History was made last week when international jet-setter and high-limit poker player Jeff Lisandro seized his first major U.S. tournament victory at the World Series of Poker Circuit championship at Harvey’s Lake Tahoe.
The event attracted 173 entries, each of whom anted up $10,000. It took three days of play to eliminate 164 players.
The final table included three former WSOP gold bracelet winners: Phil Ivey (with four), David Pham (one), and Joe Awada (one). The six remaining players were seeking their first WSOP victory.
The heads-up duel between Ivey and Lisandro began with Ivey holding a 1,296,000 to 435,000 chip advantage — about 3-to-1. With all due respect to the other seven finalists, many in the audience foresaw that in the final hour it would come down to the two high-limit cash players. Both men routinely play in the biggest games in the world, experiencing six-figure wins and losses in a single session.
Accordingly, it wasn’t the prize money that was on the line. Each in his way hoped to fill a deeper void, and satisfy an old score.
At the age of five, Lisandro was taught the game of poker by his mother. Prior to the start of the final table, Lisandro said he hoped to win this one "just for her." He has been financially successful beyond his wildest imagination, with homes in Salerno, Italy and Santa Barbara, California. What he hoped to win here was something that money cannot buy.
"All that matters is winning the top prize," Lisandro said in a pre-final table interview with ESPN. "I’d love to win a WSOP event so I can show my mother back home that I won something."
Ivey’s reasons for wanting victory were even more stirring. One month ago, when Ivey was playing in the WSOP Circuit at the Rio, his father sat proudly in the front row. Little did anyone know that it would be the last time Ivey would ever see his son playing poker. Two weeks later, Ivey Sr. suffered a massive heart attack and died.
Burdened with pain and loss, Ivey blocked everything out and for four days played the best poker of his life. Winning a major poker tournament provided a chance to pay a tribute, or perhaps it was merely an escape. Whatever it was, Ivey was in top form.
This all added to the intensity of the duel and made for a fabulous final three hours.
After being down 6-to-1 in chips at his low point, Lisandro staged a strong comeback. On hands when just about any other player (even very good players) might have decided to gamble hoping to get chips, Lisandro made all the right moves at the right times. Although he was one mistake away from elimination for two hours and forty-five minutes, Lisandro might have been Ivey’s toughest adversary.
One of the most dramatic hands of the tournament took place when Lisandro was dealt Q-Q and moved all-in after the flop came K-10-4. Ivey, holding Q-J had an open-ended straight draw and called after a period of deliberation. Two blanks on the turn and river gave Lisandro the 850,000 pot. That put Lisandro into the chip lead for the first time in heads-up play, and the first time since the very first hour of the tournament.
Then, it all ended. The final hand came literally out of nowhere. In fact, no in the audience quite knew what had happened when Tournament Director Johnny Grooms announced that Lisandro was the winner.
As observers rushed towards the table and everyone stood up trying to see the final hand, it all became clear. Lisandro was dealt J-10 against Ivey’s 9-2. The flop came 5-3-2. Ivey had bottom pair (deuces). Both players checked. A 10 fell on the turn. Now, Lisandro had top pair. He bet 70,000 and Ivey called. A queen fell on the river. Lisandro bet 150,000 and Ivey moved all-in with his remaining 500,000 hoping to pull off a bluff. Lisandro read the situation perfectly. He called in what can only be described as seconds, leaving Ivey in stunned silence. Lisandro’s pair of 10s scooped the final pot of the night and the longest final table in WSOPC history.
Within seconds, Ivey, one of poker’s quietest and most reserved stars, left the room and was not seen again. One can only speculate the thoughts stirring in Ivey’s mind on this night. Surely, the $299,360 in prize money was little comfort.
The final table clocked in at 12 hours and 20 minutes, a virtual marathon by poker standards. Still, the packed gallery assembled inside the third floor grand ballroom had little energy left when the final hand was dealt. By the looks of the two players afterward, they had little left in the tank either.
For Lisandro, this tournament was also historic for far more personal reasons. He won $542,360. But oddly enough, the piles of hundred dollar bills and gold ring didn’t seem nearly as fulfilling as the satisfaction of finally having crossed the finish line first.
1. Jeffrey Lisandro $542,360
2. Phil Ivey 299,360
3. James Van Alstyne 164,350
4. Jonathan Shecter 131,480
5. Tommy Reed 98,610
6. Salim Batshon 82,175
7. David Pham 65,740
8. George Saca 49,305
9. Joe Awada 32,870