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Brandog the Bounty Hunter

Brandon Cantu Wins $1 Million and 2008 Bay 101 Shooting Star Title

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Apr 09, 2008


Brandon Cantu entered the final table of the Bay 101 World Poker Tour Shooting Star championship with a monster chip lead, and when it was all over, he had collected $40,000 in bounties and bonuses, and took home the $1 million first-place prize. Nearly everything went Cantu's way, and despite the extremely low blinds, he was able to dictate a pace of play that had the final table wrapped up in just under eight hours.

This was the second major victory for Cantu, who also won a bracelet in the first event of the 2006 World Series of Poker and a whopping $757,000. He has had a string of final tables since, but none as marquee as the World Poker Tour. His victory puts him over $2 million in lifetime tournament earnings, despite having played on the tournament circuit for only the past two years.

Day One – Can I Have Your Autograph?

It is safe to say that the poker fans in San Jose are among the world's best, if not the best. In terms of poker savvy and player recognition, no casino's railbirds stand a chance against fans who, in all honesty, were at times relentless in their drive for photos, autographs, and even hugs.

The "Shooting Stars," who had bounties on their heads, weren't the only players recognized, and nearly everyone who directly put up the $10,000 buy-in was honored by an autograph request or two.

In addition to a $5,000 reward for knocking out one of the 50 Shooting Star bounties, the players who held the chip lead at the end of the two day-one starting fields were awarded a $10,000 bonus. After eliminating Bill Edler and John Juanda, Cantu was already on a freeroll, and the chip-lead bonus gave him a leg up on the competition, most of whom would have to wait a couple of days for the opportunity to cash. The other chip-lead bonus went to young online pro Blair "blur5f6" Hinkle. Hinkle has done well since turning 21, and in addition to his deep run in this event, he finished in 11th place at the L.A. Poker Classic.

Playing Down to the Final Table – Big-Name Pros Bust Out

The Bay 101 play-down day is unlike any other in the world of tournament poker. Once the field has reached its final 36 players, the action expands from five tables to six, to accommodate sixhanded play. The result is fast-paced, hyperaggressive play, as the players generally ignore the low blinds structure and get their chips in with reckless abandon.

During this time, last year's champion, Ted Forrest, finally succumbed on the short stack, and others such as Paul Wasicka, Anna Wroblewski, Clonie Gowen, and Joe Hachem all came up just short of the final table. Hachem's elimination was particularly brutal. He got it all in with the K 9 on a flop of 9 6 5, and the pot odds forced a call from Cantu with the A 6. Hachem couldn't watch the outcome, as he moved away from the table, but a collective groan from the table let him know that an ace had hit the river. Cantu was the culprit who collected Hachem's bounty, but he wasn't done there. He also took out J.C. Tran on the TV final-table bubble to collect his fifth bounty of the tournament.

Final Table – It Could've Been Longer

Here's how the chip counts looked heading to the final table:

Cantu came to the final table with five bounties to his credit, and the temptation to score his sixth cost him a bit to start the final table. He raised from middle position to 30,000 and Harman made the call from the button. Baker also called, from the small blind, and the flop came 9 6 4. Cantu continued with a bet of 100,000, and Harman thought for a bit before announcing that she was all in for her last 448,000. Baker got out of the way, and Cantu went into the tank. He thought out loud, and eventually decided to gamble to collect her $5,000 bounty, showing the 10 2. Harman showed the 6 6 for a set, and as she had done all tournament, she moved away from the table so that she wouldn't have to look. The turn and river were the safe 10 and 9, respectively, and she doubled up to an even million in chips.

Phan came to the final table relatively short-stacked and never really picked up a hand with which to fight back. Eventually, he moved all in from under the gun for his last 70,000, and Jefferson looked him up from the big blind. Phan turned over the Q 8 and was relieved to be racing, as he saw Jefferson's 6 6. The board ran out the K 3 2 6 3, and Phan was sent to the rail in sixth place, earning $135,000 for his finish.

After Phan's elimination, the play of Baker turned bizarre, and his elimination hand had the whole room wondering what he was thinking. Baker raised from under the gun to 25,000, and Cantu made it 75,000 to go. Baker reraised to 200,000, and Cantu tanked for two minutes before deciding to reraise to 500,000. Baker made the call and the flop came Q 10 2. Baker checked and Cantu put Baker all in. Baker asked the dealer to spread the pot, and finally said, "All right, let's gamble. I call." Cantu showed what he had been representing, the A A, but his jaw dropped when Baker revealed the K 3 for a flush draw. The turn and river were the 5 and 5, and just like that, Cantu's biggest chip threat was gone, not to mention that he now held nearly 75 percent of the chips in play. Baker took home $200,000 for his efforts.

