At around 4.15pm today, in Aspers Casino, Stratford, East London, Chris Moneymaker took a breather from the latest event on the tour that bears his name to introduce himself to a 25-year-old player from Maidenhead, England, named Oliver Hutchins. The meeting was genial but low-key and it didn’t last long, but its central transaction was significant.
As a healthy online audience looked on, Moneymaker handed Hutchins a Platinum Pass, a small sliver of glinting metal that will earn the British player a seat in the PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) to be held in Barcelona next August. The pass itself is worth around $30,000, but it has the potential to earn Hutchins much, much more than that.
Last year, lest we forget, Ramon Colillas made $5 million with his. This is the potential key to huge riches, and the most coveted trinket in contemporary poker.
Even better is the way in which Hutchins won it. He was one of eight players who won their way to an exclusive Platinum Pass Experience single-table tournament, held in front of a live audience on Twitch, having booked his seat online for £5. Hutchins admitted afterwards that he had had several goes at the online qualifiers, so his outlay was actually more like £25. But it’s still a huge spin up to $30K.
What’s more, Hutchins showed enough skills at the table today to suggest he could well emulate Colillas. Although the quick-structured format brought luck to the fore, Hutchins managed to overcome a couple of cruel early setbacks to stay in the game, and then made the most of his own moments of fortune. He hit a three-outer to survive three-handed, but by that point had also shown a keen understanding of the dynamics of tournaments like this. He says he is predominantly a PLO cash-game player, but he obviously has transferable skills.
Play got under way at noon on a gleaming new streaming stage inside the poker room at Aspers.
Although this event was essentially aimed at less experienced players from the UK and Ireland, there were a significant few who had some decent experience. Rob Sherwood has been around the UK poker scene for years; Kevin Dean used to play professionally, including four WSOP Main Events; Fergal Brophy is an online poker coach who boasts more than 1 million hands; Martin Pember has already won one Platinum Pass and played the PSPC in the Bahamas; and Joss Murdoch warmed up for this event by cashing on the Moneymaker Tour last week in Newcastle.
The other three definitely seemed to know how to play, as well, and for Rafiei in particular, things couldn’t have got off to a better start. He picked up pocket kings and won a small pot, then added some more when he flopped a set of sevens when Sherwood’s 9♠10♣ also hit top pair. It got worse for Sherwood when a second nine on the turn gave him trips, but Rafiei a full house. Sherwood probably lost the minimum, but a loss is a loss.Rafiei continued building, and then won yet another big pot when his pocket eights connected superbly with a board of 6♣9♣5♥Q♦7♣. It was doubly amazing because Hutchins had pocket queens. Hutchins saw his stack cut to around 60,00 while Rafiei moved towards 200,000, double what he started with.
Everyone started with deep stacks here, but as the first few levels ticked past, they shallowed markedly. Pember had really struggled to get anything going during the first levels, and was finding Hutchins, to his right, particularly active, with Murdoch the other side. He dipped below 20 big blinds as they entered Level 6 and knew his chips had to go in. He found A♦10♠, which was a monster in the circumstances, and got it in. But Handy found A♠A♣, which is a monster in any circumstances. Handy called and Pember couldn’t find an outdraw. He was out in eighth and took £800.
“It just wasn’t my day,” Pember said. “That seat draw was so important.” He ruefully added that anybody sitting in his spot would have found it difficult to get anything going. He also said that, as an MTT player, busting first felt particularly terrible. But there was almost nothing he could do.
Pember left the table with stacks shortening drastically, a fact underlined by the fact that the seven-handed chip leader at one point, Fergal Brophy, had only 28 big blinds. And also that Brophy was the next man out. He lost a cooler with 8♣8♦ to Sherwood’s 10♥10♦, leaving him with only one low-denomination chip, and Sherwood took that two hands later, when 7♥6s] beat A♦4♣. Brophy won £1,000 and said to his rail, “Let’s get micro-wasted.”
