No one told Galen Hall that Chris Oliver was supposed to win the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. No one told Galen Hall that coming back from a huge chip deficit heads-up was going to be impossible. Nobody told Galen Hall that the fates had already determined that he would finish in second place. So, because nobody told Hall he couldn't win, he did and pocketed $2.3 million for his efforts.
The 24-year-old man from San Francisco came into the day second in chips. His style stood in stark contrast to chip leader Chris Oliver's wild and crazy approach. It looked as though Hall's patience and cerebral approach wouldn't compete with fate, but in the end, he stood as the champion.
Still reeling after his victory, Hall said. "I feel pretty awesome. It still hasn't set in yet. We played heads up for a really long time, so I haven't been thinking about the win."
It looked as though the fates had determined Oliver was always going to win the 2011 PCA. The only question was who would finish in second place. With a giant chip lead and streak of good fortune as long as an airport runway, Oliver's destiny was revealed on every flop, turn, and river. It looked at most times like Oliver won this tournament three days ago and today's final table was just a formality.
Oliver brought 42% of chips in play to the final day. He won them in an unconventional fashion that had people shaking their heads. That kind of lead wasn't unprecedented. In 2007, Isaac Haxton came into the six-handed final table with half the chips in play. He ended up finishing in second place, a testament to the Curse of Isaac Haxton.
This year's PCA main event was historic for a number of reasons. It was the biggest ever with 1,560 players, it had it's deepest-ever run by a female player, and 2003 WSOP champion Chris Moneymaker nearly made the final table. The most visible of the history-making events came by way of a big satellite truck in the parking lot outside. For the first time in the PCA's eight-year history, ESPN broadcast the event live across America (on a one-hour security delay) with the players hole cards exposed.
ESPN picked the right time to take a chance on live poker coverage. The final table did not disappoint. Oliver's fast and loose style made for some of the most interesting poker. Sadly for Phillipe Plouffe, he didn't get to see much of it. In the early minutes of the final table, Plouffe got Q♠Q♥ all-in against Sam Stein's A♣K♥. The flop and turn were nice, but Stein rivered his ace and Plouffe went out in eighth for $202,000.
If ESPN could've scripted the event, the following hand would've been the writer's greatest inspiration. Loosey-goosey Oliver came in for a raise with A♥2♣. Stein called, and Galen Hall re-raised with king-deuce. Mike Sowers seemed to know all three of the guys were full of it and put in another raise with A♠J♣...this one was all-in. Max Weinberg then woke up with pocket queens and got it in, too. Sowers looked like he might be on his way out the door, but managed to find four spades on the board to cripple Weinberg. A couple of minutes later, he lost his last few chips and went out in 7th place for $300,000.
Despite being very active at the tables in the run-up to the final table, Bolivar Palacios couldn't seem to get involved when it counted. Finally blinded down to his final 1.7 million chips, he shoved all-in with K♦J♦. Hall looked him up with A♦4♠. Palacios didn't catch up and went out in sixth earning $450,000.
In one of the more shocking hands of the evening, Mike Sowers came in for a raise with 4♣4♦. Oliver, true to form, three-bet with 8♠2♥. The flop was just silly: 3♦8♥2♠. Oliver led for 1.3 million. The only thing quicker than Sowers' all-in was Oliver's call. With no four on the turn or river, Sowers went out in fifth place for $700,000.
Sam Stein was on a mission. After two high-profile runner-up finishes last year, Stein was bound and determined to win this event. It was clear from the very beginning that Stein intended to complete the mission using Oliver's chips. The chip leader's reputation made him easy to three bet, and Stein did it over and over. It turned into a problem, because Oliver was eventually going to wake up with a hand. When Oliver came in for a raise with A♦Q♦, Stein three-bet with A♥9♥. Oliver moved all-in. Stein fell deep in the tank but eventually decided he had the best hand. Stein couldn't come from behind and he went out in fourth place for a cool million bucks.
Romania's Anton Ionel was a picture of patience. He made it here on a $33 PokerStars satellite and was making sure the return on investment was a good one. He barely played a hand throughout the final table. Down to just a few big blinds, he managed to double up with jacks. Just a few hands later he got his short-stack all-in with K♠6♠. Up against Galen Hall's K♣Q♠, Ionel was drawing slim. He couldn't find a way to suck out. For his patience, he earned a third place finish and $1,350,000.
That left only Galen Hall between Oliver and the winner's check. Hall made sure Oliver got no closer to the trophy. At one point down by a margin of more than 4 to 1, Hall battled back. After a lengthy heads-up match, Hall managed two quick double-ups that seemed to tilt Oliver right off the table. The first had Oliver and Hall both flopping two pair and Hall having the best of it. Right after that, Hall doubled up with kings versus Oliver's A♥9♠. Those two pots put Hall in a commanding lead. It didn't take long for Hall to get it in with A♣8♣ versus Oliver's queens. After cracking big hands for a week, it was finally time for Oliver to get a taste of his own medicine. Hall flopped two pair and Oliver was gone in second place. He was comforted by a prize worth $1.8 million.
Photography © Neil Stoddart