It was a day of ups and downs for Daniel Strelitz, but the California native managed to emerge as the winner of the L.A. Poker Classic on Thursday.

Strelitz, a 27-year-old poker pro from Torrance, defeated Simeon Naydenov in a heads-up duel to earn $1,001,110 and his first World Poker Tour title.

The $10,000 buy-in tournament began on February 25 with a field of 521, building a prize pool of over $5 million. The top 66 players would finish in the money. Past WPT champions to record a cash were Brian Altman (66th), Mohsin Charania (41st), defending LAPC champion Dietrich Fast (31st), Gavin Griffin (30th), Nam Le (27th), and James Calderaro (9th).

The final table began with Strelitz holding more than double the amount of chips as his nearest opponent. The chip counts at the start of play were:

  1. Daniel Strelitz- 6,485,000
  2. Simeon Naydenov- 2,860,000
  3. Jesse Martin- 2,540,000
  4. Jared Griener- 1,895,000
  5. Mike Sexton- 1,165,000
  6. Richard Tuhrim- 680,000

It didn’t take long for Strelitz to build on his chip lead and collect the first knockout of the day. On the seventh hand of the final table Richard Tuhrim three-bet shoved from the big blind with As-7s and Strelitz called from the button with Kc-Qc. Tuhrim’s hand held up until the river, when a king hit to give Strelitz the pot and send Tuhrim home in sixth place for $191,490.

Jesse Martin, a cash game pro originally from Massachusetts but now living in California, managed to climb to second on the leaderboard before hitting a major hurdle. He shoved from the small blind with a covering stack against Jared Griener, who called with Ac-Qh which was ahead of Martin’s Jh-9d. Griener flopped trip aces to secure the pot and the double-up, sending Martin plummeting down the chip counts to the short stack.

Strelitz, meanwhile, continued with his relentless pressure to consistently build his stack. By hand #45 he controlled more than half the chips in play and crossed the eight-million chip mark by hand #51. WPT commentator Mike Sexton was looking for his second WPT title of the season, but needed a little luck to avoid elimination. He shoved for 750,000 with Ah-6h and Strelitz called with Ac-10s. The board paired threes with two overcards, however, and Sexton and Strelitz split the pot. On hand #65 it was Martin who found himself all-in, needing help with Qh-6c against the pocket eights of Griener. The board didn’t provide any, and Martin was eliminated in fifth place, collecting $230,380.

Sexton’s luck would run out on hand #78. He found pocket kings on the button and pushed all-in for 670,000, and Strelitz called with Ad-7s. Strelitz was looking for an ace and found not one but two, hitting a full house on a board of Ac-Js-7c-9c-As. Sexton was denied a second title and was sent home in fourth place for a payday of $300,690.

At the start of three-handed play Strelitz maintained the chip lead he had held all day, with 8,350,000 to 3,885,000 for Naydenov and 3,390,000 for Griener. He continued his domination of the table and reached nearly ten million chips before finally encountering some adversity. On hand #103 he raised from the small blind with Ad-4d, then four-bet shoved after Naydenov put in a reraise. Naydenov snap-called the raise with pocket sevens, which held up to give the Bulgarian pro a double-up and allow him to close the gap on Strelitz. Naydenov continued his momentum from there, capturing the chip lead from Strelitz for the first time all day on hand #107. The two would exchange the chip lead several times before Strelitz managed to once again separate from the pack, at one point winning six hands in a row to increase his stack to 8.5 million. On hand #143, however, it was Naydenov who collected a knockout and captured the chip lead entering heads-up. After Griener pushed all-in for 1.7 million with Ad-Qd, Naydenov called with 8s-8h. Griener hit an ace on the flop, but an eight also hit giving Naydenov a set. Griener was eliminated in third place, good for a payout of $431,340.

