All-Star Showdown: Cates triumphs over Sulsky, wins $550k top prize

As the old saying goes, "to be the best, you have to beat the best." It was the idea behind the All-Star Showdown and PokerStars' way of welcoming high-stakes cash game titan Ike Haxton to Team Online. Take eight of the most feared heads-up NLHE players in the world, have them put up $100,000 apiece, and play single-elimination matches until a winner emerged. And with six opponents already vanquished, the last two players standing came together today to battle for heads-up supremacy.

Both had to slay giants to get this far. Ben "Sauce123" Sulsky disposed of Tobias "KTPOKP" Kuder in the quarterfinals, then was pushed to the edge and back in a 19-hour semifinal vs. Team Online's Ike Haxton. Dan Cates survived a swingy session with Alex "Sussie Smith" Roumeliotis before putting away Phil Galfond. Although Cates and Sulsky were evenly matched in skill, Cates got the best of it tonight in terms of luck. After two hours of play, Cates jumped out to a $200,000 lead and never let it go, becoming PokerStars' first All-Star Showdown champion.


Dan "w00ki3z." Cates, All-Star Showdown Champion

HOURS 1-2 (Hands 1-732)

The final would play its first 3,000 hands at four $200/$400 NLHE tables, each player starting with a $400,000 bankroll. Although the match stuck to a cash game format, it wouldn't end with one player making away with all $800,000. Tonight, $300,000 was in play with first place earning $550,000 and the runner-up walking away with $250,000.

The match kicked off just past noon ET and although Cates got things rolling by claiming a couple of $27,000 pots, Sulsky quickly recovered those chips and jumped out to a small lead. In a pot Cates four-bet preflop, Sulsky check-called $3,400 on the K♠9♥8♦ flop, then checked again when the T♠ hit the turn. Cates bet $10,400, Sulsky shipped it all-in for $31,000 and Cates called. Cates had Sulsky beat on the turn with J♠7♥ for a straight, but Sulsky hit the 9♠ on the river to make a full house with his K♣9♦ and win the $80,000 pot.

That hand gave Sulsky a nearly $54,000 lead, but Cates struck back a short time later, winning two simultaneous all-ins. On one table, Cates shoved the river with queens up and Sulsky called with jacks up, while on Table 3, Sulsky check-shoved a T♥6♦6♣Q♥ board with straight and flush draws. Cates called with A♦A♥ and faded the K♠ on the river to win the $88,400 pot.

The first hour came to an end in dramatic fashion. With all the money in preflop, Cates' A♦K♦ was in trouble against Sulsky's K♥K♠, but an ace hit the river to give Cates the $100,400 pot and push him into the black to the tune of $12,400.

Sulsky hit a bit of a rush in the second hour and spiked his own miracle ace on the river to retake the lead by $33,000:

Cates, however regained his footing in short order. Holding 9♦9♠ on a T♠9♥8♦ flop, Cates bet $4,000 from position and Sulsky called. The T♥ on the turn made Cates a boat and Sulsky again checked to him. Cates bet $10,800 and Sulsky called. The river was the 6♥ and Sulsky checked a third time. Cates shoved for $64,400 and Sulsky called all-in for $42,800, his 7♦7♠ having rivered a straight. Cates raked in the $121,600 pot and moved out to a $48,800 overall lead, but Sauce wrested it away only ten minutes later, winning a $137,600 flip with Q♣Q♥ against A♦K♣. After two hours and 732 hands, Sulsky led by $13,200 - about 1/3 of a buy-in.

