It had been two seasons of the Latin American Poker Toursince a Team PokerStars Pro won a title. That year, Argentinian Jose "Nacho" Barbero won two championships back-to-back. For two seasons, he remained the only Team Pro with a trophy.
That changed today when Argentina's Leo Fernandez won the first-ever LAPT Panama title, $171,930, and bragging rights in Latin America's Team Pro stable. Fernandez finished Day 2 of this event Friday with the chip lead. He stayed near the top for two days. After falling behind American Patrick Mahoney in a two-hour heads-up battle, the Team Pro staged a comeback for the win.
In the bedlam that followed his win, Fernandez took a page from the world of Argentinian football. He said of his win, "It's like like touching heaven with your hand."
Fate wanted two fights today. One would be quick, messy, and bloody--something like an MMA scrap between two poorly-matched competitors. The second card would take much longer--a boxing match pitting two veterans of the sweet science in long, measured battle.
After six lightning-quick eliminations, the Mahoney/Fernandez fight settled into a deep groove--jabs and crosses instead of roundhouses and uppercuts. Neither man seemed interested in a deal. The title was the thing, and they ensuing marathon match made clear what was important.
For a period of two hours, it seemed as if nothing happened. The players traded chips back and forth. Mahoney began to open up a lead. The title was on the line, but for all the quiet in the room, the two men might as well have been playing chess. Slowly, surely Mahoney built his lead until he had Fernandez nearly 2-1, and then the world exploded. They were all-in:
Mahoney: A♥Q♠ Fernandez: K♠Q♥
Before anyone could stop them, Mahoney's fellow American expats and Central American friends had stopped playing the Sunday Million on their laptops and were standing on chairs chanting, "Ace! Ace! Ace! Ace!"
Their breaths caught for half a second when the flop brought both a king and queen. Fernandez had flopped two pair. Undeterred, Mahoney's rail continued to chant.
"Ace! Ace! Ace! Ace!"
It never came, and it was clear, the young men were surprised. Just moments before they had tried the same trick in their online game and the ace spiked on the river. Why hadn't it worked now?
There wasn't any time to further consider it, though, because a group of Argentinians had materialized from the crowd. They were singing and yelling, "Leo!" For the first time since the heads-up match began, their man had the lead.
The patriotic chanting had barely subsided when just a few minutes later Fernandez got pocket tens all in against Mahoney's A♥K♣. The flop brought the ten. The turn paired the board. The Argentinian singing began in earnest and hasn't stopped since.
Fernandez beat out 338 players in Panama. It was the first time in the tour's five-season history it stopped in this country. It was a big enough success that LAPT President David Carrion says he's inked a five-year agreement with the casino. That, however, is a story for another day.
Tonight belongs to Leo Fernandez, the latest LAPT champion.
LAPT Panama final table results
1. Leo Fernandez (Argentina) $171,930 2. Patrick Mahoney (Mexico) $108,700 3: Marco Antonio Pedroso Cheida (Brazil) $73,900 4: Walid Raysuli Mubarak (Peru) $55,050 5. Johnny Sandoval Chacon (Costa Rica) $42,230 6. Issac Malca (Panama) $33,180 7. Samad Razavi (United Kingdom) $24,880 8. Diego Sanchez (Mexico) $18,850