LAPT Vina del Mar: From half a big blind to an LAPT championship

by Brad Willis and Change 100

Vina del Mar, Chile is luxury without pretension. To wit: the Hotel Del Mar is a five-star joint with a bingo parlor on the first floor. The rooms are as well-appointed as any on the PokerStars tours and the staff is friendly enough to put your restaurant doggy bag under a silver cover and carry it to your room after your meal. While we're loathe to call anything "perfect," this is about as close as it gets on a poker tour.

The Latin American Poker Tour found this Garden City by the Pacific Ocean and knew it would be the perfect place to host a stop in the second season. Players flocked from countries across South America and as far away as Iceland, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. The buy-in may not be as big as those on other circuits, but the excitement and newness of it all makes it something special.

Two hundred and sixteen players put up the buy-in for a chance to play for more than half a million bucks in prize money. Although this would be the fifth final table played on the LAPT, there had not yet been a champion from Latin America. That changed tonight. After three days of play (including a two and half hour money bubble on Day 2), we had our winner. Argentina's Fabian Ortiz is the LAPT Vina del Mar champion.

The story of the one-time disco owner's rise, fall, and phoenix-like ascent to the championship is one that will be told time and again. Simply put, when the final table reached four players, Ortiz had half a big blind. Now, he is an LAPT champion.

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How it happened is a long story. Best we start at the beginning of the day.

The final table started with the same speed as the money bubble. It was possible to measure orbits by the half hour. More than that, really, Orbit number one took forty minutes to play.

Though things moved slowly at first, the increasing blinds and restless gamblers' nature took hold. It spelled the end the godfather of Uruguayan poker, Jaime Ateneloff.

Damian Salas had already proven himself to be unashamed about getting playful and occasionally out of line. In early action, he'd re-raised and shown down 9-2. So, when he opened for 33,000, the Uruguayan poker kingpin looked down at two cards that matched his age 7-7. He pushed in his final 80,000 chips and got the call from Salas. It was Qd-Js for the young man, and the pocket sevens for the man of more experience. The flop was perfect for Ateneloff: 6h-4s-4c.

As a quick aside, we should point out that in recent days Humberto Brenes has adopted the war cry of another final table player, Jyries Aguad Saba aka Chiquitita (loosely translated to "little one"). Brenes, a friend to the all-in Ateneloff, went to work

"Chiquitita! Chiquitita!" Brenes screamed from the rail. "How many days does the week have? SIETE!" he said.

The turn, though was the Qc, the lead shifting to Salas.

"SIETE!!" implored Brenes again as the river card came down. It was the 5s, though and Ateneloff exited the stage in 9th place to a hearty round of applause and a $10,476 payday.

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Ateneloff gets a congratulatory handshake from Fabian Ortiz
Ateneloff's departure did not spark an all-in festival, despite some extremely short stacks left at the table. Among those shorties was Eduardo Camia. When Damian Salas opened the action with a raise to 42,000, Eduardo Camia moved all-in for 127,000 total. Salas didn't take long to make the call. Camia's As-9s was in some pretty big trouble against Salas' 9h-9d. The Qs-5c-4d-4c-8d board ran out and put Camia out in 8th place, He earned $13,095.
Camia awaits his fate

For the past three days, there has been no question who served as the crowd favorite. Jyries Saba, a local from the host city of Vina del Mar, broke the initial silence of the Enjoy Casino ballroom with a cheer that came to define him. His "Chiquitita" cheer spread through nationalities, across language barriers, and into the vernacular of nearly everybody here.

The local crowd came out to support their man here tonight, and the Chiquitita cheer rose up over the din more often than anything else. At one point in the tournament, Saba was down to just a few blinds. He battled his way back to the final table and actually looked like he stood a chance at winning. Alas, it was not to be.

Fabian Ortiz opened the action with a 45,000 raise from early position and Saba made the call from the small blind. The flop came down Ks-5s-4d and Saba almost immediately declared himself all-in. Ortiz snap-called, having Saba slightly covered. The crowd rose to their feet, chanting, clapping, and crying "Vamo Chiquitita!"

When the cards were turned on their backs Saba showed the Kc-Jc and was in pretty dire shape against Ortiz's Ah-Ad. The crowd calling for a king or a jack, the dealer burned and turned the 8s on the turn, followed by the 6c on the river. No mas de Chiquitita and Ortiz raked in the monster pot, making him the runaway chip leader.

"CHI! QUI! TITA!" chanted his railbirds, as Saba, ever-smiling, shook hands around the table and exited stage left.

Long live Chiquitita

Up to this point, the pots has not been huge. The end of Chiquitita seemed to set off the alarms.

Damian Salas made it 78,000 to go before the flop and Giannelli wasted little time before announcing it would be 200,000 to play. After Hernan Villa folded, Fabio Escobar moved all-in. Salas folded quickly. Only having to call 4,000 more, Giannelli put in a few more chips, kissed his cards, and put them on the table. It was bad news for Escobar. Giannelli held Ad-Ks to Escobar's As-Qd. Amid raucous cheers and hoots, the flop ran out 5h-4h-2d-8d-9c and sent Escobar to the rail.

Escobar acknowledge's Giannelli's victory

After that pot, Giannelli picked up the chip lead for the first time since Day 1.

Escobar's exit seemed to shake the perpetually short-stacked Hernan Villa from his slumber. After holding on to just a few chips most of the day, he finally got them all-in and couldn't find a way to win.

The action was folded around to Fabian Ortiz, who raised to 115,000 from the small blind and Hernan Villa, 30,000 of his remaining 95,000 in chips posted in the big blind, called all in for less. Ortiz showed Qs-7c and Villa turned up his cards one by one, the 2d... and the 6d. The 7s-3s-3c flop left Villa drawing only to running cards and the Ts on the turn left him drawing completely dead. The meaningless 9h fell on the river and our man with nine lives finally met his tournament end, departing in 5th place for $28,809.

