What we commonly know as shootouts--in the Wild West or even in the 'Hood--are invariably speedy affairs. The quickest on the draw is usually the winner; he who hesitates is lost.
But although poker has provided and borrowed many idioms from common parlance, a shootout in the card-playing sense is not necessarily swift. Indeed, at the Crystal Casino in Los Angeles today, it took more than 11 hours of poker before we crowned our newest NAPT Bounty Shootout champion. Eric Baldwin's victory was a feat of endurance, stamina and focus under sustained pressure - and he also had to kill one of his best friends to seal it.
By the time Baldwin was handed the winner's check for $134,280, bolstered by $20,000 for his preliminary table win and a further $3,000 for personally claiming three of his adversaries' scalps, Baldwin had been at the table for more than 16 hours, spread over two days. Sometimes it really can be the hardest way to make an easy living.
"I know I'm mentally exhausted and I know he will be as well," said Baldwin, referring to his heads-up challenger and close friend Justin Young.
No one ever said it was going to be a pushover. With a final table featuring two Team PokerStars Pros (David Williams and Pat Pezzin) an NAPT champion (Tom Marchese) an EPT winner (Kevin MacPhee), a November Niner (Michael Mizrachi) and established live tournament pro in Young and the online tyros Clint Coffee and Mohsin Charania, whoever took this down was going to have had to work for their prize. Baldwin dug in for the long haul, however, and steadily ground everyone else down.
The three-handed battle was a particular strain. It lasted for close to four hours before we got the kind of big hand versus big hand clash that usually ends these things. One of those hands, in the possession of Young, was pocket tens - a hand that would have an especially prominent role to play in this final table.
The story is worth telling from the start and in full:
Fun with bounty buttons
Players began the final with 100,000 in chips, and a very generous blind structure. They also had in front of them the bounty buttons they had collected from Tuesday's preliminary round, which featured a cheesy photo of the vanquished stuck to the front.
Each button was worth a thousand bucks, but they soon became play-things for the final table players. They replaced the real dealer button with one of these faces and thus the likes of Annette Obrestad, Shannon Shorr, Shaun Deeb et al made dizzy orbits of the tables. (The Team PokerStars Pro Chad Brown was a particular favorite.)
Mizrachi and Baldwin go at it, but MacPhee walks first
The early stages were light-hearted and relatively free of major skirmishes, with Mizrachi and Baldwin taking down some small pots. But then it suddenly all kicked off between the two of them, leaving Mizrachi in tatters and Baldwin with the most. Mizrachi shoved with a flush draw, but Baldwin picked him off with a set of aces that faded the draw.
Mizrachi refused to be flustered, however, and managed to remain in a game that slowed to a crawl. The most active player at the table was MacPhee, who had been consistently raising pre-flop, but not always raking the pot at the end of it.
When Coffee decided to play back at him, MacPhee was probably delighted that it was one of the occasions that he actually had a hand. They three, four, five bet between them and when MacPhee called all in, he was way ahead with A♠K♥ to Coffee's K♣7♣.
Here's where poker can be cruel: the flop brought a seven and Coffee took the lead. MacPhee was sent packing in what seemed to be a direct punishment from the poker gods for playing the most hands.
Grinder's grind ends
Mizrachi had survived long enough that he wasn't first out the door, but in this winner-takes-all format there's precious little point in hanging around with a short stack and hoping to crawl up a pay ladder.
Mizrachi knew that, and got his chips in regularly. Once, he doubled up through Pat Pezzin, winning a race with A♠J♦ against Pezzin's tens, but when he found pocket fives and shoved against Justin Young, he was in bad shape. Young now had pocket tens (noticing a pattern yet?), and the bigger pocket pair stood.
"Well, you can't win them all," said Lily Mizrachi from the rail, but her husband has had a pretty good November all things considered. He took the $20,000 for winning his first round match, plus four bounty chips worth a $4,000. And when you add that to fifth place in the World Series Main Event for more than $2 million, you're probably covering the mortgage.
No way back for Pezzin
The dust had barely settled on Mizrachi's elimination when Pezzin was dispatched. Pezzin never recovered from the big pot he lost against Mizrachi, when he couldn't get a pocket pair to hold up against ace-jack.
However when it was Pezzin with that hand - the A♣J♥ - he didn't get any help in his attempt to beat Mohsin Charania's pocket sixes. Indeed, Charania flopped a boat and pushed Pezzin off the pier.
The Team PokerStars Pro from Canada was railed for the final table by his friend and team-mate Anh Van Nguyen. It was something of a reciprocal railing arrangement as Pezzin had watched Nguyen all the way to fourth spot in yesterday's main event. Together they earned themselves plenty of television time for the Maple Leaf and PokerStars patch, in addition to more than $200,000. Good game.
