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Alexander Yen Wins WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open Main Event

36-Year-Old Defeats Massive Field Of 1,982 Entries In South Florida

by Erik Fast |  Published: Mar 09, 2022

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The 2022 World Poker Tour Lucky Hearts Poker Open $3,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event attracted a massive field of 1,982 entries, resulting in the second-largest turnout for a WPT main tour event in Seminole Hard Rock history. Only the 2021 WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown (2,482) drew more entries.

The huge turnout at the South Florida property resulted in the $2 million guarantee being more than tripled, with the final prize pool surpassing $6.3 million. Six days after cards got in the air, the largest chunk of that prize money was awarded to eventual champion Alexander Yen. The 36-year-old Chicago native earned $975,240 and his first WPT main event title for coming out on top.

Not only was it the poker pro’s first WPT title, but it was also his first major live tournament title of any kind.

“It feels absolutely incredible,” said Yen in an interview with tournament reporters. “I’ve never won a live tournament before. I don’t even think I’ve won [an event] online, so this is a pretty unreal feeling.”

As it turns out, getting the victory helped Yen also earn some redemption, having previously made it down to heads-up in two Mid-States Poker Tour events back in 2014 and 2015 while coming away as the runner-up on both occasions.

“My friends make fun of me all the time, saying you must have chopped it with your opponent both times because I played so bad. I had that monkey on my back and had to get it off, really prove myself.”

Yen now lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he also went to college. His favorite game is pot-limit Omaha and he spends most of his playing time in cash games, but admitted that he’s “always liked chasing the big prize that tournaments offer.”

“This was huge for me,” Yen added. “I really don’t know yet what I’m going to do with [the money].”

In addition to the title and the money, Yen also secured 1,620 Card Player Player of the Year points as the champion, the single largest amount of points awarded in any event so far in 2022. This win was his first POY-qualified score of the year, but it alone was enough to catapult him into first place in the overall standings.

He also had his name forever inscribed on the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup.

Getting To The Final Table

The event’s $2 million guarantee was already surpassed by more than $850,000 by the time registration closed on day 1A with 892 entries. A total of 241 players survived the first of two starting flights, with 2021 breakout tournament star Jesse Lonis bagging up the chip lead.

Day 1B saw an even larger turnout, with 1,090 more entries bringing the total to 1,982. As a result, the prize pool soared to $6,342,400. Another 351 players moved on from the second starting flight, bringing the total to 592 players taking a seat at the start of day 2. Lonis remained the overall chip leader with 685,500, but day 1B’s Jordan DeGrenier was hot on his heels with 672,000.

Only the top 248 finishers in this event would make the money and unfortunately for Almog Biton, he was the last player eliminated before the payouts began. The New Yorker got all-in preflop with pocket kings leading the A-10 suited of Armando Figueroa. An ace on the turn gave Figureroa the lead, however, and a blank river sent Biton to the rail empty handed.

The remaining players all locked up at least a $6,275 payday. Notables to hit the rail late on day 2 after the bubble burst included 2021 WPT Venetian champion Chad Eveslage (241st – $6,275), reigning POY award winner Ali Imsirovic (238th – $6,275), PokerGO commentator Jeff Platt (216th – $6,275), start-of-day chip leader Jesse Lonis (192nd – $6,405), two-time bracelet winner and 2014 WPT L.A. Poker Classic champion Chris Moorman (183rd – $6,615), 2008 WPT World Poker Challenge champion Lee Markholt (134th – $7,815), nine-time bracelet winner and 2008 WPT Foxwoods Poker Classic champion Erik Seidel (128 for $7,815), 2019 WPT Gardens Poker Championships winner Frank Stepuchin (113th – $8,450), four-time bracelet winner Jeff Madsen (106th – $8,450), and three-time WPT champion Eric Afriat (103rd – $8,450).

Reigning WPT Player of the Year award winner Jacob Ferro entered with the largest stack among the 87 remaining contenders with 2,235,000 on day 3. A total of 71 players busted before the day concluded, with plenty of big names among those to fall.

2022 POY race contender Scott Baumstein, fresh off of a pair of LHPO preliminary event wins, finished 83rd for $10,215. Two-time bracelet winner Athanasios Polychronopoulos’ run ended in 69th place ($12,900), while four-time bracelet winner Michael Gathy bowed out in 50th place ($17,000). Bracelet winner and 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event winner Galen Hall finished 36th ($23,360). Shannon Shorr (35th – $23,360), two-time WPT champion James Carroll (28th – $27,810), and bracelet winner Loni Hui (26th – $27,810) also fell before the final 16 players bagged up for the night with Josh Kay sitting atop the chip counts.

Yen came into day 4 with the second-largest stack, and quickly added to his pile by winning a preflop race with pocket nines facing A-K to send Jose Montes home in 16th place ($49,825). Yen scored another key knockout when his A-10 bested the pocket eights of Ferro, who had slid down the leaderboard during the day. Ferro was unable to win the coinflip and finished ninth for $97,525. The WPT Season XIX POY cashed for $669,540 last year, and is off to a strong start in his quest to go back-to-back in that points race.

