Working his way through one of the final $10,000 buy-in events left on the World Poker Tour schedule, former World Champion Ryan Riess emerged from a tough final table to take the second leg of poker’s “Triple Crown” in winning the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Finale last night.
Coming into the action on Thursday, Riess was second in chips (with his 3.09 million stack) behind only former WPT champion Alan Sternberg, who was on top of the final table with 4.605 million chips. There were potential trouble spots in every other seat, with 2016 “November Niner” Cliff Josephy (1.855 million) and top pros Tim West (1.995 million) and Jason Koon (1.03 million) awaiting the battle. Even arguably the least experienced player on the table, Terry Schumacher (1.385 million), had a lengthy international poker resume (with Hendon Mob flags from Australia, Spain, the U. S. and his native Belgium) that made him dangerous.
The players wasted little time getting the action going in the Hard Rock tournament arena. Only 18 hands into the final table, Josephy would take his shot at moving into contention, but he chose the wrong time to take that shot. Moving in with an A-J off suit after a West raise, Sternberg woke up in the big blind with pocket Kings and made the call. Once West’s cards found the muck, the race was on between the duo. After it came down ten high – with nigh an Ace or Jack in the mix – Josephy was out in sixth place and Sternberg increased his lead over the field.
A quick nine hands later, the next elimination hit the rail. Schumacher defended his blind after a raise from Koon to see an A-J-4 rainbow flop. Schumacher would check-call a bet from Koon and, after a seven came on the turn, would check-call another bet from Koon. When the 8♥ came on the river – the third heart offering a flush possibility as well as going runner-runner on a potential straight – Schumacher checked again and Koon moved all in.
Now Schumacher paused, mulling the action in his head before making the river decision. Schumacher made the call and Koon surprisingly showed nothing but air – a Q-10 off suit that missed everything. Schumacher opened his bluff catcher, an A-6 for a pair of Aces, to take the hand and send Koon home in fifth place.
After Koon was away from the table, the tournament bogged down as the remaining four players battled it out. West was on the verge of elimination at a couple of points, but was able to survive one through chopping the pot and another when he doubled through. Unfortunately, that isn’t a way to stay viable in a tournament, as West found out on Hand 74.
In a blind versus blind battle, West moved all in and Riess decided to look him up, which turned out to be the right decision. Riess’ A-10 was ahead of West’s K-J, but the Q-J-2 flop moved West into the lead. Just as quickly as the poker gods gave, however, they would take away; a King on the turn made two pair for West but filled out Broadway for Riess to push him back in front. Needing another Jack or a King on the river, the innocent seven didn’t help West at all as he was eliminated in fourth place.
With two big stacks around him, Schumacher never could mount much offense in the three-handed battle. Watching his chips bleed away, Schumacher would put in his final chips in after a bet from Sternberg and a call from the small blind by Riess. The all-in move by Schumacher was good enough to get Sternberg out, but Riess made the call and saw his pocket nines were ahead of Schumacher’s J♥ 7♥. Nothing helpful came for Schumacher on the A-6-5-K-4 board, eliminating the Belgian in third place and sending Riess to heads up action against Sternberg with a slight (1.5 million) chip disadvantage.
Deeply stacked, Sternberg and Riess were expected to fight it out over an extended period, but the end came rather quickly. Riess would chip pieces out of Sternberg’s stack to take a small lead over the former WPT champion before, on Hand 210, the end would come. Riess would open the betting with a 450K bet and Sternberg popped him to 1.15 million. Riess aggressively moved all in with his dominant chip stack and, after pondering his options, Sternberg made the call to see what would be the final flop of the tournament.
It was a race situation between the combatants, with Riess’ Big Slick racing against Sternberg’s pocket sevens, and it turned out Riess had a better engine. A King on the flop with two sixes gave Riess Kings up and, after another King came on the turn, Sternberg was drawing dead. Once a ten came on the river to officially complete the hand, Riess was celebrating winning the championship of the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Finale.
1. Ryan Riess, $716,088 and a seat in the WPT Tournament of Champions
2. Alan Sternberg, $491,081
3. Terry Schumacher, $315,726
4. Tim West, $204,466
5. Jason Koon, $157,599
6. Cliff Josephy, $130,370
With the victory, Riess has now completed the second leg of poker’s “Triple Crown.” The 2013 World Series of Poker $10,000 Championship Event victor now only needs a Main Event victory on the PokerStars Championships (the replacement for the European Poker Tour) stage to complete the trifecta, something that could be well within his grasp with his career earnings (over $10 million) and his youthful age (26).
There is still one more tournament on the schedule for the WPT at the Seminole Hard Rock and it is the Season XV closer. The WPT Tournament of Champions, with a field comprised only of the past season’s champions and WPT Champions’ Club members (players who have previously won a WPT event), begins this afternoon. There is hope that, with various amenities added as prizes and $100,000 added to the prize pool (the Season XV champions have already had $15,000 pulled from their prize money for their seat; former champions must pony up the ducats), that the field will be larger than last year’s disappointing 64 players (out of a potential 227 players).