A Weston man with a love for Israel emerged from a field of 6,352 poker players Tuesday morning with the best chance a South Floridian has ever had of winning the World Series of Poker.
Amir Lehavot, 38, became one of nine surviving players who'll vie for a $8.3 million top prize when the tournament resumes on Nov. 4 at the Rio All-Suites Hotel in Las Vegas. He sits in second place, behind JC Tran of Sacramento. (ESPN tapes all the action of the main event, then the WSOP stops the tournament at nine players so viewers can see how the field narrowed. Then the WSOP resumes in November and the finals are shown-live-to-tape, like when the Olympics are in the other hemisphere.)
The field had been narrowed to 27 when play began Monday, and early in the day it looked as though Lehavot, a poker pro who plays mainline online, would be going home early. At one time he sat in about 20th place among the 21 survivors, and was growing desperate.
But there's an element of luck to poker, and Lehavot caught some. He threw his remaining 2.1 million chips in while holding an ace and a jack, which is normally a good hand but made him a huge underdog when his opponent turned up kings. However, one of the remaining five common cards the dealer turns up to complete a hand of Texas Hold 'em one was an ace, and Lehavot won the hand -- and moved up in the chip count. Later he hit four-of-a-kind after going all-in with 5-5 vs. Jc-8c after a flop of J-9c-5c to win a big pot. (OK, he was the favorite in that one.)
Play continued until 5:43 a.m. EST, 2:43 a.m. Vegas time. Even ninth place will pay $733,224.
Lehavot was born in Israel and arrived in the United States at age 16. Before playing poker for a living, Lehavot earned a degree from U of Texas/Austin and worked as an engineer, specializing in design, he told WSOP officials. He lived in San Francisco before moving to Weston, thus the online poker handle of AmirSF.
"I asked the WSOP to play the Israeli anthem if I win. I chose to do that to both honor my country of birth, and protest the unaviliability of online poker in the US," he said via email when we first communicated a few years ago. He isn't immediately available to talk today.
He also has run an online poker training site, PokerWit.com, but since online poker dried up he has been playing live games more, living the typical nomandic poker life -- except with a nice bankroll from online play.
His biggest live win was at the WSOP Pot-Limit Omaha in 2011, when he got a bracelet and $573,456. He led the main event in 2009, before finishing 226th.
Since going to the November Nine format in 2008, David "Chino" Rheem, Kevin Schaffel, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi and Bob Bounhara -- all with some kind of South Florida connection, have earned a spot in the final table. None have won, nor have any even reached the final three.
Get more info at WSOP.com. Photo by Jayne Furman/WSOP.
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