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Heng Zhang Wins CPPT bestbet Mystery Bounty Main Event

by Erik Fast |  Published: Sep 20, 2023


The 2023 Card Player Poker Tour bestbet Jacksonville series proved to be yet another success for the North Florida property, running nine events from Aug. 10-21. A total of 1,885 entries were made overall, with $1,033,755 in total prize money paid out along the way.

The largest chunk came from the $1,700 CPPT bestbet Jacksonville mystery bounty main event. With 357 entries, the centerpiece of the festival blew away its $300,000 guarantee to create a final prize pool of $537,285.

After three starting flights and two additional days of action, Heng Zhang emerged victorious with the title and $74,010 from the main prize pool.

The 34-year-old poker pro from St. Augustine, Florida also earned $51,000 from nine mystery bounty payouts, bringing his total haul for the event to $125,010. Among the nine bounties he snagged was the second-largest available worth a $25,000 payout.

This was actually the second time in Zhang’s nine-year career as a poker pro that he found himself at the final table of a CPPT bestbet Jacksonville main event. Back in 2015, he made it down to the final three, eventually earning $69,252 as the third-place finisher.

Zhang said he didn’t feel any pressure to outdo that performance, though.

“I was actually feeling pretty chill coming into the final table,” Zhang told Card Player. “I wasn’t really focused on the win, I just focused on every hand.”

This was the second-largest payday of Zhang’s career, trailing only the $81,000 he earned for a 75th-place finish in the 2021 WSOP main event. With his latest win, his career tournament earnings now sit at more than $450,000.

This event began with three starting flights, with each playing down to the top 12.5 percent of the field. That resulted in 47 players that officially made the money and moved on to day 2.

At that point, the mystery bounties were introduced, with $178,500 to be awarded across 47 payouts ranging from $500 to $50,000.

The largest was drawn by Wendy Lu, who had finished second to Michael Giardina in the kickoff event of the series roughly a week earlier for $38,577.

Plenty of notables were among the 38 to hit the rail on day 2, including HPT Florida champion Jermaine Gerlin (45th), ladies event winner Kim Sukyung (39th), 2017 CPPT bestbet Jacksonville main event champion Jared Reinstein (28th), ladies event runner-up Mary Darnell (26th), 2021 CPPT bestbet Jacksonville main event champion Ben Scrogins (23rd), Eddy Mroczkowski (20th), Toby Boas (18th), Jason May (17th), Wendy Lu (14th), and Brian Arbaugh (13th).

By the time the final table was set, Zhang sat in second chip position with his 1,530,000 trailing only the 2,545,000 of Michael Jagroo.

Thad McNulty was the first player to hit the rail at the final table. The Jacksonville local started as the short stack, and couldn’t get much going. In the end, he moved all-in from the button with KSpade Suit 4Club Suit and Alex Kimpel isolated the action with a reshove from the small blind holding AHeart Suit KHeart Suit. Neither player improved and McNulty was awarded $7,401 for his ninth-place finish. The score brought his lifetime earnings to just shy of $585,000.

Jamison Alford managed to make this final table despite coming into day 2 of this event as the very shortest stack. His run ultimately ended in eighth place when his pocket jacks were out-flipped by the AHeart Suit KHeart Suit of Zhang. Zhang hit a backdoor flush to send Alford home with $9,374 and one $500 bounty payout.

Alan Franco was the next to fall. As with Alford, it was a classic preflop race. Franco’s AHeart Suit KSpade Suit was unable to overcome the pocket queens of Tyler Chen and he was eliminated in seventh place ($12,014). Franco also drew a $10,000 bounty on day 2.

Despite scoring that knockout, Chen soon followed Franco to the payout desk. He was involved in a three-way all-in with his AHeart Suit JSpade Suit and Long’s KClub Suit QClub Suit falling to Kimpel’s ASpade Suit KHeart Suit on a board of KSpade Suit Q 3Spade Suit AClub Suit JHeart Suit. Kimpel hit aces and kings to double through Long, while eliminating Chen in sixth place. Chen cashed for $15,577, to go along with the $3,500 in bounties.

Jagroo started the day with a healthy lead, but was quickly stuck in reverse. In his final hand he shoved with 10Diamond Suit 9Club Suit from the small blind and Zhang, who was now the chip leader, made the call with ASpade Suit 7Heart Suit. Zhang turned a pair of aces and held from there to eliminate Jagroo in fifth place. He was awarded $20,432, along with $12,000 in bounty payouts.

Kimpel lost a big chunk of his stack with a busted flush draw and soon found himself all-in with AClub Suit JHeart Suit facing Zhang’s pocket nines. Both players improved on the flop, but Zhang’s set was still well ahead of Kimpel’s top pair. Kimpel was unable to find a miracle runout and was eliminated in fourth place ($27,106). Incredibly, Kimpel took home even more in bounties than he did from the main prize pool, accruing $27,500 across six bounties.

Zhang continued his reign of terror by busting Paul Chung in third place. Chung-three-bet shoved AClub Suit 2Diamond Suit from the small blind facing a button open from Zhang, who called holding the ASpade Suit 9Spade Suit. Zhang made a pair of nines on the turn to seal Chung’s fate, leaving him with a consolation prize of $36,367 and bounties worth $6,000.

After knocking out Chung, Zhang drew the $25,000 mystery prize, leaving just a $5,000 bounty and a $2,000 bounty, both of which would go to the winner of the heads-up duel for the title.

Zhang started with a 4:1 lead, but Long scored a double up and then won a few pots to essentially level the playing field. But it wasn’t long before Zhang began to pull away again.

By the time the final hand was dealt, Long was down to less than 12 big blinds. He limped in from the button with 7Spade Suit 6Spade Suit and Zhang checked his option with 7Diamond Suit 5Diamond Suit.

The flop came down JClub Suit 7Heart Suit 2Diamond Suit and Zhang checked. Long went all in for 1,755,000, and Zhang went into the tank before making the call. The QSpade Suit didn’t change anything, but the 5Heart Suit on the end gave Zhang two pair and the pot.

Long was awarded $49,340 for his runner-up showing, somehow making it to heads-up play without scoring a single knockout along the way. ♠