Entering heads-up, Naydenov held a chip lead over Strelitz of 8,475,000 to 7,150,000. On just the second hand, however, Strelitz would take a huge pot to jump back into the lead. On a board of Qh-Qd-5s-3s-Ad, Naydenov held Js-8s for a flush but Strelitz had turned a full house with pocket threes. After winning the 4.6 million chip pot, Strelitz opened up a lead over Naydenov of 3.5 million. Naydenov closed the gap significantly on hand #160, winning a four million chip pot after calling a bet of 1.6 million on the turn then shoving the river and forcing Strelitz to fold. Strelitz built his stack up once more to nearly ten million on hand #165, this time forcing Naydenov to fold to a river all-in shove. Strelitz would never look back from there. On hand #183 he opened for a button raise with 5h-4s and Naydenov called with Kc-Qd. The flop came Qs-7c-6s, giving Naydenov top pair and Strelitz an open-ended straight draw. Strelitz continued for 325,000 and Naydenov raised to 975,000, which Strelitz called. The turn came the 8h, completing Strelitz’s straight draw. This time he bet 1,350,000 before Naydenov moved all-in for 3.8 million. Strelitz snap-called and had Naydenov drawing dead.

Strelitz came into the tournament with more than $1.6 million in live tournament winnings, but had never managed to win a major title. His win at the LAPC is his largest tournament cash to date. Naydenov, second on Bulgaria’s all-time money list, collected $672,190 for his second place finish. It was also his largest tournament cash, surpassing the amount he earned for winning a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2013.

The relentless aggression displayed by Strelitz was essential to his control of the table. Before heads-up play he had opened the pot 45% of the time (compared to 18% for Griener and 14% for Naydenov) and had won 42% of the hands played. That aggression allowed him to remain at the top of the leaderboard for several days. After ending day two fourth in chips, Strelitz captured the chip lead on day three and never looked back, ending days three, four and five with the chip lead. By the end of day six, he held all the chips in play.

The WPT returns on March 6 with the start of the Bay 101 Shooting Star in San Jose, California.

Final Results:

  1. Daniel Strelitz- $1,001,110
  2. Simeon Naydenov- $672,190
  3. Jared Griener- $431,340
  4. Mike Sexton- $300,690
  5. Jesse Martin- $230,380
  6. Richard Tuhrim- $191,490
  1. Matt Berkey- $161,320
  2. Joe Serock- $128,650
  3. James Calderaro- $96,640
  4. John Cynn- $80,280
  5. Dzmitry Urbanovich- $80,280
  6. William Vo- $80,280
  7. Allan Le- $64,130
  8. Matt Schultz- $64,130
  9. Donald Maloney- $64,130
  10. Visnja Luetic- $53,760
  11. Dean Baranowski- $53,760
  12. Rainer Kempe- $53,760
  13. Bart Hanson- $45,380
  14. Sameer Aljanedi- $45,380
  15. Richard Rice- $45,380
  16. Omar Zazay- $37,950
  17. Mike Eskandari- $37,950
  18. Danny Fuhs- $37,950
  19. John Conkright- $32,610
  20. Dien Nguyen- $32,610
  21. Nam Le- $32,610
  22. Garrett Greer- $27,780
  23. Evan Krentzman- $27,780
  24. Gavin Griffin- $27,780
  25. Dietrich Fast- $27,780
  26. Bryce Yockey- $27,780
  27. Igor Yaroshevskyy- $27,780
  28. Nick Maimone- $27,780
  29. Daniel Barriocanal- $27,780
  30. Jake Abdalla- $27,780
  31. Sam Phillips- $23,990
  32. Andrew Seidman- $23,990
  33. Osmin Dardon- $23,990
  34. Seth Berger- $23,990
  35. Mohsin Charania- $23,990
  36. Ke Kwon Lau- $23,990
  37. Jimmy Guerrero- $23,990
  38. Doron Bitton- $23,990
  39. Haoxin Tong- $23,990
  40. Suk Lee- $20,300
  41. Jon Borenstein- $20,300
  42. Ismael Bojang- $20,300
  43. Ted Gillis- $20,300
  44. Clint Keown- $20,300
  45. Behzad Teranie- $20,300
  46. Lucas Blanco Oliver- $20,300
  47. Ramzi Srour- $20,300
  48. Aaron Massey- $20,300
  49. Peter Nguyen- $17,150
  50. Tim Reilly- $17,150
  51. James Maxey- $17,150
  52. Richard Foster- $17,150
  53. Jon Cohen- $17,150
  54. Richard Sciato- $17,150
  55. Maria Ho- $17,150
  56. Michael Kamran- $17,150
  57. Anton Astapau- $17,150
  58. Jae Hwang- $14,160
  59. Nathan Bjerno- $14,160
  60. Brian Altman- $4,720
  61. Grayson Ramage- $4,720
  62. Derek Gregory- $4,720