Villa, looking for life #10

Within minutes, we had the biggest pot of the tournament. Fabian Ortiz came in for a raise to 100,000 from the button, and Damian Salas re-raised to 300,000 from the small blind. Ortiz, with a bit of a flourish, announced he was all-in. Salas called just as quickly for his 547,000 chips. It was Ac-Js for Salas and Tc-Th for Ortiz. The board ran out 9s-Kh-Jc-6c-6s and Salas picked up a pot worth more than 1.1 million.

Ortiz, left with only 18,000 chips, seemed like a lock for fourth place. With not even a big blind to his name, he proceeded to defy the odds again, again, and again. After tripling up, then doubling up, he had Leandro Balotin covered.

Down to 165,000, Leandro Balotin open-shoved and Ortiz made the call, surprisingly having Balotin covered by about 55,000 chips. Balotin showed Qs-5c, needing some help against Ortiz's Ad-8d. His supporters immediately began calling for "mujeres" (ladies/queens).

The flop, though, came down Ah-2h-2d, leaving Balotin drawing only to runners. The 6s on the turn sealed his fate and by the time the Jd landed on the river, the quiet, composed young man was already shaking hands around the table and making his exit.

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After a long break and some tepid three-handed play, the room was almost asleep. It was late and everyone could've been forgiven for sleeping Vincenzo Giannelli's 124,000 raise from the button. Everybody perked up a little when Damian Salas announced re-raise from the big blind. "All-in," he said. The amount was 520,000.

Giannelli bolted from his chair and yelled, "I call! I'm not stealing!" He held his cards high in the air and then planted them on the table: Ac-Qh.

Salas couldn't beat it. He held Ah-5s.

The crowd rallied behind Giannelli, singing a mini-opera built entirely around his name. The flop fell 9d-3d-6s, enough to give Salas' supporters hope.

"Cuatro!" they yelled in unison.

And there it was...the 4d.

Suddenly, Salas had life. He needed a five, a deuce, or a seven. Instead, he got the 8s.

Giannelli ran around the room, the hero of an anti-tragedy. His supporters' operatic performance rang through the air, crescendoing to a scream of "Venezuela!" and settling again on the name "Vincenzo!"

Salas finished in much more quiet third place for $52,380.

Salas stands in regret and Humberto Brenes celebrates with Giannelli

And so there began an unlikely heads-up battle. There was the hero of the opera with an army of small turtles on his chips versus a man who just an hour before had half a big blind to his name.

Heads up, Giannelli had Fabian Ortiz outchipped 1,524,000 to 637,000.

Giannelli's story had all the makings of a heroic trip to the top. With a chorus behind him, Giannelli's larger than life personality dominated the stage. It only took one tough suck-out to turn the tables.

Giannelli raised to 120,000 on the button, Ortiz moved all in from the big blind and Giannelli called, having Ortiz well covered. It was the Ad-6c for Giannelli and the Kd-7c for Ortiz.

"Ace! Ace! Ace!" chanted Vincenzo's Venezuelan choir on one side of the room, a word which, we'll remind you, has a Spanish pronunciation similar to the synonym for an oft-uttered word in our game-- donkey.

The flop came down Tc-8d-6h, pairing Giannelli's six, but giving Ortiz some more outs with a gutshot straight draw. His supporters began calling for a "nueve."

The turn? The 9d.

The Venezuelan contingent fell silent and the other side of the room exploded as Ortiz made his straight. Now the Venezuelans were calling for a "siete" to put a straight on the board and split the pot.

It was not to be, though, as the 9s fell and Ortiz doubled up, nearly evening the stacks. After the hand Ortiz had 1.15 million to Giannelli's 999,000.

Now, Gianelli's story was a potential tragedy and the focus turned to Ortiz. Once holding only 15,000 chips at the 15,000/30,000 level, he now had a shot to defy every single odd and make history on the LAPT.

It didn't take long.

It happened faster than anybody could calculate. Vincenzo Giannelli raised to 130,000, Fabian Ortiz announced all-in, and Giannelli called in a shot for the entirety of his 899,000 stack. Ortiz held As-Jc to Giannelli's Ah-Td.

Though the flops, turns, and rivers had been as exciting as anyone could want to this point, the final board ran out fairly: 7c-Qc-4d-8c-6c.

When the river hit, Ortiz jumped in the air and screamed, "Vamos!"

After accepting congratulations from his supporters, he walked over to Giannelli. Ever-gracious, Giannelli took Ortiz' hand, held it in the air, and declared, "Champion!"

Giannelli's grace and game won him $58,570.

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Ortiz, still stunned, later said he only came here hoping to make it to the end of Day 1. Then, he hoped to make the final table. What happened after that is still a blur. He may not remember it, but we will.

Then, he walked away to pick up his $141,426 paycheck.

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If you'd like to take a look back at the live coverage from the day, here are the links to all the posts.

Level 19 updates
Level 20 updates
Level 21 updates
Level 22 updates
Level 23 updates
Level 24 updates
Level 25 updates

For a complete look at the people who walked away with some cash, see the LAPT Vina del Mar winners page. For the Spanish speakers in our midst, we are happy to point you to the PokerStars Spanish blog for a wrap up in your native tongue.

That will do it for our coverage from Chile. We sincerely hope to be back here in Season 3 of the LAPT. In the meantime, our next stop is about six weeks away when we'll be traveling to Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Until then, adios, amigos.

All photography © Joe Giron/IMPDI

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in Latin American Poker Tour