All good things must come to an end, and now the first season of the Latin America Poker Tour (LAPT) is in the record books. After Julien Nuijten in Rio de Janeiro, Valdemar Kwaysser in San Jose, the third and final champion has also been decided. And he is also a European. His name is Jose Miguel Espinar, from Valencia, Spain.
The rain on the Spaniard: Jose Miguel Espinar emerges from the ticker tape as a champion
Espinar came through a super-tough final table in Punta del Este, Uruguay, tonight, and won a mammoth heads-up battle against Alex Brenes, of Costa Rica. But at the end, it came down to a huge hand when both players got their level chip stacks in the middle with A-10 and A-9. Espinar had the A-10, and although Brenes thought he'd outdrawn the Spaniard when a nine flopped, the ten on the turn sealed the hand for Espinar.
Delight turns to despair as Alex Brenes outdraws but then is outdrawn on
That left Brenes with just 40,000 in chips, not even a small blind, and Espinar's king-three was enough to win it on the next hand.
The ticker tape rained down, the 80s pop songs boomed out from the speakers. Espinar and his friends from Spain wiped away tears and we crowned a worthy champion.
Espinar deserved it. After two days of stiff competition, we reconvened at the Mantra Resort in Punta at 1pm today with a typically-formidable line-up around the final table. Leading the way was Team PokerStars Pro Alexandre Gomes, fresh from World Series success, and carrying the hopes of the Team on his capable shoulders.
But not even Gomes could get away from a hand against Alex Brenes at about the mid-point of the day, when he flopped straight and flush draws but missed them all. Brenes, in fact, hit his straight and sent Gomes out in fourth.
By then, we had already accounted for Brazil's Paulo Cesar Ribeiro, Argentina's Juan Jose Perez, Brazil's Sydney Chreem and Canada's Gylbert Drolet in an all-action opening couple of levels.
We were hardly five minutes in when Ribeiro was forced out: he got all his chips in with pocket jacks, but Espinar, whose king-queen had tripped up on the flop, had trapped him.
Out went the first Brazilian and Espinar was up and running.
Next up for the guillotine was Perez, from Argentina, who also ran into the immovable object Espinar. This time Espinar had a suited ace jack and was way behind against Perez's aces. But the flop, turn and river got progressively straighter for the Spaniard and the king on the river ended it.
Espinar punched the air, Perez punched holes in a voodoo doll of youngster from Valencia. We were down to six.
For a while, it became the Lisandro Gallo show. The Argentinian busted Sidney Chreem, of Brazil, with pocket sevens against Q-10. Then the final PokerStars qualifier and only North American, the Canadian Gylbert Drolet took the walk.
He had been card dead for the whole final table and had been reduced to a small stack when he got it all in with jacks. But the vibrant Gallo, the most vociferous around the table for the best part of two days, called with ace-queen and ended up making a flush.
Then it was time for Gomes to go, to leave Gallo, Brenes and Espinar to fight it out three handed. Gallo was the short stack and although he yo-yoed up and down a couple of times, he eventually ran a pair of sixes into a pair of jacks and then a nine high into aces. Gallo shrugged, smiled, shook hands and walked. Good game Gallo.
The heads up battle pitched two of the most accomplished players against once another. Espinar is a familiar face on the European Poker Tour and had cashed in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure earlier this year. Brenes had already been on an LAPT final table -- in Rio in March -- as well as appearing in the final stages of World Series and WPT events.
What's more, the two of them had been facing off against one another all day; the poker gods had pitted the two against each other numerous times. This heads-up battle had been brewing and then we had what we wanted. They jabbed, they parried, they ducked and weaved.
It went on for more than three levels before that big hand with the ace-ten and the ace-nine. And after all the money had gone in and all the chips had been shipped, they shook hands, hugged and knew it would all happen again some other day.
The first season of the Latin American Poker Tour is over. But it will all start again in November. In the meantime, take a look back at this tournament with the links below, and check out the PokerStars site for satellite tournaments to be a part of season two.
A full list of prize-winners can be found HERE.
Gracias y adios.
All photographs (c) Joe Giron/IMPDI
The PokerStars team of video bloggers has been hard at work, as ever, in Punta del Este. Once the tournament got heads up, they reviewed the day with the first clip here. Their full interview with the champion follows.
Watch LAPT Punta del Este: An Over View on PokerStars.tv
Watch LAPT Punta del Este: The Winner! on PokerStars.tv
Check out all the action over at PokerStars.tv.