The only time a “happy ending” is guaranteed is in fairy tales (and possibly a seedy massage parlour, but that’s another article entirely), and while the World Series of Poker can provide fairy tale endings, last night it was just not to be for Victoria, BC resident Calen “BigWheel” McNeil. McNeil was going for his second bracelet in the same event he won last year at the 2013 WSOP: the $1,500 Limit Omaha Hi/Lo Split.
For much of the night, it looked like McNeil was set to go back to back in the event, capturing his second bracelet in as many series. McNeil made his way through a field of over 1,000 runners to make the final table including top pros such as Marcel Luske, Allen Cunningham, Dan Kelly, Erik Seidel, and Erik Baldwin, all of whom cashed the event. Other notable Canadian cashes included Guillaume Rivet in 23rd for $8,559, and Jordan Cossette in 38th for $6,041.
Joining McNeil at the final table was another Canadian, Nepean, Ontario’s Kal Raichura who hit the final table as the chip leader, as well as Greg “Fossilman” Raymer with the smallest stack on the final table. Rounding out the rest of the final table field were Russian superstar Konstantin Puchkov, Alex Luneau from the UK, plus Americans Steve Chanthabouasy, Nick Kost, Adam Coats, and Jim Bucci.
Early on, Raymer looked to be cruising. Almost as soon as the final table began, he quartered Puchkov, and less than 10 minutes later took a big pot off McNeil to build his stack back to over 400,000 chips. It would take more than an hour for the first bustout. Puchkov first defended his big blind against a raise from the Fossilman. Puchkov check-raised when he hit two pairs on the flop of . Raymer called to see a turn card of . Puchkov shoved his remaining 32,000 chips, and Raymer called for his entire 30,000 stack. Players flipped over their hands, with Raymer showing a bigger turned pair with his to Puchkov’s . On the river both players improved, but Raymer’s aces and kings were still higher than Puchkov’s aces and jacks. No low hand meant Raymer scooped the full pot, crippling Puchkov, who was all in from the small blind in the very next hand. McNeil and Raichura both got into the pot as well, getting three bets over Puchkov’s all in. When McNeil bluffed Raichura off the side pot on the turn, it looked like Puchkov’s pair would take down the main pot, but a on the river gave McNeil broadway and Puchkov finished in 9th for $20,181.
Coats was the next to go, exiting in 8th place for $25,832 when he bricked both a low and a full house draw on the river to Kost, in a hand where Kost turned the nut flush. Raymer quickly followed the cage to collect his 7th place prize of $33,510 after McNeil crushed him by rivering the wheel straight. McNeil raked in the scooped pot to his rail’s shouts of “Big Wheel!!!” Raymer was out shortly thereafter when his was bested by Luneau’s when the latter rivered both the nut low and nut diamond flush.
After a dinner break, the remaining six players came back with McNeil in the chip lead. It only took 10 minutes after dinner to lose the 6th place player, Chanthabouasy, who got his very short stack in against McNeil, only to see McNeil go runner-runner to spike a set of deuces to Chanthabouasy’s top pair. With no low hand, Chanthabouasy collected $44,055 for his efforts. 5th-place money of $58,769 went to Luneau when he was eliminated by Bucci.
Play continued four-handed for over an hour, with chips flying around the table. Chip leader going into four-handed play, McNeil was whittled down by the other players, first giving up some chips to Kost, then giving Raichura the chip lead in a three-way pot that saw McNeil fold on the river while Raichura’s nut flush capped Bucci’s trip sixes. By the time the next break rolled around, McNeil was at the bottom of the chip list. It would take another hour for the rest of the table to finally pry those chips from his hand however.
On a hand that was three-bet preflop, Kost and McNeil got the rest of BigWheel’s chips into the middle when the flop came down . McNeil tabled to Kost’s , and McNeil was ahead with the ace high. Both players had serious draws however, with McNeil drawing to the nut flush, and Kost hitting a wrap. the kept McNeil ahead, giving him a pair, but the on the river sealed McNeil’s fate, ironically giving Kost the wheel straight to scoop the pot and knock BigWheel out in 4th place for $79,608. On his twitter feed after the bustout, McNeil thanked the fans who railed him.
He also commented to us:
"[It] was the funnest experience of my poker career. The bracelet was awesome, but to come back the next year and do something like this, a second [final table] in another a record-breaking field, was a real honour."
Five minutes later, it would be Bucci heading to the cage. After Bucci raised on the button and Raichura called to see a flop of , Bucci got the rest of his stack in the middle showing to Raichura’s . When the board completed Raichura would scoop the pot, eliminating Bucci in 3rd place for $109,678.
Heads-up play started with Raichura in a dominating chip lead until Kost evened things up about 40 minutes into the battle. Kost check-raised on the flop of and bet both the turn and river . After calling the turn bet, Raichura folded to the river and Kost collected the pot. From there, it was almost all Kost. Kost chipped up over the next 30 minutes, giving himself a 4-to-1 chip lead heading into the final break of the night.
Play didn’t last long after the break. Within 15 minutes, the two got into a big hand that was three-bet preflop and four-bet on the flop of . Raichura bet the turn, and again with the last of his chips on the river, getting called by Kost both times. When Kost tabled for the nut flush, Raichura showed . With no player holding a low hand, Kost scooped the pot and the tournament. Raichura earned $175,300 for second place, while Kost took home $283,275 for the win, plus the WSOP gold bracelet.