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Martin Zamani Claims U.S. Poker Open Championship

More Than $11 Million Paid Out During High Roller Series

by Erik Fast |  Published: May 03, 2023


Readers might know Martin Zamani best for his involvement in last year’s online poker cheating allegation scandals, during which he accused his former backer Bryn Kenney of encouraging collusion and ghosting. Zamani’s story included some notoriously unusual claims, including a request from Kenney that Zamani and others see a shaman for a ceremony that involved frog poison.

But while the Boca Raton, Florida native’s bizarre tale might be the first thing that comes to mind, Zamani’s results prove that he’s more than just an outlandish personality on the high-roller circuit. Zamani is also a two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner with millions in recorded tournament cashes.

Arguably his most impressive accomplishment came in early April when he was crowned the 2023 U.S. Poker Open champion after taking down the $50,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em finale. While he was unable to take questions during play, admitting to PokerGO sideline reporter Natalie Bode that he was high to get out of an interview request, he did later share his thoughts on social media.

“Wow! Not really sure what to say,” said Zamani. “I couldn’t have made it this far without the support of all my friends and people around me. [I] ran super hot.”

Zamani topped a field of 37 entries in that series-ending tournament, including a stacked final table that featured two of the highest-earning tournament players in poker history, to earn $666,000. This was the second-largest payday of his career, trailing only the $895,000 he earned as the winner of a $25,000 buy-in high roller at the 2019 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.

The win is also noteworthy for Zamani in that it saw him surpass his older brother Ben, also a two-time bracelet winner, in career earnings. The younger Zamani now has nearly $5.2 million, putting him just ahead of Ben’s $5.1 million in live recorded cashes.

The victory in the final event was what sealed the USPO championship, the golden eagle trophy, and $50,000 in added prize money for Zamani, but it wasn’t his only score at the festival. Zamani cashed for $835,800 total across four in-the-money finishes during the 10-event series that was held at the PokerGO Studio inside ARIA Resort & Casino.

Players Jockey For Position During The Early Going

The first half of the USPO schedule featured five $10,500 buy-in events, with four no-limit hold’em tournaments and one pot-limit Omaha offering. Things kicked off with 105 entries made in the first event, building a prize pool of $1,050,000.

In the end, bracelet winner Joey Weissman came away with his second career USPO title and $231,000. This was the Las Vegas resident’s second-largest tournament score, trailing only the $694,609 payday he earned as the 2012 WSOP $2,500 no-limit hold’em event champion.

Current Card Player Player of the Year race points leader Nacho Barbero finished fifth in this event, notching the first of three consecutive final-table finishes for the red-hot Argentinian. Barbero backed that deep run up with a runner-up showing in event no. 2, and then a sixth-place run in event no. 3, bringing his total haul for the series to $302,500.

While he ultimately finished tenth in the final standings, Barbero has a significant lead in the overall POY race with $3.3 million in earnings from his two titles and eight final-table appearances.

Ren Lin was the player who overcame Barbero heads-up in event no. 2. Lin’s victory for $231,000 marked his third final-table finish inside in a seven-day span at the PokerGO Studio. The Georgia-based poker player had also finished second in the PGT PLO $25,000 buy-in championship event for $352,750 on March 19.

Event no. 3 drew 93 entries, with bracelet winner and 2019 Poker Masters champion Sam Soverel nabbing the win. This was the first of two big scores during the series for the Las Vegas resident, with the second coming during the back half of the festival.

Chris Brewer managed the first and largest of his five in-the-money USPO finishes in event no. 3, placing second to Soverel for $148,800. Brewer cashed for $424,300 during the festival, making him the highest-ranked player without a title won in the final series standings.

The first of two PLO events on the schedule attracted 77 entries. Allan Le walked away with the title and the top prize of $200,200 after dragging the last pot. This was the third-largest cash for the Huntington Beach, California resident, who is a member of one of the most accomplished poker families. His brother Tommy Le is a two-time bracelet winner and the current leader on the PLO all-time money list with more than $3.5 million in cashes. Their oldest brother, Nam Le, is a World Poker Tour champion with more than $7.4 million in lifetime cashes under his belt.

While all three Le brothers have achieved plenty on the circuit, Allen has been the most productive so far this year. He has recorded seven tournament cashes, with three final-table finishes including this win and a sixth-place showing in the very next event on the schedule.

