By Arnold Warner
The 21st Annual Bay 101 WPT Shooting Star Championship was held March 6 to 10 in San Jose. Michigan’s Sam Panzica claimed the title and $1,373,000 after coming out on top of the record-breaking field of 806 entries. The total prize pool was $5,722,600.
This was his second WPT title, as earlier this season he won the WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble in Jacksonville, Florida.
With two tables left (12 players) Panzica was at the bottom of the chip count, but he found a way to make the final table of six. When play began Friday afternoon he was in third place with 3.2 million chips, but he and the other four players were way behind chip leader and three-time WPT champion Chino Rheem who had 10.65 million.
Because of his massive chip lead and experience, Rheem was the overwhelming favorite to win the crown. But poker tournaments often turn in unexpected directions.
The tournament kicked off Day 1A on Monday, March 6 with dozens of stars at the tables and $2,500 bounties on their heads. Players eliminating them also received a Shooting Star Bounty Medallion, and an autographed t-shirt with the bounty’s photo on it. On this day there were 45 stars including Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Mike Sexton, Vince Van Patton, Joe Hachem, J.C. Tran, Antonio Esfandiari, Maria Ho, Matt Glantz, Loni Harwood, Tim West, Dan Shak, Anthony Zinno, and Noah Schwartz.
Ema Zajmovic was the first woman to win an open-event WPT title (at the recent partypoker.net WPT Montreal tournament), but her good fortune did not continue here as she was the first bounty eliminated. Her K-K was looking good against Salvador Seguritan’s 2-2 right up until the turn when another 2 showed up. She planned to take advantage of the one re-entry allowed each player by coming back for Day 1B, when she would once again be marked with a bounty.
After more than 13 hours of play, Day 1A ended with 119 players (14 of them Shooting Stars) remaining of the 361 who entered. Eddie Sabat was out front with 265,600 chips, good for the Day 1A chip leader bonus of $10,000.
Day 1B’s 45 bounties included several from the day before using their allotted re-entry option, along with Phil Laak, Lon McEachern, Andy Frankenberger, Bruce Buffer, Tony Dunst, David Williams, Pat Lyons, Carlos Mortensen, Tom Schneider, and Liv Boeree. Apparently Palo Alto’s own Phil Hellmuth, always a lightning rod of attention and a fan favorite, was unable to attend this year due to a prior family commitment.
Local legend “World Famous” Pat Lyons was the first Shooting Star Eliminated on this day, shoving with 5-5 on a board of 10-10-7-3-7 and getting called by Todd Wierzbowski’s K-K. Undeterred, Lyons insisted it was all part of the plan and that he would be back soon with his second entry.
There were 445 entries on Day 1B to create the record-setting total of 806. Of those, 145 survived to move on, 19 of them Shooting Stars. The Day 1B $10,000 chip leader bonus went to Stephen Graner with 332,700.
Day 2 started with 264 players and would end with the field cut down to 36. However, midway through the day a schedule change was announced: They would stop play at 3:00 a.m. and begin again at 1:00 p.m. instead of noon.
The money bubble burst less than two hours into play, when Oscar Zarate-Ramirez was eliminated in 82nd place when his gutshot straight-flush draw did not improve against Eddy Sabat’s K-K.
Defending champion Stefan Schillhabel went out in 47th place ($19,120) when his pair of nines lost to Shah Shojaeyan’s pair of queens.
The day ended with 44 players remaining and five bounties: Mike Sexton, David Williams, Garrett Greer, Rainer Kempe, and Christian Harder. Paul Volpe was the chip leader with over 1.7 million.
Day 3 would end with the final table of six players established. After two hours of play they were down to 36 and began six-handed play.
Bay 101 regular Tuan Mai got the next bounty, eliminating Christian Harder in 34th place ($26,220). Harder’s 9-9 was no match for Mai’s K-K. The next Shooting Star eliminated was Garrett Greer in 23rd ($30,590). His A-Q lost to the K-K of Huihai Wu.
Mai claimed another bounty when he felted Mike Sexton in 22nd place ($30,590). Sexton moved all-in for 268,000 and Igor Yaroshevskyy called. Mai then went all-in over the top and Yaroshevskyy folded, showing 10d-10h. Sexton had A-6 and Mai K-K. Sexton hit his ace on the flop, unfortunately for him Mai also hit a jack for a set. The board wound up Ad-Kd-Jd-Qd-2h and Mai’s set won since neither of them had a diamond. Yaroshevskyy though, folded the 10d. In one of those “if I had only known” moments he saw that he had folded what would have been a royal flush.
David Williams was the next Shooting Star to go when chip leader Sergio Aido eliminated him in 16th place ($36,050) with a straight against Williams’ pair of queens.
Local favorite Mai was knocked out in 14th place ($42,610) when his excellent tournament came to a close after his Kd-Jd couldn’t outrun Kevin MacPhee’s A-A.
Neil Blumenfield, the San Francisco player who came in third place at the 2015 WSOP Main Event had another great run. This one came to a close when he was eliminated in 12th place ($53,530) by Aido’s massive chip stack and A-A against 9-9.
With eight players left Chino Rheem began to make his move. It was a bit up and down though, as he fluctuated from under 2 million to over 4 million. At seven handed Rheem was the chip leader with 4.96 million, but not by much as chip stacks were all fairly close. Over the next several dozen hands he slowly increased his lead. Soon it was 6.6 million, 7.2 million, and 8.5 million. He had hit 10.1 million when the TV bubble popped. Kempe put Aido and his short stack to the test, raising from the small blind. Aido, with only about 10 big blinds, called all-in with K-Q and Kempe showed 8-2. With a board of 7-3-2-J-10 Aido was eliminated in seventh place ($144,760) when his king high couldn’t beat Kempe’s pair of deuces.