83 hands: Sulsky +$16,000
183 hands: Sulsky +$42,200
246 hands: Sulsky +$53,800
385 hands: Cates +$12,400
449 hands: Sulsky +$33,000
557 hands: Sulsky +$18,400
597 hands: Cates +$48,800
732 hands: Sulsky +$13,200

HOURS 3-4 (Hands 733-1,343)

Cates struck back, reclaiming the lead early in the third hour. Sulsky check-called Cates' flop, turn, and river bets on a A♥K♥4♦5♣5♥ board, Cates rivering a flush with 8♥T♥ to rake in $93,600. That hand put him up by $52,400 overall, and he widened his lead to $91,200 when his J♣T♣ made top pair on a T♦4♣2♥ flop. Sulsky called $3,600 on the flop, $9,600 on the 9♣ turn, and $24,000 when the K♥ hit the river, but Cates' second pair was good for $80,800.

With only a little more than two buy-ins separating them, neither player needed to be too concerned about the chip count. But a $200,000 cooler of a hand was about to blow this match wide open. Sulsky had the best of it on the flop, his set of deuces leading Cates' top two pair, but the board paired on the turn to make full houses for both players, Cates' the larger one:

Cates led by $177,200 going into hour four and widened his margin to $217,400 after his 3♥4♥ flopped trip threes and got three streets of value. Sulsky staged a rally thanks to his flush coming in on the river against Cates' set of tens, as well as this $80,000 hand where he picked off a river bluff Cates made with ace high:

Sulsky's run cut Cates' lead all the way to $62,600, but by the end of the fourth hour, Cates had ground it back up to $128,600.

808 hands: Cates +$31,000
831 hands: Cates +$52,400
964 hands: Cates +$91,200
1,042 hands: Cates +$177,200
1,120 hands: Cates +$217,400
1,188 hands: Cates +$156,400
1,229 hands: Cates +$62,600
1,343 hands: Cates +$128,600

HOURS 5-6 (Hands 1,344-1,912)

Cates shot past the $200,000 mark, winning a trio of medium-sized pots over the next 50 hands. He ran especially well in the two of the three that reached a showdown, hitting a running two pair in one and rivering a flush against Sulsky's flopped trip sixes in the other. Sulsky gained a back a bit of ground when he won a $78,400 pot with pocket aces and deftly value-bet a set of sevens on a board holding four to a straight, but for every sizable pot Sulsky shipped, Cates had an answer.

Sulsky pushed Cates' lead down to $158,400 before back-to-back all-ins extended Cates' margin to $264,400. Holding K♦T♦, Sulsky had Cates' K♣9♣ outkicked on a K♠2♥2♠K♥ board, but Cates hit a two-outer on the river, the 9♦ falling to make him a better full house. At the same time as that $90,400 pot played out, another monster unfolded on Table 4, Cates' top pair winning a kicker battle against Sulsky's for $103,200:

With Sulsky unable to buy in for full stacks on four tables, play continued on three. Although the action never slowed and the all-ins kept on coming, Sulsky wasn't able to gain any ground. He was still in top form, however, making plays like this bluff-catch with second pair on a fairly coordinated board:

1,394 hands: Cates +$212,400
1,482 hands: Cates +$222,800
1,512 hands: Cates +$187,200
1,540 hands: Cates +$158,400
1,585 hands: Cates +$264,400
1,649 hands: Cates +$246,200
1,827 hands: Cates +$219,000
1,876 hands: Cates +$240,933
1,912 hands: Cates +$257,733

HOURS 7-8 (Hands 1,913-2,415)

Cates and Sulsky broke even in the seventh hour of play and with Cates holding on to a $238,000 lead, they agreed to take a 30-minute break. Action resumed at 7:30pm ET and Cates set off on a major rush, winning every significant confrontation, including this $94,400 pot where Sulsky bluffed three streets on a 2♦3♥9♦K♦A♥ board with jack-high. Sulsky's A♦J♥ picked up a flush draw on the turn and top pair on the river, just in time for Sulsky's shove.

With Cates' lead hovering around the $300,000 mark, action was reduced to two tables.

