PCA 2015: Six players with a Chance; the Main Event concludes today
From 816 players just six still have a chance at realizing one of poker's most coveted achievements by winning the Main Event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure here in the Bahamas. Like the field as a whole, the final half-dozen are well represented by accomplished players with tournament résumés filled with impressive live and online scores. Surviving five days has been challenging enough, but the sixth should prove even more so.
But all six have a chance. And five of them will be starting the day chasing Chance.
That's because returning to a chip lead he maintained for much of the day yesterday will be Chance Kornuth (1st, 7,860,000) of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The 28-year-old professional brings a wealth of tourney experience with him, having amassed over $1.7 million in live tourney cashes. He's shown an ability to close strong in major events as well, having earned a WSOP bracelet in a $5K pot-limit Omaha event in 2010 and the $10K Bellagio Cup X title last summer, victories worth more than half a million each.
Kornuth spoke with us yesterday about his desires not only to win today, but "to lead a more normal life, have better bankroll management, and consider more of the future." Having most of himself in this event means a nice payday awaits him on this his third and by far most successful trip to the PCA.
Last May Kornuth and his girlfriend, Emily, visited the Great Wall of China, and it was there he asked her to marry him and she said yes. Yesterday Emily surprised him by showing up to root him on and provide support in his effort to climb over one last set of competitors to earn the title. "I'm having a blast," he reports, clearly relishing the moment. "There's a lot of nice guys still left. Hopefully I can beat them all."
Of those nice guys still left, the nearest challenger to Kornuth to begin play today is Kevin Schulz, an American pro currently living in Playa del Carmen, Mexico so as to carry on being able to play online. The 28-year-old Schulz has been playing in EPT events since Season 6, having thus far collected cashes in side events at the 2011 PCA and EPT Barcelona. A final table showing at a $5K WSOP event in 2012 netted him his biggest career score of $267,792, the bulk of his career live tourney earnings that total close to half a million.
After battling with below-average chips toward the end of play yesterday, Schulz catapulted himself into second position on the last two hands of the night after knocking out eighth-place finisher (and fellow Playa del Carmen resident) Dylan Linde with pocket tens versus the latter's ace-king, then ending the run of Praytush Buddiga in seventh after his pocket aces outlasted Buddiga's ace-jack.
As Schulz's friend Faraz Jaka -- still alive as the short stack with 11 left in the $25K High Roller -- explained to EPT Live yesterday, he and Schulz met as students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The occasion of their meeting was a speech given at the school by a famous alum, Team PokerStars Pro Barry Greenstein, which drew a big audience of poker players. Many connections were made that day including the one between Jaka and Schulz who are roommates on this trip, and some eight years later the two find themselves both in contention for seven-figure scores.
Behind Kornuth and Schulz in the counts lurks the Peruvian Diego Ventura (3rd, 3,980,000) of the northwestern coastal city of Trujillo. As an online superstar who plays as "Die Ventura" on PokerStars, the 25-year-old won his $16K PCA package at the last moment via a $700 qualifier three days after Christmas. Among his large collection of big online scores is a third-place in the Sunday Million in 2013, a fifth in the Sunday Warm-Up last summer, and another seventh in the Sunday Million just a couple of months ago.
Ventura got his start in poker playing home games with friends, and after getting hooked he left University and started working as a waiter while grinding online at night. Finally three years ago he became a full-time pro, and hasn't looked back since. Along with those big scores in Sunday majors, Ventura has collected still more wins in the Sunday Second Chance, the Sunday Kickoff, and The Big $162 on his way to accumulating more than $1.2 million in online earnings. Those results have also made him one of the highest-ranked online players in the world, with Peru's poker media voting him Online Poker Player of the Year in 2014. While making his deep Main Event run, Ventura also coached the Peru team in the Americas Cup of Poker to a fourth-place finish.
As we witnessed early yesterday, Ventura got off to a fast start on Day 5 by doubling his stack within the first three hands of play, putting him near the leaders for the first part of the day until Kornuth extended his lead. Wherever he finishes, Ventura will be adding a career-best live score to his long list of online achievements today.
Another online phenom sitting just behind Ventura in the counts is Niklas Hambitzer (4th, 3,100,000), a 26-year-old professional from Bonn, Germany currently living in London. The Supernova Elite primarily makes his living at the 6-max hyperturbo tables where he plays for stakes up to $1,000, and Hambitzer has added scores with a win in The Bigger $55 (for $50K) and a third-place showing in The Bigger $162 (for $30K).
Also like Ventura, Hambitzer earned his way here by winning a $16K package in a $700 satellite (in early November). The German began playing home games around eight years ago, not long after the Moneymaker "boom" had found its way to Europe to ignite interest in the game there. Today Hambitzer stands as Europe's final representative at a table otherwise comprised of North and South Americans.
The second of the two remaining South American players is the amiable Juan Martin Pastor (5th, 2,655,000) of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the youngest of those left at age 22. Well known in the Latin American poker community, Pastor has already become a familar face at LAPT stops where he's picked up several cashes and final tabled the LAPT Colombia Main Event in Season 6 where he finished eighth.
It's online, however, where Pastor spends most of his poker-playing time, having worked all of the way up from $0.01/$0.02 no-limit hold'em games to becoming a $500 Zoom specialist. As we shared here a few days ago, with a couple of days to go in 2014 Pastor was just four VPPs away from achieving Supernova Elite status, and to mark the occasion of his grabbing those last points invited friends over for a big party and raucous celebration.
Part of Pastor's early study of the game was via PokerStars' Intellipoker online poker school, and in fact now Pastor works as a coach for the Spanish branch. This marks Pastor's third PCA but first cash, and with a sizable rail cheering him on we may be witnessing another big party here today should his run extend even further.
Finally, returning to the shortest stack of the final six will be Rami Boukai (6th, 780,000) of Laguna Hills, California, another American who has made Mexico his home in order to continue grinding online. The 32-year-old has enjoyed significant success both in the live and online realms, with a 2009 WSOP bracelet win in the $2,500 pot-limit Omaha/pot-limit hold'em event his most significant live score. Boukai earned $244,862 for that win, but has already locked up an even bigger payday here by making the final six.
Boukai has collected nearly $650,000 all told in live tournaments, most coming at WSOP events with a few EPT scores where his best previous finish was 25th in the Season 4 Grand Final in Monte Carlo for €42,100. He's thrived online as well, however, with final tables in WCOOP and SCOOP events and the Sunday 500. He, too, earned a $16K PCA package via a $700 qualifier on PokerStars.
A former MMA fighter, Boukai will have five tough opponents to grapple with today. We're confident Boukai will stick to check-raising and barreling rather than resort to any rear naked choke holds such as we learned about earlier this week with Tito Ortiz.
Full details of how they line up today:
Seat 1: Kevin Schulz, United States -- 6,155,000 (77 big blinds)
Seat 2: Chance Kornuth, United States -- 7,860,000 (98 big blinds)
Seat 3: Niklas Hambitzer, Germany -- 3,100,000 (38 big blinds)
Seat 4: Diego Ventura, Peru -- 3,980,000 (50 big blinds)
Seat 5: Rami Boukai, United States -- 780,000 (10 big blinds)
Seat 6: Juan Martin Pastor, Argentina -- 2,655,000 (33 big blinds)
There are about 20 minutes left in Level 29, where the blinds are 40,000/80,000 with a 10,000 ante. And here's are how the final six places are scheduled to pay out:
Martin Harris is Freelance Contributor to the PokerStars Blog.