Craig Varnell rises like Lazarus to win the World Poker Tour Choctaw Main Event when at one point he was down to a mere three big blinds.
A diamond-studded red dress by Vera Wang, a trip to see the fornicating baboons at the zoo, or the skin of an apple – you never know what gifts you’re going to receive on your birthday. On Craig Varnell’s 36th birthday, he was never going to wear a dress, he couldn’t get to the zoo, and he didn’t fancy the apple peel. Nah, Varnell wanted one thing and one thing only – a World Poker Tour (WPT) Main Event title.
WPT Choctaw began where the name suggests, and ended in the HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas. Varnell started second in chips to Will Berry and was the most decorated player at the final table with a WPT500 title and World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet hogging space on his bookshelf back home.
“I never would I have thought I’d have a WPT title,” Varnell told PokerNews.
He does now.
The (Nutshell) Action
With blinds at 30k/60k/60k, Stacey Jones opened to 125,000 in the cutoff, Austin Lewis raised it to 375,000, Jones four-bet to 875,000, and then called when Lewis moved all-in for 2,610,000. It was a flip, and Jones won it when AcKd flopped an ace to beat pocket jacks.
It was in the same level that Varnell nearly left the competition.
Pupillo opened to 150,000 from the cutoff, and Varnell called from the big blind. A flop of KhTc6h hit the deck, Varnell checked, Pupillo bet 180,000, Varnell check-raised to 530,000, and Pupillo called. The turn was the 3d; Varnell moved all-in for 2,405,000, and Pupillo called. Varnell showed Kc6d for two pairs, but Pupillo had flopped a set of tens. The Qs changed nothing, and Varnell was down to a mere three big blinds.
Varnell then doubled through Trung Pham (Js9c>Ac8d), Stacey Jones (Kc9c>2h2c), and Pham for a second time (AdKc>QsQh) to get back into contention.
Stacey Jones then left in fifth place after a cooler.
With blinds at 40k/80k/80k, Jones opened to 200,000 from the cutoff, Varnell three-bet to 600,000 from the button, Pham moved all-in for 1,710,000 in the small blind, Jones called for his tournament life (940,000), and Varnell stepped aside. Jones showed the cowboys, but Pham showed the rockets, and they held.
With blinds at 75k/125k/125k, Varnell doubled up for the fourth time, and once again Pham was the man handing him chips The pair got it in pre-flop with Varnell winning a race TsTc>AsQh. Pham would then leave the party in fourth place, after losing with AcQd versus the pocket kings of Will Berry.
Three handed chip counts
Varnell – 10,450,000
Berry – 9,825,000
Pupillo – 2,800,000
Pupillo began as the short-stack, and he was the first player eliminated. With blinds at 75k/150k/150k, Pupillo opened to 400,000 on the button, and Varnell called in the big blind. The dealer planted 7d7s4d on the flop, Varnell checked, Pupillo bet 425,000, and Varnell called. The turn card was the 3c, and this time Varnell took the betting lead for 600,000, and Pupillo called. The 3c fell on the river, Varnell moved all-in, and Pupillo made the call. Pupillo showed Ac4s for sevens and fours, but Varnell tabled Ks7c for trips.
Varnell – 14,250,000
Berry – 8,825,000
Berry took the lead during the first hand when with blinds at 75k/150k/150k, Varnell opened to 350,000 from the button, and Berry made the call. 7d5d2s flew out of the dealer’s fingertips, and Berry check-called a 400,000 Varnell bet. The Tc hit the deck on fourth street, and the same action ensued with Berry calling a 950,000 bet. The final card was the Ad; Berry led for 1,425,000 and Varnell called. Berry showed 9d3d for the flush, and Varnell mucked his hand.
The lead was slender, and it didn’t take too many moves for Varnell to retake it before the tournament ended. The pair got it in with Varnell’s AdTd up against the pocket eights of Berry, and a ten on the flop secured the win for an ecstatic Varnell.
Final table results
1. Craig Varnell – $379,990*
2. Will Berry – $243,330
3. Nick Pupillo – $179,430
4. Trung Pham – $133,770
5. Stacey Jones – $100,850
6. Austin Lewis – $76,890
*Includes a seat into the Tournament of Champions.