Beginner’s lucky!

Mar 5, 2007 5:31 AM

One of the great things about tournament poker is that an amateur, an "unknown" if you will, can step up and play toe-to-toe with the professionals — and walk away with all the chips!

That’s what happened last week at the World Poker Tour’s L.A. Poker Classic held at the Commerce Casino in Southern California.

Saying he started the tournament assuming he had "zero" chance to win since it was his first ever poker tournament, Eric Hershler of Los Angeles showed the pros that you can go from "zero" to $2,429,970 in just five days.

The Los Angeles native shocked himself by capturing the record first place prize, coming from behind to defeat highly regarded J.C. Tran, who was chip leader throughout most of the five-day WPT event.

Hershler claimed the largest first prize ever for a $10,000 buy-in event on the WPT. More than 791 players entered and he was nowhere on the radar when pundits ranked the chances of the competitors.

Hershler, a native of South Africa, was still pinching himself when the seven-hour final table ended. For most of the tournament, Tran was the dominant player, but in the closing hour, the first-timer Hershler kept hitting great cards to siphon off Tran’s hefty chip stack.

Two pair — Jacks and sixes — on the final hand sealed Tran’s fate and gave Hershler the victory. In addition to the $2.4 million, Hershler was awarded a $25,000-seat in the WPT World Championship, which will be held at the Bellagio in April.

Tran, of Sacramento, went home with a very nice consolation prize — $1,177,010, effectively doubling his career earnings on the WPT. Tran has had three final table appearances, including a sixth at the most recent event in Tunica.

For a long time it looked as though the L.A. Poker Classic would be Tran’s breakthrough victory — until he ran into newby Hershler.

Hershler joins champions Alan Goehring, who went home with $2,391,550 in 2006, 24-year-old Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi who claimed $1,859,909 in 2005, and another 24-year-old, Antonio Esfandiari, who took home $1,399,135 in 2004.

Fifty-four players shared in the whopping $7,593.600 prize pool this year, largest ever for a World Poker $10,000-buy-in event.