Here’s a phrase we haven’t been able to use in about a dozen years. Saturday will mark the true return of the North American Poker Tour to the tournament scene as the final table of their stop at Resorts World Las Vegas takes place. The final seven men from the 1095-entry field have been determined in the NAPT Las Vegas, with California poker player Sami Bechahed as the only player over the ten million mark in chips. Bechahed shouldn’t feel comfortable, however, as two tough tournament pros in Spain’s Sergio Aido and Nick Schulman look to run him down.

Friday Action Sees Challengers Rise

34 players returned to the baize on Friday, looking to claim the lion’s share of the $1.6 million plus prize pool. Leading the way at that point was Anthony Dianaty, with 3.22 million in chips, and Liran Betito of Israel with 1.885 million. From the start, though, it was those back in the pack who made the charge as the contenders attempted to hold on to their seats in the heat of the action.

Jonathan Borenstein would jump up over the two million chip mark when he dropped Leonardo Castro as the first elimination of the day, his A-10 standing against Castro’s suited K J when the board brought nothing for either man.  Aido began his charge early in the Friday play, putting Girish Reknar on fumes after Reknar couldn’t muster a call on a 10-3-4-7 flop and turn; he would eventually fall to Masato Yokosawa in 23rd place. Ryan Leng also made some noise when he dismissed Joe Tehan, out-pipping the former World Poker Tour Champion when his A-Q played against Tehan’s K-Q on an 8-4-2-Q-J board.

The start of the day chip leaders didn’t do badly either. Dianaty motored through the minefield of late tournament play, coolering Timothy Rutherford with pocket Aces after Rutherford woke up with pocket Queens, to move over the six million mark. Bechahed, however, would suffer some early missteps before rebounding in the late action, in particular a double-up against Sandeep Pallampati in a race situation (Big Slick v. pocket nines) on a K-J-10-4-A board.

Two Tables to a Final Table

Once the NAPT Las Vegas was at the final two tables, the intensity began to ramp up. Jianxin Wu chose the wrong moment to push with an A-2, but Ryan Leng was also fortunate to be up against an opponent with a worse hand than his A-4; a four on the turn eliminated all the discussion and Wu in eighteenth place. Wu was joined by Ryan Yu a bit later once Ping Liu’s pocket treys navigated their way against Yu’s A-J to a victory.

It was at this point that some of our final table contenders began to make their moves towards the first NAPT title in twelve years. Schulman was responsible for eliminating Mikela Shkurta from the festivities, taking the “last woman standing” from the tournament in sixteenth place. Schulman would use those chips well, storming up the leaderboard to take the chip lead, but he would give some of those back to Bechahed when Schulman couldn’t find the call button on an all-in move.

Bechahed and Dianaty would clash, frequently, in the late action. Bechahed and Dianaty battled it out on an A-J-4-5-10 board, with Bechahed doubling up through Dianaty after he rivered the Broadway straight against Dianaty’s flopped two pair (A-J). After this dance, Aido began his march up the leaderboard, taking down Matthew Wantman in twelfth place to crack the six million chip mark.

Once Bechahed took down Aaron Massey in tenth place, there was a redraw to set up the unofficial final table. Leading the way at that point Aido, but Bechahed and Dianaty were in pursuit of him. The very first hand of the unofficial final table saw Schulman cast his hat into the ring with the elimination of Ryan Leng in ninth place, and one more elimination would set the official final table.

That knockout would come at the hands of Bechahed, with Dianaty the unfortunate recipient of the dismissal. Once again it was a cooler, as Sandeep Pallampati opened the betting, Bechahed just called, and Dianaty three-bet to 1.5 million. That was enough for Pallampati to release his hand, but Bechahed jammed his larger stack to the center. Dianaty made his stand with the smaller stack, calling the bet, and the hands came up:

Dianaty: pocket Jacks
Bechahed: pocket Aces

The ten-high board brought no drama as Dianaty was eliminated in eighth place, while Bechahed shot over the nine million mark before ending the evening in the chip lead as the only player over the ten million plateau in chips:

1. Sami Bechahed, 10.57 million
2. Sergio Aido, 6.67 million
3. Nick Schulman, 4.39 million
4. Sandeep Pallampati, 4.3 million
5. Ping Liu, 3.095 million
6. Jonathan Borenstein, 2.2 million
7. David Coleman, 1.61 million

A new NAPT champion will be decided this afternoon in Las Vegas, with the action starting at 12:30 (Vegas time) and playing down to a winner. PokerStars is streaming the action, and it should be intense, as Bechahed’s been on a yo-yoing chip stack while Aido and Schulman have been steadily climbing. At stake is a decent first-place prize of $268,945, but perhaps more importantly the first NAPT title in well over a decade.

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