After Two Crushing Second-Place Finishes, Andy Philachack Finally Earns His Breakthrough Victory at Winter Bayou Poker Challenge

After Two Crushing Second-Place Finishes, Andy Philachack Finally Earns His Breakthrough Victory at Winter Bayou Poker Challenge 

Two-time WSOP gold bracelet winner Josh Arieh is the runner-up at Harrah’s New Orleans 

New Orleans, LA (December 5, 2007) – There’s an old saying that no one remembers who finishes second.  Andy Philachack learned that lesson the hard way.  Twice.  Back in 2005, the 33-year-old Dallas chiropractor took second place at the World Poker Open.  Earlier this year, he followed up that mixed blessing with yet another second-place showing, on a day when poker history was re-written by one of poker’s most famous superstars.  Philachack was the runner up in Event #15 at the 2007 World Series of Poker, which just so happened to be the tournament domino that knocked Phil Hellmuth, Jr. into a class all his own, as the combustible poker icon iced away his record-11th WSOP victory.   

          The memory of being ignored and instantly forgotten by pretty much the entire poker world was tempered by a second-place payout from that event totaling $394,594.  As satisfying a collecting a big tournament payout may seem to the average poker player, true champions measure themselves not on the basis in-the-money finishes or final table appearances, but of victories won.

          In July, Philachack returned to his home in the Dallas suburb of Garland inspired by his performance at the World Series of Poker, but less than satisfied with the end results.  He vowed to make significant improvements to his game.  So, Philachack enlisted the counsel of a highly-respected tournament player from Dallas named Kido Pham.  When the 2007-08 World Series of Poker Circuit schedule rolled around, both Philachack and Pham made plans to attend the fourth stop on the series schedule, to be held at Harrah’s New Orleans.  Fast forward to December 5, 2007:  Andy Philachack became a poker champion.            

          “I was playing for first place all the way,” said Andy Philachack just moments after winning his first major tournament victory in the championship event at the 2007 Winter Bayou Poker Challenge.  “I had no other goal but first place in this tournament.”    

          Philachack’s pre-tournament confidence might have seemed overly optimistic, perhaps even preposterous, considering his dismal chip position at the start of what would later become an intense final table.  He arrived among the final nine players ranked eighth in chips.  He was outchipped by the leader by a 17 to 1 margin.  Indeed, had Philachack been in the hospital, he would have been strapped on life support in intensive care.  Then again, miraculous recoveries do sometimes happen.

This marked the fourth occasion that the World Series of Poker Circuit had come to Harrah’s New Orleans.  After sizable turnouts in each of the first three years, the 2007-2008 WSOP Circuit season features two stops in the Crescent City.  This Winter Bayou Poker Challenge attracted over 2,200 poker players and paid out over $2 million in total prize money.  Harrah’s New Orleans will play host to a similar series of events, planned on May 9-21, 2008.

The $5,000 championship event began on December 3rd and was played over a three-day time frame.  Three former WSOP gold bracelet winners entered the main event, including Josh Arieh, Brandon Cantu, and Dan Schmiech.  In addition, the last two Harrah’s New Orleans poker champions, Walter Chambers and Louie Esposito, entered the main event.  The runner-up from the first-ever WSOP Europe championship (held in September) also participated as John Tabatabai, a British poker player based in London made the overseas trip.

“This was my first trip ever to New Orleans,” said Tabatabai.  “I had never been to the (American) south before and I always wanted to come here.  There is so much culture here and fun things to do in New Orleans.  The poker action is incredible here, too.  I’ve never seen such great poker action.”

