Ace on the river ends World Poker Champion run for Batavia native

Ron “Tigar” Penepent has been to Las Vegas a few times. But on this trip, he had the time of his life even if he didn’t win a portion of the more than $15 million pot up for grabs in the 2022 World Poker Tour World Championship.

The Batavia native won his $10,400 buy-in to the tournament and was hoping to make a deep run, but on the third day of play, he got beat by an ace on the river.  Worse, he was the one holding a pair of aces.

“This has been an unbelievable experience,” Penepent said. “It was a bucket list item of mine to play in a big-stakes tournament.”

A love of poker runs in the Penepent family.  His father used to host regular games after hours at Ron’s Shell at Main and Oak in Batavia.

“It was my father, my uncles, a bunch of good friends,” Penepent said.

Penepent joined the World Poker Tour site 20 years ago, and he told his father that he would play in a big tournament one day.

Unfortunately, the elder Penepent passed away a couple of years ago so he didn’t get to see “Tigar” (his nickname since he was a child) sit down at a WPT hold-em table.

About a dozen family members did travel to Vegas to support Penepent during the tournament.  They’ve all been having a good time, he said, and now he’s out of the tournament, he and his wife Patty are going to have some fun, too.

They think they will go to the shop where the TV series “Counting Cars” is filmed, as well as the bar, Vamp’d, owned by the show’s star, as well as the Pawn Stars pawn shop.

As for that final hand, Penepent, who now lives just outside of Chattanooga, Tenn., isn’t calling it a bad beat or even a misplayed hand.

He was on the button (the last position to bet on hand) with blinds of $1,500/$3,000.  His stack was $175,000 to $200,000, about midsize at his table.  To his left is an aggressive player who is by far the chip leader at Penepent’s table.  

When the bet gets to him, and there’s been no raises, Penepent looks down at pocket aces and decides to double the blind, making the bet $6,000.  

The chip leader calls and a guy on Penepent’s right calls.

The flop comes jack, 10, seven.  

Player to the right checks, hero checks, chip leader bets $12,000.  

The guy on the right calls. The hero goes all-in.

Chip leader calls.  The guy on the right calls.

Cards up.  Chip leader hit two pair, jack and 10s.  The guy on the right has an open-ended straight draw with a suited king and a queen (meaning either an ace or a nine gives him a straight).

If a jack or a 10 comes on the turn, or the river, the chip leader has a full house.  The only card that can help the straight draw in an ace.

The turn is a deuce.  Our hero’s outs are now one of the three remaining deuces or one of the three remaining sevens. Otherwise, he loses and is out of the tournament.

Mr. straight draw spikes the ace on the river and rakes in a pot of some $500,000 to $600,000, and our hero is headed to the Strip to join the Vegas fun with his family.

“I played the hand the only way I could have played it,” Penepent said. “If I go all in from the start, the chip leader is going to call.”

He also figures he would have gotten a call from both players if he hadn’t check-raised and just gone all-in when it was his turn to bet after the flop.

“I decided to slow play the aces from the start, and I still think that was the best play,” Penepent said.

(The risk of playing pocket aces too aggressively is marginal hands fold, and you miss the opportunity to maximize the value of a strong starting hand. In this case, the marginal hands called — which is what you want — but those players were lucky enough to improve their hands with the community cards.)

Penepent does expect to be on TV when the championship is aired in five or six months.  He said he was interviewed.

He had a chance to meet one of the show’s stars, Vince Van Patten. 

“I talked with Vince Van Patten (about the hand), and he said if he were sitting in the same seat playing the same hand, he would have played it the same way, except maybe he would have made it $9,000 (before the flop).”

Even with the fairly early tournament bust, Penepent said he wants another crack at it. He plans to play in the same satellite tournament that won him this year’s seat again next year.

“I really enjoyed the experience,” Penepent said. “I don’t know if I’m going to get to enjoy it again, but I’m going to try.”

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