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Day 3 at the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star

Brandon Cantu Dominates the End of Play and Enters the Final Table with the Chip Lead

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The play-down day at the Bay 101 Shooting Stars event is one of the most entertaining days of tournament poker each year. That’s in large part thanks to the sixhanded tables, which instigate more explosive, over-the-top action than a Michael Bay summer blockbuster. Although the levels were long (two hours) and the blinds were relatively low at the start (1,500-3,000), this shorthanded day on the World Poker Tour failed to disappoint.Ted Forrest

The day began with 85 minutes left in level 16, and during that time, 13 unlucky players hit the rail. They included seven amateurs and six well-known professionals in Layne Flack (35th), Paul Wasicka (34th), Anna Wroblewski (30th), Jimmy Tran (27th), Ted Forrest (25th), and Blair Hinkle (24th), with both Flack and Forrest representing a bounty. Forrest made a valiant stand to defend his win last year by making a deep run through a field of 376 to finish in 25th place, for which he earned $16,000.

Among all this chaos Michael Baker increased his chip lead from 952,500 to 1,067,500, and Lee Watkinson doubled up twice to move into second place with 843,000. The most bizarre thing to happen during the first level was the performance of 28th-place finisher J.P. “The Ghost” Byrne. He never bothered to show up this morning, and his short-stack went on a ghost-ride. By the time Byrne showed up, a few minutes before noon, he was already out. Play moved so quickly, however, that by the time his chip stack was blinded off, he had finished one money-level past where he'd started the day, at $16,000.

Things calmed down a little bit at the start of the second level of the day, and all eyes in the field and on the rail fell upon the final three Shooting Stars: Joe Hachem, Jennifer Harman, and J.C. Tran. Harman handled the pressure well, and she doubled up twice during the second level of the day to survive. Hachem, on the other hand, ran into the bounty hunter — Brandon Cantu:

On a flop of 9 6 5, Hachem bet 20,000 from the small blind, and Cantu made the call from the big blind. The turn brought the 2, Hachem bet 40,000,Joe Hachem and Cantu raised to 150,000. Hachem went into the tank for about four minutes, and finally decided to move all in for a total of 231,500. Cantu asked for an exact count before he called with A 6. Hachem showed down K 9. Cantu required an ace or a 6 to bust Hachem, who walked away from the table so he wouldn't have to watch the river card with his own eyes. The river then brought the A. The crowd let out a shocked moan, while Hachem yelled, "No!" and “Every time!” as he grabbed his head in disbelief.

Cantu won the pot with two pair, aces and sixes, and Hachem was eliminated in 20th place ($20,000). The exciting hand also gave Cantu his fourth bounty of the tournament. He had also busted Bill Edler, John Juanda, and Phil Laak. Cantu had now already made $30,000 for the tournament, before his official payout (he earned $10,000 for holding the day 1A chip lead and $20,000 as a bounty hunter).

When the final 18 were reached, play remained sixhanded to ensure that the action continued at a nice clip. Lost en route to the final two tables was one of the two remaining women in the field. Clonie Gowen made a set of sevens on her final hand, but John Phan sent her to the rail in 14th place with a queen-high club flush, which left Harman as the final female contestant. Gowen earned $24,000 for her deep finish. A few minutes after Gowen hit the rail, Rich Belsky followed in 13th place, just missing the final two tables. He took home $24,000 in prize money.

The final 11 players went to dinner at 4:30 p.m., and when they returned from the break, a state of catharsis took over the tournament field for an hour and 10 minutes. Virtually nothing happened, thanks to the low blinds, before Thanh Phung got all of his chips into the middle against Harman on a board of 8 5 5. Harman held A 8 to Phung's K10, and after the turn and river brought the 4 and 7, Phung was eliminated in 11th place. Jason Gray was eliminated shortly after that in 10th place, and there was another 20-minute stretch that transpired before Watkinson hit the rail in ninth place.

On a board of K 9 3 Q, Phan checked, Baker bet 80,000, and Watkinson raised to 240,000. Phan got out of the way, and Baker moved all in. Watkinson thought for a while before he called with K Q for top two pair, kings and queens, but Baker showed 9 9 for a set. The river brought the 3, and Baker won the pot with a full house, nines full ofBrandon Cantu threes. Watkinson was eliminated in ninth place, and he took home $44,000.

Cantu then went on an amazing run wherein he won 17 hands — in a row. At a time when the other players at his table were playing weak and timid, he poured out full-fledged aggression. The streak lasted 30 minutes, and he took the chip lead in the process. Cantu also managed to eliminate David Tran during that stretch (in the 13th hand): Cantu and Tran limped to a flop of K J 9 before Tran moved all in and Cantu made the call. Cantu held Q 10 for a flopped straight to Tran's K 6. The turn and river fell A Q. Tran was eliminated in eighth place, and he took home $68,000.

The final seven players then combined at a final table, where the television bubble boy (or girl) would be decided. It took only a few hands, and, once again, Cantu was on the side of victory. On the final hand of the night, J.C. Tran raised to 22,000, and Cantu made the call. Sung, Harman, and Baker also called, and the flop brought 6 5 2. Tran moved all in for 49,000, and Cantu made the call. Sung and Harman mucked before Baker also called, and the A fell on the turn. Cantu and Baker both checked before the K fell on the river. Baker checked, Cantu bet 80,000, and Baker folded. Tran and Cantu then turned up their hands. Tran showed down pocket kings for a set, but Cantu turned over pocket aces for the top set. Tran was eliminated in seventh place, and he will take home $68,000. Cantu finished off his dominating performance by claiming his fifth bounty of the tournament, and play ended for the evening.
 
 
The final table will begin at 4 p.m. PDT tomorrow. Here is a look at the seating chart and chip counts:
 

Seat 1: Noah Jefferson — 842,000
Seat 2: John Phan — 374,000
Seat 3: Brandon Cantu — 3,323,000
Seat 4: Steve Sung — 474,000
Seat 5: Jennifer Harman — 541,000
Seat 6: Michael Baker — 1,964,000