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Second gold bracelet goes to Koral

15 July 2019

Tom Koral

Tom Koral (photo by WSOP)

Name: Tom Koral
Nationality: American
Current Residence: Skokie, IL
Age: 35
Profession: Poker pro
Number of WSOP Cashes: 30
Number of WSOP Final Table Appearances: 7
Number of WSOP Gold Bracelet Victories (with this tournament): 2
Best Previous WSOP Finish: 1st at 2017 WSOP Event #55: $1,500 Seven Card Stud ($96,907)
Total WSOP Earnings: $1,674,317

Skokie, Illinois' Tom Koral has claimed the second World Series of Poker gold bracelet of his career after winning Event #82 of the 2019 WSOP, $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em Double Stack.

Koral, 35, earned $530,164 for the victory to boost his lifetime WSOP earnings to $1,674,317. Koral topped a massive 2,589-entry field over three days of fast-paced play to win this event, which featured 40-minute levels, to post the largest win of his WSOP career.

Koral sealed the victory by coming from behind against the Netherlands' Freek Scholten after roughly one hour of heads-up play. Scholten earned $327,563 as the runner-up.

Two-time bracelet winner Barry Shulman finished third for $239,187. This was the second final table of the 2019 Series for Las Vegas's Shulman, who finished as runner-up in the Super Seniors event last month.

Simi Valley, California's Philip Scaletta finished fourth, pocketing $176,219 in his first-ever WSOP cash. Pro player Adam Hendrix, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, finished in fifth to collect $131,001.

Koral was near elimination early in this final before the cards turned and stayed hot, all the way to the win. He'd moved into the lead three-handed, though Scholten's elimination of Shulman temporary dropped Koral into second. Koral soon pulled back into the lead, however, a key hand coming when a paired flop (jacks) tempered late action, and after a check-check river, Koral's ace topped Scholten's king. Koral continued to grind down Scholten's stack from that point.

The final hand found Koral catching pocket aces and limping from the button while hoping for a steal attempt from Scholten, and that's how it played out. Schoten jammed all in and Koral called at once. Scholten caught a gutshot-straight draw on the flop, but instead of the needed jack, the turn and river completed the board and locked up Koral's second bracelet win.

Though a first bracelet is a special memory for any WSOP event winner, Koral will value this one highly, too. “It mean a lot to me specifically because it's hold'em,” he said. “I think a lot of people look at me as a mixed-games player, primarily. So I think this was my way of showing that I can still play hold'em.

“The structure was very fast in this one,” Koral also admitted. “You had to be very lucky. I didn't take too many bad beats. The situations where I was really short and I had no hand and shoved, everybody folded; I got lucky no one picked something up.

Koral spends plenty of his poker hours in high-stakes mixed games in Chicago-area casinos, but this win proves he remains a force in no-limit hold'em as well. It also continues an extended run of bracelet-winning performances by Chicago-area players over the past two summer WSOP series.

About that mixed-games background, Koral was quick to credit Chicago pro Brett Richey for getting him involved in that city's competitive scene. Richey was at the rail to help Koral's second bracelet win. “He got me into the idea of playing some of these mixed games. When I started, actually, I was probably playing way too high of stakes, and I was really bad. I was probably the guy getting followed around at the tables. I was the soft spot!”

No one accuses Koral of being the weak spot at a table these days, nor have they for many years. Koral has no special plans for his nice windfall, though more tourneys and cash games are certainly in the works.

Sunday's final in Event #82 saw eight players return for action, led by Scholten's 26 million stack. Ninth-place finisher Pablo Fernandez Campo was also credited with an official final-table appearance.

Two players from India made the final eight in this event, though they ended up being the first two players busted from Day 3 action. Kalyan Cheekuri exited in eighth for $56,850 after a failed all-in move against Adam Hendrix. After the flop with over two million already in the pot, Hendrix checked, Cheekuri bet one million, Hendrix check-raised to 2.8 million, and Cheekuri moved all in. Hendrix called instantly and his pocket sixes for a set of sixes was way ahead of Cheekuri's hand. The turn gave Hendrix quads and ensured the knockout, with a meaningless river completing the hand.

Kunal Punjwani followed Cheekuri to the rail 32 hands later after exiting in seventh for $74,401. Punjwani appeared to be in great shape for a double-up after defending his big blind and hitting trips on the flop. Scaletta bet 2.2 million, Punjwani moved all in for his last 5.15 million, and Scaletta called, only to find his hand way behind and in need of runner-runner help. That help arrived in the form of the turn and river, and Punjwani's touch-luck departure whittled the final to six.

Another 31 hands elapsed before Los Angeles pro Darren Rabinowitz busted in sixth. With blinds climbing higher, Rabinowitz got the worst of a battle of the blinds with Barry Shulman. Shulman, in the small blind, shoved all in, and Rabinowitz defended for the last of his stack with a badly-dominated hand. Rabinowitz caught a six on the flop, but the turn and river sealed his $98,274 payout.

In the very next hand, a collision between the two deepest-stacked players left Hendrix on the rail and Scholten with a commanding lead. The hand began with a Hendrix open, a re-raise by Scholten to 6.3 million, and folds by the other players. Hendrix then moved all in for 31.1 million and Scholten called at once. Hendrix was in trouble against Scholten, and an all-small board gave Scholten well over half the chips in play while leaving Hendrix to collect $131,001 for fifth.

California's Philip Scaletta turned his first in-the-money WSOP event into a streamed final-table appearance, but his run ended in fourth ($176,219). Scaletta took a hit to his stack after giving up a double-through to Koral that vaulted Koral into the lead, then exited after getting the rest of his stack in but ran into Scholten. The runout left Scaletta busted and a three-way battle for the title.

Three became two roughly 45 minutes later when Scholten kept Shulman from winning a third career bracelet. Scholten moved all in from the small blind and Shulman, still deep in third, called for his remaining stack. The flop gave Scholten a set but also gave Shulman outs to the straight, but the turn and river locked Shulman into a $239,187 payout and brought on heads-up play.

Event #82, $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em Double Stack, drew 2,589 entrants and offered a $3,495,150 prize pool. 389 players made the money and a min-cash was worth $2,249.

Others who cashed in this event included Kurt Jewell (20th, $17,063), Mike Sower (40th, $11,284), Ryan Laplante (43rd, $11,284), Huy Nguyen (54th, $9,314), Will Givens (56th, $7,766), Jim Collopy (64th, $6,542), Peter Eichardt (74th, $5,567), Joe Cheong (90th, $5,567), and Greg Raymer (94th, $4,160).

Final table payouts:
1st: Tom Koral, $530,164
2nd: Freek Scholten, $327,563
3rd: Barry Shulman, $239,187
4th: Philip Scaletta, $176,219
5th: Adam Hendrix, $131,001
6th: Darren Rabinowitz, $98,274
7th: Kunal Punjwani, $74,401
8th: Kalyan Cheekuri, $56,850
9th: Pablo Fernandez Campo, $43,847

(Article courtesy of World Series of Poker)

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