2,005 hands: Cates +$255,933
2,020 hands: Cates +$251,333
2,215 hands: Cates +$236,333
2,238 hands: Cates +$243,733
2,300 hands: Cates +$238,133
2,359 hands: Cates +$308,933
2,415 hands: Cates +$295,933

HOURS 9-10 (Hands 2,416-2,976)

The top of hour nine saw Cates put Sulsky firmly on the ropes. Holding Q♥Q♠, Cates four-bet to $5,600 pre and made top set when the flop landed Q♦J♣6♦. Sulsky check-raised Cates' $3,400 bet to $13,200 with A♣Q♣ and Cates smooth-called. The 4♣ on the turn gave Sulsky the nut flush draw to go with his top pair and he pushed it, moving all-in for $33,200. Cates snap-called with his set and faded the 7♦ on the river to rake in the $91,200 pot.

Sulsky was left with $66,000 after the hand but agreed to play two short-stacked tables. Although Sulsky was able to fight Cates off long enough to pull himself out of immediate danger, he simply couldn't gain any traction. Cates kept the pressure on, making more frequent preflop four-bets, and forcing Sulsky to multiple decisions at once. With the blinds set to go up to $400/$800 at the 3,000-hand mark, Cates didn't need to go in for the quick kill as much as he needed to keep Sulsky right where he was.

2,467 hands: Cates +$333,733
2,491 hands: Cates +$270,533
2,542 hands: Cates +$223,333
2,605 hands: Cates +$296,533
2,613 hands: Cates +$329,200
2,713 hands: Cates +$307,200
2,766 hands: Cates +$241,400
2,842 hands: Cates +$314,400
2,854 hands: Cates +$324,800
2,976 hands: Cates +$299,600

HOUR 11 (Hands (2,977-3,179)

Sulsky strung a few pots together to chip up to $130,000 before their move to the $400/$800 tables. Sulsky bought in short on two tables, but lost some ground when Cates turned trip jacks against his two pair. Down to $38,600 on Table 2, Sulsky doubled that stack to $77,200 when Cates made an admittedly loose call on the turn with a naked flush draw. Sulsky had a flush draw as well, but his queen-high ended up the best hand:

Cates' lead remained stuck at around $300,000 until he won a $101,000 coinflip to bust Sulsky's Table 2 stack. All-in preflop with T♠T♦ against A♥K♣, Cates rivered tens full on a 9♣9♦3♣6♣T♥ board to leave Sulsky on his last $60,000. The action was reduced to one table and although we'd seen plenty of comebacks from this few chips over the course of the All-Star Showdown, Cates was able to wrap this match up with a single hand.

And what a hand it was. All the money went in preflop, Cates turning over J♣J♦. Sulsky showed 9♣9♥. The flop fell an amazing J♠9♦7♣, both Cates hitting a set of jacks over Sulsky's set of nines.

"GG," typed Sulsky, before the turn and river could run out.

Cates' set of jacks faded the last nine in the deck and after 3,179 hands, Cates delivered the final blow.

3,014 hands: Cates +$289,600
3,023 hands: Cates +$316,800
3,041 hands: Cates +$286,600
3,052 hands: Cates +$331,600
3,058 hands: Cates +$293,000
3,112 hands: Cates +$297,800
3,128 hands: Cates +$291,600
3,169 hands: Cates +$340,800
3,179 hands: Cates +$400,000

Congratulations to Dan "w00ki3z." Cates, already an online legend and now our first All-Star Showdown champion. Cates earned $550,000 for the win. Kudos are also due to Ben "Sauce123" Sulsky who played a remarkable, fearless game over the last week, cementing his status as one of the world's most talented NLHE players. For his runner-up finish, he banked $250,000.

This concludes PokerStars' inaugural All-Star Showdown, and on behalf of all of us at the PokerStars Blog, thanks for checking out our coverage. Although we've temporarily settled the battle for heads-up supremacy, if forum chatter is any indication, railbirds and players alike are already clamoring for a PLO sequel. Stay tuned...

Kristin Bihr is a freelance contributor to the PokerStars Blog.

Kristin Bihr
@PokerStars in All Star Showdown