Why is this night different from all other nights for Eric Afriat?
Because he won a million bucks.
Poker players always endure ups and downs in long tournaments, but very few had the challenge Eric Afriat did.
He missed the Passover celebration Monday night at his mother's West Boca Raton home, with aunts, uncles and cousins, mostly from Montreal.
"I was so sad I thought about just leaving my chips at the table Monday night and going home," said Afriat, one of 1,795 entrants in the World Poker Tour/Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown in Hollywood.
Wednesday night, Afrait -- and a cheering throng -- were delighted he stayed at the table. He won the tournament -- and $1,081,184.
Among those watching were his mother, Elise Wizman, who entertained Afriat's wife, Yael, their two children and about 15 others during Seder dinners Monday and Tuesday nights. They all showed up Wednesday afternoon for the WPT taping at Hard Rock Live. (The event will air this summer.)
Wizman, who attends the conservative Bnai Torah in Boca Raton, said: "I couldn't be prouder" and an excited Yael sat on her husband's lap to pose for extra trophy-and-cash photos.
Afriat, 45, entered Wednesday's final table in fourth place with 6.7 million chips, well behind the 19 million of leader Mukul Pahuja, a poker pro who moved from Long Island to Coconut Creek three years ago.
But Afriat said he had "a dream night of cards," and continually flashed his hands to show players he was ahead as they folded to his raises, which isn't always advised by poker experts and can get under the skin of your foes when you're on a heater, he confirms.
As his stack grew, he played aggresively, check-raising often and building up to 38 million to Pahuja's 15 million when the two were the only ones surviving. The head-to-head battle, which often lasts hours in WPT events, took only seven hands, when Pahuja shoved all-in with a king and a nine for his final 10 million. Afriat had a pair of 8s, and the flop, turn and river were of no help to Pahuja.
Pahuja collected $691,965, and is a huge leader in the WPT's Player of the Year race, which concludes next week in Atlantic City.
Pahuja has been on a run since August, when he placed third in the $10 million guarantee Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open, earning $872,625. He also has a second-place finish in Montreal and a fourth in San Jose, Calif., in WPT events for cashes above $300,000.
Another semi-local finished sixth. Chance Kornuth, who moved to Hollywood beach about nine months ago from Las Vegas, earned $247,954. His girlfriend, Emily Tai, deals at WPT events. Kornuth's biggest mission after being eliminated was buying his friends a drink. They hit the Hard Rock Live bar for a shot of Captain Morgan and a Newcastle, and seemed like the group I'd hang out with if I ever were cool. The 27-year-old seemed OK with being eliminated, citing the various breaks the game doles out to all and the fact that good breaks helped propel him to the final table. He plays some cash games at the Seminole Hard Rock, including Pot-Limit Omaha; he won a World Series of Poker bracelet and $508,090 in the game in 2010.
The World Poker Tour has hit the Seminole Hard Rock in mid-April the past four years. Passover changes, based on Jewish calendar, so conflicts are bound to happen somewhere during the WPT's structured tour. Play started at noon each day. Players could enter either Thursday, Friday or Saturday and play continued at Sunday, narrowed to 18 at 1:30 a.m on Monday (Tuesday), and trimmed to the final table of six by 10:45 p.m. on Tuesday.
Seminole officials guaranteed $5 million in prize money for the $3,500-entry event, and registrations boomed to the point that the actual payout to the 114 who made it into the money was $5.7 million. The 1,795 entries is a record in the WPT's 12-year history (although that's partially because events now allow players to rebuy and the fees have dropped from a standard of $10,000 to $5,000 to $3,500 in this case).
The state's record for entries was set last August at the Seminole Hard Rock. A $350 event drew more than 3,300 entries and two later tournaments also surpassed 3,000 entries, smashing the 2,607, set at the Palm Beach Kennel Club in 2012.