Throughout most of the opening event of the 2004 California State Poker Championship, $300 no-limit hold’em, there didn’t seem to be much finesse, much strategy or much doubt as to who would win it. Terry Liu came to the final table with an overwhelming chip lead of $171,900. He ran over the table and by the time six players were left he had about $313,000, or close to 70 percent of the $454,000 in play, then climbed even higher.
When Frank DeAngeles jokingly asked about a deal, "Miami" John Cernuto suggested winner take all with all five of Liu’s opponents playing as a field entry.
But then an amazing thing happened. With three players left, Cernuto hit Liu two body blows in a row, first beating him in a pot of about $90,000, then another of around $260,000. After that Liu seemed to fall apart, blew off his chips with head-shaking calls, and went out third.
Heads-up, Cernuto enjoyed a chip lead of about 1.4-1 over Joe De Niro. Two hands later he drew out in a hand where he was a big dog, and the celebrated poker player, who has three World Series bracelets and countless other victories, had yet one more win to add to his impressive collection.
But while his comeback was noteworthy, it was far from his biggest. That came in a stud event at the Bicycle Casino when he had $4,000 to Kathy Liebert’s $105,000 and came back to beat her. That’s one record he’s not likely to top.
With the explosion of poker and the increasingly large fields, more and more new faces are showing up at final tables everywhere, so it was not surprising that Miami John’s was the only well-known one at this event’s final table.
Play began with $300 antes, blinds of $1,000-$2,000 and 19:30 remaining in the round. Action started off furiously, with three players gone in 12 hands.
Eric Bray, who is with a U.S. Navy bomb disposal squad in San Diego, detonated on the third hand. Bray, who started second-lowest in chips with $14,500, opened for $7,000 with As-Ks. Thomas Torpestad, a contractor, moved him in with Ah-Kc. Bray seemed pretty safe for no worse than a split, but five clubs hit the board, and Torpestad’s Kc did him in.
The same A-K finished off Tyler Methfessel six hands later. He made a small raise with big slick, Liu re-raised with K-J and Methfessel moved in. Methfessel was a 3-1 favorite, until a jack flopped and Liu claimed his first victim.
Three hands after that, Darius Campo raised with Q-10 from the cut-off seat, and Liu moved in from the big blind with A-Q. Campo called and ask Liu if he had him covered.
"He’s got you buried," Cernuto corrected him. Buried was the correct word. The flop came A-A-K, Liu had trip aces and Campo was dead to an inside straight jack which never showed up.
Blinds now went to $1,500-$3,000, with antes of $500. Paul Giles was next to go all in with Ad-5d against Liu’s Qs-9s and won with two pair. "First guy he hasn’t busted," Giles said in wonder.
Torpestad wasn’t so lucky. He called with pocket 9s after Liu pushed in with As-Qs. Two queens flopped, and Liu, knocking out his third player in a row, now had about$313,000.
Cernuto did the honors next. He raised to $10,000 from the small blind with Q-J. A low-chipped Ricardo Ebhardt called for about $8,000 with Q-7 and couldn’t catch up. "About the best hand I had since I got here," Ebhardt sighed.
Two hands later, number 24, Frank DeAngeles pushed in his last $14,000 with K-Q. Cernuto called with Q-J and won with two pair.
Two hands later, Liu struck again. Paul Giles went all in with Q-7. All Liu had was 7-6 in the big blind, but won again when the board came K-J-9-2-7.
"Two Italians against one Asian," Cernuto noted as three were left.
A number of relatively uneventful hands went by, then suddenly everything turned around. Cernuto opened for $10,000 with A-8. Liu called. With a board of K-6-4-8, Cernuto bet $12,000. Liu called. With a deuce on the river, Cernuto bet $20,000. Liu called, then mucked when he couldn’t beat Cernuto’s paired 8.
On the next hand, Liu opened for $10,000 and Cernuto called. The flop was Q-10-4. Liu bet $20,000. Cernuto had K-Q and smooth-called. When a 7 turned, Liu checked, Cernuto moved in for $99,000 and Liu called with just 10-3...second pair with a trey kicker! A river queen gave Cernuto two pair and it was a new ballgame.
Suddenly Cernuto had about $260,000 to around $140,000 for Liu and $50,000 for Giles. Incredibly, Liu then blew off another $40,000-plus, calling with just K-8 when Giles opened for $20,000 holding pocket aces, and then called again for $21,000 when Giles moved in on a flop of 9-4-2.
With $2,000-$4,000 blinds, Liu lost the rest of chips. He opened for $20,000 with A-3 and reluctantly called when Giles moved in with A-Q. A queen flopped, and suddenly it was heads-up. Miami John had the chip lead, $265,000-$189,000.
Two hands later, Giles opened with Ac-Jc. Cernuto moved in with a much weaker Qd-10c. The board came 5-2-2-8-10, and the river 10 brought Cernuto his surprising victory.
1. "Miami" John Cernuto (Las Vegas) $57,835
2. Joe De Niro (Studio City, Calif) $30,620
3. Terry Liu (Moraga, Calif.) $15,310
4. Paul Giles (St. Louis, Mo.) $10,205
5. Frank DeAngeles (Mt. Prospect, Ill.) $7,655
6. Ricardo Ebhardt (Oak Harbor, Wash.) $5,955
7. Thomas Torpestad (Mission Viejo, Calif) $4,255
8. Darius Campo (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) $3,400