          Unfortunately for Tabatabai and many others, an in-the-money finish was not in the cards.  Of the 160 entries paid into the main event, the first day dealt out 110 eliminations.  Day two busted 41 more players, eight of whom finished in the money.  That left nine finalists to compete for the championship and first place money totaling nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

When day three began, two-time WSOP gold bracelet winner Josh Arieh arrived with a significant chip advantage.  In fact, many observers were already whispering that Arieh, an experienced poker pro from Atlanta, was nearly unbeatable given his dominance throughout the three-day tournament.  He had the chip lead, by a wide margin at times, from what seemed to be the very first hour of play.  David Fox arrived in second place, with the remainder of the field desperately in need of an early rush of favorable cards.  Among them was the defending champion -- Lou Esposito, a 32-year-old professional poker player from Howard Beach, NY.  He took first place and $516,000 at the previous Bayou Poker Challenge, held last May.  However, Esposito had a much bigger mountain to climb on this occasion, as he sat down dead last in chips when play commenced on the main stage of the Harrah’s New Orleans Theatre.

Then, there was the man in baseball cap in the number six seat, so seemingly out of place among rivals, with a relatively paltry 35,000 in his stack.  It took exactly five hours for Philachack to pull off a stunning upset, thus earning a deeply satisfying emotional and financial victory.  With coverage provided by Bluff Media and video coverage streamed over the Internet at the official World Series of Poker website, seating positions and starting chip counts at the final table began as follows:


SEAT 1:      Ted McCollom, Jr.                             252,500

SEAT 2:      Philip Sparta                             85,500

SEAT 3:      Lou Esposito                            20,500

SEAT 4:      Bruce F. MacGregor                 123,500

SEAT 5:      Nic “the Greek” Gellepis           65,000

SEAT 6:      Andy Philachack                       35,000

SEAT 7:      Lenny Pruzansky                      174,000

SEAT 8:      David Fox                                324,000      

SEAT 9:      Josh Arieh                                510,000


9th Place – Play was fast from the opening deal.  Just five minutes into play, Lou Esposito was desperately low on chips.  He was forced to play a weak hand as the blinds and antes gobbled away at his stack.  Esposito tried to steal the blinds from the button holding 7-5 suited.  He lost the key hand and thus made an uncharacteristic early exit.  The 2007 Bayou Poker champion collected $15,300 for ninth place as the crowd gave the departed a standing ovation.


8th Place – Moments later, Philip Sparta went out.  He moved all-in with A-Q.  His 57,000 raise was called by Lenny Pruzansky, holding pocket threes.  The classic “race” (two overcards versus an underpair) was won by Pruzansky as neither an ace nor a queen fell.  Philip Sparta, who was the youngest player at the final table, ended up as the eighth-place finisher.  The 23-year-old poker pro from Northern Virginia received $22,950.   


Before the next elimination, a critical hand took place that may have seemed somewhat inconsequential at the time.  Andy Philachack, getting low on chips, moved all-in holding 10-10.  He was called instantly by Ted McCollom, who showed A-A.  Just when it looked like Philachack would be the next player to bust out, a miracle ten rained down on the river, snatching Philachack away from the jaws of defeat.  Little did anyone know at the time what a huge hand that would turn out to be.  


7th Place – Bruce F. MacGregor went out next when he moved all-in for $80,000 holding A-Q.  Ted McCollom made another call with a small pair, this time showing pocket sixes.  Once again, the little pair held up and McCollom increased his stack to over 300,000 while Bruce F, MacGregor exited his seat and walked off the stage.  The former Vietnam veteran and land developer from Port Orange, FL earned $30,600 in prize money.


5th Place – Play continued for nearly ninety minutes before the next player was eliminated.  One of the most exciting hands of the tournament occurred when Nic “the Greek” Gellepis moved all-in (with A-J suited).  Lenny Pruzansky had just enough chips to make the call (with J-J).  That left Josh Arieh with a tough decision, holding 9-9.  Arieh decided to make the difficult call and tabled his underpair.  He was delighted to see the flop come 10-9-3, good for trip nines.  However, two spades also flopped, giving Gellepis a flush draw.  With two players on the verge of elimination, the crowd surged forward towards the final table.  The turn card dashed all suspense for players and spectators alike as a fourth nine gave Arieh quad-nines, and the biggest pot of the tournament up to that point. 


