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Two longtime friends from Miami make the most of the WSOP Colossus

2 Jun 2015

By Aaron Todd
LAS VEGAS — When Mike Elbilia decided to come to the World Series of Poker, he was hoping to watch his friend Juan Endara make a deep run in the $565 Colossus event. Little did he know he'd be making a deep run of his own.

The two have been friends for nearly 25 years, meeting during their freshman year at the University of Miami. They play in a monthly home game together, though Elbilia admits that his friend is a more accomplished player than he is.

Endara has $36,753 in career tournament earnings, all in events with buy-ins of under $600. He has made four final tables, and also has experience battling against huge fields, finishing 69th in the 2012 WPT Borgata Poker Open $560 re-entry event that drew 3,705 entries.

Elbilia, on the other hand, came to Las Vegas with exactly $0 in career tournament earnings.

"I was here to watch him, so I just decided to enter," said Elbilia.

"It's a good get-your-feet-wet kind of tournament," said Endara, who played in three flights of the event but failed to advance to Day 2.

Elbilia ponders whether or not he should call with pocket 10s.

Elbilia ponders whether or not he should call with pocket 10s. (photo by Aaron Todd)

Elbilia didn't just get his feet wet — he dove right in. The 41-year-old realtor from Miami finished 46th out of 22,374 to win $19,566. Elbilia stayed within himself throughout the entire tournament, using a tight style to avoid putting himself in tricky situations. During the fifth level of the day, he folded every hand except one, calling the table short stack's all-in bet with pocket jacks, which held against his opponent's ace-5. At one point, he folded 19 consecutive hands.

"Sometimes people sit down at your table with like 2 million chips and next thing you know, they're eliminated," said Elbilia. "You have to be patient. You have more time than you think. If you're really good you can play a lot of hands, but for me, I'm still learning."

Some of that learning includes procedural aspects of the game most tournament veterans take for granted. Elbilia rarely stacks his chips in piles of 20, and he often wasn't sure exactly how big his chip stack was. When he made it to Day 2 of the tournament, he had trouble opening his bag to get his chips out, but didn't want to ask anyone for help because he didn't want them to know that he had never made it to Day 2 of a tournament before.

But don't mistake Elbilia's rookie status for an inability to work through complex poker situations. On at least three occasions on Day 3, he showcased some advanced poker thinking.

With a board reading 9-7-3 rainbow and holding pocket 10s, Elbilia's opponent in the hand overbet the pot, and Elbilia would be risking his tournament life if he opted to call.

"I started to wonder why he made such a big bet," said Elbilia. "He wouldn't do that with aces or kings, and if he had a set, it didn't make sense to bet like that. The only hand I thought he might play like that that had me beat was pocket jacks."

Elbilia opted to call and his opponent turned over pocket eights. His hand held up and he doubled up.

"This is f***ing awesome," said Endara, who spent the day watching his friend from the rail. "I'm getting goosebumps. This is amazing."

Later, after the dinner break, Elbilia was nursing a stack of about 15 big blinds when he made a squeeze play from the button holding ace-six suited. He induced a fold from the original aggressor, but was called by a player in the cutoff who held ace-queen.

While he did end up facing a better hand, given how aggressively the players at his table were playing, he probably would induce folds from his opponents a high percentage of the time, especially given his tight image. As it stood, Elbilia was awarded for his aggression, hitting a six on the turn to double up and survive.

"It's nice to get lucky a few times," Elbilia said.

Later he had a memorable hand with Brad McFarland, calling McFarland's raise from the big blind. He check-called a bet of 100,000 on an ace-king-10 flop, and check-called 165,000 when the seven of diamonds arrived, making a runner-runner flush a possibility. The nine of diamonds landed on the river and Elbilia shoved all-in, getting McFarland to lay the hand down.

"He folded because of the suit," Elbilia said, joking about the suit coat he wore at the table. "I knew I had him beat on the flop. I know he likes to bet, so I let him bet."

Eventually, however, the blinds and antes chipped away at Elbilia's stack and he pushed all-in with queen-jack from the cutoff, only to be called when the button woke up with pocket kings.

Despite the exit near the end of Day 3, Elbilia walked away quite satisfied with his experience, though he tried to downplay the enormity of what he had just done.

"It's not like it's me versus 23,000 people," he said. "I won (more than) $19,000 — that's a lot of money."

Elbilia and Endara have a few more days to enjoy themselves in Las Vegas, and Elbilia's wife is arriving in Las Vegas later this week. As for Endara, he didn't end up going home empty handed: the duo pledged to refund each other's buy-ins if they won more than $5,000, and since Elbilia won more than $15,000, Endara is getting a full refund for all three flights.

It's no wonder they've been friends for almost 25 years.
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