425 days later: delayed WPT Gardens crowns a winner

Jon Pill
Published by:
Posted on March 12, 2021 1:23 pm EST

The 2020 WPT Gardens Poker Championship finally has a winner. That’s not a typo. This is last year’s event, but it finished this week.

The tournament director at the Gardens Casino in L.A. called “shuffle up and deal” for Day 1a of the WPT Gardens Poker Championship on January 9th, 2020. Then 427 days later, and one state over, the final six reconvened.

Markus Gonsalves took the event down, earning himself $554,495 before taxes. He invested his $10,000 buy-in well over a year ago, but that ROI still beats the living daylights out of inflation.

“I can say I won one,” Gonsalves said in the post-match interview. “I honestly don’t play that many tournaments compared to these other guys, I play mostly cash games.”

It was certainly one of the tougher WPT final tables in recent seasons. Chance Kornuth was chip leader going in. And, by a strange coincidence, Quing Liu (5th in chips) had just won the 2021 WPT Venetian main event the day before.

257 entrants ponied up over the two day-1s back in January 2020. Six remained to fight for what was left of a $2,467,200 prize pool.

I slide o’er fourteen months…

There was a lot that stood out about the final table of the 2020 Gardens Poker Championship. The delay between FT bubble and the crowning of a champion was just the biggest one. The six players were gathering to play the game at the PokerGO studio in Las Vegas, not at either the Gardens Casino in L.A., nor in the HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas as originally scheduled.

This is the same studio in which they shot the WSOP “Main Event” final tables. It is owned by the same website that puts out almost every other nameable poker show in the U.S.

The WPT’s TV crew found themselves operating on the home turf of their biggest market competitor in the poker TV sphere. Unprecedented times make for unprecedented bedfellows.

The final table also took place under a strange ownership limbo.

On the one hand stands Allied Esport’s deal with Element partners. On the other hand sits the offer from Bally’s Corporation. In the middle, the TV crew, just doing their job.

Along with Kornuth and Liu, Gonsalves was up against a cutthroat crew. The other players were: Tuan Phan, a regular on the L.A. poker scene; Jonathan Cohen; and Straton Wilhelm, both tough tournament players, though both were playing at higher stakes than usual.

All the players were all relatively deep. Even the short stack (Wilhelm) had 17 big blinds in front of him. Gonsalves was in second place (95 bb) behind Chance Kortuth (120 bb). Both deep enough to play real poker with each other.

…and leave the growth untried of that wide gap.

Even so, it didn’t take long for players to start dropping. Liu got his stack in with two pair vs an over-pair, a nice spot until he was counterfeited on the river. Wilhelm was next, his stack eroded down to nothing.

Then the ex-chip leader Kornuth became an ex-chip haver when his pocket sixes got cracked by an ace on the flop.

Cohen, whose chips had remained almost level for the entire 85 hands he was at the table, suddenly lost them all with nines v. tens. And then there were two.

The heads-up duel took another 91 hands to complete. A coin flip early on nearly erased Gonsalves 5:1 advantage. The even stacks made for some cautious, small-ball poker. The two Californians circled each other for three hours. Each time Gonsalves thought he had Phan on the ropes, the cards went wonky and the stacks evened out again. It was like the table was on a cant.

“I feel like he ran really well against me heads up,” Gonsalves said afterward. “When he took the chip lead from me I started to get frustrated. I was more tired than anything.”

Then the cards broke the other way and Phan lost a big all-in.

With just a few chips left after that, he soon found himself putting it in with bottom-pair on a monochrome flop. But Gonsalves had the flush, and it was game over. Phan took home $359,650 for second.

Final table results

1st – Markus Gonsalves – $554,495
2nd – Tuan Phan – $359,650
3rd – Jonathan Cohen – $263,090
4th – Chance Kornuth – $195,085
5th – Straton Wilhelm – $146,655
6th – Qing Liu – $111,795

Featured image source: Flickr