The dam had suddenly broken, and it was barely two hands later that Handy joined Brophy on the rail. This one was another cooler really in these circumstances, with Handy’s pocket tens losing a race to Dean’s A♠J♦.
“This is the time to use my one-time,” Handy said when an ace flopped and he needed to catch up. But the 6♠ turn and 4♣ river meant there was no comeback. “Can’t complain,” he said, again telling the story about how he qualified for the event almost by accident.He had been playing a Sunday tourney on PokerStars, got knocked out, but then noticed the Platinum Pass Experience qualifier starting. He hopped in, won that, and here he was. He picked up £1,300 as a further sweetener.
Everybody was short now, but Hutchins was shortest. However, he managed to turn the tables on Murdoch when they got their stacks in. Murdoch had K♥Q♠ and Hutchins had A♦J♥, both good enough hands to be risking it all with at this stage. The board was completely dry and that meant Hutchins doubled.
Murdoch, of course, was now in deep peril, but he doubled back into contention. He won a race with pocket sixes to Sherwood’s A♣Q♥, but it was only a stay of execution. Murdoch’s final hand offered a microcosm of his emotional roller-coaster in this event. He had 9♦8♣ to Sherwood’s A♠7♥. The flop brought the 9♠ to put Murdoch ahead, but the turn was the A♣ and Murdoch was distraught. There was nothing dramatic on the river and Murdoch was gone.
“I don’t mind getting knocked out, but that was a cruel last hand,” he said. “It’s the hope that kills you.”
Murdoch added that he had had an amazing two weeks, where he had had more success than he had ever previously managed in poker. (He also got to make a bluff with four-high in this event.) He won £1,700 for his fifth place, though, and said: “Can’t complain with that for a fiver.”
We quickly saw again how swingy this whole thing was when the next man out was Sherwood. He had been the chip leader five handed — with triple the amount of the player in second place — but caught a wretched run of luck. He lost with A♥Q♥ to Hutchins’ A♦9♣ (a nine came on the river). And then Sherwood was out the door, when Hutchins won a race with A♠10♦ over Sherwood’s 2♥2♦. Hutchins suddenly found himself with 46 big blinds, more than double his final two opponents combined.
Of the three left, Dean, a long-time online grinder, had the most experience. But he had fewer than 10 big blinds and got involved in a pot against Rafiei from which there was no way back. On a flop of K♠5♠K♦, Dean picked up a flush draw with his 6♠3♠ but Rafiei had flopped trips with K♥J♠. The turn and river were blanks and Rafiei left Dean with not even a big blind.
It was in soon after, with K♣J♦. But Rafiei’s A♣10♣ stayed good and Dean’s day was done.
Hutchins had a significant chip lead — 546,000 to Rafiei’s 258,000 — but that was still only 34 big blinds to 16, and one double up would reverse everything. It could have happened when Hutchins, sitting with J♠10♥, ended up with two pair on a board of 6♦10♣A♣J♣K♣, but Rafiei couldn’t really have expected to be a confident winner with the 2♣ in his hand. The pot stayed comparatively small.
It was only a couple of hands later when Hutchins found 8♥6♠ in the big blind and Rafiei’s limp from the small blind with K♦7♥ allowed them both to see a flop. It was 10♥9♠7♦, which meant a straight for Hutchins.
Rafiei now decided to jam, and was snapped off. When the A♠ came on the turn, Rafiei was drawing dead and Hutchins laid his head on the rail in relief. “I’m kind of exhausted from it all at the moment,” Hutchins said. “But I’m happy.”
For Rafiei, the consolation of £5,000 and a story of what might have been. “He played good,” he said of Hutchins, who can now begin preparing for a trip to Barcelona next year.
We’ll have a full interview with Hutchins up soon.
1st – Oliver Hutchins, £1,000 + Platinum Pass to PSPC
2nd – Ben Rafiei, £5,000
3rd – Kevin Dean, £3,000
4th – Rob Sherwood, £2,200
5th – Joss Murdoch, £1,700
6th – Clive Handy, £1,300
7th – Fergal Brophy, £1,000
8th – Martin Pember, £800