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Chino Rheem Wins Inaugural PokerGO Tour Heads-Up Showdown

Longtime Grinder Earns $400,000 For Latest Victory

by Erik Fast |  Published: Jun 01, 2022


The inaugural PokerGO Tour Heads-Up Showdown saw high-stakes, one-on-one, no-limit hold’em action return to poker fans’ screens around the globe. The $25,000 buy-in invitational shootout event ran from April 21-23 at the PokerGO Studio at the ARIA Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

Three-time World Poker Tour main event champion Chino Rheem battled his way through the 32-entry field to capture the title and the top prize of $400,000.

The win saw the 42-year-old poker pro increase his lifetime live tournament earnings to more than $12 million. He has accumulated five separate seven-figure scores in his career, including a nearly $1.8 million payday as the seventh-place finisher in the 2008 World Series of Poker main event. He also won the 2019 European Poker Tour PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event for more than $1.5 million.

His 2022 campaign has been solid, with a runner-up finish at the Wynn Millions for $58,885. Later in March, he made back-to-back final tables at the U.S. Poker Open, banking $210,000 for second place in the $15,000 no-limit hold’em event and $271,350 for winning the $15,000 pot-limit Omaha event the very next day.

“I’m feeling good,” Rheem told PokerGO Tour reporters after coming out on top. “It’s a really good feeling. Honestly, it’s just a privilege and an honor to play in these events, especially given where I was at less than a year ago. I’m really grateful. It just feels good to be able to come and play and actually win.”

While Rheem’s prowess on the felt is undeniable, he has been at the center of controversy over the years. He was put on probation by the short-lived Epic Poker League after taking down one of their few events for a million-dollar payday due to his alleged failure to pay down debts he owed to other players.

“It’s no secret in the poker world that I’ve had my ups and downs,” Rheem continued. “At one point in my life, I was in a really dark place. I’m just really, really grateful to have been shown the light and find god and the people that he’s put in my life to help me sustain a much more healthy, sober life. I owe it all to that, really.”
Hellmuth vs. Persson Steals The Show On Day 1

Rheem had to win five consecutive heads-up matches in order to secure the title, coming from the ‘Diamonds’ corner of the bracket. He started his journey off by defeating three-time bracelet winner and WPT champion Nick Schulman in the round of 32.

While there were plenty of exciting matchups on day 1, including Rheem’s, the match that created by far the largest buzz was the first-round showdown between 16-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth and Maverick Gaming owner Eric Persson. While the former is the one who is famous for unnerving his opponent with his table talk and a few profanity-laden tirades, the latter came prepared to give Hellmuth a taste of his own medicine.

The Hellmuth and Persson match, which was held as part of the ‘Hearts’ quarter of the draw, started off amicably, but the polite conversation soon faded away as Persson began to find some fortunate rivers and Hellmuth’s stack began to dwindle.

The verbal sparring escalated as the match wore on, and Persson got more under Hellmuth’s skin with his insults. At one point, he even threw up a double middle-finger salute after winning a pot with a three-bet on the turn.

“You might be one of the most obnoxious guys I’ve played,” said Hellmuth, before the two argued about the possibility of a $1 million heads-up match.

Persson eventually became too much for Hellmuth to ignore and he called over the Aria Tournament Director, who issued Persson a warning. Hellmuth couldn’t help himself, however, and just a few hands later was given a warning of his own.

Persson went on to win the match, picking up pocket aces after Hellmuth shoved the last of his short stack with K-3. The big pocket pair held and Persson punched his ticket to the round of 16, where he would clash with Dan Shak. Although Hellmuth originally vowed to never play with Persson again, he returned the next day to apologize for his side of the conflict and bury the hatchet.

Shak earned his spot by defeating Nick Rigby in the first round. Other notable matches included Sean Winter over Sam Soverel, Shannon Shorr over Shaun Deeb, Daniel Negreanu over Jared Bleznick, Jake Daniels over Ali Imsirovic, Jeremy Ausmus over Chris Brewer, and Erik Seidel over Jared Jaffee.

Setting The Final Four On Day 2

Persson defeated Shak to make the quarterfinals, but his run came to an end when recent Wynn Millions runner-up Isaac Kempton came out on top in that match to become the final representative of the ‘Hearts’ quarter. Prior to that win, Kempton had bested three-time bracelet winner Scott Seiver and two-time bracelet winner Scott Ball.

Rheem squared off against three-time bracelet winner Ausmus in the second round before moving into the quarterfinals. He was then able to beat out successful businessman and frequent high-stakes tournament contender Bill Klein to make his way to the semifinals.

In the other half of the bracket, WPT champion Justin Young beat Richie Sklar, Shorr, and Alex Foxen to emerge from the ‘Spades’ bracket. Four-time WPT champion Darren Elias had arguably the toughest road to the money in the ‘Clubs’ bracket, overcoming Landon Tice, nine-time bracelet winner Seidel, and six-time bracelet winner Negreanu to secure his place in the semifinals.

Only the top four finishers cashed in this event, locking up at least $100,000 for making it to the semis.

Crowning An Inaugural Champion

Kempton got some attention for his confident remarks in the earlier rounds, but Rheem was able to put an end to his run when the two faced off in the final four. Rheem’s pocket queens held up against Kempton’s A-3 suited and punched his ticket to the finals. Kempton secured the six-figure payday to increase his career earnings to just shy of $1.8 million.

A classic preflop race brought about the end of Justin Young’s run in this event. He fell behind to Elias in his match before the final hand, which saw him four-bet shove with pocket threes after having opened from the button. Elias called off the rest of Young’s stack with A-Q and made an ace-high straight on the turn. Young had outs for a full house going into the river, but none of them showed up on the end and he was sent home with $100,000 to bring his totals to just under $6 million.

With that the showdown for the title was set, with a pair of highly-decorated WPT champions each looking to secure another impressive trophy for their collections. The two played for roughly 100 minutes. Elias took the lead early, but Rheem surged back into the chip lead thanks to a double-up at roughly the one-hour mark.

He shoved the river for 63,500 into a pot of 220,000 on an AClub Suit KClub Suit 6Heart Suit 3Spade Suit 8Club Suit board with ADiamond Suit JClub Suit. Elias called after plenty of consideration with KSpade Suit 10Heart Suit to see Rheem turn the tables and take more than a 2:1 lead of his own.

Rheem extended that advantage even further by the time the final hand was dealt. Elias open-shoved for just shy of 12 big blinds with Q-5 offsuit and Rheem called with A-8. A jack-high runout kept ace high in the lead and Elias was eliminated as the runner-up, taking home a consolation prize worth $200,000.

Elias now has more than $10.1 million in lifetime earnings and is well situated to add to that total in a major way in late May as the chip leader of the delayed final table of this year’s WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown. The final six were set on April 12, but the champion in that event will be decided on May 25. Elias will be playing for his record-extending fifth WPT title and the top prize of $1,000,300.

Final Results

Place Player Payout
Champion Chino Rheem $400,000
Finalist Darren Elias $200,000
Semi-Finalist Justin Young $100,000
Semi-Finalist Isaac Kempton $100,000