Day 4 began with the final six players under the television lights. Rheem’s 10.6 million chips were leading the way. The others were Kempe (3.7 million), Sam Panzica (3.2 million), Paul Volpe (3 million), Anthony Spinella (2.6 million), and Dennis Stevermer (980,000).
Chips bounced around for 36 hands with no major changes (except that Stevermer had doubled up). Then on the next hand Rheem raised to 225,000 in the cutoff and Kempe moved all-in from the small blind for 2,190,000. Rheem snap-called and turned over K-K. Kempe showed A-9 and when the board ran out 7-6-3-3-8 the last bounty had been eliminated and they were down to five. Kempe’s sixth place was good for $188,460. Rheem now had nearly 13.5 million.
The next significant hand was more than an hour later. Rheem doubled up Spinella with an ace-high flush draw against Spinella’s made flush. Rheem was down to 9.5 million and Spinella up to 7.7 million.
Stevermer went out on Hand #72 when Rheem raised from the button to 320,000 and Stevermer went all-in for 1.4 million. Rheem called with K-9 and Stevermer showed A-8. The board was 9-7-6-4-Q giving Rheem a pair of nines, elminating Stevermer in fifth place ($243,090).
The chip lead finally changed on Hand #84 when Spinella raised under the gun to 300,000 and Rheem re-raised from the small blind to 700,000. Spinella four-bet to 1,950,000 and after about a minute Rheem called. The flop was J-5-2, Rheem checked and Spinella bet 775,000. When Rheem folded he was left with 9.5 million to Spinella’s 9.525 million.
On the very next hand Rheem raised from the button to 325,000 and Spinella called from the big blind. The flop was Kd-5h-2c, Spinella checked, Rheem bet 375,000 and Spinella called. The turn was the 7d, Spinella checked, Rheem bet 600,000 and Spinella called. The river was the Ac, Spinella checked, Rheem bet 1.5 million and Spinella quickly called. Rheem had K-9 for a pair of kings, but Spinella had Ad-2d to win with two pair. He now had nearly 12.5 million and Rheem was down to just under 6.7 million.
Five hands later Rheem raised under the gun to 325,000 and Volpe called from the big blind. With a flop of 8d-7s-4s Volpe checked, Rheem bet 375,000, and Volpe check-raised all-in for 2,975,000. Rheem called with Kh-Kd and Volpe had Qs-Js for a flush draw. The turn and river were 2c-8c and Volpe was eliminated in fourth place ($349,610).
Rheem retook the lead on Hand #95, and after that Panzica started moving up. By Hand #104 it was Rheem 12 million, Spinella 6.6 million, and Panzica 5.5 million. Spinella was back in the lead on Hand #114 by a half million, but it went back to Rheem on Hand #117.
Meanwhile Panzica had been steadily increasing his chips, so that when he took a pot from Spinella on Hand #118 he had moved into second place. By Hand #136 Rheem was firmly back in the lead with 14 million to Panzica’s 5.7 million and Spinella’s 4.4 million.
Spinella was in second place when he doubled up through Panzica on Hand #145 when his A-6 beat Panzica’s 7-7 on a board of Q-6-2-4-A. Then, six hands later, Panzica raised from the button to 500,000, Spinella called from the small blind, and Rheem moved all-in from the big blind. Panzica called all-in and Spinella folded. Panzica had A-A to Rheem’s Q-J. After the board ran out 10-7-6-4-2 Panzica had doubled up to 9.175 million to Rheem’s 9.575 million and Spinella’s 5.45 million.
Panzica took the next two pots, grabbing the lead and then extending it to a gap of 3 million. Soon his lead was over 5 million and Spinella was getting short. Then, on Hand #160 Panzica raised from the button to 500,000 and Rheem called in the big blind. The flop was A-3-2, Rheem checked, Panzica bet 500,000 and Rheem called. The turn was a K and this time Panzica bet 950,000 after a check, which Rheem called. The river was a Q and Rheem checked again. Panzica bet 2.1 million. After more than a minute Rheem called and Panzica turned over A-K for top two pair. Rheem mucked and Panzica had won an 8.3 million pot, giving him a huge lead of 18.3 million to 3 million and 2.8 million.
Hand #167 had Spinella move all-in from the button for 2.375 million and Rheem also moving all-in from the small blind for 2.875 million. Panzica folded. Spinella had K-J and Rheem A-Q. Rheem paired his queen on the flop of Q-6-2, but Spinella caught a king on the turn followed by a blank river to take the hand and leave Rheem with just two big blinds. He was eliminated on the next hand, placing third ($521,660).
Six hands into heads-up play Spinella raised to 650,000 and Panzica moved all-in over the top. Spinella called with his final 7 million holding Ac-8c. Panzica had Ah-10s. The board was Jh-5h-3d-4d-5c. Neither player made a pair, but Panzica’s ten kicker played giving him the title and the $1,373,000. Spinella’s second place finish paid $786,610.
The two-day $2,100 buy-in “$2K” tournament was held March 5 to 6. After Ryan D’Angelo was eliminated in third place ($50,820 and a $7,500 Shooting Star seat), Yanki Koppel and Brad Gordon agreed to a chop. Koppel had the chip lead, so he claimed the trophy along with $104,860 and a Shooting Star seat. Gordon also received a seat in the Championship event, along with $100,030.