David “Chino” Rheem defeated Darren Elias on Sunday in the finals of the inaugural PokerGO Tour Heads-Up Showdown at the Aria in Las Vegas. Rheem’s triumph in the 32-player event was worth $400,000, while Elias, the runner-up, collected a $250,000 payday.
Isaac Kempton and Justin Young also reached the semifinals and earned $125,000 each for their performances in an event that offered plenty of drama along the way, including an opening-round meltdown by Phil Hellmuth in an obscenity-laden exchange with Eric Persson.
Rheem, a three-time WPT champion but also a player with a troubled past, took down another important career victory by sweeping through five straight opponents. He began his run by eliminating Nick Schulman in the opening round, then went on to defeat Jeremy Ausmus, Bill Klein, and Kempton before matching up against Elias in the finals.
Pennsylvania’s Elias, who was one of the pre-event favorites, defeated Landon Tice, Erik Seidel, Daniel Negreanu, and Young before finally coming up short against Rheem.
Following his win, Rheem told PokerGO’s Donnie Peters that he’s been playing poker sober for the first time in his career. “I’m feeling good,” Rheem told Peters. “It’s a really good feeling. Honestly, it’s just a privilege and an honor to play in these events, especially given where I was at less than a year ago. I’m really grateful. It just feels good to be able to come and play and actually win.”
Rheem, who first gained fame by making the final table in the 2007 WSOP Main Event, later experienced widespread disdain from several other pros who had backed him and claimed that Rheem never fully repaid them after scoring large wins, or used the backing money for other purposes, such as other casino gambling. The exact extent of the debts others claim he owes remains uncertain.
Rheem enters the poker record books as the first-ever winner of the PokerGO Tour showdown, which employed a format reminiscent of the old 64-player NBC Heads-Up Championship, which was discontinued in 2013. Other series have used the format as well, including both the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour. Such heads-up events boast fields consisting of elite pros, heads-up specialists, and the occasional wealthy businessman or celebrity who enjoys the high-profile competition.
Featured image source: PokerGO / Antonio Abrego