WCOOP 2013: WithoutNickk's wild ride ends in victory in Event #1, WCOOP Kickoff ($109 NLHE)

After almost a year of waiting, every online poker player's favorite time of year finally came back around yesterday. The 12th annual running of the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker got started in fine fashion with Event #1, the WCOOP Kickoff, a $109 no-limit hold'em event with a $500,000 guaranteed prize pool. And if the way this tournament went is anything to judge by, this series is going to be one to remember.

For starters, the guarantee was smashed after 11,799 players showed up, building a $1,179,900 total prize pool to be split among the top 1,530 finishers. With $7,433 guaranteed to everyone who made the final table and $164K set aside for the winner, there was a lot of profit waiting up top.

And then there was the epic battle that closed things out, a 201-hand match that proved making a deal doesn't always mean a quick end to the game at hand - a competitive streak and an extra $10,000 on the table can do wonders for keeping things going.

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Martin Hruby was tops among Team PokerStars Pro players in Event 1

Perhaps the only players who would have liked things to go a bit better were those who sport the Red Spade beside their names. Of all the Team PokerStars Pro players who entered the WCOOP Kickoff, only Martin "AABenjaminAA" Hruby made the money, finishing in 197th place ($589.95). Team Online also only placed one of its members in the money; Mickey "mement_mori" Petersen finished 538th ($353.97).

The starting line

With all the sponsored pros gone and 11,778 other players eliminated as well, these nine players sat down to the final table with blinds and antes at 70K/140K/17.5K:

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Seat 1: # 1 skills (2,788,945 in chips)
Seat 2: Eugene_Tung (2,863,312 in chips)
Seat 3: Ultraballs18 (2,279,108 in chips)
Seat 4: lepa lepa28 (8,804,859 in chips)
Seat 5: WithoutNickk (3,962,403 in chips)
Seat 6: Got 18 today (4,487,833 in chips)
Seat 7: 1_conor_b_1 (17,035,700 in chips)
Seat 8: herosnappinG (10,395,538 in chips)
Seat 9: GotURead (6,377,302 in chips)

It was the second WCOOP final table of 1_conor_b_1's career (after a 6th-place finish in a 2011 shootout event), and it started off well with 121 big blinds to put to use. 1_conor_b_1 was active along with the other big stacks through the first 22 hands, and thy took down most of the pots uncontested. By Hand #23 Singapore's Eugene_tung was on the extreme short stack, but the Singaporean player doubled up to 1.19M after jamming for 385K with K♥ J♣ against blind-stealing raise with 7♥ 3♥ by GotURead of the Netherlands.

#1 out

The next seven hands passed much like the first few dozen had, without much fanfare and with an advantage to the big stacks. At the other end of the counts were a number of players looking for anything worth going with. On Hand #31 two of them would collide after Russia's WithoutNickk opened for 400K in second position with Q♥ Q♠ and Canada's # 1 skills jammed for 1.71M on the button with 6♠ 6♥. WithoutNickk called with just 592K behind, the queens held when the board came J♦ Q♦ 9♠ 3♣ K♦, and # 1 skills was out in 9th place ($7,433.37).

Too big to fold

Play might have reverted to the standoff from the first few orbits if not for two players picking up big cards on the next hand. Germany's herosnappinG opened for 348K in the hijack and GotURead three-bet to 835K on the button; then herosnappinG four-bet to 1.79M, GotURead shoved for 9.26M, and herosnappinG called with 1.57M behind:

herosnappinG: K♦ K♣
GotURead: A♠ K♥

The board came 4♦ Q♥ 8♦ 5♦ Q♦, Big Slick couldn't catch up to the cowboys, and GotURead was out in 8th place ($11,799).

