The PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) Main Event is firmly established as one of the most coveted titles in poker. It doesn’t come easily; it attracts one of the toughest fields in the game.
This week at the Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island in the Bahamas, Mike Watson, a 31-year-old professional poker player from St John’s in Newfoundland, Canada, outlasted 926 players in the 2016 field, which is more than 99 percent of it.
But then Watson, known by the moniker “SirWatts”, faced down Anthony Gregg, a man who is nicknamed “End Boss”.
Gregg, 29, from Columbia, Maryland, earned the nickname from poker peers who decided he was the toughest player in any field. He was at the PCA final table for the third time. Nobody else has been there more than once. It was therefore perfectly fitting that Watson would need to defeat Gregg in poker’s version of the myths of yore: SirWatts versus the End Boss for the first major title of the year.
At around about 11.25pm in the Imperial Ballroom of this sprawling resort in the Caribbean, Watson struck the final blow. SirWatts left the End Boss slain. It earned Watson $728,325, taking his lifetime live tournament earnings beyond $9 million. It also happened a decade after Steve Paul-Ambrose won here, the man Watson considers his mentor.
“To be exactly ten years after Steve Paul-Ambrose won is a big coincidence,” Watson said. “There was a time when four of us, including Mike McDonald, used to play online poker in his basement.”
He added: “Even though I’ve had success in the past it feels great to win. It’s been a while I final tabled any big tournament with nearly 1,000 players… The PCA is a great event, it’s always had a big field and it’s definitely up there with one of the most prestigious events.”
For Gregg, it was another near miss in the tournament he continues to dominate. He has been runner up before–to Poorya Nazari in 2009–and was sixth in 2012. But don’t weep for him. He won $612,175 for second today and is now beyond $10 million in his career.
“It’s a little bit of a bummer not to win for sure,” Gregg said. “But I know I had to had to run really good just to get here. I don’t know [what makes him so successful at the PCA.] I think it’s just one of those things – maybe there’s something in the water. But it’s always such a great start to the year, and I think I bring a lot of great energy over here, and that really motivates me to play my best.”
Seat 1: Mike Watson (Canada) 6,585,000
Seat 2: Vladimir Troyanovskiy (Russia) 5,025,000
Seat 3: Randy Kritzer (USA) 2,565,000
Seat 4: Tony Gregg (USA) 5,690,000
Seat 5: Phillip McAllister (UK) 3,040,000
Seat 6: Toby Lewis (UK) 4,665,000
Randy Kritzer was the only recreational player among the established poker sharks, but he had made a fine job of getting inside the heads of even some of the top tournament pros this week. It was hardly surprising. Back in Greensboro, N.C., Krtizer is a neurosurgeon, a natural in the high-pressure environment of the operating theatre, with even more than millions of dollars at stake.
The vacationing doctor was an admitted amateur, more accustomed to kitchen table games with buddies–“That was sandlot baseball and this was like they threw me into the World Series,” Kritzer said. It didn’t mean he wasn’t bitterly disappointed when his latest thrill ride came to a halt in sixth. “I’m sorry it’s over,” he said. “I really just want to play more.”
Kritzer was the first man out today, getting the last of his chips in with top pair–he held Q♠10♣ on a flop of 9♥6♦Q♥–but lost when Phillip McAllister’s 8♠7♥ improved to a flush thanks to the 4♥ turn and 8♥ river. Kritzer earned $153,920 for sixth, and did his best to console himself with the money. “I’m so let down right now but I’ll get over it in a little bit, it’s been an amazing experince,” he said.
Kritzer’s departure left Vladimir Troyanovskiy as the only player over 40 remaining at the final table, but the poker world has long been aware that this Russian can match any of the young guns for endurance, tricks and skills. At the beginning of yesterday, Troyanovskiy was among the short stacks, but doubled up twice to stay alive.
It gave him enough to cruise to the final six, and even to take over the chip lead at one point in yesterday’s late stages. “I wasn’t afraid of anyone at the final table,” Troyanovskiy said, but one suspects others would not say the same about him.
Troyanovskiy is a veteran of umpteen Super High Roller finals, but said that he considered his first appearance at a Main Event final bettered that. “You need more skill in the Main Event,” Troyanovskiy said. “It’s six days of poker. In the High Roller you need less skill.”
It was all the more disappointing for the man from St Petersburg that he could not get much going at his first Main Event final. He lost a significant pot to Mike Watson and dwindled to about 2 million, only about six big blinds, and then defended his big blind to Tony Gregg’s raise with 7♥3♥.
When he picked up a flush draw on the A♣4♥8♥ flop, it seemed like a good time to risk everything. Gregg’s A♠Q♣ faded all of Troyanovskiy’s outs, and that sent the final Russian to the cash cage in fifth. He won $207,940 this time around, but still seeks a major title. He said he’ll go looking for it at the Aussie Millions later this month.