Hellmuth Nabs First PGT Title With Straight Flush

Phil Hellmuth has won 51 titles in his Hall of Fame career, including a record 16 WSOP gold bracelets. But the 58-year-old had not yet banked a victory in a PokerGO Tour event prior to this year’s USPO. In the final days of March, Hellmuth finally scratched a PGT win off of his to-do list in style. Hellmuth steamrolled the final $10,500 event on the schedule, dragging the last pot with a six-high straight flush.

The flashy final hand saw Hellmuth awarded a USPO golden eagle trophy and the top prize of $211,200, increasing his career earnings to more than $25.3 million.

“You know I read a tweet where someone said, ‘It’s nice to play with the legends I grew up watching,’ And they mentioned Erik and Daniel,” Hellmuth told PGT reporters, referring to Erik Seidel and Daniel Negreanu. “I [had] just finished 12th that day. The problem is I can’t complain because 99% of the world thinks I’m the all-time great or one of the all-time greats. But within poker, they’re always trying to slice it. ‘Phil’s only the greatest at the [WSOP]… He’s only…’ But if you look at the number of tournaments I’ve played in the last two years, 60 tournaments, I think I have 15 final tables, which is phenomenal. No one else has that record. But here I am bragging. And you know it’s frustrating because I’d rather have somebody brag for me.”

Hellmuth and Jeremy Ausmus’ heads-up showdown for this title was a rematch of their meeting as the final two of the 2021 WSOP $50,000 pot-limit Omaha event. In that instance, Ausmus came away with the win. Hellmuth was happy to turn the tables this time around.

“Jeremy is a classy guy, and I like him a lot. He called me out on social media for being a little bit too bratty, but he was fucking right,” said Hellmuth. “But no, there was no revenge.”

Hellmuth built up a nearly 2:1 lead over Ausmus before the final hand, where he made a straight flush with 6Club Suit 2Club Suit against Ausmus’ QClub Suit 10Diamond Suit on a board reading 10Club Suit 5Club Suit 4Club Suit 3Club Suit 2Heart Suit. Ausmus earned $149,600 as the runner-up, but he was not yet done earning big scores at this series.

The Race Heats Up As The Stakes Rise

Isaac Kempton won the second and final PLO event of the series, fresh off of three cashes made during the inaugural PGT PLO festival. He beat out a field of 62 entries in the $15,700 buy-in affair to walk away with $279,000, bringing his lifetime earnings to $3.1 million.

Zamani scored the second-largest payday of his series when he finished third for $130,200 in this event, setting up the heads-up battle between Kempton and eventual runner-up Gregory Shuda.

Like Hellmuth, Darren Elias has seen the bulk of his biggest tournament successes come on one particular tour. While Hellmuth has been particularly dominant at the WSOP, Elias is arguably the most accomplished player in WPT history. He holds multiple records on the main tour, including the most titles won (4), the most official final tables made (13), and the most in-the-money finishes (46) recorded.

The 36-year-old added another big victory when he defeated a field of 87 entries in the $15,700 event, securing his first PGT title and $313,200. The win increased his total lifetime earnings to more than $11.6 million. This was Elias’ third cash of the series, bringing his total earnings for the festival to $399,200. As a result, he placed sixth in the USPO points race.

Soverel took home $221,850 as the runner-up, growing his total to $456,750 for the series. This was the fifth most of any player, and with his two podium showings, Soverel ended up finishing third in the final standings.

The next two events on the schedule were a pair of $26,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournaments. The first was won by Isaac Haxton, who has been the hottest player on the high roller scene so far in 2023. The 37-year-old poker pro leads all players so far this year in titles won (4), tournament earnings ($5.1 million), and is tied with Ausmus for the most final-table finishes (10).

Haxton defeated a field of 54 entries in event no. 8, locking up $432,000 for the win to increase his career earnings to nearly $37 million. As a result, he now sits in 12th place on poker’s all-time money list. Haxton’s incredible start to the year has seen him accumulate 3,752 POY points through the first quarter of the year, enough to move him into fourth place in the 2023 POY race standings. He also sits in fifth place in the PGT season-long points race, with two titles and three cashes for nearly $1.1 million in PGT events.

Hellmuth finished fifth for another $108,000 payday, earning enough points to end just outside the top ten in the series standings. Weissman placed second for $283,500, bringing his total to the series to more than $540,000 and fifth on the final USPO leaderboard.

