It’s rare to win back-to-back titles in tournament fields of more than 1,000 players, but it happened earlier this week at the WSOPC Bicycle Casino. Less rare is Ari Engel winning a gold ring on the WSOP Circuit. But that, too, happened at the Bike, at a final table featuring Hollywood actor James Woods no less.
The World Series of Poker Circuit made two stops at the Bicycle Casino in Belle Gardens, outside of Los Angeles, for the 2017/18 season.
Belle Gardens also happens to be the home of taxi driver-turned-poker pro Hermilo Vargas, who won his first WSOP Circuit ring in December, and then successfully defended that title by winning the same event this week.
Monster Stack Monster
In December’s WSOPC Bicycle Casino, Vargas, nicknamed “Taxi,” navigated a field of 1,150 entries in the $365 Monster Stack to win $71,195 and his first ring. He returned this week to defend his title in a field of 1,317 entries, and amazingly he did so for an additional $86,270 and his second ring.
“It’s crazy, I feel good,” Vargas told WSOP officials. “It’s really amazing.”
Vargas, who immigrated to California from Mexico, plays poker full time, and in the last four months has cashed the WSOPC Bicycle Casino four times, made three final tables, and won three of them for $159,805 in earnings.
“At the beginning, it was a very tough table,” said Vargas. “I lost a few pots and I got down. Then, I just wait for some people to kill each other and then when it’s a short table, I start to play my game.”
Going back-to-back in a major poker tournament is a rare feat. Some others in recent memory to do it include Carl Carodenuto, who won back-to-back $1,100 MSPT Main Events at Canterbury Park, and James Moore, who bested fields of 1,476 and 1,720 to win the WSOP $1,000 Super Seniors in 2016 and 2017. The 66-year-old Moore won $230,626 and $259,230 for his respective wins, plus two WSOP gold bracelets.
So how does Vargas’ latest win compare to his first?
“I think this one is better for me because I never really got short stacked,” Vargas admitted. “The other one, I was short-stacked, and I got lucky a few times. This one, I was ok the whole final table.”
Others to cash the Main Event included Owen Crowe (12th for $7,210), Mike Shariati (29th for $2,495), and 2017 Global Casino Champ Sean Yu (70th for $1,260).
Final Table Results
1 Hermilo Vargas (Southern California) $86,270
2 Michael Itaev (Beverly Hills, CA) $54,450
3 Alexander Farahi (Beverly Hills, CA) $40,000
4 Greg Gibson (Detroit, MI) $30,150
5 Chen Yu Hung (Rowland Heights, CA) $22,840
6 Jose Marcal (Thousand Oaks, CA) $17,515
7 Jason Nguyen (N/A) $13,560
8 Romik Vartzar (Glendale, CA) $10,600
9 Jon Peck (Sherman Oaks, CA) $8,370
Engel Plows Through Woods
In other WSOPC Bicycle Casino news, Event #5: $365 Omaha Hi-Lo attracted 108 runners and saw 2016 Aussie Millions champ Ari Engel prevail to win $9,730 and his ninth gold ring. That puts him just one away from tying Maurice Hawkins and Valentin Vornicu, who holds the all-time record with 10 rings.
Coincidentally, Vornicu was at the Omaha Hi-Lo final table, albeit as the second-shortest stack. He wound up busting in eighth place and missed out on a record 11th ring.
Also, at the final table was Hollywood actor James Woods, star of such films as Ghosts of Mississippi and Salvador. Woods, also known for his controversial tweets, made it all the way to three-handed play before falling to Engel.
Engel then took a 3/1 chip lead into heads-up play against Don Halpern. In the final hand, Engel not only turned the nut flush, but also the nut low to scoop Halpern and send him to the rail in second place.
Others to make the money in the tournament were Phuong Tran, Henry Chow, and Olfar Arneson, who finished 10th through 12th place respectively for $675 each.
Final Table Results
1 Ari Engel (Las Vegas, NV) $9,730
2 Don Halpern (N/A) $6,010
3 James Woods (Los Angeles, CA) $4,275
4 Frankie O’Dell (Henderson, NV) $3,105
5 Jesse David (N/A) $2,300
6 Darryl Mann (Vista, CA) $1,740
7 Donald Garrett (Sun Valley, CA) $1,335
8 Valentin Vornicu (San Diego, CA) $1,045
9 Todd Gonzalez (Arrelo Grande, CA) $835