As a result of the unusually low blinds, the final four players then traded chips back and forth for nearly 100 hands before the action picked up again. Jefferson had been blinded down a bit and decided to put it all on the line against Sung. Jefferson raised to 110,000 from the button and Sung moved him all in. Jefferson instantly called, showing the A K, and Sung revealed the 7 7. The board bricked out and Jefferson was eliminated in fourth place, taking home $265,000.

Threehanded play belonged to Cantu and Sung. Harman was desperate for a double-up to get back into contention. After a few hands, she pushed all in from the button and Cantu moved all in from the small blind to isolate. Sung folded, and Cantu showed down pocket nines. Harman turned over the A K and needed to connect with the board to stay alive. The flop came K J 9 and Cantu's set of nines held up. Cantu collected his sixth and final bounty of the tournament, and Harman walked away with $330,000.

The two remaining players sat down for what could have been a long and grueling match. Here were the chip counts when heads-up play began:

Brandon Cantu – 6,133,000

Steve Sung – 1,385,000

After taking a big pot from Sung with a rivered set of jacks, Cantu had him on the ropes, and it was just a matter of time before it was all over. On the final hand, Cantu called Sung's all-in bet with pocket fours and was more than relieved to see pocket threes across the table. The board rolled out safely, and Cantu celebrated his new title and $1 million with friend Jeff Madsen, who was in the crowd.

Sung earned $585,000 for his second-place finish, putting him just shy of $1 million in lifetime tournament earnings.

Final-table players and payouts appear in Tournament Circuit Results.

Brandon Cantu Wins 17 Hands in a Row En Route to Victory

Cantu held a monster chip lead at this table and maintained it by relentlessly raising and reraising nearly every hand. At one point during the playdown day, Cantu won every hand dealt for nearly 30 minutes, a total of 17 hands in a row. As the tables were balanced, the notoriously aggressive David Tran took the vacated seat across from Cantu and threatened to snap his streak. The following is Cantu's thoughts during the hand that took the wind out of Tran's sails.

The Hand: David Tran raises to 30,000 and Cantu calls from the button. The flop comes Q 5 3 and Tran bets 45,000. Cantu calls, and the turn is the 8. Both players check to the river, which is the A. Tran bets 100,000 and Cantu quickly calls, turning over the 6 5 for fourth pair. Tran takes a peek back at his K-7 offsuit and mucks his cards.

Julio Rodriguez: Can you take us through the penultimate hand that you played with David Tran?

Brandon Cantu: He raised to 30,000, and I had the 6 5 on the button and decided to just call. I noticed that he had been raising a lot of pots at the other table, so I kind of wanted to slow him down a bit. The blinds folded and the flop came Q 5 3. He led out for 45,000 and I just called, thinking that the turn would give me a better shot to see where I was in the hand. The turn was the 8, putting a flush draw out there, and we both checked.

JR: What did you think of your hand at this point?

BC: I thought I was good, but the river was the A, and he led out for 100,000. I thought to myself, why is he betting so much? Unless he just made two pair, he has absolutely nothing. So, I guess I kind of took the chance, since he'd been raising a lot of pots in which he had absolutely nothing, and went with my prior read to make the call with fourth pair. After he checks the turn and bets the river, I have to think my hand is up against a monster or nothing, and nothing seemed more likely.

JR: Do you think the call affected him at all?

BC: Probably not. I definitely don't think it put him on tilt or anything, but I did take him out a short while later after flopping the nut straight against his top pair. Cooler, I guess.

Bay 101 'Shooting Stars' and Their Bounty Hunters

While no other bounty hunter was as successful as Brandon Cantu, there were a few players who did their best to keep up, including some bounties themselves who got in on the action.

Taylor Raines, who barely snuck into the money, picked up an extra $10,000 for knocking out Barry Greenstein and Michael Mizrachi. Raines would have just broken even for the tournament if not for the bounties in play.

Steve "MrSmokey1" Billirakis would have lost his buy-in had he not knocked out two of the "Shooting Stars." The tournament's unique format enabled him to break even despite just missing the money. Both John Phan and Jimmy Ngoc Tran were also part of the exclusive club of players who claimed multiple bounties.

Some of the Shooting Stars who took out other Shooting Stars were Isabelle Mercier, Clonie Gowen, Men "The Master" Nguyen, John Juanda, and J.C. Tran, who collected two bounties to add to his seventh-place finish.