After an epic battle between six of the biggest names in the tournament poker world, former November Niner David “Chino” Rheem captured the first-ever championship of the Epic Poker League Friday evening.
The 137 player field was whittled down to the final six after three days of play among some of the biggest names in poker today. The EPL’s first tournament, with players earning the right to enter the event through a stringent qualification process, was a $20,000 Six Handed No Limit Hold’em tournament and a mixture of the aggressive young professionals in the game were balanced by the stalwart “old guard” looking to take home the championship. The six men who were able to survive the grueling gauntlet reflected both sides of the equation.
Starting off the final table, veteran pro Hasan Habib held the lead over two of those “young guns,” Jason Mercier and Rheem. Erik Seidel, Gavin Smith and former World Champion Huck Seed balanced out the remainder of the table which didn’t disappoint anyone when it came to the play.
With an even $1 million on the line for the champion of the event, the veteran pros took their time in the early going, displaying their years of experience with every move. It wasn’t until the fortieth hand of play that a player moved all in, when Gavin Smith made his stand after a raise from Habib. This particular all in went uncalled by Hasan, who laid his hand down in response to Gavin’s move.
Starting the day as the second lowest stack, Gavin had difficulties throughout his stay at the final table. Even after making the first all in move, he was still the short stack behind Huck Seed at that time. He was forced to go back to the “all in” move by the fiftieth hand simply to remain in contention at the final table.
On the 79th hand of play, the end came for Seed. After Mercier raised the pot to 48K, Seed three-bet his hand up to 120K and Jason responded by moving all in. Huck made the call, tabling his pocket Jacks, and found himself in the lead against Mercier’s A-K. The end was at least quick for the 1996 WSOP Main Event champion as a King on the flop gave Mercier a lead he would hold to the river. Eliminated in sixth place, Huck Seed – who had battled from a short stack throughout the final two days of play – took home $107,980 for his efforts and Mercier seized the chip lead.
After Seed’s elimination, Gavin was pretty much at the mercy of the table. Sitting on 484K in chips, Gavin had to look around at his opponents who held, at the minimum, three times what his stack was. With that said, Gavin would not leave the Palms Casino Resort quietly, striving to earn the first EPL championship.
Ten hands following Seed’s elimination, Gavin would make a key double up against Mercier to break the one million chip mark. He continued to battle as the hand count broke the 100 mark, surviving to the dinner break on the short stack with 715K in chips but still dangerous enough to do damage to his foes.
Following the dinner break, Rheem and Seidel went to battle, resulting in a change atop the leaderboard. On a difficult A-A-K-7-4 board, Seidel faced an all in river bet from Rheem. Deliberating the bet, Seidel took several minutes before making the call for his tournament life with just a 7-5 for two pair. Surprisingly, Rheem stated, “It’s good,” as he slid his cards to the muck and the chip lead to Seidel.
The end would come for Gavin Smith on the 127th hand of play. After spinning his wheels for much of the final table play, Gavin found a pocket pair of nines and moved all in after a bet from Jason Mercier. This time, Mercier would hold a tremendous edge, as his pocket Queens were in front of Gavin’s holdings. An unnecessary Queen on the flop only extended Mercier’s edge and, once a five came on the turn, Gavin Smith’s first foray into the EPL was ended. For his efforts, Gavin walked off with a little something for his week’s work at the Palms to the tune of $154,260.
After the elimination of Smith, the remaining four players seemed to loosen up a bit. Habib would be the next to go – ten hands following Gavin’s departure – after he ran his pocket Jacks into Chino Rheem’s pocket Aces, earning $237,560 for his fourth place finish. With Habib’s elimination, Rheem was still the short stack on the table, with his 1.6 million in chips dwarfed by Mercier’s 2.2 million and Seidel’s 2.9 million.
The triumvirate would battle over 26 hands before heads up play was determined. In a blind versus blind battle, Mercier would push all in from the small and was met by a call from Seidel in the big. Mercier was on an attempted steal as he showed his 9-8, but his cards were live as Seidel showed a K-J. A 6-5-4 flop opened up some more outs for Jason in the hand, but another six on the turn and a ten on the river sealed his elimination in third place, earning Jason $360,970.
Down to heads up, Seidel and Rheem were very close in chips. Over the next fifty hands, they would swap the chip lead between each other before Rheem began to assert control of the table. On Hand 212, Seidel would raise the pot to 100K, bringing an all-in from Rheem. Erik made the call, tabling his A-Q, but found himself behind in the hand against Chino’s A-K. Although an Ace came on the flop, Erik couldn’t find a Queen on the turn or river to catch Chino, ending the first Epic Poker League event late Friday night.
1st – David “Chino” Rheem, $1,000,000
2nd – Erik Seidel, $604,330
3rd – Jason Mercier, $360,970
4th – Hasan Habib, $237,560
5th – Gavin Smith, $154,260
6th – Huck Seed, $107,980
Most notably remembered for his seventh place finish in the 2008 WSOP Main Event, Chino has been able to build a successful career in tournament poker. With the $1 million win from this tournament, Rheem’s career earnings now sit at $5.71 million, moving him into the Top Fifty in career money earnings. Along with this EPL championship, Chino has also earned a title on the World Poker Tour.
With the first Epic Poker League event in the books, the players will have to wait until September for the next chance to step into the Palms Casino Resort. The next EPL tournament week will begin on September 2, with the $1500 Pro/Am kicking off the festivities, followed by a Charity Tournament and the next $20,000 EPL Main Event, this time an Eight Handed No Limit Hold’em format, which begins September 6. For now, however, both Chino Rheem and EPL officials can bask in the glow of what was one of the top tournaments of this tournament poker season.