PCA 2012: Amateur John Dibella wins main event, $1,775,000

January 14, 2012


One week out of every year, the Atlantis resort is the home office of hundreds of professional poker players. For John Dibella, his wife Wendy, and their two girls, it’s no office. It’s a regular vacation spot. This week, Dibella’s children are at home in New York going to school. He was here just to have a little fun. In other words, he didn’t come here to work. Nevertheless, he’s leaving with a major poker championship and life-changing money.

“I’m overwhelmed. It feels so surreal, and I can’t believe it’s happening,” he said. “I’m sure it will hit me tomorrow.”


John Dibella, 2012 PCA champion

They aren’t the words we normally hear from a PokerStars Caribbean Adventure champion. In the minds of almost every past PCA title-holder, it was only a matter of time before they had multi-million-dollar bankrolls. In other words, most of the previous champions here considered it their job to win. Dibella just considered it fun.

Dibella is a 43-year-old day trader from New York who likes to dabble in poker. Until today, his largest live cash was $16,000 at a previous PCA. Today, after a heads-up deal with professional Kyle Julius, Dibella won the 2012 main event title and $1,775,000.

Asked about how this compared to his normal work life, Dibella said, “I made more doing this, but I’m not going to call myself a professional.”

Still, for the moment, he was the envy of the hundreds of professional players. Many of them had put up the $10,000 buy-in on their own. Dibella won a $1,000 live satellite. He turned it into one of poker’s most coveted titles. Now, cameras were in his face. A microphone was at his mouth. Daniel Negreanu, one of the most famous poker players in the world, was waiting in the wings to talk to him.

With the interview over, Dibella allowed himself a moment some would call “amateur,” but a lot of other people would call “human.” Dibella turned to the live TV cameras and his family watching from home.

“Baby, I did it,” he said into the lens. “I love you and the kids!”

It wasn’t just another day at the office.

It was joy.


More than a week ago, this tournament began with 1,072 players. Today, eight sat down in a battle for the title. Almost all of them were pros. Some of them had major poker tournament final tables on their resumes. One of them was becoming a piece of PCA history. All of them had the $2 million first prize in their sights.


The 2012 PCA main event final table

There are days you wake up and you can’t lose. There are days you wake up and can’t win. On one of the most important poker days of his life, Ruben Visser woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Though he started with more than four million chips, he was the first to leave the table with none. Bled down to half of his starting stack, he doubled up Mark Drover with an out-kicked ace, and then lost a race with pocket sixes to Kyle Julius’ A♥Q♦. Bing, bang, boom, Visser was gone for $156,400.


Ruben Visser

Meanwhile, David Bernstein, a man who was able to qualify for this event just by virtue of a free PokerStars promotion, managed to hold on to seventh place. Selected at random just a couple of weeks ago from a pool of applicants, Bernstein’s UKASH freeroll took him all the way to the final table. Today, short-stacked at 1.5 million million, Bernstein got it all in with pocket fours, but ran right into John Dibella’s pocket aces. That situation almost never ends well, and this time was no exception. Nonetheless, Bernstein’s seventh-place finish earned him $260,000. In the world of freerolls, that’s a good result.


David Bernstein

Of the eight people who made the final table today, only one of them had seen a PCA final before. Three years ago in 2009, Anthony Gregg finished runner up to Poorya Nazari for $1.7 million. Now 25 years old, Gregg is the only person in PCA history to make two final tables. Though he had a championship in mind and might have settled happily for another runner-up finish, Gregg’s day ended in sixth place when he shoved his last fifteen big blinds into the middle with A♠10♠ and Xuan Lui woke up in the blinds with A♦Q♣. With no help on board, Gregg was out in sixth for $364,000.


Tony Gregg: Now $364,000 happier!

Mark Drover was the next to go. He had started the final table with barely more than a million chips, so making it as far as five-handed was an accomplishment in itself. That was where it ended however when he found K♥J♠, shoved over Faraz Jaka’s pocket sixes, got a call, and missed. For a $468,000 payday, he can’t be disappointed. After all, he qualified for $700 in a PokerStars steps tourney.


Mark Drover, day over

To that point in the tournament, it seemed as if poker’s indignities and fate’s malevolence had decided to take a vacation during this final table. But that never happens, does it? There is always one great suckout that reminds us life isn’t fair. In this case it came when Faraz Jaka got his pocket jacks up against John Dibella’s pocket fours. There wasn’t a person in the audience who didn’t see the four before it had even hit the felt. Jaka couldn’t find a jack on the turn and river, and Dibella doubled to more than 10 million.


Gunslinger John Dibella shoots down jacks

Justice is a funny thing, though. Within ten minutes of having his jacks cracked by fours, Jaka came back and won nearly four million of his chips back from Dibella, cracking aces with K♦Q♠ all-in pre-flop. It wasn’t an even trade, but it was close enough for Jaka. And anyway, Jaka was on his way to sticking a fork in the dreams of all the people who hoped to see a woman win the PCA.

Xuan Liu went deeper in the PCA main event than any other woman in history. Last year, Ana Marquez placed tenth. After a dinner break at the PCA, Liu was poised to double up against Faraz Jaka when she got A♦7♦ all in against Jaka’s A♥6♦. Jaka flopped two pair, Liu never caught up, and she was gone. In addition to the female PCA record, she also earned $600,000.


Xuan Liu accepting her fate

If Jaka thought that victory would be a foundation on which he could build a championship run, he didn’t think it for long. Only a few minutes passed before he got K♥J♦ all-in against Kyle Julius’ A♦K♠. The board ran out 7♦A♣K♠9♥8♥. It left Jaka hobbled at the table, and though he would double up once through Dibella, he eventually had to watch as Julius’ K♠10♣ outran A♠J♠. Just like that, the man who had been chip leader on three out of five nights of this tournament was gone in third place for $755,000.


Faraz Jaka

With Jaka gone, it was business time. After a short break to discuss the specifics, Julius and Dibella decided to cut a deal. Their counts weren’t dramatically different, so it was $1.5 million for each. They left $275,000 and the championship title on the table for the winner.

heads_up_pca_2012_main event.jpg

Heads up for the title

From there, Dibella opened up an early lead and never looked back. It finally ended when Julius raised to 825,000 with 9♦6♠. Dibella came along with 5♣6♣. On a flop of A♣Q♥3♣, Dibella check-called Julius’ 725,000. Both men checked the 8♦ turn. When the 10♣ hit on the river, Dibella led for a million. When Julius bluffed all-in, it was all over. Julius had to be content with his $1.5 million in cash.


Kyle Julius

That only left John Dibella–amateur, day trader, satellite winner, family man, and 2012 PCA champion–to hoist the trophy.


We hope you have enjoyed our expanded PCA coverage this year for the main event. Please join us back here tomorrow for live updates, features, and interviews from the final table of the $25,000 High Roller and the finale of the PokerStars World Cup of Poker.

Until then, once again let’s offer big congratulations to John Dibella the 2012 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event champion.

Main event final table photography © Neil Stoddart


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