Oddly enough, both of the eliminated players had identical stack sizes on the bust out hand, a very rare occurrence in tournament poker.  Hence, the two players split up the combined prize money of 5th and 6th places – leaving $42,075 for each player.  Nic “the Greek” Gellepis officially tied for fifth place.  The 30-year-old real estate investor from Tallahassee, FL had been down all the way to only 400 in tournament chips at one point -- when antes were 200 and the blinds were at 800-1600.  He not only survived, but cashed out for a nice score.


5th Place – Also taking fifth place was Lenny Pruzansky, from Richmond, TX.  The 59-year-old CEO of LTD Financial Services took home $42,075 to add to his investment portfolio.


4th Place –   David Fox appeared to be the greatest threat to Josh Arieh during much of the second and third day.  However, he lost some momentum late in the tournament leaving him low in chips and then lost a race with 6-6 against Andy Philachack’s A-K.  With his last 125,000 committed to the pot, Fox could not outfax his final foe as Philachack caught an ace on the river, eliminating the 31-year-old New York poker pro from the tournament.  David Fox’s payout amounted to $61,200.


3rd Place – Philachack has seized the chip lead by this point, by virtue of knocking out Fox and doubling up against Ted McCollom on a critical hand.  Things went from bad to (much) worse for McCollom soon thereafter, as the 52-year-old Texan moved all-in after a flop of A-A-Q against Josh Arieh.  On his final fateful hand, McCollom was dealt the 4-3 of clubs.  He saw two clubs flop and decided to commit.  When Arieh checked (holding what turned out to be A-9), McCollom moved all-in with his chips.  Arieh was delighted to join the party and made the call.  A club did manage to fall, but by then it was too late as Arieh caught a queen on the turn, completing a full-house.  Ted McCollom, Jr, who proudly watched as his son Clinton took 11th place in this same event, ended up at the third-place finisher.  He collected $76,500 for his first-ever tournament cash.


2nd Place – Chip counts were close, with Philachack holding a slight lead.  Just minutes after heads-up play began, the final hand of the night unfolded when both players caught two pair and a flurry of raises broke out, leaving one player ultimately disappointed and defeated, and another player riding the crest of his first major tournament victory.


The final hand began with Philacheck being dealt 10-7 versus Arieh’s 9-7.  In what turned out to be an absolute nightmare scenario for Arieh, the flop came 10-9-7.  Arieh had flopped two pair.  But Philachack flopped two higher pair.  A bet, three raises, and a call went back and forth and by the time all the action had ceased, Arieh was all-in with his tournament life on the line.  Sadly for Arieh, he was down to just a few outs.  The two-time WSOP old bracelet winner who had been such a dominant force for three full days was reduced to the underdog role and was left to stand and suffer the discomfort of praying for either luck or divine intervention.  The call for a nine was ignored, and Josh Arieh ended up as the runner up.  With his $130,050 payout, Arieh closed in on $4 million in lifetime tournament winnings for his career.  The man who finished in third place in the 2004 WSOP main event was stunned by the defeat, but also acknowledged that Philachack had pulled off a remarkable come-from-behind victory.


1st Place – Andy Philachack won his first major poker tournament in New Orleans, after a series of disappointing defeats.  First place paid $247,860.  He was awarded a $10,000 buy-in into the 2008 World Series of Poker main event as part of his prize package.  Philachack also received a gold and diamond ring, presented to each tournament winner at this year’s Winter Bayou Poker Challenge.


The celebration afterward was subdued, largely for reasons which had nothing to do with who won or lost but rather due to the sad news from Las Vegas that a poker icon had passed away.  Philachack joined with his fellow competitors at this final table as each player wore a black armband to commemorate the untimely death of poker great David “Chip” Reese.  Prior to the start of the final table, a moment of silence was observed in memory of the 56-yar-old three-time WSOP event winner, who was so revered and respected by all who knew him, and many more who did not.


With every death, a new cycle of life begins.  Poker games continue.  Cards are dealt.  Memories gradually fade.  As the 2007 Winter Bayou Poker Challenge came to a close, mixed thoughts both sweet and bitter filled the moist Louisiana night – that perhaps this tournament and this day will be memorable to different people in very different ways.


-- by Nolan Dalla