Las Vegas pro Craig Varnell tops 2,419-entry field to win popular PLO event.
10 June 2018 (Las Vegas) – Local Vegas pro Craig Varnell has claimed the coveted gold bracelet in Event #19 of the World Series of Poker, $565 Pot-Limit Omaha.
Varnell, 35, who previously won a WSOP Circuit ring at a 2014 stop in Colorado, finished off a fast-paced final table that included 2010 Main Event winner Jonathan Duhamel. Varnell sealed the win by eliminating his final foe, Seth Zimmerman, after a back-and-forth heads-up duel.
Zimmerman, 43, from New York City, earned $112,347 for the runner-up showing. Zimmerman's big payday dwarfed his only previous WSOP cash, for $2,475, in a 2016 PLO hi-lo event.
Third place in this big-field PLO event went to Foster City, California's Omar Mehmood. Mehmood's third-place payday of $81,852 nearly equaled his previous lifetime WSOP earnings of a little over $89,000.
Canada's Maxine Heroux earned $60,190 for fourth. The cash was by far the largest of Heroux's WSOP career. Fifth went to first-time WSOP casher Christopher Trang, while Duhamel climbed over $14.6 million in lifetime earnings with a $33,477 cash here.
“I started the day second in chips,” said Varnell, while telling how he and early leader Heroux used that to their advantage. “Everybody else was kind of shallow,” when the unofficial final table of ten formed and battled two hours without a knockout, “and from last night, what I gauged from the table was that everybody was trying to make the final nine, to get on the live stream, and to get the pay jumps.
“Me and Max were taking advantage of that, raising a lot. The [other players] were so polarized; they had aces or they had nothing, they weren't playing any other hand besides aces. I kept raising. Even though there were no antes, the blinds got big enough and it made a difference. I just took advantage. I chipped up over a million chips. It was great.
Varnell credits poker in general with saving his life and getting him out of earlier troubled times. Four years ago he was working at a carwash, then broke through with a WSOP Circuit win in Blackhawk, Colorado, for over $14,700, took third in that stop's main event for more than $52,000 a few days later, and hasn't looked back since.
“Poker leveled out my life,” he said, “and I met the woman of my dreams. I'm so excited, so happy.”
Varnell admitted to playing a lot of online poker years ago but, like many US-based players, gave it up after 2011's “Black Friday”. He returned to play a lot Omaha, a game he loves, but he describes himself as a “feel” player. “It gives me an advantage when people are in their [own] head, GTO [game theory optimization] and all that, but I'm like, I'm just going to go for it. If they want to call they can call. Those kinds of things work out sometimes.
“It felt good to finally close one out,” he said, this being his third final table in a regular WSOP. I almost didn't play this event. But when I did, and I got a stack, I had a big advantage over the other players.
Action started slow in this 10-player streamed final. Conway Frankenheimer's 10th-place exit an hour into the day's action finally launched a raid processing to the rail.
Los Angeles's Frankenheimer cashed for $11,621, and he was quickly followed to the cashier's window by Potomac, Maryland's Ilian Li (9th, $14,920), Las Vegas's Jason Lipiner (8th, $19,344), Middle Village, New York's Shaome Yang (7th, $25,325).
Six-handed play stretched for the better part of an hour before Duhamel, the big name at the table, in sixth. Varnell bounced an all-in Duhamel in a hand where the chips went in before the flop, and Duhamel started out ahead, with to Varnell's . Varnell moved ahead on the flop and stayed there through the turn and river to trim the final to five.
Staten Island, New York's Christopher Trang exited a half hour later, with Heroux notching the KO. Trang called a Heroux three-bet pre-flop for the last of his chips, and he showed  to Heroux's . Heroux gained outs on the flop, but a turn left Trang drawing thin, and the river ended his run.
Heroux, though, had earlier suffered a double-through at Zimmerman's hands, and he exited here in fourth in a big hand against Varnell. The two were in for 1.4 million each before the flop, with Heroux having , and Varnell holding . Varnell spiked his set on the flop, but Heroux had his own big hand, plus the flush draw, and the chips went in. The turn and river gave Varnell the knockout, though, trimming the final to three.
And then to two, just moments later with Omar Mehmood's ouster. Varnell claimed this knockout as well. The last of Mehmood's chips went in pre-flop with , while opening raiser Varnell called with . Again the runout went Varnell's way, bringing , giving Varnell two pair, the pot, and a dominating edge beginning heads-up play.
Zimmerman, the amateur from NYC didn't go down easy. He staved off elimination in several pots and even clawed to a narrow lead at one moment before Varnell doubled through to reassert control. The last hand saw another pre-flop, all-in duel for the last of Zimmerman's chips; Zimmerman opened , which started out ahead of Varnell's .
Once again, though, Varnell found the better hand, though it took until the river to arrive. Zimmerman led through the flop and turn, but the river gave Varnell two pair and the Event #19 title.
Among those cashing in Event #19 were Ryan Laplante (20th, $5,830), Nick Jivkov (32nd, $4,855), John Racener (51st, $3,495), Loni Harwood (67th, $2,675), Martin Staszko (72nd, $2,675), Joshua Reichard (74th, $2,397), Dutch Boyd (79th, $2,397), JC Tran (95th, $2,019), and James Obst (99th, $2,019).
Click here for Full Results.
Click here for live updates from Event #19.
Final Table Payouts (Approx. POY points in parentheses):
1st: Craig Varnell, $181,790 (1024)
2nd: Seth Zimmerman, $112,347 (512)
3rd: Omar Mehmood, $81,852 (461)
4th: Maxine Heroux, $60,190 (410)
5th: Christopher Trang, $44,677 (384)
6th: Jonathan Duhamel, $33,477 (358)
7th: Shaome Yang, $25,325 (307)
8th: Jason Lipiner, $19,344 (282)
9th: Ilian Li, $14,920 (256)