That moved herosnappinG into the chip lead and the German started leaning on the others quickly. Hand #34 was good for a win against 1_conor_b_1 that extended that lead significantly:

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Cracked rockets

On Hand #38 Eugene_Tung was short-stacked again, this time holding just 410K after paying the 80K small blind. All that went in with A♠ A♥, over the top of herosnappinG's button raise to 355K with T♦ 4♦. The aces were in great shape pre-flop but had nine outs to dodge after the flop came 9♥ 2♦ J♦. The Q♠ turn gave herosnappinG six more outs for 14 total heading to the river. The K♠ made a king-high straight for herosnappinG, cracking the aces and sending Eugene_Tung out in 7th place ($23,598).

Big stacks collide, short stacks tread water

Hand #43 saw herosnappinG try to lean on 1_conor_b_1 again, this time out of position in the small blind against 1_conor_b_1's minimum raise to 400K from the button. herosnappinG called with Q♠ T♠ and both players checked the A♦ 9♠ 4♦ flop. herosnappinG led for 597K on the A♣ turn, and 1_conor_b_1 called. herosnappinG bet out again on the 9♣ river, this time for 1.49M, and 1_conor_b_1 called to win the 5.33M-chip pot with Q♣ 9♦. That gave the U.K. player 18.78, good for second place behind herosnappinG's 19.2M.

The United Kingdom's Ultraballs18 was now the short stack with 2.1M chips, worth just under 11 big blinds. Ultraballs got all-in twice in the next five hands and survived both times but couldn't actually make any progress, splitting pots first with A♥ Q♥ against herosnappinG's A♦ Q♣ and then with A♦ 5♥ against WithoutNickk's A♠ 7♣.

Hand #66, meanwhile, saw another confrontation between herosnappinG and 1_conor_b_1, this time in the blinds:

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Big stacks keep clashing, short stack goes down

By Hand #84 the blinds and antes were up to 125K/250K/31.25K and herosnappinG had chipped all the way up to 28.48M. 1_conor_b_1 had fallen to 13.38M but was still in second place, trailed by Russia's leap lepa28 (9.02M) and then Ultraballs18 (2.91M), WithoutNickk (2.6M), and Finland's Got 18 today (2.13M).

1_conor_b_1 chipped back up at lepa lepa28's expense; after calling a raise from the small blind with A♦ 5♦ and check-calling smallish bets on the J♦ A♠ 2♥ flop and 4♦ turn, 1_conor_b_1 led out for 3.3M into the 3.93M-chip pot. lepa lepa28 made the call but mucked after being shown the nut flush, dropping to 3.97M in the process.

Then on Hand #88 two of the short stacks would finally collide. Ultraballs18 jammed for 2.41M in the cutoff with 8♠ 8♥ and Got 18 today called from the small blind with A♦ K♠, leaving just 158K behind. The board came J♠ 4♣ 7♥ 5♠ 3♣, Ultraballs18 chipped up to 5.14M, and Got 18 today was forced all-in from the small blind on the next hand with 3♥ 2♦. herosnappinG, who opened with A♠ 5♣, won that pot on a board of K♣ A♥ J♣ 3♦ K♦ to send Got 18 today to the rail in 6th place ($35,397).

WithoutNickk's roller-coaster ride

Hand #93 was another blind-versus-blind confrontation between 1_conor_b_1 in the small and herosnappinG in the big. 1_conor_b_1 opened for 625K before calling herosnappinG's three-bet to 1.36M and taking a flop of 8♥ Q♣ Q♠. 1_conor_b_1 check-called a 1.23M-chip bet there and then check-called another 2.73M on the 2♥ turn. That put 10.82M chips in the pot, all of which went to herosnappinG after both players checked the 4♦ river and the German showed A♠ J♦, the jack kicker beating out 1_conor_b_1's A♦ 7♦.

Hand #96 saw WithoutNickk in a desperate spot, all-in for 1.44M with A♣ K♥ from the big blind against 1_conor_b_1's 3♠ 3♦. The A♥ 9♥ 7♥ 7♣ K♣ board gave the Russian player a lifeline in the form of 3.67M chips. Three hands later moving those all-in on a A♣ J♦ 6♠ flop over the top of herosnappinG's leading bet was good enough to chip up to 4.98M.

