$3,000 Limit Hold'em "How Do You Spell Tsiprailidis? T-O-U-G-H!"

by Andy Glazer - poker.casino.com

Yesterday, the three remaining players in the pot-limit hold’em event chopped the money, and then started playing so loosely, you’d have thought it was a kitchen table game with some very nice souvenir matchsticks at stake.

Today, when the last three left sitting in the $3,000 entry Limit Hold’em event chopped up the money, they played so tough, and with so much desire and heart, you’d have thought they were all broke and had decided to make it winner-take-all instead of a $145,000-$118,800-$110,000 distribution. For some people, tournament poker is about money, period. For three ferocious competitors like Chris Tsiprailidis, Ed Smith, and Jay Chang, the money mattered, but their place in poker history mattered just as much.

When we started play, the seats and chip counts, playing with $1,500-3,000 blinds, were:

  1. S.B. “Dock” Karabinas., $68,000.
  2. Berry Johnston, $65,500.
  3. Thien “Timmy” Phan, $40,500.
  4. Fian Pilkington, $27,500.
  5. Michael Ross, $66,500.
  6. Chris Tsiprailidis, $67,500.
  7. Ed “Lion King” Smith, $110,000.
  8. Bob Feduniak, $18,000.
  9. Jay Chang, $70,500.

Tournament veteran Feduniak knew his weak chip position didn’t leave him much room to maneuver playing $3,000-6,000, and went out early. Timmy Phan had a little more time, but got mixed up with the dangerous former World Champion, Berry Johnston, and it cost him.

With the hand checked around to the blinds, Johnston raised out of the small blind, holding Kh-4h. Phan, finding J-J in the pocket, decided just to call. The flop came down Q-6-4 with one heart, and Johnston bet, with Phan calling. Another four hit on the turn, and Johnston check-raised Phan, who called, and then called for his last few chips on the river when a ten hit. Johnston’s trip fours sent Phan out 8th.

We were playing 3-6, and the next big hand certainly resembled what I’ve seen in lots of 3-6 games, except those were $3-$6, not $3,000-$6,000.

Fian Pilkington, holding A-Q, was justifiably happy with the Q-7-3 flop, and Ed Smith was even happier, knowing his pocket kings hadn’t been aced out on the flop. Happiness turned into slap-happiness, though, as the duo exchanged, I kid you not, 7 re-raises until Pilkington was all-in. By raise #4, I was sure we were looking at set over set; by the seventh one, I was sure someone was hallucinating. The turn and river changed nothing, and Pilkington aggressively played top pair sent him home.

“I thought we had the same hand, after a few raises,” he said. “By the time the fourth raise had gone in, there wasn’t much point in backing down. I’d have been too short chipped to fold, and I figured (correctly) that even if I was losing I might have outs.”

Pocket kings figured in the next knockout also. When I (and to listen to the bad beat stories, 99.44% of the rest of the poker community) hold them, an ace invariably flops, but Jay Chang somehow managed to win with them against Dock Karabinas’s As-6c, even after Dock re-raised three times with the A-6 on the 10h-8d-5d flop to get all his money in. The concluding 9h-10c sent Karabinas home, and proved conclusively that pocket kings do not always lose to one overcard.

Tsiprailidis, who frequently goes by the sobriquet “Syracuse Chris” to avoid spelling and pronunciation disasters with his name, starting going on a rush, and collected several pots in a row to overtake Smith’s lead. Ross commented that “the table is starting to tilt” (to the Tsiprailidis/Smith side, which had all the chips).

Chris replied “you just don’t want to play a hand,” and the short-stacked Ross retorted “just trade stacks with me, I’ll play lots of hands.”

Ross survived a long time with his short stack, somehow avoiding a monster rush for Ed Smith, who might have collected even more, but kept checking powerhouses on the river, hoping for check-raises that never materialized when his opposition checked along. Smith had definitely established a pattern: a check on the river meant “Danger, Will Robinson,” and a bet on the river meant it was worth calling with any kind of hand. But the hands kept coming, and Smith had his pattern so well established that he figured to become very dangerous if he switched gears.

Eventually Tsiprailidis took out Ross when his “presto” (pocket fives) held up against Ross’s “depressed-o” pocket fours, “the best hand I picked up in an hour,” Ross said as he departed.

Berry Johnston was now the short stack, and took a stand against Smith when, holding K-9, he check-raised the K-J-7 flop. Smith, holding A-Q, probably would have been happy to see an ace on the turn, but the ten gave him the nut straight, and the man with the most in-the-money finishes (37) and final tables (26) in World Series history exited fourth.

Smith’s win rendered the three stacks almost exactly even, and in a very quick negotiation, Jay, Chris and Ed agreed to redistribute the prize money to $145,000 for first, $128,800 for second, and $100,000 for third.

Chris immediately went on a rush, and assembled an impenetrable looking wall of chips, with Chang the short man. But he got a few back from Smith when his all-in A-2 flopped the Qc-Jc-2d, and survived Ed’s monster draw with 8c-9c. A ten, eight, nine or club would have finished Chang, but two blanks fell and he and Smith were relatively close at about $70,000 each.

