Prior to the start of the Epic Poker League $20,000 Six-Handed Main Event, Chino Rheem was already a notable name in the poker world, both for his poker accomplishments, such as winning a WPT and final tabling the 2008 WSOP Main Event, as well as some personal issues, including a criminal record and an alleged history of owing debts to other players.
The final table of the Epic Poker League event served as a spotlight for both Rheem’s poker skills and his personal struggles. He defeated an all-star line-up of players at the final table to pick up the $1 million first place prize and inaugural Epic Poker win, but the event was marred by controversy and tension as players sweated the action.
The final table began with Hasan Habib, Rheem, and Jason Mercier clustered near the top of the counts, but a slow start to the final table saw the players near the bottom of the counts make up some ground.
The short stack when the final table began was Huck Seed. He managed to gain some ground on his competitors, but he still ended up being the sixth place finisher, heading home when he lost a coinflip holding JJ to Mercier’s AK to head home in sixth place.
That hand gave Mercier the chip lead, but Rheem didn’t take long before he clawed his way back to the top spot. Mercier fought back by picking up the rest of Gavin Smith’s chips. Smith busted at the hands of Mercier when he ran pocket nines into Mercier’s pocket queens.
Sure, Mercier volleyed, but it only took a couple of orbits before Rheem returned, eliminating Habib in fourth place. Habib moved all-in over the top of a raise from Rheem holding 66 and Rheem called with 77. Habib hit the rail and the field was down to three.
The early goings of the final table were dominated by Rheem and Mercier, but three-handed play is when Erik Seidel made his presence known. He doubled thru Mercier in a massive coinflip where Seidel’s AK flopped a king against Mercier’s 55. That hand put Mercier on the shortstack. Seidel got the rest of Mercier’s chips a short while later when Mercier took a stand with 89 and Seidel called with KJ. Mercier failed to improve and Seidel chipped up enough to start heads-up play against Rheem with virtually even stacks.
The heads-up battle may have been even when it began, but Rheem quickly pulled ahead, winning pot after pot and doing so with a flourish, bantering back and forth with Seidel as the two took turns showing each other cards. Seidel seemed to be having just as good a time as Rheem was, even though he found himself at a serious chip disadvantage.
On the final hand of play, Seidel took a stand with AQ and Rheem had him in bad shape AK. The A843T board was no help to Seidel and Rheem picked up the first-ever Epic Poker Championship Ring, not to mention $1 million.
Though he won the title, beating a tough, tough field, Rheem was subdued following his victory. The less than overwhelming response to the victory might be explained by the fact that Rheem is rumored to have outstanding debts with a number of pros, several of which were waiting for the tournament to end, ostensibly to collect.
Security escorted Rheem to the cage after he received the Championship Ring from League Commissioner Annie Duke. While Rheem told Duke and EPL host Ali Nejad that he was thrilled to be back in the winner’s circle for the first time since he won the WPT Festa al Lago event in 2008, it certainly was not a stress-free day for the league’s million-dollar man.
Seidel, meanwhile, adds to his already enormous 2011 bounty, increasing his 2011 earnings to more than $6.2 million.
Here are the final table results from the opening Main Event of the Epic Poker League:
1st: Chino Rheem – $1,000,000
2nd: Erik Seidel – $604,330
3rd: Jason Mercier – $360,970
4th: Hasan Habib – $237,560
5th: Gavin Smith – $154,260
6th: Huck Seed – $107,980
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