When Heartland Poker Tour turned on the lights and the cameras at their nationallytelevised Final Table from the Daytona Beach Kennel Club & Poker Room, Cong Pham had a commanding chip lead. Six hours later, stacks were even as the 29-year-old poker pro from Naples, Florida stared down his final opponent, James Calderaro. Both players were confident and the risks were calculated. It took 46 hands of heads-up play before an all-in and a call took place. “I hope viewers enjoy this. It’s a good heads-up match,” said world champion Greg “Fossilman” Raymer who commentated the Final Table live for HPTpoker.com, “Neither player did anything silly.” Ultimately, Pham got every last chip for the title and $104,033.
It took pocket pairs for both players to get all the chips in the middle. Calderaro was all-in and at risk with eights while Pham held aces. The board ran out safely for the pocket aces bringing an end to the tournament. Calderaro of Manasota Beach, Florida adds $64,158 to over $1.8 million in career earnings. “Just add it to the pile,” he said.
The elimination for third place saw fireworks as Thomas Giorgi flopped a set of eights. The turn was not kind to him as it gave Calderaro a straight. The 46-year-old poker pro from Valrico, Florida collected $64,158.
John Holley and Luis Sierra went out in back-toback hands. Holley, who finished third in June in the World Series of Poker senior’s event, was eliminated in fifth place when his ace-eight was unable to improve against Calderaro’s pocket jacks. Holley takes $23,843 back to his home in Niceville, Florida for his fifth place finish. “I’m just thankful to be here,” he said.
In the next hand, Luis Sierra moved all-in from early position and was called by Pham. Sierra needed a nine or running cards to avoid elimination, but it was Pham who caught the running cards he needed. The 36-year-old business owner from Sanford, Florida takes home $30,779. His fourth-place finish was a huge success considering Sierra was the short stack heading into the Final Table and invested just $360 in the tournament.
With the second-shortest starting stack, Justin Fawbush, also had an impressive finish. “It’s pretty much shove or fold for me to start,” he said of his pre-game strategy. It worked out well until he ran into the pocket aces of Pham. The US Navy Chief from Cocoa Beach, FL was eliminated in sixth place for $19,508.
After starting the day second in chips, Keith Romanovitz of Salem, Massachusetts made his departure in seventh place. “I’m just going to try to stay out of trouble and not commit too many mistakes,” he said before taking his seat at the Final Table. Moving allin over the top of Fawbush’s early-position raise proved to be a fatal mistake. Romanovitz’s pocket jacks looked like they would give him a double up but a king came on the turn to give Fawbush a straight. He collects $16,256 for his seventh-place finish.
The first elimination of the day came after Peter Walsworth of Sarasota, Florida moved all-in and was called by Giorgi. Walsworth was poised to double up with his pocket kings against Girogi’s pocket jacks. A jack on the turn eliminated Walsworth, a finance worker, in ninth place for $11,271. Talesh Patel of St Augustine, Florida was the next to go in eighth place for $13,655.
Seven stops remain in a record year for HPT. For details about upcoming events and to watch the action live every Monday, visit HPTpoker.com. “This was my first time playing HPT,” said the champion, “but I like it and I’m excited for next time.”