Soon thereafter, apparently playing for second with less than $50,000 each, Chang and a dispirited-looking Smith wanted to re-divide the second and third money from $128,800-$100,000 to $118,800-$110,000, and Tournament Director Bob Thompson ruled that Chris had to agree. Tsiprailidis peered out from behind his mountain of chips and said “sure, whatever.” It’s nice to be the big stack.

The added $10,000 guarantee may not have lifted Smith’s game, but A-9 certainly did. He quickly took out Chang when his A-9 held up against a board of Q-6-9-3-K, getting his total to $100,000, and two hands later, another A-9 doubled him through Tsiprailidis. Suddenly Smith had 40% of the chips.

Smith took the lead when his A-6 won on a K-7-J-A-Q board, and ace-rag was starting to look as good as a royal flush for the Lion King (you’d have to see his long, flowing blond mane to understand the nickname). He won the next two hands, and then a third when his 6-7 offsuit hit a 3-3-7 flop. He raised preflop on the next hand, on such a rush that he probably didn’t need to look at his cards. Maybe he didn’t: he won the pot with a bet on the river that Tsiprailidis declined to call, and Smith flipped over 4-7 offsuit, a stone cold bluff.

Tsiprailidis finally won a small pot, but now trailed $334,000-$200,000, and things got worse when Smith limped in with pocket kings and was able to get Tsiprailidis to call him down all the way to the river. Tsiprailidis now trailed $410,000-$124,000.

Tsiprailidis had had enough. He had two second-place finishes at the Series, and wasn’t interested in a third. With a large and loud cheering section rooting him on, he kept chopping away, winning small pots, and maneuvered his way back into the lead.

Smith, as Bugs Bunny used to like to say, had only just begun to fight.

Holding 7-9, Tsiprailidis smelled blood when he saw a rainbow 8-5-6 flop. He had the nut straight, got some money in on the flop, and got $48,000 more in on the turn when a nine hit. The eight of diamonds fell on the river, pairing the board, Chris led out, got raised, and in one of those moments all poker players dread, paid off the $16,000 knowing what he would see. Smith had held pocket nines, an overpair to the flop, a set on the turn, and a full house on the river.

The huge pot sent Smith back into the lead, and Tsiprailidis may have caught a break when the directors decided to get most of the $1,000 chips off the table and chip up to the $5,000 variety. The pause in the action probably gave him time to recover his equilibrium. He recovered enough to soon thereafter make one of the better calls I’ve seen at a final table. Both players checked an As-Qs-10s flop, Ed bet $20,000 when the 3h hit the turn, and Chris called. He called again when the 8d fell on the river.

Smith turned over a red K-7—nothing, just a king-high. Tsiprailidis had recognized the bet on the turn for the cold steal attempt it was, and was still willing to hang with a pair of eights on the end.

The heads-up battle went on for more than two hours, with Smith hanging on tenaciously, and sometimes surging back near the lead. But Tsiprailidis kept applying the pressure, and then called for back-up. He pulled pictures of his family out of his wallet and put them on the table. “I got a whole army now,” he said with a smile.”

“One player to a hand,” joked tournament assistant Tom Elias.

The familial support paid off. Tsiprailidis chopped Smith down to his last $25,000, $10,000 of which went in as his big blind. Tsiprailidis raised, and all the money went in. As-7s for Smith, Qh-3c for Chris. The Lion King had won a lot of pots with ace-rag, but couldn’t make one final stand. The board came Kc-Jh-3s-5h-4s, and a pair of threes won the memorable duel.

“He was very tough,” said Tsiprailidis in the aftermath. “I had to start playing a little different against him. I gave him too much action on some hands, and realized I had to grind away at him. The cheering section helped, it felt like I had a home court advantage.”

It was clear that the cheering was for Tsiprailidis, and not against Smith, who also seemed well-liked by many in the crowd. Two good guys fought for the bracelet the way it’s supposed to be done. When Chris Tsiprailidis snaps his bracelet on, he’ll always know he got it the old fashioned way. He earned it.

By the Numbers

Entries: 178

Total Prize Pool $534,000

  1. Chris Tsiprailidis, $145,000 ($213,600 officially).
  2. Ed “Lion King” Smith, $118,800 ($106,800 officially).
  3. Jay Chang, $110,000 ($53,400 officially).
  4. Berry Johnston, $32,040.
  5. Michael Ross, $24,030.
  6. S.B. “Dock” Karabinas, $18,690.
  7. Fian Pilkington, $13,350.
  8. Thien “Timmy” Phan, $10,685. 9) Bob Feduniak, $8,545.

10th-12th, $6,410: John Juanda, John Backstrom, Humberto Brenes.
13th-15th, $5,870: Yueqi Zhu, Kiet Tuan Tran, Michael Halford.
16th-18th, $5,340: Armando Balbi, Max Faulknetz, James Krantz

/Andy Glazer