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Craig Varnell Wins 2019 WPT Choctaw Main Event On His 36th Birthday

Poker Pro Comes Back From Just Three Big Blinds To Win The Title and $379,990


Craig Varnell had quite the birthday this year. The Coloradan 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.

As Varnell said, he didn’t get off to the greatest start at the final table of this event. Varnell had entered the final day in second chip position among the six remaining players. The final table was set on May 20 at the Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant, Oklahoma, but play didn’t resume until May 31 at the HyperX Esports Arena at the Luxor in Las Vegas. Varnell couldn’t get much going early on at the final table. He finally hit a big hand with KClub Suit6Club Suit, making two pair on a KHeart Suit10Heart Suit flop. He ended up getting all the chips in after a 3Diamond Suit turn, only to find out that he was up against the 10Spade Suit10Heart Suit of Nick Pupillo. Varnell had Pupillo covered but just over three big blinds, and that was all he was left with after the QSpade Suit completed the board.

Varnell then went on a double-up spree. In the next five hands, he was all-in and called three times. He won every one of those hands to rebuild his stack to 3,120,000 after being down to just 210,000.

Odessa, Texas nightclub owner Stacey Jones was involved in several big hands early at the final table. He won a preflop race to eliminate 2014 Card Player Poker Tour Choctaw main event champion Austin Lewis in sixth place ($76,890). Despite scoring that knockout, Jones was the next to be sent to the rail. He ran pocket kings into the pocket aces of Trung Pham to finish fifth for $100,850.

Will Berry started the final table as the chip leader. He had fallen into the middle of the pack as play continued but managed to right the ship by busting Pham in fourth place. Pham four-bet shoved with AClub SuitQDiamond Suit for 3.4 million, only to get quickly called by Berry’s KHeart SuitKClub Suit. The kings held up and Pham was sent home with $133,770.

With Berry and Varnell out in front, Nick Pupillo had fallen to the short stack for three-handed action. The poker pro had already made six final tables and won a title in 2019 prior to this event. His run came to an end when he called down the aggressive Varnell on a 7Spade Suit7Diamond Suit4Diamond Suit10Diamond Suit3Club Suit board with AClub Suit4Spade Suit, only to learn that Varnell had flopped trips with KSpade Suit7Club Suit. Pupillo was awarded $179,430 and 840 POY points for his third-place showing, enough to see him catapulted into 12th place on the overall leaderboard.

With that Varnell took 14,250,000 million into heads-up play with Berry, who began with 8,825,000. It took just 13 hands for the tournament to be decided from there. In the end, it came down to a preflop race. Berry picked up the 8Club Suit on the button and raised to 375,000. Varnell three-bet to 1,175,000 out of the big blind with ADiamond Suit10Diamond Suit. Berry shoved for 7,500,000 and Varnell quickly called. The board ran out KClub Suit10Heart Suit5Club SuitQSpade SuitKSpade Suit and Varnell made kings and tens to secure the pot and the title. Berry earned $243,330 as the runner-up finisher.

Here is a look at the payouts and POY points awarded at the final table:

Place Player Winnings (USD) POY Points
1 Craig Varnell $379,990 1,260
2 William Berry $243,330 1,050
3 Nicholas Pupillo $179,430 840
4 Trung Pham $133,770 630
5 Stacey Jones $100,850 525
6 Austin Lewis $76,890 420

Winner photo: Joe Giron / WPT.