Farid Yachou Wins 2016 WPT Tournament of Champions

The times I have visited another country, I have been fortunate if I have had enough room in my luggage to bring back a few souvenirs. A carved wooden statue, a small banner of Vladimir Lenin pins I acquired by trading bubble gum (seriously), you know, the normal stuff. Farid Yachou will likely need to pay the fee for an extra checked back after his trip to the United States, as he won a bit more than a few trinkets for winning the inaugural World Poker Tour (WPT) Tournament of Champions.

The WPT Tournament of Champions, as you may recall, is the new season-ending tournament of the World Poker Tour, replacing the WPT World Championship. One of the givens in poker for a long time, apart from the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, was that the $25,000 WPT World Championship would finish off the WPT season at the Bellagio. Around 2009 and 2010, though, interest in the tournament dropped significantly. Attendance peaked in Season 5 (2007) when the event drew 639 players and created a total prize pool of $15,495,750. Carlos Mortensen, one of four three-time WPT title winners, took the top prize of nearly $4 million.

Attendance dropped by nearly 100 players the following year, but that might not have been cause for alarm, considering how great it was in 2007. In 2009, though, registrations fell to 338. It got even worse in 2010, with attendance dipping below 200. It got back above 200 the next year, but by 2013, fewer than 150 people played in the once-prestigious tournament.

The World Poker Tour decided to move the WPT World Championship across the country to the Borgata in Atlantic City and slash the buy-in to $15,000 in 2014. The combination of price and location seemed to help, as 328 signed up, but that was still a far cry from the tournament’s hey-day. The bump didn’t last, though – only 239 people played the following year.

Time to mix it up once again. This time, the change was even more drastic. The buy-in remained $15,000, but the tournament moved to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida and its name was changed to the WPT Tournament of Champions. This was not an empty name change, either; the tournament is now an invitational. Only those who have won a WPT title are permitted to enter. Those who won this season received a free entry, while all other qualifiers had to pay the $15,000 buy-in.

Farid Yachou - Winner of 2016 WPT Tournament of Champions Photo courtesy Joe Giron / WPT.com

Farid Yachou – Winner of 2016 WPT Tournament of Champions
Photo courtesy Joe Giron / WPT.com

Enter Farid Yachou. Yachou won his first and, at the time, only World Poker Tour title last year at WPT Amsterdam. I should add that it was also his only recorded live tournament cash on TheHendonMob.com before the WPT Tournament of Champions, so when he cashes, he does so with gusto. Two cashes, two wins? Not bad.

And because his WPT Amsterdam win was during Season XIV, his $15,000 buy-in to the WPT Tournament of Champions was on the house. That fifteen-large is one tremendous carrot to draw someone across an ocean when he would not otherwise want to do so. You see, Yachou is incredibly afraid of flying, one of the reasons he had never made the trip from his home in the Netherlands to the United States before. He has never played in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, never at the Bellagio, nothing in the States. But for a $15,000 buy-in and a chance to make poker history, he figured why not finally tackle the personal challenge?

Perhaps it was modesty, perhaps it was an honest evaluation of his skills, but Farid Yachou was not particularly confident that he would be able to win the WPT Tournament of Champions. “It’s something I cannot believe,” he said in his post-game interview. “I am seated with only champions. I said to myself, ‘I will be glad if I finish 30th.’ Then, day by day and hand by hand it came altogether, and everything came to me.”

And while the field was certainly tough, since everyone had won a WPT title before, it was not large at all. With just 64 players, it was by far the smallest field for a WPT season-ending event, even smaller than the first WPT Championship. Now, one would probably not expect the field to be huge; after all, there are a finite number of WPT tournament winners and not all of them were going to participate, but 64 is a very small number as far as major live poker events go. It is entirely possible that the WPT didn’t mind that, as it likely wants to have the WPT Tournament of Champions be an elite, prestigious event rather than another high buy-in tournament.

Yachou is going to return to Europe with much more than a few souvenirs. He took the $381,600 PLUS a Corvette from tournament sponsor Monster, a Hublot King Power Titanium watch, an Aurae Solid Gold Mastercard (that’s weird), and a custom table from BBO Poker Tables. He’ll also have to hop on a plane another time to take advantage of a couple other prizes: a seat in Tiger’s Poker Night and a golf outings with Matt Savage and two friends at Shadow Creek.

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