Sunday, June 8, 2014

‘Queen High’ Kitai Felts ‘Sore Loser’ Ruberto and Ultimately Defeats Vayo For Third WSOP Bracelet

After Helmuth busted just shy of the final table, rail interest in the $3,000 no-limit hold'em six handed tournament dropped off dramatically. The quality of play did not diminish however, with European star Davidi Kitai putting on a final table clinic so convincing that WSOP commentator David Tuchman gave him a 90 percent chance of taking the tournament down. Once the table was down to three––with Kitai holding more than 6 million in chips and Tony Ruberto and Gordon Vayo both sitting at around a million––the optimal strategy became one of keeping the two opponents around and whittling stacks down through inducing conservative ICM play. In this situation, Kitai was raising the majority of hands on the button, placing maximum pressure on the shorter stacks. 

Unfortunately for Kitai, the laws of variance in no-limit hold'em soon came into play. Vayo shoved for 615,000 (15 big blinds) with Q rag and Kitai called with K-9, a three to two favorite. Vayo somehow hit running clubs to end with a flush and stay afloat. A few hands later, Kitai three bet 10-6 against Roberto’s pocket 10s and Roberto went all in, forcing Kitai off his hand. Ruberto had another piece of all-in magic left holding K-7 to Kitai's  K-3, on a K-3 flop. Once the dust settled, Ruberto had his tournament life at risk, but somehow pulled out a 7 on the river. In another major confrontation, Ruberto shoved over Kitai’s significant raise with 3-2 offsuit on a 7-3-8 board holding 9-8, with a flush draw, and increased his stack from 2.3 to 3.6 million. Despite these missteps, Kitai did not lose too many of his chips––he mixed his aggression with a push-pull strategy of strategic folds in situations where he was likely behind. Meanwhile, Vayo wound up dominated preflop with A rag vs. Ruberto’s AK and hit his miracle four on the river for a straight and a chop. 

             Vayo gives a comical look of disbelief as Ruberto curses the cards and the poker gods.

Bad blood boiled up at the table when Kitai made a hero call that cemented his status, in my mind at least, as among poker’s best. Sitting with Q-4, he was up against Ruberto’s 8-5 suited. When the flop came out A-10-J, with two diamonds on board, Ruberto bet his flush draw 90,000 and Kitai called. Ruberto continued to bet out on the turn when a 2 of clubs peeled off.  Kitai called, as he had picked up a back door club flush draw. When the board paired up with a 10 on the river, Ruberto made a major bet of more than half a million chips. Kitai thought for a while before making the ultimate hero call. Ruberto announced that he had an eight high and Kitai scooped the pot, shaking his head.

                                                  No love lost: Ruberto and Kitai

Things now took a surreal turn. Ruberto did not eat humble pie at Kitai’s correct read of the river bluff, asking him if he had seen his cards. He did not let up on when Kitai laughed off what seemed like a half joke––going so far as to ask the tournament officials if they could review the tape and check if Kitai had seen his cards. This was a beyond ludicrous request––even if Kitai had caught a peek of one of Ruberto’s cards by some miracle, it would be Kitai’s fault for failing to protect his hand. Essentially, Kitai had called with Q high because he sussed out that a triple barrel bomb did not make much sense. Ruberto would not want to bet out that much with the two 10s on board, even if he had an A, as he might get re-raised off his holding. Basically Ruberto had a very polarized betting range––either a 10 or complete air. What made Kitai’s read with Q high most impressive was that he could even be beat by a K high semi-bluff on Ruberto’s part. Ruberto finally decamped to the other side of the table, away from Kitai, commenting to the rail “I see some sunlight here.”

Concurrent with Ruberto’s downswing, Vayo flopped a jack high flush and Kitai called a couple streets with 9-9 on a 10-4-2-10 board. When he finally folded, Vayo had chipped up to a respectable 2 million. Ruberto had been nursing a stack of under 1 million for quite a while when he raised with A-6 from the small blind before shoving all in against Kitai’s three bet with A-K. The better hand held up and finally Kitai was heads up against Vayo, who had a smallish stack of 1.5 million. Heads up was where Vayo’s true strengths began to emerge and he won a number of early encounters with Kitai. He was slightly ahead of his opponent with 3.75 million chips when they called it a night at 2:30 am. 

The next day’s action lasted two hours, with Vayo ultimately being outflopped, though not outplayed, by his worthy Belgian opponent. Short stacked, Vayo finally shoved all in preflop with A-5 against A-K and Kitai became the first non-American to win a bracelet at this year’s WSOP.  A regular on the European Poker Tournament (EPT) circuit, Kitai won WSOP Pot-Limit Hold'em events in 2008 and 2013. The Belgian also took home the 2012 EPT in Berlin and is a mainstay in mid-range EPT high roller events. With an unnerving intensity on the felt, it is only a matter of time before he becomes equally well known in the U.S. poker community.

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