New York's Pillai collects $71,580 by topping Event #77's 185-player field

12 July 2019 (Las Vegas) – New York pro Shankar Pillai has collected the second World Series of Poker gold bracelet of his career by taking down Event #81 of the 2019 WSOP, $1,500 50th Annual Bracelet Winners Only No-Limit Hold'em.

The 34-year-old Pillai, a native of New York, earned $71,580 for the victory in this special event open only to players who had previously won a bracelet at some point in the WSOP's 50-year existence.

Pillai earned his first bracelet in Event #28 of the 2007 WSOP, $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em. This second win swells Pillai's lifetime WSOP winnings in 30 total cashes to $1,066,537.

Another New York-area pro, Michael Gagliano, finished as the runner-up to Pillai. Gagliano's effort was worth $44,232, moving him very close to the million-dollar WSOP lifetime plateau as well.

Mississaugua, Ontario's Tommy Nguyen, who earned over a million dollars by winning last year's Monster Stack event, collected $31,176 by finishing third.

Two players who have also won WSOP Circuit rings claimed the next two spots. Florida pro Brett Apter finished in fourth, cashing for $22,349, while Ohio native Kevin Gerhart placed fifth for $16,299.

Pillai spends less time than he used to in traveling to poker events, since he's become a proud dad in the last two years. He's still playing occasional events on the East Coast, along with his annual trip to the WSOP.

Pillai was one of a segment of players that registered and played on Day 1 in this event, which allowed former bracelet winners to register all the way until the start of Day 2 play. “I did [have an advantage],” he said, “because I bagged a lot of chips. But not a huge advantage,” he added, because the starting stacks were so deep that it gave Day 2 registrants a fighting chance.

Pillai still managed to stay high in the counts throughout the entirety of the three-day event, and he came to the Day 3 finale not too far behind leader Nguyen, with Gagliano the only other player with even half as many chips.

If Pillai had a real advantage at the final table, it was seat position. “I think I had the best seat at the table by far. Tommy [Nguyen] had the chip lead and he was the most aggressive by far and I was on his direct left. In my opinion the other real good player was Gags, and he was to [Nguyen's] right. So every time they folded I had position on everyone else.”

Those were all the shorter stacks, and they were bounced one after another during the day's first few levels. “Once the short stacks busted, it was me, Tommy and Gags, the top three the whole time. I figured it was going to be us three.” With that in mind, though, it was Gagliano who had the early lead during three-handed play, essentially leaving Pillai and Nguyen the chance to battle and then square off against Gagliano for the win.

Friday's conclusion in Event #81 began with eight players still hunting for a second bracelet, with Canada's Tommy Nguyen and the US's Shankar Pillai well ahead of the other players. The US's Haixia Zhang also made the final table, but busted late Thursday night to close out Day 2's action. While numerous prior multiple-bracelet winners participated in this event, in a statistical oddity, all nine players who made the final had won exactly one previous bracelet.

Chicago-area mixed-games specialist Scott Bohlman arrived on Day 3 with the shortest chip stack, and as was the likeliest scenario, was the first to bust. On the day's second hand, an under-the-gun Bohlman moved in for his last 260,000 with   , and Thom Werthmann moved all in as well from the small blind for not much more, with   . Werthman's aces held up without a serious sweat on a [10c     [Qs[ board, and Bohlman was off to the cashier for $7,302 in eight-place money.

Despite the knockout pot, however, Werthmann remained near the bottom of the remaining stacks, and he was the next to bust (seventh, $9,140). Werthmann's exit hand began with a button raise by Tommy Nguyen to 55,000. Werthmann called from the big blind and they saw a     flop. Werthmann checked, Nguyen again bet 55,000, Werthman check-raised for 100,000 more, and Nguyen called. The turn was the   and Werthmann moved all in for his last 535,000. Nguyen tanked, then called and showed   , which was ahead of Werthmann's bluff with   . A blank river completed Werthmann's exit and trimmed the final to six.

An hour later, Germany's Andreas Klatt busted as well. Klatt had about 750,000 in chips when he began a pre-flop raising battle against Nguyen that ended with Klatt all in with    and in trouble against Nguyen's   . The board ran out        , locking in Klatt's sixth-place $12,097 effort by the turn.

Klatt's ouster allowed a short-stacked Kevin Gerhart to climb one spot higher on the board, but Gerhart was soon out as well. Gerhart was under 500,000 in chips when he moved all in from the cutoff with   . Gagliano moved in as well from the button with   , and Gagliano's hand held up on a         runout. Gerhart collected $16,299 for fifth.

Florida's Brett Apter held the lead at times on Day 2 and rose near the top on Day 3 as well, but wound up finishing fourth ($22,349). Apter came out on the losing end of a pre-flop collision against Shankar Pillai, where Apter was all in with    while Pillai had   . Again the dominating hand won out, with a         board giving Pillai two pair and finishing off Apter's run.

Nguyen and Pillai tangled soon after in a hand that sent Nguyen to the rail and gave Pillai a thin edge entering heads-up play. The action began with Nguyen opening from the button for 100,000, Pillai re-raising to 350,000, Gagliano folding and Nguyen calling. The flop was    ; Pillai bet 250,000 and Nguyen called again.

A   turn led to a Pillai check. Nguyen tanked, then moved all in for about 950,000. Pillai quickly called and showed   , which was well ahead of Nguyen's   . Nguyen had outs to the straight but the   river missed, and Nguyen's run was over with a third-place, $31,176 payout.

That left Pillai and Gagliano, two players quite familiar with each other, to duel for the title beginning with nearly equal stacks. Gagliano took down quite a few smaller pots, but Pillai pulled in the larger ones with, in his words, “quite a few bluffs”. The strategy ultimately paid off this time around.

The final hand began with Pillai well ahead. He opened from the button for 190,000, Gagliano called from the big blind, and the two saw a     flop. Gagliano checked, Pillai bet 225,000, and Gagliano called. Gagliano checked again on the   turn, Pillai bet 650,000 and Gagliano called again. The river was the  ; Gagliano checked once more, Pillai moved all in, and Gagliano called for less. Pillai turned up   , which had made a straight on the turn and improved to a flush on the river. A coolered Gagliano turned up his own    for a no-good two pair while the chips and the win went Pillai's way.

Event #81, $1,500 50th Annual Bracelet Winners Only No-Limit Hold'em, drew 185 entrants and offered a $277,500 prize pool. 28 players made the money and a min-cash was worth $2,520.

Everyone who cashed in this event was a notable player, having previously claimed WSOP gold. Among the most prominent who earned a payday were Cord Garcia (11th, $4,402), James Mackey (12th, $4,402), Brian Yoon (15th, $3,584), and 2013 Main Event champ Ryan Riess (26th, $2,520).

Click here for Full Results.
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Final-Table Payouts:

1st: Shankar Pillai, $71,580
2nd: Michael Gagliano, $44,232
3rd: Tommy Nguyen, $31,176
4th: Brett Apter, $22,349
5th: Kevin Gerhart, $16,299
6th: Andreas Klatt, $12,097
7th: Thom Werthmann, $9,140
8th: Scott Bohlman, $7,032
9th: Haixia Zhang, $5,512