Fourteen hands passed and the blinds and antes went up to 150K/300K/37.5K before the next flop was seen. herosnappinG won that one with a bet on the turn of a board reading 4♠ 9♠ 2♣ T♠, chipping up to 35.47M - more than 27 million chips ahead of the nearest player, 1_conor_b_1.

Two hands later lepa lepa28 caught a break after moving all-in from the big blind with K♥ J♦ and being called by WithoutNickk, who had limped under the gun with K♣ Q♥. The board came [5♠ 9♣ J♥ 8♦ 8♠, pulling lepa lepa28 away from the brink and once against leaving WithoutNickk as the short stack, now with 2.11M chips.

On Hand #117 WithoutNickk moved in from the small blind over the top of herosnappinG's 611K opener for 1.73M , and A♥ 9♥ was good enough to beat herosnappinG's 4♣ 3♣ on the Q♥ 8♦ 6♥ 9♠ 5♠ board. Back up to 3.95M, the Russian player doubled through herosnappinG again four hands later, this time to 9.83M with A♣ A♦ against J♦ J♥ on a board of K♥ 7♣ 4♠ 2♥ K♣.

Two down quickly

The chip counts now looked like this:

Seat 3: Ultraballs18 (5462916 in chips)
Seat 4: lepa lepa28 (9048548 in chips)
Seat 5: WithoutNickk (9830628 in chips)
Seat 7: 1_conor_b_1 (7272895 in chips)
Seat 8: herosnappinG (27380013 in chips)

On Hand #132 lepa lepa28 survived this hand:

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That gave lepa lepa28 12.33M and dropped 1_conor_b_1 to 6.93M, just ahead of Ultraballs18 (6.06M). Just two hands later Ultraballs18 moved all those chips in from the big blind after herosnappinG opened for 673K in the small blind, but the timing wasn't good as A♣ 5♠ was behind herosnappinG's J♠ J♣. The board came 5♦ 2♣ 9♣ T♣ 8♠ and Ultraballs18 was gone in 5th place ($47,196).

Ten more hands would go by before the next confrontation, and herosnappinG won six of them uncontested. Going for a seventh, the German player opened for 878K under the gun with K♥ Q♠ and called when 1_conor_b_1 shoved for 6.65M with A♠ K♦. The K♣ 8♣ 4♣ flop and T♥ turn had 1_conor_b_1 within sight of another double-up, but the Q♦ fell on the river, giving herosnappinG the 13.71M-chip pot and sending 1_conor_b_1 out in 4th place ($58,995).

WithoutNickk leapfrogs lepa lepa28

Two hands later WithoutNickk picked up a nice little 6.55M-chip pot in an unraised blind-versus-blind pot after flopping top and bottom pair, turning a full house, and getting calls on all three streets from lepa lepa28, who couldn't beat that boat and was left with 5.67M chips. But on Hand #148 lepa lepa28's 7♠ 7♥ held up against WithoutNickk's A♥ 9♥ to reverse their positions.

On Hand #163, WithoutNickk doubled through herosnappinG with pocket aces once again, A♣ A♠ holding up against the German's A♥ 9♠ for a 14.31M-chip pot. Just six hands later the heads-up duel would be set thanks to this hand:

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Dodging 10 outs twice was good for 22.88M chips, and lepa lepa28 left in 3rd place ($82,593).

Epic battle time

After coming in second in chips, herosnappinG was in good position with just one more opponent to face:

Seat 5: WithoutNickk (14,317,464 in chips)
Seat 8: herosnappinG (44,677,536 in chips)

It was a lopsided battle at the start as herosnappinG held a 3-to-1 lead, and not much changed over the first 60 hands of heads-up play as both players were satisfied to trade small pots back and forth. Then, on Hand #229, WithoutNickk opened for a minimum raise of 1M with T♠ 5♥ and herosnappinG called from the big blind. Both players checked the K♣ T♣ 4♦ flop, and WithoutNickk called half-pot bets on the 8♦ turn and K♠ river to win the pot with kings and tens against herosnappinG's 7♦ 9♦ for a busted straight draw.