Toby Lewis does not yet have the same string of live results as Troyanovskiy, but he does have an EPT title. He picked up his trophy in Vilamoura in Season 10 and therefore came to the final seeking the second of his career, a feat achieved only by one other player.
Lewis had already had a superlative tournament this week. He was the chip leader at the end of the opening day and then, like Troyanovskiy, recovered from a short stack yesterday to go to battle today well stacked. But there will always be a number of flips that will need winning to go all the way to the top spot in a tournament such as this, and Lewis came out on the wrong side of an enormous one against Gregg.
Lewis’s A♥K♦ couldn’t out-race Gregg’s 9♣9♦ when the latter was facing elimination. It left Lewis short and shoving from the small blind with K♠9♠. Watson was lurking in the big blind with A♣J♦ and picked him off.
The run-out was cruel. Lewis hit a king on the turn to give him hope, but Watson paired his queen on the river. It meant Lewis was out in fourth for $267,340 and the search for the second title continues.
Lewis offered his thanks to the supporters who had railed him throughout and promised them a slice of his winnings when they hit the bars and restaurants tonight. “I’m going to go have a few drinks tonight now and enjoy the win,” he said.
The absence of Lewis meant that McAllister was the lone representative of the United Kingdom in the final three. Although relatively new to the live arena, McAllister, who plays online as “Grindation” from his home in Mexico, became an instant superstar this week when he played the hand of the tournament on Day 4.
McAllister already had a huge stack when he managed to runner-runner into a royal flush on the television table, and then find his opponent, Fabian Chauriye, betting into him. “It’s so rare to even get it and get it in such a deep run for a big pot, it was great,” McAllister said.
McAllister enjoyed every minute of his progress through the tournament, most of which he viewed from behind a monstrous stack. And even when his run ended in third–earning him $356,020, which is the biggest score of his career to date–he remained upbeat. “It’s been a great day, I mean I got $350K,” he said. “It’s a little bittersweet because it would’ve been nice to take the trophy home but I’m still happy.”
He actually got a little unlucky not to get the chance to play heads up for the title. Sitting with a stack of similar size to Gregg’s three-handed, he was bullied out of a pot by Watson’s five-bet jam and lost a third of his stack. (Watson played it beautifully; he had only king-queen.)
But then, after following contemporary trends to limp from the small blind, McAllister was delighted to see Watson moving all in from the big blind. McAllister was massive with his J♥J♦ compared with Watson’s 8♣7♣. If the flop was cruel–10♣5♣7♠–the turn was crueller. It came 3♣ and Watson’s flush signalled the end for McAllister.
“The table so was tough,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like this. I’m lost for words.”
With that, there were two. And for all the sensational talent of the fantastic four who had just left, few would argue that a match between Gregg and Watson represented two of the very fiercest competitors in world poker.
When they went heads up, Watson held a lead of 17.7 million to 9.875 million. But never has it been more clear that two players respect one another’s game completely than when they asked to look at the numbers and agreed on an equity deal immediately. It meant that Watson banked $695,325 and Gregg $612,175, with $33,000 still to play for.
There was no argument and no attempts to squeeze out a few extra dollars. Just a handshake and then a heads-up battle to determine who would hoist the trophy.
Both players had both the chips and the game to make for another epic heads up battle in the Bahamas. After the titanic struggle between Dominik Panka and Mike McDonald two years ago, there was every chance things could go on forever. But as it turned out, Watson’s momentum never deserted him, even through a couple of hard-fought hours.
Eventually, Gregg committed all his chips on a flop of 2♥8♥6♥ holding A♠8♣, which was top pair. But Watson had an enormous draw with his 7♥4♠ and picked up even more outs on the 7♠ turn. The 5♥ on the river filled both his straight and his flush–and, more significantly, the title.
That completes the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for another year, during which Bryn Kenney won the Super High Roller, Steve O’Dwyer added another massive title, Nick Maimone won the $25K and another 100-odd players posed with winner’s trophies (one of them with dolphins too).
The European Poker Tour now heads to Dublin. Watson, meanwhile, heads back to Camelot, the beast slain.
PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $5,300 Main Event
Prize pool: $4,500,800
Places paid: 135
1 – Mike Watson, Canada, $728,325
2 – Tony Gregg, United States, $612,175
3 – Phillip McAllister, United Kingdom, $356,020
4 – Toby Lewis, United Kingdom, $267,340
5 – Vladimir Troyanovskiy, Russia, $207,940
6 – Randy Kritzer, United States, $153,920
*reflects a heads-up deal