a steal attempt. Stefanov had at least an Ace with his A-2, massively better than Gumz’s Q-8 off suit, but his cards were live as they went to the flop.
An Ace on the flop (A-J-5) nearly ended any drama, but the “poker gods” had to give a sweat by throwing a Queen up on the turn. Looking for another Queen or an eight to give him a critical double up, Gumz instead saw a ten on the river to give the title to Stefanov.
1. Milen Stefanov, $545,070
2. Fabian Gumz, $353,380
3. David Novosel, $260,845
4. Roman Korenev, $194,605
5. Cesar Fuentes, $146,760
6. Francis Anderson, $111,895
With the conclusion of the festival in South Florida, the WPT now packs up the trucks for action nearly 3000 miles away. The WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic, the traditional stop by the WPT before the Christmas holiday, begins on December 16 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. That tournament, one of the few $10K events still left on the WPT circuit, is a favorite of the professionals who are looking for some action around their homes and the amateurs looking to take their shot at the “big time.” While that tournament looms on the horizon, Milen Stefanov will bask in the glory of being the latest WPT champion and some notoriety from his Bulgarian countrymen and women.