Chris Cellery, a Hustler Casino poker tournament dealer playing in only his second major tournament, took down an official $40,060 win in the 14th event of Hustler’s Grand Slam of Poker, Limit Hold’em. He arrived at the final table with the chip lead, ran up an enormous count with four players left and swept to an easy win after that.
Heads-up, he was ahead of retired attorney Steven Sam Naideth, $180,000-$83,000. After six hands without much change, they agreed to a chip count deal. Until an earlier pot-limit Grand Slam event, Cellery had only played small events. The more experienced Naideth’s biggest win came when he placed first in a Heavenly Hold’em event at the Commerce in 1998, winning $32,000.
As often happens with big fields, there was a notable absence of top pros at the final table. With 211 entrants and 316 re-buys and add-ons, the final table didn’t get underway until 4:15 a.m. Even with 40-minute rounds and gradual limit increases, the blinds by that time were a punishing $1,000-$1,500 with $1,500-$3,000 limits, and two hands later went to 1-2k blinds and 2-4k limits. That left Ron Faltinsky, with $7,200 in chips, and Eric Arreca, with $8,000, enough for just two big bets each.
Both players folded until their blinds. On hand eight, Faltinsky took his blind with K-5. He paired his five on the turn, but realtor George Rechnitzer, in the small blind with 6-5, made two pair and put the vitamin distributor all in and out. Arreca, a young local pro, mucked his two blinds when Rechnitzer raised both times. Down to 4,000, he raised all in on hand 16 with A-8 and flopped an ace. But once again Rechnitzer, with a puny 7-5, made two pair to leave Eric in ninth place.
Two hands later, Escondido construction man Chris Heintschel was in the small blind and put himself all in with As-9s. Tony Abesamis was in the big blind with 10-5 and flopped a five. Three down.
Cellery, with pocket aces, then relieved Rechnitzer of all the chips he picked up when he knocked out the first two players. The most active player at the table thus far, Rechnitzeer then went all in, doubled up and rebounded.
Leo Alvarez departed on the 32nd hand. With limits at 3-6k, he pushed his A-10 all the way without connecting and lost to Cellery’s J-10 when a jack flopped. After winning the next pot, Cellery moved into a big lead with about 80k and was never close to being headed after that.
Abesamis was left with $2,900 after folding a big pot on the river, then doubled up once, but was on his way out. A couple of hands later he raised all in with K-Q and was met by Naideth with pocket fours. A jack and 10 flopped to give Abesamis an open-end straight draw. "Nine!" shouted a supporter from the sidelines. A 10 came on the river. "All right!" yelled the friend, who obviously is badly in need of glasses.
With limits now at 4-8k, shoemaker Gioi Luong was shooed out. He raised all in from the big blind with Q-7. Rechnitzer stayed with him from the big blind with 9-2 and made his favorite hand again: two pair.
Four-handed, all the players had plenty of chips, but that situation did not last long as Cellery proceeded to go on a rush. First he took a big pot from Naideth to move up to about 135,000. Next he took a bite out of Rechnitzer’s stacks with pocket jacks as Rechnitzer missed his nut diamond draw. And then, with pocket kings, he flopped a set against Young Song. He now had about $180,000 of the $263,000 in play, and the only question seemed to be who would finish where in the next three spots.
Rechnitzer answered part of the question a few hands later when limits had reached 6-12k. All in with pocket deuces, he was a slight favorite against Naideth’s A-K, but became a 10-1 dog when an ace flopped and he cashed out fourth. A few hands later, Song took the big blind and posted his last 5,000 with Q-3. Naideth had pocket nines. They held up when the board came J-6-2-2-J, and the tournament was now heads-up, with Cellery holding a chip lead of about 2.3-1.
After six hands, Naideth had picked up about $8,000, not enough to make much difference, and the two agreed to settle up by chip count.
Cellery, who said his tournament dealing experience gave him a feel for playing, was cautious when asked if he’d try to move into the big time now. "We’ll see what happens," he said.