It was a tale of two halves of a tournament. At the beginning of the final day of the World Poker Tour’s Gardens Poker Championship, the start of day chip leader Ryan Salunga was the dominant force on the table, seemingly taking players out at will. After the final table reached three players, however, Ky Nguyen seized control of the tournament and would knock off Salunga in taking home his first major tournament championship.

Salunga Seemed Dominant…

At the start of the action on Saturday at the HyperX Arena at Luxor in Las Vegas, Salunga seemed to be the dominant force. He sat with 7.275 million chips, by far the leader over Chris Lee (3.975 million) and the fan favorite/WPT Ambassador Brad Owen (3.35 million). The bottom three on the list – Nguyen (1.7 million), Joey Deluca (875,000), and Josh Lachman (225,000) – were looking to take the bottom rungs on the payout ladder…but, as they say, that’s why they play the game.

Lachman (second hand) and Deluca (Hand 18) were summarily dismissed in sixth and fifth places, respectively, at which point the game was on. Salunga had given up some of his chip advantage, with Lee and a resurgent Nguyen in pursuit, but Owen would have a difficult time at the final table. Perhaps because of his position directly to the left of the chip leader Salunga – and Salunga’s propensity to catch cards in the early going – Owen was never able to build much momentum.

Although he would double up on a couple of occasions, Owen would eventually fall to Nguyen in a battle of the blinds when his all-in move with K♠ 6♠ to Nguyen’s A-J off suit came up short. As Owen departed the HyperX Arena, Salunga now sat with nearly two-thirds of the chips in play. His 10.4 million chip stack dwarfed Nguyen (4.75 million) and Lee (2.25 million), but the battle was just beginning.

Until a Change in Fortunes

Two hands would change the course of the WPT Gardens Poker Championship. On Hand 50, Nguyen and Salunga clashed on what looked like an innocent board of Q-5-2-Q-J. Salunga, who had been using the power of the chip leader throughout the final table, powered a river bet of 650,000 into the center and Nguyen went into the tank. After using one Time Bank chip, Nguyen found the call button, which was the right move; his A-2 off suit had paired on the flop, while Salunga’s 8-4 was good for absolute air.

Salunga would still have a sizeable chip advantage (9.5 million to six million) and would extend it out over Nguyen and Lee once again, but that edge soon would go away. On Hand 65, Nguyen raised from the button and Salunga defended his big blind to see a 10-7-7 flop. Salunga tried to seize control with a flop bet, but Nguyen would call and see a trey on the turn. Salunga chambered another bullet, this time to the tune of 1.2 million, and Nguyen would call after using another Time Bank chip.

The river would bring all sorts of weirdness. Before the dealer dealt out the river, Salunga moved all-in blind, and the dealer laid an innocuous 8 on the felt. With Salunga’s action already determined, Nguyen now had to make the choice for his tournament life. Nguyen would run through nearly the remainder of his Time Bank chips before making the call and tabling a J-10 for a flopped two pair. Salunga quietly showed down a 6-4 for another massive failed bluff and Nguyen was the new leader.

Nguyen would then charge to the championship. He eliminated a valiant Lee in third place to take slightly more than a three million chip edge to heads-up play against Salunga. Salunga, unfortunately for him, seemed to lose his magic once the heads-up bout began. Another failed bluff on Hand 72 saw Nguyen scoop up another nearly five million chip pot from Salunga and, from there, it just went downhill for Salunga.

On the final hand (Hand 96), Nguyen moved all in with a Q-8 off suit, and Salunga, sitting on a J-10 off suit, decided to look him up. Two eights on the 8-8-4 flop virtually sealed the hand for the man dubbed the “Suited Superman” and, once a six peeled off on the turn, it was official. With the formality of a river card (a deuce), Nguyen had locked up his first major poker tournament championship by winning the WPT Gardens Poker Championship.

1. Ky Nguyen, $375,380
2. Ryan Salunga, $230,000
3. Chris Lee, $169,000
4. Brad Owen, $125,000
5. Joey Deluca, $94,000
6. Josh Lachman, $71,200

(Photo courtesy of the World Poker Tour)

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