Dan Smith finished third in the first $26,000 buy-in event for $189,000. The very next day he made it back to the final table and was able to take home the title and $399,500. The win saw the 34-year-old poker pro approach $41.5 million in career tournament earnings, with a WSOP bracelet and a WPT title among his many accomplishments. Smith now sits in eighth place on poker’s all-time money list, having surpassed Mikita Badziakouski ($41.2 million in earnings) with this latest win.

Lin backed up his win in event no. 2 with three other cashes, including a runner-up showing in the 47-player penultimate event, banking an additional $258,500. With $568,400 in total USPO earnings, Lin temporarily climbed into the top spot on the series standings heading into the final event of the festival. He also moved into fourth place in the season-long PGT rankings and second place on the POY leaderboard, with nine total final tables and nearly $1.9 million in to-date earnings in 2023.

Zamani Comes Up Clutch To Lock Up The Series Championship

Lin was not among the six players to cash in the $50,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event that capped off the USPO. But while he was the leader in the clubhouse, several of the final six players that remained were live to come away with the series championship.

Justin Bonomo was in the lead while Zamani sat in second chip position to start day 2. Chris Brewer was essentially tied with Smith for the shortest stack at the table, and was the first player to be eliminated, running his A-3 into Zamani’s pocket aces.
This was his ninth final-table finish of the year, with more than $2.5 million in cashes and two titles won along the way. Brewer now sits in fifth place in the POY standings as a result.

Smith was the next to fall, hitting the rail after a rollercoaster of a hand. Ausmus raised with pocket eights from the cutoff and Smith three-bet shoved with jacks on the button. Zamani woke up with pocket queens in the big blind and re-shoved, pushing Ausmus out of the pot. The flop came down JClub Suit 10Spade Suit 2Heart Suit to give Smith top set and the lead. The turn was the KClub Suit, though, and the AClub Suit on the river completed his straight.

Smith finished fifth for $148,000, increasing his career earnings to $41.6 million. With this third consecutive final table at the USPO, Smith banked a total of $736,500, good for fourth in the final USPO points standings.

Four-handed play continued for roughly three hours. While Bonomo overtook the lead for a bit, Zamani picked up steam as the night wore on to climb to the top. Bonomo ended up shoving over Zamani’s open and ran into a dominating hand that had him drawing dead by the turn. The three-time bracelet winner and three-time Super High Roller Bowl champion now has more than $62.5 million in recorded tournament earnings to his name, adding to his lead on poker’s all-time money list.

Ausmus was left as the clear short stack following Bonomo’s exit. The five-time bracelet winner had 24 big blinds when Zamani open-shoved on him from the small blind with JHeart Suit 7Spade Suit. Ausmus thought it over before making the call with AClub Suit 6Spade Suit. While it was the right decision, the deck didn’t cooperate as the board ran out 10Club Suit 7Diamond Suit 6Diamond Suit 4Club Suit 5Diamond Suit.

Ausmus earned $296,000 as the third-place finisher. This was his tenth final table of the year, with nearly $1.1 million in POY earnings accrued along the way. He now sits in 10th place in the POY standings and eighth in the PGT season-long points race thanks to his strong start to 2023.

Heads-up play began with Zamani holding a 2:1 lead over Nick Petrangelo. Zamani picked off a bluff attempt to extend his lead even further, and by the time the final hand was dealt, he had a more than 8:1 advantage.

Petrangelo shoved for just shy of 20 big blinds on the button with QSpade Suit 10Heart Suit and Zamani called from the big blind with KClub Suit 6Heart Suit. The KDiamond Suit 10Diamond Suit 3Club Suit 4Diamond Suit JDiamond Suit runout gave Zamani a winning pair of kings and he dragged the final pot of the series.

Petrangelo took home $444,000 as the runner-up finisher, his first cash of the series. The two-time bracelet winner now has nearly $30 million in lifetime earnings after this latest deep run. ♠

USPO Leaderboard

Rank Player Points Wins Cashes Winnings
1 Martin Zamani 570 1 4 $835,800
2 Ren Lin 465 1 4 $568,400
3 Sam Soverel 457 1 3 $456,750
4 Dan Smith 442 1 3 $736,500
5 Joey Weissman 429 1 3 $542,400
6 Darren Elias 399 1 3 $399,200
7 Chris Brewer 361 0 5 $424,300
8 Isaac Kempton 344 1 2 $344,250
9 Jeremy Ausmus 328 0 2 $445,600
10 Nacho Barbero 303 0 3 $302,550

