In what has probably been the longest poker tournament in the history of the game, Markus Gonsalves captured his first major championship in taking down the long-delayed 2020 World Poker Tour Gardens Poker Championship. In winning the tournament, Gonsalves put his name on the Mike Sexton WPT Champions’ Cup and took home a payday of $554,495.
Championship A Long Time in Deciding
To say that it took some time for the eventual winner of the WPT Gardens Poker Championship to be decided would be an understatement. The tournament started in January 2020 and, once it reached its final table, was suspended per the WPT’s “tournament festival” that had become popular. In the WPT “tournament festival” for the last couple of years, three events – the WPT Gardens Poker Championship, the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open and the WPT L. A. Poker Classic – saw their final tables delayed until right before the WPT Tournament of Champions in April to draw more attention to the action and to have the events in the HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas.
Alas, 2020 decided that it did not want to cooperate with…well, anyone. After the three tournaments were suspended following the determination of the WPT LAPC final table, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the States of America. Quarantines were instituted and the three tournaments languished in limbo for almost a year. Earlier this month, the WPT decided it was time to play these events out, with the WPT Gardens Poker Championship stepping up first.
How long was the actual delay on the WPT Gardens Poker Championship? It was an entire year, one month and 24 days (roughly) since the cards last flew on January 14, 2020, before action resumed on Wednesday. During that passage of time, one of the members of the final table, Qing Liu, actually won another WPT title, the WPT Venetian, the night prior to the resumption of the WPT Gardens Poker Championship hostilities.
Gonsalves Starts Strong, Stays Strong
Along with Liu, Chance Kornuth was looking to put his name on the Mike Sexton WPT Champions’ Cup again. While Liu was looking to make WPT history by winning two championships in as many nights, Kornuth was looking for his first taste of WPT gold. Gonsalves was in excellent position at the start of the battle, holding 2.37 million in chips to Kornuth’s 2.995 million, as the cards hit the air.
Unfortunately for Liu, his efforts at history were short lived. Perhaps because of having played (and won) the WPT Venetian the night before, it might be expected that he had a lack of energy for this tournament. He was the first to leave the table in sixth place, only 21 hands into the final table, after an interesting hand with Tuan Pham.
Phan opened the betting pre-flop and Kornuth and Liu came along to see a Q-5-3 flop. Liu was the first actor here, with both Phan and Kornuth responding with calls. A deuce on the turn saw Liu slow down, but Phan did not in firing a 350K bet. Kornuth let his hand go, but Liu check-raised all in. Phan called and showed a powerful pair of Kings, but he had been caught as Liu flopped two pair with his 5-3. Needing a Queen or a deuce to pair the board to give him a better two pair, Phan struck gold when a lady hit the river to give him the hand and send Liu out the door.
On the very next hand, the field was eliminated to four. Straton Wilhelm had come to the final table as the short stack, so he was happy for the Liu elimination. He moved in from the cutoff, only to find Phan waiting with pocket Aces. Wilhelm’s A-10 off suit shrunk up massively and the nine high board didn’t help him at all, sending him out in fifth place.
Phan continued to dominate the early stages, stretching out to a decent lead as Kornuth, Gonsalves and Jonathan Cohen tried to keep pace behind him. Gonsalves, however, was the one who made the strongest plays, eventually moving up to snatch the lead from Phan. They would play more than 50 hands before the next elimination, one that would cement Gonsalves’ hold on the chip lead.
In a battle of the blinds, Kornuth completed his small blind and Gonsalves, reading Kornuth for a steal, reraised all in. Kornuth, reading Gonsalves for trying to steal his blind from him, responded with a call. Only one of the men could be right and, in the end, it turned out to be Gonsalves.
Turning up pocket sixes, Kornuth had to figure he was in decent shape against Gonsalves’ A-5 off suit, but the “poker gods” had different ideas. An Ace on the flop pushed Gonsalves into the lead and no six was in the offering for Kornuth, knocking him out in fourth place. In winning the hand, Gonsalves had gathered over half the chips in play.
Gonsalves On Cruise Control?
Although he was in excellent shape, it took more hands three-handed to determine the champion than it took to reach three-handed play. Gonsalves would take out Cohen in third place in a cooler, Gonsalves’ pocket tens against Cohen’s pocket nines, as Gonsalves would start heads up play with more than five times the chips than Phan held (8.57 million/1.71 million). But Phan would not go without a fight.
90 hands would be played, with Phan at one point pulling into the lead, before Gonsalves could finally find the knockout blow. After limping into the pot, Gonsalves and Phan (big blind) saw a monochrome 9♥ 5♥ 3♥ flop. Gonsalves fired a bet, but Phan was going nowhere and called. A Queen on the turn didn’t seem to change anything, but this time Gonsalves’ bet was met with an all-in reraise from Phan.
Gonsalves did not even blink, making the call immediately and turning up a 10♥ 4♥ for the flopped baby flush. Phan had hit hard too with his 5-3 for two pair, but he needed another five or trey to keep him in the tournament. When a Jack came on the river, Gonsalves’ flush was good to take the hand and win the long-delayed WPT Gardens Poker Championship.
1. Markus Gonsalves, $554,495
2. Tuan Phan, $359,650
3. Jonathan Cohen, $263,090
4. Chance Kornuth, $195,085
5. Straton Wilhelm, $146,655
6. Qing Liu, $111,795