PCA 2015: Ilkin Garibli wins High Roller, earning 1.1 million and first title

While the Main Event gets the attention for most of the final day, the High Roller event plays on in a quiet corner of the tournament room. Sometimes it stays this way through to the end, a sub-plot in a day dominated by events on the TV stage. But on those rare occasions when the Main Event finishes early, leaving the crowds to disperse, the High Roller becomes the focus of everyone's attention - a draw for all those not yet ready to call time on the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) festival, intent instead on squeezing the last drops of fun from what has been a fantastic ten days.

Today was one of those days.


final_table_hrftwrap.jpg

As the Main Event stage was packed up, the High Rollers moved to the centre, albeit in the middle of the Imperial Ballroom. Around them was a crowd of friends, family, well wishes and passers-by who cheered them home. Sure, there were a few local beers in the mix, but it gave the festival the send-off it deserved, and the winner Ilkin Garibli, the moment he deserved as well.

Garibli took down the title tonight, along with a first prize of $1,105,040 and a SLYDE Steel and Rose Gold watch worth €12,890. He did so in splendid fashion, defeating a final table that often looked unbreakable. But to him go the congratulations tonight.


Champion Ilkin Garibli_pca2015_hrwinner.jpgHigh Roller winner Ilkin Garibli

Garibli's story is among those highlights of the week. Playing his first live festival, having been persuaded to join the fray by friends while on holiday in the Bahamas, he showed no sign of inexperience and instead took on the best in the game with aplomb. With no record to speak of before the PCA, his first database entry will now be worth more than a million, and almost guarantees he may give this tournament poker thing another try.


Heads Up_2015 PCA_25K High Roller_wrap.jpgHeads up in the High Roller

For his part Joe Kuether, who came in second and won almost as much as Garibli, put in an almost faultless display, taking chances when he needed to, and playing solidly for the full three days to bag his $1,050,000. With a rearguard display towards the end, which at times seemed to involve everything but the kitchen sink, his efforts and performance are to be applauded. It was a heads up duel of more than two hours, even with levels cut to 20 minutes, but it featured two great players set on glory.

With 11 players returning the pace was slow in the early stages, and it was some time before Bryn Kenney became the first faller of the day. He departed in 11th place when his ace-jack was undone by the pocket eights of Kuether, who then moved into second place. For his part Kenney picked up $112,980 and headed straight for a seat in the $10,000 turbo.


Bryn Kenney_pca2015_hrftwrap.jpg
Another deep run for Bryn Kenney

Dominik Nitsche followed in tenth place. When he found A♠Q♠ he four-bet shoved for 750,000, and was called by Garibli with A♦J♦. Garibli flopped top pair with his jack while Nitsche picked up a flush draw, but the off-suit king on the river sent him to the rail with $112,980.


Dominik Nitsche_pca2015_hrftwrap.jpgDominik Nitsche


That would leave an unofficial final nine, led by EPT Vienna winner Oleksii Khoroshenin, that looked like this:

1. Jean-Pascal Savard -- 1,920,000
2. Scott Seiver -- 832,000
3. Nick Petrangelo -- 1,700,000
4. Ilkin Garibli -- 1,915,000
5. Dan Heimiller -- 730,000
6. Lee Markholt -- 684,000
7. Faraz Jaka -- 755,000
8. Joe Kuether -- 2,230,000
9. Oleksii Khoroshenin -- 2,580,000

Lee Markholt soon ran into difficulty against Nick Petrangelo, which reduced him to just 400,000 chips. He was forced to move in shortly after, but had at least found pocket kings with which to do so -- clear favourite against Scott Seiver's pocket nines. Had the first card on the flop been anything different it might have worked. But a nine put Seiver ahead and sent Markholt to the rail.


Lee Markholt_pca2015_hrftwrap.jpgLee Markholt

Dan Heimiller followed almost immediately. Having led with 11 left, the American, who we wrote about earlier, found no fortune from the moment he sat down. It was perhaps made worse when he too, like Markholt before him, found kings with which to push.

Faraz Jaka meanwhile was raising pre-flop from the big blind with ace-eight. Petrangelo had raised before him but left it to Jaka and Heimiller, who moved all-in. Jaka called and watched two aces land on the flop. That moved Jaka beyond the 2 million mark. Heimiller meanwhile was out in eighth place with $162,700.


Dan Heimiller_pca2015_hrftwrap.jpgDan Heimiller

Jaka though, whose room mate Kevin Schulz was set to have one heck of a day over on the Main Event TV table, ran into trouble in a hand against Jean-Pascal Savard.

