It is fair to say that if Brian Rast weren’t such a good friend, he wouldn’t have his first World Series of Poker bracelet. You see, the cash game grinder was fresh off a trip to Brazil and didn’t even plan on playing this tournament. However, his good friend Antonio Esfandiari needed someone to carpool with.
As Esfandiari tells it, “He had just gotten back from Brazil and, in a nutshell, I was coming down to Rio and all my buddies had left already. I was kind of late, so I didn’t have anybody to ride with.”
“He didn’t want to play and I offered him a deal he couldn’t say no to,” Esfandiari explains. “He is a big cash game player, so the money isn’t an issue. He just didn’t feel like playing, so I gave him a pretty sick freeroll for him to play in the tournament. He took it, and he won.”
It wasn’t an easy path to victory for Rast, who was down to 800 chips at the 75/150 level during Day 1 of the tournament, which drew 765 runners. The first day was rough, but the final table was nothing but smooth sailing for the Stanford drop out, cruising to a victory in a little over five hours.
The only time Rast didn’t hold the chip lead was for a brief stint during heads-up play versus another player well known amongst his peers, Allen Kessler, aka Chainsaw. Brian Rast came into Day 3 of play with a big chip lead and many of the other players at the table had little options outside of getting it all-in preflop. Dajuan Whorley was in just such a scenario at first, but he doubled twice early to get some chips to work with. His second double up left Ronald Lee the low man on the totem pole with just over one big blind in his stack.
Lee got that big blind in in a multi-way pot and it was Whorley who finished him off, eliminating Lee in ninth place when his 7T made two pair. Ted Lawson was the next to go, busting in eighth place when he moved all-in over the top of an opening raise from Ali Eslami with AQ. Eslami called the all-in with JJ and his hand held as the board ran out TT382.
Eslami picked up some chips during the hand, but didn’t hold on to them long before passing them on to Rast in a big pot that sent Rast up over the 1.5 million chip-mark. Rast had three times as many chips as anyone else at the table, but did lose some of them when he doubled up a short-stacked Mika Passonen.
In the span of thirty minutes, a series of double ups and lost coinflips left John Gordon with just a handful of chips. He doubled once, but still possessed less than three big blinds, so it wasn’t long before he got them in again holding A6. Paasonen called out of the big blind with K4 and rivered a king-high straight to bust Gordon in seventh place.
As the blinds climbed, more and more players were down in single digit big blind territory. In the span of just ten minutes or so, a trio of players hit the rail. First, Eslami got most of his chips in with A-10 preflop and Rast put him in for the rest of them after the flop fell K72. Eslami called the small amount with his ace-high, and Rast had him drawing slim with K7 for two pair. Eslami failed to improve and exited his second final table of this WSOP in sixth place.
Rast then knocked out Paasonen after the two got it all-in preflop with Paasonen holding KT to Rast’s AK. Paasonen failed to get lucky and exited in fifth, while Rast chipped closer and closer to the two million-mark. No one seemed close to catching Rast, but Allen Kessler did put a big dent in his lead when he doubled through Daisuke Endo after they got it all-in on a flop of AAJ. Endo had two pair with JT, but Kessler had trips with his A6. He took the pot and jumped up to almost a million chips and Endo was left with just 100,000.
Kessler finished him off the next hand when his KT paired up on the flop against Endo’s QJ. Endo got no help on the turn or river and exited in fourth place. Kessler picked up his third pot in a row on the very next hand when he eliminated Whorley in third place when Whorley flopped top pair only to run into Kessler’s pocket aces.
That set up a heads-up battle where Rast held a slight chip lead over Kessler. The two swapped the chip lead a couple of times before going on dinner break. A little food seemed to do Rast good, as he came back from dinner and finished the tournament in a matter of minutes.
On the final hand of play, Rast flopped the nut flush holding K9 on an A53 board. Kessler was keen to get it all-in with 35 for two pair, but he was drawing to one of the remaining treys or fives in the deck in order to fill up and win the pot. The turn brought no help with the 7 and the river 7 secured Rast the pot and his first WSOP victory.
While Kessler played WSOP bridesmaid once again, Rast gets to celebrate his victory with friends. Even though it may not be the biggest WSOP payout, for Rast, the victory is the important thing.
“You are always disappointed in a tournament unless you win, especially when the payouts jump so much at the final table,” Rast said following his win. “In the $40,000 [Event in 2009], I came in twelfth and it was $120,000. It was a pretty good win, but it just starts jumping more and more and first place is $2 million and you think it is just so hard to get in these opportunities where you hit the big payout, get lucky, and get the bracelet. It can get a little demoralizing.”
The close calls are over now though and the underrated Rast finally has a marquee win on his poker resume.
“Honestly, I’ve played cash games where I’ve won more in a pot than in this tournament, so it isn’t really about the money. It is nice, but for this tournament the bracelet really does mean a lot.”
For Esfandiari, it is about more than his friend winning money or achieving a major career success. For him, it is as good an excuse as any to buy out of a no-drinking bet he has and live it up with one of the best friends a guy could ask for.
Here are the final table results from the $1,500 Pot Limit Hold’em:
1st: Brian Rast – $227,232
2nd: Allen Kessler – $140,309
3rd: Dajuan Whorley- $91,212
4th: Daisuke Endo – $66,994
5th: Mika Paasolen- $49,902
6th: Ali Eslami – $37,654
7th: John Gordon – $28,741
8th: Ted Lawson – $22,183
9th: Ronald Lee – $17,298
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