Freeroll qualifier Jason Acosta wins first PokerStars Festival
Jason Acosta has to go back to work tomorrow, a Saturday.
"Paperwork," he said with a shrug.
This is what happens when you own your own trucking business and have taken off the entire week to play in the first PokerStars Festival in New Jersey.
It's made a lot better when you win.
Tonight, Acosta, a man who won his seat to this tournament in a PokerStarsNJ freeroll, is the first champion of PokerStars first event in the USA since 2011.
"I've won tournaments online before, but nothing for this amount of money. It was a really tough field. There were a lot of solid players. This is the top for me," Acosta said.
To get the trophy in hand tonight, Acosta had to face a man who is on a serious heater: Mike Gagliano.
By almost any measure, this has been Gagliano's breakout year. Though he's been successful on the poker scene for eight years, he hadn't won a major live tournament until 2016. He started in the biggest way by winning a World Series of Poker bracelet this summer for nearly half a million dollars. He followed that up with a $104,000 win in October at the Parx Casino Big Stax event. Then he came here to the first PokerStars Festival and won the first open event.
He almost became the Main Event champion, but Acosta made sure that didn't happen.
After three days of play, Acosta came back from a major chip deficit and put away the last of the 208-strong field, defeating Gagliano heads-up for the trophy.
Originally scheduled to play down to the final table today, this tournament turned from a four-day event into one that finished a day early. After reaching the final table after just four hours of play today, the final seven players agreed to play it out tonight.
They reached the final table after Eli Kim's aces held up against Peter Smyth and Javy Ounthongdy in a three-way all-in. That score sent Kim to the top of the leaderboard where he would stay for the next several hours.
The work of eliminating players went first to Matt Affleck. Once Rocco Dicondina fell down below ten big blinds, he shoved big slick into Affleck's Q♣9♣. Affleck hit his nine and sent Dicondina to the rail in seventh place. Sridhar Sangannagari went out almost immediately thereafter, getting his Q♠J♥ all in against Gagliano's kings.
That's when Acosta decided to ruin Affleck's day. Affleck had built his stack to more than a million, but lost half of it to Acosta after losing a race with ace-king versus tens.
At the dinner break, it was Kim's tournament to lose. He had two million chips, more than twice his nearest opponent. It would be his high water mark. Gagliano took the first chunk, doubling with pocket eights. Then Kim doubled up Affleck and lost a few other smaller pots. Nevertheless, he held on as the short-stacked Affleck busted in fifth and David Johnston went out in fourth.
Theee-handed, it seemed Kim couldn't lose a hand. When he had cards, he kept finding pocket pairs. When he couldn't peek at a pair, he found a way to make two pair on the board. Acosta and Gagliano were frustrated.
"Is it ever going to end?" Acosta asked.
"Just give him the trophy!" Gagliano said.
Though Kim held his lead for a couple of hours, Acosta and Gagliano avoided getting in too much trouble. When they finally saw an opportunity, they struck. Gagliano made quad tens in one hand to take more than half a million from Kim. That's when it all blew up.
When Kim raised to 70,000, Gagliano re-raised to 210,000. Kim didn't back down and made it 650,000 with a million behind. That's when Gags shoved, and Kim snap-called with deuces. Gagliano had A♣Q♠. He made his ace on the flop and won 3.4 million of the five million chips in play.
It looked like it was over. It looked liked Gagliano couldn't lose.
Then everything changed.
Acosta doubled quickly, picking up pocket sixes against Gagliano's A♣8♠. It brought him up within striking distance. He worked some more and got his stack close to 1.5 million. That's when it all went nuts. As Nick Wright wrote in our live coverage.
The chip lead has changed hands due to a huge pot in which Jason Acosta got a full double-up.
The hand began when Acosta raised to 90,000 from the button and Mike Gagliano made the call. The T♣4♠T♦ flop checked through and the 8♦ fell on the turn. Gagliano bet 125,000 and Acosta called. On the 6♣ river, Gagliano bet 300,000 and Acosta paused a few beats before moving all-in. Gagliano shot out of his seat, taken aback by what had just happened.
He wanted a count and it was established that Acosta was all-in for 1,105,000, so it was 805,000 for Gagliano to call. He began to think through the hand out loud.
"You think A-10 is just good?" he wondered -- to himself more than anyone else. "Exactly eights makes sense, sort of," he continued.
"Could you have fours? I don't know... man this is gonna kill me," he added.
Gagliano thought for another minute or so and then called.
"I got there with the straight," said Acosta who showed 9♠7♦. Gagliano showed 7♥5♥ for a worse straight. "Sick river," he said.
After that hand Acosta is up to 2,700,000 while Gagliano drops to 2,300,000.
After that, Gagliano did everything he could to throttle Acosta's momentum, but ultimately, Acosta pulled father ahead, hitting his hands, and moving out to a 4-1 chip lead. Finally, it came down to a flip.
Earlier today, Acosta had some success in this department.
"I've never run so good," said Acosta after winning one.
"That's how you win tournaments," Nicolas Aguilera said.
"I guess that's why I've never won one," Acosta said with a grin.
In the last hand of the tournament, he had ace-king to Gagliano's pocket sixes. The board paired jacks and nines to counterfeit Gagliano's pair, and Acosta was the champ, winning $38,220 and the trophy.
While he has to go back to work tomorrow, you can feel sure he'll back here at the next opportunity.
"I thought the event was run really well. The floor people were good, the dealers were good, the set-up is great," he said.
And that's how tonight ends, with a brand new winner at a brand new festival, Jason Acosta, the very first PokerStars Festival champion.
How did the whole week go? Have a look at the video below.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Follow him on Twitter: @BradWillis.