Coffee cooled in fifth
Off they went for a dinner break - but Coffee would barely last long enough to wipe the dessert crumbs from his lips. On the second postprandial hand, he found pocket sevens on the button, but ran them into Young's bigger pair. Of course, it was pocket tens.
It was the third time at the final table that an all in showdown had involved those tens (this time it was the T♦T♠) and they held comfortably through a blank board.
Coffee, who had picked up the first bounty of the final when he beat MacPhee, added that to his first round haul (Justin Bonomo and Faraz Jaka) and headed home. "See you back in Vegas," said Baldwin as Coffee drained out the door.
Marchese marches out
Yesterday we toyed with an interesting proposition. With Jason Mercier sitting at the final table of the main event, he had the potential to become the only man to win an NAPT bounty shootout title and that main event. (He won the Mohegan Sun version of the shootout.)
Although Mercier didn't manage that, he might only have held the accolade for a single day anyway. Tom Marchese, who won the main event at the Venetian in February, was at this bounty shootout final table. He could pull off the same double as Mercier, in the opposite order.
However, much like Mercier, Marchese whiffed. This certainly wasn't Marchese's finest performance: card dead and finding it difficult to pick any spots, he had chipped down to about 40,000 when he found a chance to double up. David Williams moved all in on a flop of K♣7♥4♥ and Marchese was ahead when he called with Q♣7♣. But Williams' 9♥3♥ had plenty of outs and the 8♥ on the river filled the flush for Williams.
Marchese tossed his bounty chip into the middle, and departed. He's proved once again that he's a force to be reckoned with on the NAPT and is enjoying an amazing year.
Although he had proved to be the king of bounties - collecting four in his heat and another at the final table, which he arranged in jaunty piles - Charania had allowed himself to get very short in chips.
After Williams flat-called a Justin Young raise, Charania spotted A♥7♥ in his hand and the perfect chance to squeeze all in, for a little more than 40,000. It was too rich for Young, but Williams snap-called. And there were those pocket tens again. This was now the fourth all in showdown with tens, and they improved their record to three-to-one. Williams flopped a set and Charania was drawing dead by the turn.
Charania left, juggling his bounty buttons as he went, and hoping that Young didn't manage to pick up any others. His wish was not fulfilled.
With Charania out the door, the last three players - Baldwin, Williams and Young - seemed to share the chips around themselves in a series of small pots. But Williams was slowly amassing the most - he had something like 45% of the chips in play at the break at the end of level six. That allowed him to see some flops with any two and push his two adversaries around.
They, however, knew there was no need to panic. Even the shortest of the three had more than 60 big blinds, and everyone in the Crystal Casino knew we were in it for the long haul. Gradually Young came to the fore, picking up most of the major pots, and then finding those magic pocket tens again.
Not only were the tens tending to stand up, they were also being dealt when opponents had hands to shove with. Williams had found A♣Q♦ and it quickly went two-bet, three-bet, shove, call. The tens improved their record further and Williams' day was done.
Having knocked Williams out, Young won himself the bounty race. There was a seat to the PCA bounty shootout available to the player who claimed the most eliminations, and Williams was the only player who could catch Young. When the decision went in favor of Young, he was metaphorically packing his bags for the Bahamas.
Heads up: Baldwin bounces back
Young began heads up play with an approximate three-to-one chip lead. But it wasn't long before Baldwin was working on overcoming that in the most forthright fashion, getting them all in and winning a flip.
Baldwin had red sevens in the hole, but when Young called his shove, he immediately asked: "Do you have two tens?" Nope, he did not. And Young's A♣Q♦ missed all its outs, giving that double up to Baldwin. (Not long later, Young was just about to peek at his cards and said: "Give me two tens. You can have any other two cards in the deck.")
But they then played small ball. There was still so much play in the tournament that the clock ticked past 1am, then 2am and then even 3am. The players, who know one another's game inside out, agreed to shave the levels in half to encourage a faster blind structure in the least damaging way they could find.
We figured we might need a cooler - and all of a sudden, that's precisely what we got. They got it all in pre-flop: Young had found A♦Q♦ but Baldwin had picked up K♥K♣. "I thought I was trapping you," said Young, but he was the one who suddenly needed help.
It didn't come. The board blanked and at 3.51am, we had found our NAPT bounty shootout champion. He was our early chip leader, our short stack and then our winner. Well played Eric Baldwin.
"It's bitter sweet. We genuinely are good friends," Baldwin again said of Young. "But it's a pretty prestigious event and a really tough field. It's very gratifying to finally seal the deal."
That just about finishes our coverage of a terrific NAPT festival here in Los Angeles. We hope you enjoyed reading it; there were periods where we quite enjoyed writing it.
All photographs © Joe Giron/Joe Giron Photography
We're now outta Compton. Bye.