In the Latin American Poker Tour's three-season history, no person had ever won two titles. In the land mine-covered fields of the LAPT, it seemed impossible.
After four days of play, Team PokerStars Pro Jose "Nacho" Barbero became the first person with two LAPT championships to his name.
That in itself would be an historic accomplishment. What made it all the more astounding was that Barbero won his previous title just a few months ago at the most recent LAPT event in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
We may know him as Nacho, but from now on, he will be known as Back-To-Back Barbero.
Barbero began his journey like everyone else in the 384-person field, the second-largest crowd in LAPT history. The $2700 buy-in drew people from all over the world. Seven of the final table players hailed from South America. The eighth came from the USA. Here's how they stacked up as final table play began.
Seat 1: Erick Cabrera (Peru) - 1,426,000
Seat 2: Ismael Cádiz (Chile) - 1,125,000
Seat 3: Ben Barrows (United States) - 1,154,000
Seat 4: Silvio Martins (Brazil) - 594,000
Seat 5: Valerio Valera (Venezuela) - 236,000
Seat 6: Rene Aguilar (Chile) - 691,000
Seat 7: Jose "Nacho" Barbero (Argentina) - 1,817,000
Seat 8: Carlos Herrera (Colombia) - 434,000
If it was going to be a long day for Valerio Valera, it was going to require some early luck. Short-stacked to start the day, Valera needed a double up and fast. When Carlos Herrera opened to 95,000 from under the gun, everybody folded Valera on the button. He chose that moment to try his luck.
Valera put in 79,000 more, the rest of his chips. He immediately knew he had a problem. Nacho Barbero and Herrera both called. On a flop of 8♠T♠7♣, Barbero checked and Herrera bet 150,000. That's when Valera must have known he was finished. Barbero folded and Herrera turned up K♠T♠, well ahead of Valera's 4♠4♦.The Q♠ on the turn reduce Valera to one out, which he missed on the 8♥ river. For eighth place, Valera earned $18,600.
With seven players remaining, Ben Barrows opened in middle position to 90,000. Play folded around to Carlos Herrera in the small blind. He re-popped it to 210,000. The big blind folded, but Barrows announced he was "all-in." Herrera snap-called with pocket kings.
This was the moment the man from Colombia had been waiting for. It was his chance to double up and become one of the chip leaders. It was going to happen. It was destiny. He held pocket kings to the Barrow's piddling A♥Q♠.
The dealer burned a card, dealt out the flop face-down, then turned the three cards over. It was something Herrera couldn't comprehend at first: not one, but two queens on the flop. The rest was largely academic. With two outs left in the deck, Herrera knew he was finished. The river card had barely settled on the felt when he bolted from the room. The TV crew chased him for the microphone. By the time they caught him, he was near tears and being consoled by a friend outside the poker room. His dream was over, and in a way from which he won't soon recover. He picked up $28,000 from the cage, which should later help to soothe the pain.
There had been a curious trend at this event in which players were more than willing--almost happy--to get their chips in the middle with king-queen. For three days, players had pushed their chips in the middle and proudly slammed some variation of king-queen on the table with pride. So, it was no surprise how Rene Aguilar found the rail. He came in for a standard raise and was re-raised to 350,000 by hometown favorite Erick Cabrera. Aguilar thought for a few moments before moving all-in for 601,000 total. Cabrera made the call and flopped over Q♣Q♥. Aguilar tabled the K♥ and Q♦. He paired neither card and finished the hand no better than he started. As the crowd chanted "Peru! Peru! Peru!" for Cabrera, Aguilar headed out to collect his $37,300 for sixth place.
Most people use the word "nit" in a pejorative sense, so we wouldn't lower ourselves to call Silvio Martins one. It is fair to say, however, that the Brazilian is tight. Very, very tight. It served him well all the way to the final table, but in the run-up to the end, the blinds finally got the best of him. Ultimately, when not-nitty Ben Barrows opened for 120,000, Martins pushed all-in for 400,000 more. Barrows didn't fret long and called with A♥6♥. He was a bit ahead of Martins' K♣T♣. The ace-high flop pretty much sealed the deal, Martins, didn't hit runner-runner, and we declared him the fourth place finisher. Nit or not, the payday was worth $46,500.