Opening from the hijack, he then called Savard's all-in. He held pocket queens to Savard's ace-queen and looked set to send Savard to the rail until the ace appeared on the river.

That damaged Jaka's hopes beyond repair. Despite a modest triple up, giving him a few more big blinds, he was eliminated shortly after in seventh place. Savard's ace-king easily dismissed Jaka's ace-six.


Faraz Jaka_pca2015_hrftwrap.jpgFaraz Jaka

By the dinner break Garibli had the lead. But it was not the lead he'd once had. Seiver had pulled back to within sight of Garibli and the pair put some distance between themselves and the rest of the table. Petrangelo held on as the short stack, but would soon depart in sixth place when he open-shoved for 900,000 with king-jack. Kuether found himself with the easiest decision of the day, moving in himself with pocket aces, sending Petrangelo to the rail.


Nick Petrangelo_pca2015_hrftwrap.jpgNick Petrangelo

Some dramatic hands followed. Garibli re-seized the initiative, winning a big hand against Kuether with A♦Q♦, which took him to nearly 6.5 million. Then Sevard doubled through Seiver, with Seiver's pocket jacks undone by a miraculous flush. Then Khoroshenin doubled through Garibli, denying him his comfortable advantage with a pair of sixes.

Seiver would never recover. With the big blind at 100,000 nobody could really claim to have enough big blinds, and when Seiver found pocket sevens he saw a flop against Garibli. He flopped a set, unbeknownst to Garibli, who was now behind with pocket tens. Seiver moved all-in, and after thinking Garibli called.

Seiver did what we would probably all do. He asked out loud for them to hold. But whoever he was asking wasn't listening. Crucially Garibli had a better diamond in his hand, and the turn and river made the Azerbaijani a flush. That was Seiver out in fifth place.

By now Garibli had an enormous lead, with 8.5 million, more than twice that of the others combined. So when Khoroshenin eliminated Savard, with ace-king against Savard's ace-nine, taking play to three handed, it seemed it would be the Ukrainian facing off against Garibli heads up.

Kuether knew the odds were against him, but figured this gave him license to go for broke. First, all-in with ace-three he found a three on the flop to rescue him against Khoroshenin's ace-ten. Then, he chopped a pot with the Ukrainian before his comeback gathered even more momentum.

With his chips in with ace-seven it looked like Khoroshenin would get his chips back, holding ace-queen. But as Josh Cahlik, reporting for Poker News put it, this was fast becoming a sick final table. Would this hand hold up for Khoroshenin? No it wouldn't. Kuether flopped the straight draw and got there on the river. Khoroshenin knew he was done and left quickly, out in third place.


Oleksii Khoroshenin_pca2015_wraphr.jpgThird place for Oleksii Khoroshenin

It left the heads up battle to the newcomer and the American, who elicited cries of "Joey Baby!!" from a partisan rail after each hand went his way. A deal was agreed that effectively split the prize money, with chips and pay-outs looking like this:

Ilkin Gribaldi - 9,280,000 chips ($1,105,540)
Joe Kuether - 4,170,000 chips ($1,050,000)

With only the trophy and SLYDE watch to play for they got to it. Gribaldi extended his lead but Kuether proved difficult to dislodge. He secured one double up, then another, and then what seemed like a thousand more. At one point a friend of Garibli ran on to hug his friend, missing Kuether's flush. It was some reaction given what was left to play for, but perhaps summed up what it meant to them.

Regardless, it was a thrilling end to a great PCA festival, worthy of bringing it to a close.
That brings our coverage from the PCA to an end also. Congratulations to all the winners this week who now face the enviable problem of finding space in their luggage for enormous trophies. The PCA is over for another year but the European Poker Tour continues, heading for Deauville in two weeks' time.

See you then.


PCA High Roller - January 12-14, 2015
Buy in: $25,000
Entries: 269
Prize pool: $6,456,000

1. Ilkin Garibli (Azerbaijan) $1,105,040*
2. Joe Kuether (United States) $1,050,000*
3. Oleksii Khoroshenin (Ukraine) $629,460
4. Jean-Pascal Savard (Canada) $508,080
5. Scott Seiver (United States) $398,340
6. Nick Petrangelo (United States) $301,500
7. Faraz Jaka (United States) $221,440
8. Dan Heimiller (United States) $162,700
* denotes two-way deal


Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.