US Poker Open – Aria PokerGO Studio – Las Vegas, Nevada

$10,500 NLH
March 23-24
Entries: 105
Prizepool: $1,050,000
1 Joey Weissman $231,000 (600)
2 Justin Young $168,000 (500)
3 Andrew Moreno $126,000 (400)
4 Matthew Mcewan $99,750 (300)
5 Jose Barbero $78,750 (250)
6 Jonathan Little $63,000 (200)
7 Ren Lin $52,500 (150)
8 Joao Simao $42,000 (100)

$10,500 NLH
March 24-25
Entries: 105
Prizepool: $1,050,000
1 Ren Lin $231,000 (600)
2 Jose Barbero $168,000 (500)
3 Robert Chorlian $126,000 (400)
4 Nate Silver $99,750 (300)
5 Aram Zobian $78,750 (250)
6 Erik Seidel $63,000 (200)
7 Steven Veneziano $52,500 (150)
8 Brock Wilson $42,000 (100)

$10,500 NLH
March 25-27
Entries: 93
Prizepool: $930,000
1 Sam Soverel $213,900 (540)
2 Chris Brewer $148,800 (450)
3 Brandon Wilson $111,600 (360)
4 Kristen Foxen $93,000 (270)
5 Daniel Colpoys $74,400 (225)
6 Jose Barbero $55,800 (180)
7 Aram Oganyan $46,500 (135)
8 Calvin Lee $37,200 (90)

$10,500 PLO
March 27-28
Entries: 77
Prizepool: $770,000
1 Allan Le $200,200 (420)
2 Ronald Keijzer $146,300 (350)
3 Dylan Weisman $100,100 (280)
4 Daniel Negreanu $77,000 (210)
5 Damjan Radanov $61,600 (175)
6 Masashi Oya $46,200 (140)
7 Edgardo Figueroa $38,500 (105)
8 Ben Lamb $30,800 (70)

$10,500 NLH
March 28-29
Entries: 88
Prizepool: $880,000
1 Phil Hellmuth $211,200 (480)
2 Jeremy Ausmus $149,600 (400)
3 Jesse Lonis $105,600 (320)
4 George Wolff $88,000 (240)
5 Aram Oganyan $70,400 (200)
6 Allan Le $52,800 (160)
7 Darren Elias $44,000 (120)
8 David Stamm $35,200 (80)

$15,700 PLO
March 29-30
Entries: 62
Prizepool: $930,000
1 Isaac Kempton $279,000 (432)
2 Gregory Shuda $186,000 (360)
3 Martin Zamani $130,200 (288)
4 Ben Lamb $93,000 (216)
5 Roussos Koliakoudakis $74,400 (180)
6 Erik Seidel $55,800 (144)
7 Jim Collopy $46,500 (108)
8 Chris Brewer $37,200 (72)

$15,700 NLH
March 30-31
Entries: 87
Prizepool: $1,305,000
1 Darren Elias $313,200 (576)
2 Sam Soverel $221,850 (480)
3 Brandon Wilson $156,600 (384)
4 Masashi Oya $130,500 (288)
5 Sean Winter $104,400 (240)
6 Chris Brewer $78,300 (192)
7 Isaac Kempton $65,200 (144)
8 Mike Lang $52,200 (96)

$26,000 NLH
March 31-April 1
Entries: 54
Prizepool: $1,350,000 1 Isaac Haxton $432,000 (420)
2 Joey Weissman $283,500 (350)
3 Dan Smith $189,000 (280)
4 Bill Klein $135,000 (210)
5 Phil Hellmuth $108,000 (175)
6 Alex Foxen $81,000 (140)
7 Chris Brewer $67,500 (105)
8 Masashi Oya $54,000 (70)

$26,000 NLH
April 1-3
Entries: 47
Prizepool: $1,175,000
1 Dan Smith $399,500 (420)
2 Ren Lin $258,500 (350)
3 Brian Kim $176,250 (280)
4 Cary Katz $129,250 (210)
5 Punnat Punsri $94,000 (175)
6 Nick Schulman $70,500 (140)
7 Daniel Negreanu $47,000 (105)

$52,000 NLH
April 3-4
Entries: 37
Prizepool: $1,850,000
1 Martin Zamani $666,000 (408)
2 Nick Petrangelo $444,000 (340)
3 Jeremy Ausmus $296,000 (272)
4 Justin Bonomo $203,500 (204)
5 Dan Smith $148,000 (170)
6 Chris Brewer $92,500 (136)