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2009 L.A. Poker Classic: More Than $17 Million Won During Popular Tournament Series

by Ryan Lucchesi |  Published: May 19, 2009


The L.A. Poker Classic tournament series was first hosted at Commerce Casino in 1992. The inaugural LAPC featured 31 events, including a half-dozen lowball tournaments, and culminated with a $5,000 no-limit hold’em championship. This tournament series started out big and stayed that way, thanks to the fact that the cash games found at Commerce Casino, the world’s largest poker room, attract players from around the world all year long. The LAPC became one of the original stops on the World Poker Tour in 2003, and it has been the strongest stop on the tour ever since. It is the second-largest tournament series of the year behind the World Series of Poker, and it took another step forward this year.

Tournament Director Matt Savage was hired to run the series this year, and he quickly added $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. and $10,000 heads-up no-limit hold’em events to the schedule, along with a $5,000 pot-limit Omaha rebuy event. This gave players a reason to show up in L.A. early, especially with the juicy cash games awaiting. The popular $300 tournaments, which feature guaranteed prize pools, were included on the schedule, and they proved to be a huge success, drawing fields of 1,592 and 1,362 players. In total, the 2009 LAPC tournament series attracted 13,400 players and awarded $17,003,763 in prize money.

The excitement generated by the large turnouts was followed up by a shot of adrenaline when the week of $10,000 preliminary events kicked off. These preliminary championships produced two notable champions in Scotty Nguyen ($10,000 H.O.R.S.E.) and Vivek Rajkumar ($10,000 heads-up no-limit hold’em). The masses stuck around for the $10,000 no-limit hold’em championship, producing a field of 696 players, the second-largest championship event in the history of the LAPC. The prize pool for the championship event was $6,681,600, with $1,686,780 going to the winner.

Due to the 2009 _LAPC_’s success, there is already talk of adding more $10,000 preliminary events in 2010, and the lucrative cash games aren’t going anywhere, either. Even as the LAPC grows, it hasn’t forgotten what it is in the eyes of poker players ­— a tournament for the players, where poker always takes center stage.

Cornel Cimpan Wins the 2009 L.A. Poker Classic Championship

A space asset of Commerce Casino was on display during day 1 of the $10,000 championship event, erasing the need for two starting flights. The large tournament room at the casino was able to accommodate every player in the field of 696, with just six tables starting the day in a tent set up on the balcony. By night’s end, the field was slashed to 406. Antonio Esfandiari was atop the leader board that night, and he remained there for the majority of the journey to the money bubble. He was joined at the top by young gun Kofi Farkye during day 2, as the field dwindled to 167. The third day saw the remaining 63 players make the money at the end of the night, but Esfandiari was not among them. In a performance that was eerily similar to the 2008 Festa al Lago, “The Magician” plummeted as the money bubble approached, and all of his chips disappeared before he could walk away with a single dime.

Farkye, on the other hand, was repeating the dominant show that he put on at the 2007 North American Poker Championship, where he finished in fifth place to book his first live-tournament cash. He was playing in his first live tournament in the U.S. at the LAPC. He was the first player in the tournament to hold a million in chips on day 4, but he tangled with Chris Ferguson in the largest hand of the tournament and lost, sending him spiraling downward to his demise in 31st place. That hand propelled Ferguson to his first WPT final-table appearance.

Here’s how the hand came down: Farkye raised to 24,000 preflop, and Ferguson reraised to 76,000 behind him. Farkye made the call, and the flop came AHeart Suit QDiamond Suit 6Diamond Suit. Both players checked, and the turn was the 7Diamond Suit. Farkye bet 120,000, and Ferguson made the call. The river was the 3Heart Suit, and Farkye moved all in for 600,000. Ferguson decided to make the call for his final 376,000, and Farkye turned up the 6Club Suit 5Club Suit for a small pair. Ferguson showed the ADiamond Suit KClub Suit for top pair, top kicker, and won the massive pot. Farkye was down to 240,000, while Ferguson took the chip lead with 1.184 million.

Ferguson was joined at the final table by Chris Karagulleyan, Cornel Cimpan, Mike Sowers, Binh Nguyen, and Pat Walsh after a long day 5 that took the field 10 hours to play down to six from the final 20. Ferguson’s first WPT final table was a short experience; he was the first to fall, 66 hands into final-table play, in sixth place ($240,538). It took just 116 hands for the action to play down to the heads-up match, as Walsh fell in fifth place ($310,694), Karagulleyan busted out in fourth place ($430,963), and Sowers exited in third place ($654,797). The final two players then embarked upon a heads-up odyssey that lasted longer than most final tables.

Cornel Cimpan

Chip counts at the beginning of heads-up play were as follows:
Binh Nguyen: 8,450,000
Cornel Cimpan: 5,450,000

Nguyen quickly increased his stack to as much as 11,975,000. It looked like things were going to end when Nguyen had Cimpan dominated and covered preflop with A-Q just an hour into the match. Cimpan held Q-10, but he flopped two pair and turned a boat to double up to 4.45 million. Cimpan doubled up again a while later with K-Q against Nguyen’s A-9 when he made trip kings, and the tables were turned, as Cimpan took the lead. Nguyen received some retribution when he chose to move all in against Cimpan in his new role as the short stack. He was behind with K-5, facing Cimpan’s K-J. On a board of 9-9-8-3, with Nguyen needing a 3 or an 8 for a chop, or a 5 for the win, the 5Club Suit fell on the river to prolong the action once again.

It was Cimpan’s turn to put his tournament life on the line next, and this time he held the AHeart Suit 4Heart Suit against Nguyen’s pocket tens. For the fourth time in the heads-up match, the player who got his money in with the worst of it received a bailout from the poker gods when the board came 8Spade Suit 6Heart Suit 4Diamond Suit 8Heart Suit 5Heart Suit. Nguyen was crippled after this hand, and a short time later he moved his stack all in for the last time. It was only fitting that his A-9 held the lead against Cimpan’s K-5 until a 5 fell on the flop. Nguyen was eliminated in second place, and he took home $935,424 in prize money. Cimpan was the 2009 LAPC champion, and he banked $1,686,780. The WPT final table eclipsed 300 hands (303) for the first time, and the heads-up match that lasted 187 hands also was a new record. Spade Suit