If Silvio Martins is tight, Ismael Cadiz is Ft. Knox. If he is in a pot, is assumed he has aces until proven otherwise. That axiom held true until the following hand:
Nacho Barbero opened with a raise to 110,000 from the button, then Erick Cabrera re-raised to 300,000 from the small blind. Cádiz -- who was sitting on about 560,000 -- declared he was all in. Barbero then announced that he, too, was all-in. It was a tough spot for Cabrera, who ultimately folded ace-king face up.
That's when Cadiz ruined his reputation and turned over 5♦5♠, way behind Barbero's J♣J♠. Cadiz's indiscretion was going to cost him. He was going to be out...until the flop came 2♣5♣6♦. Cadiz's supporters went wild. He was going to win! But, then came the 3♣ on the turn, opening up several more outs for Barbero. He was going to win! But, no. The river blanked and Cadiz doubled up.
With his reputation shot, Cadiz got into the game in a big way.
Cabrera opened to 160,000 from under the gun. Both Cadiz and Barbero called. On a flop of 9♥6♥A♥, Barbero led for 250,000. Cabrera then announced he was all-in. Cadiz made the call, Barbero folded, and woah, what a hand we had.
Cádiz was out in front with his two pair, but Cabrera had a nice draw with the hearts. The river blanked, but the river popped off as the 7♥. The Peruvians went nuts as their man doubled. Cádiz sat down, defeated. Minutes later, he shoved king-jack from the button and got called by Barbero's A♠2♥. Cádiz didn't catch up and was out in fourth place for $65,100.
In America, the National Football League only awards the sport's biggest game to cities that have an NFL franchise. However, in the league's decades of history, no Super Bowl team has ever played for the championship in its home stadium (it's been close a couple of times, but never happened). As Cabrera played, it was as if he were the first Super Bowl team to literally be playing at home. Ninety percent of the crowd was screaming for him, and rightfully so. The kid was playing lights out for four straight days. A hometown hero story would be one for the history books. It came to an end in a hand that will be talked about for some time.
Heads up, Barbero limped in from the small blind and Cabrera checked behind. On a fop of T♠8♣6♥, Cabrera bet 120,000. That's when Barbero made it 280,000. Cabrera simply called. On the 3♠ turn, Barbero checked. Cabrera waited just a moment before declaring, "All-in."
That snapping sound heard across South America was Barbero calling. He'd flopped the nuts with 9♥7♦. Cabrera was drawing dead with A♥T♣. With a big cheer from his hometown supporters, Cabrera walked out in third place, cashing for $88,400.
Going into heads-up play, Barbero had a tremendous lead. The only question was whether Ben Barrows could score a double up in time.
Jose "Nacho" Barbero -- 6,480,000
Ben Barrows -- 1,200,000
It was not to be for Barrows. After just a few hands of play, Barrows shoved A♦2♦ into Barbero's A♠7♣. While the flop was an entertaining and dramatic 7♦K♠Q♦, Barrows failed to catch up and departed in second place for $144,000.
Then stood the ever-smiling and suave Nacho Barbero with all the chips and a spot in the LAPT history books that no other person can claim. He is the first, and to this point only person to hold back-to-back LAPT titles. It doesn't get much better than that. Or, maybe it does.
"The best thing that could happen? I would win my third," Barbero said with a grin.
In his pocket now is $250,000. With the $279,330 he picked up in Punta del Este, Barbero has won more than half a million dollars on the LAPT this year alone. With that kind of extra bankroll and the WSOP going on as we speak, you will soon find Barbero at the Jorge Chavez International Airport.
"I'm looking forward to Vegas," he said.
Congratulations to Jose Barbero, aka, Nacho, aka, Back-To-Back. If you're a fan like we are, check out his Facebook fan page.
With that, we bid you goodbye from the fine city of Lima, the beautiful district of Miraflores, and the fine country of Peru. Join us again on the LAPT when we travel to Brazil for the next LAPT event in August.
Until then, adios.