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by Max Shapiro

BEN AFFLECK WINS 10K CAL STATE CHAMPIONSHIP A new chapter in poker history was written tonight at Commerce Casino when, for the first time, a major open tournament was won by a film celebrity. Playing a very strong game, relaxed and obviously enjoying himself immensely, actor Ben Affleck took down the championship event of 2004 California State Poker Championship, $9,900+$100 no-limit hold'em, winning $356,400 and a $25,000 seat in next April's Bellagio/WPT championship event.

His final opponent was journeyman pro Stan Goldstein. Finishing third was another show business figure, film/TV producer Chuck Pacheco, who finished 41st in this year's WSOP championship. Between them, Affleck and Pacheco (and sweater Toby Maguire) attracted probably the largest entourage for any poker tournament.

In a brief speech, Affleck said he got lucky and complimented Goldstein as a great player. Afterwards, he said he was also pleased that he didn't win by just sucking out and showed he wasn't a "complete donkey." He indeed had the best hands when he knocked out Pacheco (5-5 vs. Ac-Qc) and Goldstein (J-J vs. Ad-10d).

BEN AFFLECK Affleck is an avid student of the game who paid tribute to such players as Annie Duke, Antonio Esfandiari, Allen Cunningham and Gabe Kaplan for tutoring him. He said he also learned something tonight from Goldstein, who once outplayed him and forced him to fold when they both held the same hand: K-J. Affleck plays mainly side games, preferring $25-$50 blind no-limit.

Tonight's championship final table provided plenty of drama, with the lead changing hands many times.

After starting with 90 players on day one and 38 on day two, the championship event got down to the final table of nine with Stan Goldstein holding the chip lead with $235,500 and Ty Nguyen close behind with $218,800. Play continued with blinds of $1,000-$2,000, antes of $300 and 42:21 left. On the first hand, shortest-stack Raymond Davis went all in with A-K to Goldstein's pocket 8s. A river 10c gave Davis a miracle straight, the same lucky river card that paired and saved him from finishing 10th the night before.

Amir Vahedi dropped more than 50k two hands later when his A-K lost to Pacheco's J-J. Down to 20k, he busted out on the next hand. He re-raised all in with As-10s and Ty Nguyen, with K-K, flopped quads.

When blinds went to $1,500-$3,000 with $500 antes, Nguyen, a young pro, had taken the lead with about 255k. On hand 23, John Esposito, a pro sports bettor who has a 1999 World Series bracelet for $2,500 limit hold'em, moved in when a flop of 8-5-2 gave him a set of 5s. Pogos Simityan called for 25k with 9-9 and finished eighth.

Davis moved in for the fifth and last time, this time with the lucky 10c (Kc-10c) in his hand. He wasn't so lucky when he ran into Affleck's pocket aces and finished seventh. On hand 67, a major pot gave Affleck the lead for the first of several times. A flop of Q-7-6 gave him a set of 7s. He bet 20k, Nguyen, with A-Q, hit it for 30k more. Affleck moved in for 64.5k and suddenly had about 230k after Nguyen called and lost.

1. Ben Affleck: $356,400
Santa Monica, CA
2. Stan Goldstein: $204,930
Los Angeles, CA
3. Chuck Pacheco: $106,920
Los Angeles, CA
4. Jimmy Tran: $62,370
Las Vegas, NV
5. John Esposito: $49,005
Las Vegas, NV
6. Ty Nguyen: $40,095
Winnipeg, Canada
7. Raymond Davis: $31,185
Bell Gardens, CA
8. Pogos Simityan: $22,275
Glendale, CA
9. Amir Vahedi: $17,820 Sherman Oaks, CA
Affleck was wearing a cap and shirt with "big slick" logos. When asked, he said someone gave it to him. "Rich movie stars get everything free," Pacheco cracked.

When blinds went to $2,000-$4,000, the approximate chip count was: Affleck, 245k; Jimmy Tran, 215k; Pacheco, 150k; Esposito, 135k; Goldstein, 80k; Nguyen, 70k.

Nguyen, dropping steadily from his one-time chip lead, was down to about 42k when he called Esposito's re-raise and went all in. He had K-J to Esposito's A-Q and busted out. Goldstein, with pocket treys, said he knew Esposito had a good read on Nguyen and would have come over the top to get heads-up, but didn't have enough chips to do so.

By the 7 p.m. dinner break, Tran had taken the lead from Affleck, but all five players had plenty of chips. Then Esposito made a small trap raise of 15k. with pocket aces. Pacheco re-raised with pocket 10s and Esposito gladly called all in with A-A. But a 10 flopped, Esposito finished fifth and now Pacheco had the lead with about 330k.

Suddenly action heated up as players began catching cards. On hand 130, with $1,000 antes and $3,000-$6,000 blinds, Goldstein raised to 34k with K-Q and Tran moved in with Q-Q for about 80k. Goldstein got lucky when a king flopped, and the field was down to three. Pacheco had 355k to 325 for Goldstein and 220k for Affleck.

The affable actor/writer/producer/director then put a big hit on Pacheco when his J-J held up against A-K. He led again with about 325k, then won the next pot and had close to 400k. Then Goldstein re-took the lead with two pair against Pacheco. Finally, Pacheco moved in with Ac-Qc. "Gotta call you," said Affleck. His 5-5 held up, Pacheco was out and Affleck once again led, this time with 512k to 388k for Goldstein.

"I like it that you're showing respect," Affleck jested as heads-up play continued. "I was afraid you thought you could just take it from me." "You've got respect," Goldstein assured him.

Respect turned to submission on the last hand when Affleck bet 30k into a flop of 10-6-3, Goldstein raised 30k with Ad-10d and Affleck moved him in holding pocket jacks. An 8 and 4 came, and the young matinee idol was the 2004 Cal State champion.

-Max Shapiro

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