Jake Daniels got the last of his stack in preflop with pocket jacks, only to run into the pocket kings of Anton Wigg. The superior pair held up and Daniels was eliminated in eighth place ($124,365).

The day concluded when three-time bracelet winner Jeremy Ausmus was knocked out in seventh place. He got the last of his short stack in preflop with AHeart Suit 6Spade Suit from the small blind and was unable to overcome the 5Heart Suit 3Heart Suit of Kay, who had opened from the hijack. Kay rivered a straight to send Ausmus packing ($160,095) and bring play to a conclusion for the night.

Crowning The Newest WPT Champion

Yen entered the final day as the chip leader with six players remaining, with each of them looking for their first WPT main tour title. On the 27th hand of the day, short stack Omar Lakhdari got all-in with K-Q suited racing against the pocket nines of two-time WSOP bracelet winner Daniel Lazrus. The flop gave Lazrus top set and Lakhdari a flush draw. The turn made things even more interesting, as Lakhdari picked up outs to a gutshot as well. The river was of no help, though, and Lakhdari was knocked out in sixth place ($208,025).

Despite starting the final table in second chip position, Josh Kay lost two all-ins against shorter stacks to fall to the bottom of the leaderboard during five-handed action. He ended up calling an all-in from Anton Wigg with AClub Suit JClub Suit. Wigg’s KDiamond Suit QHeart Suit improved to three of a kind on the flop to secure the pot and narrow the field to four. Kay took home $272,830 as the fifth-place finisher, the second-largest live tournament score of his career behind only a win in a $3,000 side event at the 2015 PCA.

Nicholas Verderamo after winning an LHPO side event earlier this series Just a few hands later another big showdown took place. Nicholas Verderamo three-bet shoved over the top of Yen’s button raise with ADiamond Suit 8Spade Suit out of the big blind. Yen called with pocket queens and held through a jack-high runout. Verderamo earned $361,130 and 810 POY points for his fourth final-table finish of 2022.

Verderamo had secured a seventh-place finish in a Maryland State Poker Championships preliminary event before finishing second in that series’ marquee $2,200 buy-in event for $106,471 and 400 points a handful of days later. He then turned around and won a $600 buy-in six-max side event at the Lucky Hearts Poker Open for $38,600 and 300 more points. The six-figure payday he earned as the fourth-place finisher in this event was the largest score of his career. It brought his year-to-date POY earnings to $511,333 and his point total to 1,594, which is good enough for second place in the overall standings.

Lazrus was the clear short stack entering three-handed play. Despite earning two double-ups through Yen, he was ultimately eliminated when his pocket sixes were unable to outrun Yen’s K-J offsuit. A jack on the flop gave Yen the lead, which he maintained through the turn and river. Lazrus was awarded $482,380 for his third-place showing.

This was the second-largest payday of his career, behind only the $1 million he earned for taking down his second career WSOP bracelet as the winner of the 2021 Millionaire Maker event. The 1,080 points he secured were enough on their own to move him into seventh place on the POY leaderboard.

Heads-up play began with Yen holding 57.7 million to Anton Wigg’s 22.6 million. The accomplished Swedish poker pro had more than $3.2 million in prior earnings coming into this event, including a win in the 2010 European Poker Tour Copenhagen main event for $670,713. Wigg was looking for his first title on the WPT, and got off to a strong start. After sliding a bit initially, he earned a crucial double up to pull within 20 big blinds of Yen. He then battled his way into the chip lead briefly.

Yen was soon able to right the ship, though, taking down a hefty pot with jacks up to re-establish a healthy lead. In the final hand of the event, Yen limped in from the button with 9Club Suit 7Club Suit and Wigg raised with QDiamond Suit QClub Suit. Yen called and the 10Diamond Suit 8Club Suit 6Club Suit flop gave him a straight with a straight-flush redraw.

Wigg bet as the first to act and Yen called. The 6Diamond Suit on the turn paired the board. Wigg went into the tank before announcing that he was all-in. Yen made the quick call and avoided a queen or six on the river. The 4Diamond Suit on the end officially locked up the pot and the title for Yen and sent Wigg home with $650,180 for his runner-up showing. The 1,350 POY points he earned as the second-place finisher were sufficient to propel him up the rankings and into third place in the 2022 POY race.

Yen’s $975,240 top prize saw him increase his lifetime live tournament earnings to just shy of $1.4 million. This was by far his largest recorded payday, blowing away the $74,239 he earned as the third-place finisher in the 2021 WSOP $1,000 buy-in pot-limit Omaha eight-max event.

The World Poker Tour will return to the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood in April for the $3,500 buy-in Hard Rock Poker Showdown before a $3,500 WPT event at Choctaw Casino Resort in May.

Final Table Results

Place Player Payout POY
1 Alexander Yen $975,240 1,620
2 Anton Wigg $650,180 1,350
3 Daniel Lazrus $482,380 1,080
4 Nicholas Verderamo $361,130 810
5 Josh Kay $272,830 675
6 Omar Lakhdari $208,025 540

Winner photo credit: World Poker Tour / Joe Giron.