It may not have the biggest prize pool or the toughest field of the year, but poker players and fans alike always look forward to the annual World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational which boasts a star-studded field of famous pros and Hollywood celebrities. In the end, popular Lebanese pro Freddy Deeb defeated actor Nick Gonzalez to take the title and the $100,000 prize.
The 433-person field included a number of recognizable actors and musicians playing amongst the big names of poker at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, California. In addition to some of the celebrity “regulars” in the poker community like Shannon Elizabeth, Don Cheadle, Brad Garrett and Lakers owner Jerry Buss, a number of other celebrities showed up to join in the fun, including “American Idol’s” William Hung, Ricki Lake, Good Charlotte frontman Benji Madden, Marlon Wayans and “Rounders” star Matt Damon. The poker community turned out for the event as well with pros like Barry Greenstein, Gavin Smith, John “The Razor” Phan and Erik Seidel also vying for the title.
As per usual, the first night of play felt more like a party than a poker tournament with an open bar and lots of table talk between the celebrities and the pros. Actor and “ER” star Mekhi Phifer pulled double duty early on, both playing in the event and serving as the event’s emcee for the first few hours of play. Phifer teamed up with the WPT to add a charitable bent to the tournament. Players were allowed to rebuy in exchange for a $200 donation to the Vine Group. Phifer works closely with the Vine Group, which is a non-profit organization that provides educational materials to schools in Africa. By the end of the event, a grand total of $77,000 was raised for the charity.
Apparently Phifer’s hosting duties didn’t interfere with his card playing, as he made a deep run in the event before eventually finishing in 13th place. Unfortunately for Phifer, 13th paid as much as 433rd in the freeroll event and only the final six players made the money and the televised final table.
One celebrity player, Gonzalez, managed to survive through two days of play and make it to the final table. Gonzalez is best known for his roles on television shows like “Resurrection Blvd” and “The O.C.”, but he is used to the poker spotlight as well. Back in 2007, Gonzalez was the only celebrity to make the final table of ESPN’s Pro-Am Equalizer event. Joining Gonzalez at Monday’s final table were Jose Tavares, Ottavio Tassone, Asian Poker Tour co-founder Tom Hall, WPT bracelet winner Scott “BigRiskky” Clements and former WSOP $50K HORSE Champion Freddy Deeb.
It only took seven hands at the final table before Tavares, a regular cash grinder at the Commerce, was eliminated in 6th place. Tassone was the next to go a few hands later at the hands of Clements. Hall and Clements traded the chip lead back and forth until Clements doubled up both Deeb and Gonzalez and found himself on the short stack and then out in 4th place. Deeb vaulted into the chip lead after picking off a big bluff from Hall, who finished in 3rd place.
A severely short-stacked Gonzalez jokingly attempted broker a deal with Deeb at the beginning of heads-up play, but the best Deeb would offer was that he would take first and Gonzalez could have second. The showdown between the duo only lasted one hand as Deeb’s pocket eights held up against Gonzalez’s A-6 to take the pot and the title.
The complete results from the final table are as follows:
1st:  Freddy Deeb  –  $100,000
2nd:  Nick Gonzalez  –  $50,000
3rd:  Tom Hall  –  $20,000
4th:  Scott “BigRiskky” Clements  –  $15,000
5th:  Ottavio Tassone  –  $10,000
6th:  Jose ”J.J.” Tavares  –  $5,000

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