The World Poker Tour Player of the Year race came down to the wire, but in the end, Benjamin Zamani held off a few challengers who were drawing live in the last couple of events at Seminole Hard Rock to take the title.
For the win, Zamani received a special, custom-made Hublot watch valued at over $20,000, and he'll also be given complimentary accommodation for any WPT events he wishes to attend for Season 16.
Here's a look at all of Zamani's results on the WPT this season:
|Event||Zamani Placing||Money Won|
|WPT Legends of Poker||2nd||$341,412|
|WPT Maryland Live!||5th||$85,429|
|WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown||101st||$7,541|
Zamani stormed out of the gate. In the very first event of the season on American soil, WPT Choctaw, Zamani navigated to the very end of a field of 1,066 runners. He was unable to topple James Mackey in the heads-up match and took home over $400,000 as a consolation prize.
He repeated the second-place finish just a month later at WPT Legends of Poker, this time falling to Pat Lyons after going into the heads-up match down more than 2-1 in chips and nursing just 25 big blinds.
That made for two top-two finishes in two events for Zamani, and he'd pile up more points over a month later in the fourth U.S. event of the season, WPT Maryland Live!. There, he once again advanced to the official final table, this time finishing fifth.
After that, Zamani went into a dry spell. He did not cash in any WPT Main Events for six months. His lead was so massive, however, that it looked like a foregone conclusion that he would take down POY honors.
Sam Panzica, though, had other ideas. He claimed two WPT titles, winning WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble and WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star for a combined $1.7 million in prize money. Suddenly, Zamani's lead had shrunk to a mere 50 points, or a single min-cash in a WPT event. A tie would mean a Panzica victory since the tiebreaker goes to the player with most total money won.
After neither player cashed the final event of the California swing, it came down to the season-ending duo of open events at Seminole Hard Rock. Zamani placed 101st in WPT $3,500 Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown to break out of his WPT slump and get back on the board. Although he only scored 50 points, that now meant Panzica would have to finish 18th or better in the WPT $10,000 Seminole Hard Rock Poker Finale to pass Zamani, assuming Zamani himself didn't score any more points.
Zamani said he won't soon forget the way he squeaked into the money.
"I know Sam Panzica was one min-cash away from catching me," Zamani said to PokerNews after accepting his prized watch during the WPT Tournament of Champions final table. "In the $3,500, I got in ace-king to aces and won to min-cash myself, so I'm gonna remember that."
The pressure was on for Panzica, but far from crumbling, he made Zamani sweat. He advanced into the money of the 349-player $10K and needed to outlast less than 30 players in order to claim the crown. Nursing a short stack under 10 big blinds, he needed to find a double, though. He got it in there with and found himself dominated by the of Josh Kay.
When Panzica could not improve, the biggest threat was out of the way. All Zamani had to fade was Lyons winning the event, and when "World Famous" busted in 23rd, Zamani locked up POY honors.
Add it to the list of accomplishments in what's been a very impressive tournament poker career. Long known as a strong online player, where he competed under the moniker "xthesteinx," Zamani has piled up over $3.7 million in live cashes and claimed a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2015.
When asked what motivates him to continue grinding, though, he cited neither those awards nor the money he has won.
"It's just fun to be able to play a game for a living and travel to different places," he said. "I think that's the main thing."
Here's a look at the full list of WPT Player of the Year winners:
|Season||Player of the Year|
Photos courtesy of WPT