That 9.12M-chip pot boosted WithoutNickk to 18.67M total, and from that point the Russian player began to slowly chip away at herosnappinG's lead. By Hand #265 WithoutNickk had narrowed the deficit to 4.94M, or just under 10 big blinds on the 250K/500K/62.5K level. Seventeen hands later this pot actually gave WithoutNickk the chip lead for the first time:

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Even with their positions reversed, the style of play didn't change. Another 34 hands went by without major changes, leading herosnappinG to suggest making a deal. They quickly came to an agreement where herosnappinG got $137K and WithoutNickk got $134K, leaving the last $10K on the table for the winner.

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But not even that was enough to alter the dynamics of the duel, as both players stayed committed to playing small-ball and looking for bigger openings. On Hand #328 WithoutNickk finally pulled ahead by 20 big blinds, playing bluff-catcher after flopping second pair with A♦ 5♥ and calling flop and turn bets from herosnappinG. The two checked down the river and WithoutNickk won the 10.95M-chip pot with a pair of fives on a J♦ 5♦ 4♣ K♦ T♣ board. A 9.75M-chip pot on the next hand, this one uncontested on the river of a board reading 3♠ A♦ J♠ 9♠ 8♠, doubled that lead for WithoutNickk.

Another win for WithoutNickk on Hand #339 via flopping a Broadway straight left herosnappinG with just 12.72M chips, but the German player doubled up on the next hand, calling all-in with Q♦ T♣ on a board of J♥ K♠ 7♦ K♦ and beating out WithoutNickk's J♦ 8♦ when the river came the 9♣ for a straight. That gave herosnappinG 25.45M chips and suddenly the match was competitive again.

The two fell back into their rhythm of trading small pots back and forth for another 31 hands before herosnappinG opened on the button for a minimum raise to 1.2M with 6♣ 6♥. Holding 4♣ 4♦, WithoutNickk shoved, and herosnappinG called for 24.25M total. The stage appeared to be set for a major reversal in this long heads-up match, but the A♠ 5♦ 4♠ flop brought WithoutNickk a set of fours and left herosnappinG with very few ways to win, The A♥ on the turn narrowed those to just the last two sixes in the deck, and the 3♦ on the river brought the tournament to an end.

For second place, herosnappinG earned the previously agreed upon $137,632.78 from the heads-up deal. WithoutNickk capped off a pretty incredible final table comeback by picking up the extra $10K for the winner, bringing the Russian player's total score for the tournament up to $144,487.07 and one hard-earned gold WCOOP bracelet.

WCOOP 2013: Event #1, $109 NL Hold'em (WCOOP Kickoff)
11,799 entrants
$1,179,900 prize pool
1,530 places paid

1st place: WithoutNickk (Russia) $144,487.07*
2nd place: herosnappinG (Germany) $137,632.78*
3rd place: lepa lepa28 (Russia) $82,593
4th place: 1_conor_b_1 (United Kingdom) $58,995
5th place: Ultraballs18 (United Kingdom) $47,196
6th place: Got 18 today (Finland) $35,397
7th place: Eugene_Tung (Singapore) $23,598
8th place: GotURead (Netherlands) $11,799
9th place: # 1 skills (Canada) $7,433.37
* - denotes result of heads-up deal

With events in games from Badugi to Stud and Courchevel to Omaha, there's something to interest just about any poker player in this year's WCOOP. And with 11 events sporting guaranteed prize pools of $1,000,000 or more, there's a lot of money on the line.

Jason Kirk is a freelance contributor to PokerStars Blog.

Jason Kirk
@PokerStarsBlog in WCOOP