Shooting Star crowns local champions

By Arnold Warner

Dublin’s Moon Kim prevailed over all the stars at the Bay 101 Casino’s Shooting Star Main Event held March 5 to 9. The tournament had a total of 364 entries creating a prize pool of $3,458,000. For his victory Kim received $960,900, a seat in the WPT Championship at the Bellagio, and will have his name forever engraved on the WPT Champions Trophy.

Another local player, Ubaid Habib, was the runner up and received $570,200. The four other players at the final table were all professionals, but had to settle for the lower spots on the pay scale. Third place went to Joe Serock ($320,400), fourth was Erik Cajelais ($256,300) and fifth and sixth went to Andrew Badecker ($192,300) and Joseph Elpayaa ($129,200) respectively.

The other piece of great local news from the tournament occurred when, one year after his brother Chris placed 12th, Marko Trapani, Jr. came in 10th, one-upping his brother at the tournament and casino their father founded.

Kim, the owner of a jewelry shop in San Leandro and a regular cash game player at the Bay 101 Casino, collected only one bounty on his way to the title. On Day 2 he found himself heads-up against Nam Le, holding Q-Q after a flop of 10-10-4. When the turn brought another 10 he went all-in. Le called, showing J-J, so when the river was a blank he collected the $5,000 bounty and a nice, autographed t-shirt.

His victory was only the latest chapter in Kim’s amazing poker tale. He began playing only five years ago, sticking to the cash games for the first couple of months. “Then I entered a tournament at Bay 101 for $500 and two people split and we got 10 grand each,” he said. “The next day I played a $500 tournament and got knocked out. Then the next day I played a $1,000 one and nine people split and I got $10,000 again, and the next day was a $2,000 event and three people split and I got around $70,000. So in that one week I made about 100 grand. And that’s how I started poker.”

Over the next couple of years he traveled to play some tournaments in Las Vegas and Los Angeles but he says it didn’t work out that well. “I didn’t lose money. I did make some of them, like the WSOP Main Event I placed a couple of times. I did win some small tournaments, but I wasn’t really making money, so I stopped traveling and I’ve just played cash games at the Bay 101 for a couple years.”

This was Kim’s third time playing in the Shooting Star tournament, having won a seat in a $1,000 satellite after missing on three attempts playing $500 satellites. “I used to be a better tournament player before. I used to go final table at least one out of three times before, but now, because I play cash games, it’s hard. It’s a different way of playing,” he said.

Of course he was thrilled to have made the final table, knowing he’d be on TV for the World Poker Tour. “That was a great feeling. I didn’t know I was going to win, but I could brag to my friends that I would be on TV,” he commented. As for his approach to the final table, he added, “I played really tight. My goal was to take second or third, not first. Even second place money was pretty big, but I ended up winning!”

Kim said he was in big pots four times looking at coin-flip situations and won all four of them as players were eliminated. Then, when he got heads up against Habib—a familiar foe he’s played with many times at the $5/5/10 no-limit tables at the Bay 101—he felt very confident, having both a 60/40 chip lead and the knowledge that he’d done well against him in the past.

Never having relinquished the lead, Kim won the tournament on hand 36 of heads-up play. Kim started the hand with 6,980,000 and Habib had 3,940,000. With blinds of 60,000/120,000 and a 20,000 ante, Kim raised to 240,000 and Habib called. The flop was 9d-4c-2d. Habib checked, Kim bet 300,000 after which Habib check-raised to 900,000. Kim then moved all-in. Habib took his time making a decision before calling with Qc-9d for top pair. Kim had the Jd-7d for a flush draw. The turn was the Ac, keeping Habib’s hopes alive, but the river brought the 8d giving Kim his flush and the tournament victory.

“It was awesome,” Kim gushed. “It’s like a once in a lifetime opportunity. I just wish I could play it again. It was really fun. Your whole stress is going away. It just feels great. I probably won’t forget that feeling in my lifetime.”

$2,000 Buy-in Event

The day before the Main Event begins, the Bay 101 always holds a $2,000 buy-in no-limit Hold’em event as a “warm up” and a chance for more players to earn their way into the WPT tournament.

This year 315 players created a $598,500 prize pool with Pleasanton’s Jake Solis taking down the top prize of $155,060 and one of the three Main Event seats. The other two went to second place Fae Saeteune who received $88,940, and third place finisher Joe Bui who took home $55,825. Fourth through ninth places and prize monies went to: Toko Luu ($47,830), Baltavar Villa ($38,880), Danny Qutami ($29,830), Michael Aron ($23,860), Tahir Ahmad ($17,900), and Brandon Crawford ($11,930). Players taking 10th through 27th place received between $9,545 and $3,580.

Like Moon Kim, Solis is also a regular in the Bay 101’s cash games. While he hangs on to his job selling supercomputers from his home, he says that poker continues to be a good and increasing source of income and that he likes how his “regular job” provides the flexibility to play poker both at home and occasionally on the road.

“I’ve been playing poker since I was kid, but playing serious poker since about 2007,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed it. In high school I had a game once a week. When I turned 18 I’d go up to Jackson Rancheria and play. When I turned 21 I’d play at The Palace in Hayward. I’ve always been playing. I realized in 2007 that I could make good money doing this, so I focused efforts on it and make sure that I set aside time every week to play.”

When the final table of the $2K event began Solis was fourth in chips, but a combination of getting good cards in the right circumstances and timely aggression pushed him into the lead. “I slowly without any showdowns built up my stack and from there I just turned the aggression up. As we eliminated players, people were kind of holding out for the top three to get that seat. When we got down to five handed I had half the chips in play, so it was real easy for me to play super aggressive. Busting some of the bigger stacks, I got to heads up and it was like nine to one [chip advantage].

He says Saeteune doubled up on the first hand of heads up, so Solis decided to slow down and grind it out which is exactly what happened. They continued to play for nearly two more hours. He finally won with K-J against K-7 suited when Saeteune’s flush draw failed to improve.

On what it was like to win such a big tournament on his home turf Solis first turned to a similar experience away from home to illustrate the difference: “The biggest tournament I had won was in L.A. at the LAPC for about $140,000 but I was there by myself. So it’s late at night, it’s a two-day tournament and I finally win and turn around and it’s random homeless railbirds that nobody knows. [At the Bay 101] it was nice. I had my dad up there, one of my buddies, and a bunch of people from Bay 101 that know who I am. So it was nice being around a bunch of people that I actually know.”