Touched by an Engel

Heads-up No-Limit Hold’em is a completely different game.  It requires vastly different strategies and considerations from the usual nine or ten-handed variety.  Heads-up players can’t simply sit around and wait for hand, and expect to be successful.  In fact, overly patient players often go broke, albeit slowly, in heads-up competition.

Interestingly – largely due to the influence of onlines, heads-up poker has become a popular game and a niche talent.  Some players insist they will only play in short-handed games.  It is clear that due to the accelerated nature of table decisions (players tend to play quite fast) and nearly instantaneous familiarity caused by focusing on a single opponent and his style, the advantages of skillful players over weaker players becomes magnified.  This is perhaps even more so in a tournament format, where players must sit face-to-face across the table in a series of single-elimination matches.  

The most recent World Series of Poker Circuit tournament at Caesars Palace Las Vegas concluded today.  The $1,000 buy-in Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em event was limited to just 64 entries.  It was fitting that Caesars was the home for this special tournament since the poker room hosts the NBC Heads Up world championship every spring.

Four rounds were completed on day one (64 to 32 to 16 to 8 to 4), which meant four survivors returned to play on day two.  Given the phenomenon on online poker, it was no surprise that all of the top four finishers were online players and none were over the age of 25. 

The semi-finals were a best two-games-out-of-three format.  That meant the champion had to win a total of eight heads-up matches.  The top four finishers were as follows:

Semi-Finalist – Scott Darin, a 23-year-old former student who now plays poker professionally was eliminated by Ari Engel.  The New Yorker collected $7,449 in prize money.

Semi-Finalist – John Racener, a.k.a. “Spikey” a 23-year-old poker professional from Tampa, FL was eliminated by Adam White.  Racener is best known for winning the $5,000 buy-in WSOP Circuit championship at Harrah’s Atlantic City in 2007.  He also has more than $1 million in career tournament winnings.  Racener added $7,449 to his poker bankroll. 

2nd Place – Ari Engel defeated Adam White by 2 matches to 1 in the best-of-three series.  The decisive hand came well over three hours after the heads-up competition began.  Engel was dealt K-10 preflop against White’s pocket eights.  The final board gave Engel two pair, kings and tens, and his second WSOP gold ring.

As the runner up, Adam White collected $13,657.  The Sun Valley, ID poker pro is no stranger to going deep in big tournaments.  He finished in second place in a $1,500 buy-in WSOP event in 2005 and also finished 49th in the Main Event that same year.

1st Place – The winner of the Heads-Up No-Limit championship was 25-year-old poker pro Ari Engel, from Las Vegas.  The Toronto, Canada native won his first WSOP gold ring two years ago at Harrah’s Atlantic City.  So, this marked gold ring number two – and counting.  First place paid $22,353.  Angel’s live tournament career winnings total nearly $400,000 but he admits he has earned that figure several times over playing poker online.  Engel now has four WSOP Circuit cashes and one cash in the WSOP in Las Vegas.  He has consistently been ranked as one of the top online players in recent years.

With 17 of 22 events now completed at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, the tournament has attracted more than 3,000 total entries and has awarded in excess of $2 million in total prize money.  The Main Event begins on April 27th.  The WSOP Circuit continues through April 30th.