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This Week's Big Winner: Craig Varnell Wins 2019 WPT Choctaw Main Event On His 36th Birthday

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Jul 03, 2019


Craig Varnell had quite the birthday this year. The Colorado-based poker pro took down the 2019 World Poker Tour Choctaw $3,700 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event, overcoming a field of 577 total entries to win $379,990 and his first WPT title on the day he turned 36 years old.

“It feels great,” Varnell told WPT reporters. “When I found out the final table was on my birthday, I said, ‘Well that’s good.’ And then the day didn’t start out too well. I was down to three or four big blinds. I don’t know what happened, I won a couple of all-ins and all of a sudden, I was back in it. It was crazy. I had a big support group here. It was the best birthday present you could ask for.”

In addition to the title and the money, Varnell also took home 1,260 Card Player Player of the Year points for the win. The score was enough to see Varnell climb into 90th place in the POY race standings, which are sponsored by Global Poker.

Here are the five key hands that propelled Varnell to the title.

Tournament – WPT Choctaw
Buy-In — $3,500
No. of Entries – 577
Prize Pool – $1,958,915
1st Place Prize – $379,990

The Action

Pupillo raised to 150,000 from the cutoff and Varnell called from the big blind. The flop fell KHeart Suit 10Club Suit 6Heart Suit and Varnell checked. Pupillo bet 180,000, and Varnell check-raised to 530,000. Pupillo called, and the turn was the 3Diamond Suit. Varnell moved all in, and Pupillo called all-in for his last 2,195,000. Varnell held KClub Suit 6Diamond Suit for flopped two pair, but Pupillo had a set of tens. The river was the QSpade Suit, and Pupillo doubled up. Varnell was left with just under four big blinds.

The Action

After moving all-in on three of the next four hands, scoring two double ups, Varnell found himself clawing his way back into contention. On the fifth hand, Pham raised to 150,000 from under-the-gun and Pupillo three-bet to 450,000. Varnell then moved in for 1,290,000, and Pham moved in over the top to isolate. Pupillo folded and Varnell showed ADiamond Suit KClub Suit. Pham was slightly ahead with pocket queens, but a board runout of JHeart Suit 4Spade Suit 2Spade Suit ASpade Suit JDiamond Suit gave Varnell the double up.

The Action

Sitting four-handed, Varnell raised to 325,000 and Pham three-bet to 900,000 on the button. Varnell then moved all in for 4,125,000, and Pham called with ASpade Suit QHeart Suit. Varnell had pocket tens, and they held as the dealer produced a board of JClub Suit 7Diamond Suit 5Heart Suit JSpade Suit 4Diamond Suit to double him into the chip lead.

The Action

Pupillo raised to 400,000 on the button and Varnell defended his big blind. The flop fell 7Diamond Suit 7Spade Suit 4Diamond Suit and Varnell checked. Pupillo made a continuation bet of 425,000, and Varnell called. The turn was the 10Diamond Suit, and Varnell bet 600,000. Pupillo called, and the river was the 3Club Suit. This time, Varnell moved all in. Pupillo thought it over for a bit, and then called all in for his last 1,700,000 with AClub Suit 4Spade Suit. Varnell tabled KSpade Suit 7Club Suit, however, having flopped trips to take down the pot. Pupillo banked $179,430 for his third-place run.

The Action

Berry raised to 375,000 on the button and Varnell three-bet to 1,175,000. Berry then moved all in and Varnell quickly called with ADiamond Suit 10Diamond Suit. Berry showed pocket eights for a coinflip situation, looking to double up to a 2:1 chip lead of his own. Instead, the flop fell KClub Suit 10Heart Suit 5Club Suit, giving Varnell the lead. The turn and river came down QSpade Suit KSpade Suit, and Berry failed to catch either of his two outs. He picked up $243,330 for his runner-up finish, while Varnell took home the title, the trophy, and the $379,990 first-place prize.

Final Table Results

1. Craig Varnell — $379,990
2. Will Berry — $243,330
3. Nicholas Pupillo — $179,430
4. Trung Pham — $133,770
5. Stacey Jones — $100,850
6. Austin Lewis — $76,890
7. Denny Tran — $59,290
8. Joe Elpayaa — $46,250
9. Daniel Kloepper — $36,500