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Beauty and the Beast – Avner “Pappa” Levy Defeats  Maria Stern in Classic Stud Showdown:  Combustible former tennis pro wins second JBWPO bracelet
by Nolan Dalla

Seeing Avner Levy win a poker tournament is a lot like watching a toilet overflow.  It’s shocking, baffling, horrifying.  But, once your eyes are locked on to the reality that there’s about to be utter chaos all around, you can’t take your eyes off the spectacle.  It thus becomes fascinating.

The car crash that has been 49-year-old’s life – most of it spent on highly-confrontational, pressure-filled tennis courts and jam-packed poker tables – slammed into the 2005 Jack Binion World Poker Open, with Levy in the drivers seat.  He raced through a tough field of 244 players and crossed the finish line, earning his second gold and diamond bracelet.  In 2003, Levy won bracelet number one – in the $500 No-Limit Hold’em event.  At times, he made it look easy.

After playing for 12 hours during the previous day, the eight finalists took their seats at the final table on Day Two.  Players were eliminated in the following order:

8th PlaceBrian Taylor was lowest in chips, with just 6,000, and started off at the 3K-6K betting level.  The restaurant owner from Georgia failed to win that critical first hand and busted out in 8th place, worth $3,550 in cash.

7th PlaceRandy Lowery, an electrical contractor, was dealt split Aces but was shocked to see Avner Levy dealt split Aces as well, then catch a second pair.  The lone Aces were no good.  Lowery was making his first final table at the JBWPO.  He collected $4,734 for 7th place.

6th PlaceMickey Sisskind, a Detroit attorney and longtime poker semi-pro, also lost with a pair of Aces – this time to Maria Stern’s two pair.  Sisskind won the Seven-Card Razz event at the 1995 World Series of Poker, but could do no better than 6th place in this event.  Considering that he was lowest in chips at the start of the day with just 5,500, some might say that was an accomplishment.  Sisskind added $5,917 to his poker bankroll.

5th PlaceMike Purdy, a security consultant from Chesapeake, VA looked to be in a good spot to make a run, but missed a diamond draw on his final hand, losing the big pot.  Amazingly, his four diamonds showing failed to scare away hyper-aggressive Levy.  Purdy ended up with a pair of Sevens and lost to Levy’s pair of Kings.  Purdy invested just $80 to get his seat, won a single-table satellite, and received $7,692 as the 5th-place finisher.

4th Place Dan Smith might have challenged for the chip lead had a few cards fallen differently.  On his most critical hand, he missed a spade draw and lost to Maria Stern’s trip Threes.  That put Smith out in 4th place.  Smith, a home builder from Indiana, nailed down $9,183 in prize money.

3rd PlaceMichael Bernstein, a professional poker player who mostly plays live action from Cherry Hill, NJ started the final table with the chip lead.  By the time play became three-handed, the betting limits were so high that just one or two hands played to conclusion was enough to determine who would finish 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.  On his final hand of the night, Bernstein bet out with two pair on seventh-street, and lost when Levy spiked two pair (Aces up) on last card.  Bernstein, age 25, was the youngest player at the final table.  He collected $12,626 for a bittersweet 3rd-place finish.

The only thing that was similar about the two finalists was that they are both well-known tournament players.  However, they are known for two very different and distinct reasons.  Maria Stern, who won the Seven-Card Stud event at the 1997 World Series of Poker (and wife of Dr. Max Stern, also a gold bracelet winner), is widely treasured for her grace and style.  For many years, Stern has embellished the green felt with her charm and perseverance as a tournament player.

Avner Levy, on the other hand, has always been a controversial figure in the poker world.  Combative, bombastic, eccentric, insane, intimidating, combustible, annoying, manipulative – all have been adjectives used to describe the former tennis pro.  While Levy has mellowed a bit in the last year, he still stands out in any poker room like a malfunctioning fire alarm.  If you don’t see Levy, you are almost certain to hear him.  His trademark phrase “Come to Pappa!” screamed at the top of his lungs when he wins a big pot, often turns heads and infuriates foes.

Stern began the heads-up duel with a slight 6 to 5 chip lead.  Early on, Levy was the aggressor, aided by powerful ‘scare’ cards.  After a dozen hands, Levy had seized a 2 to 1 chip advantage.  Stern got most of those chips back when she made trip Deuces on one key hand, but ten minutes later -- Levy made a higher two-pair and regained the 2 to 1 chip lead.

The heartbreaker for Stern came when she had a number of scare cards on board, and ended up with only a pair of Tens.  Fearful that her hand was not strong enough, she bet out on a bluff, hoping to take down the big pot.  Levy, with a vulnerable pair of Queens, made a crying call and screamed “Come to Pappa!” when he saw his Queens were best.  

Then, it came.  The final hand showed Stern with (A-10) 2-2-9-7 (Q) against Levy’s (10-7) 4-4-K-K (8).  Levy ‘King’s up’ was the winner.  Stern was visibly disappointed with her finish, and collected $20,662. 

Afterward, Levy was emotional and deeply introspective – just what one would expect from “Pappa.”

“My life has completely changed,” Levy said afterward.  “I have my girlfriend here and want to show the world that I am a changed person.  I have been broke for a long time, but I met the best woman of my life.”

Levy also noted that he learned a lot about poker and winning poker tournaments from fellow tournament pros, such as Marsha Waggoner, T.J. Cloutier, and Men “The Master Nguyen.”  Levy added that he wanted to dedicate this victory to his good friend, poker pro John Bonetti, who is very ill and is unlikely to attend the tournament this year.  When asked about the significance of winning a second gold bracelet versus the first, Levy was typically straightforward about what it means.

“I will not let anyone take my image away from me,” he said.  “This bracelet is more important than money.  It shows people I am a poker champion.  Now, I own it.  I’ll own it forever.”

Indeed, Avner Levy is a poker champion – and a quagmire.  He’s irritated hundreds, if not thousands of his fellow players, dealers, and tournament directors over the years with his outlandish antics.  Yet, he’s also hosted tennis camps for handicapped children and given selflessly to good causes.  There is a softer, more vulnerable side to Avner Levy the poker world never sees – a man with compassion and conviction. 

Will the real Avner Levy please stand up?




2005 Jack Binion World Poker Open Event #5 Winners

Presented by Horseshoe Casino Hotel and

Gold Strike Casino-Resort, Tunica, MS

Daily Report

January 11, 2005

Event #5 Results

Seven-Card Stud

Buy-In: $500

Number of Entries: 244 

Prize Money: $115,463


Official Results:

1.  Avner “Pappa” Levy         Boca Raton, FL            $37,308 ** plus seat in the $10,000 buy-in main event

2.  Maria Stern                       Las Vegas, NV             $20,662

3.  Michel Bernstein              Cherry Hill, NJ             $12,626

4.  Dan Smith                         Corydon, IN                  $9,138

5.  Mike Purdy                       Chesapeake, VA           $7,692    

6.  Mickey Sisskind                Detroit, MI          $4,734

7.  Randy Lowery                   Macon, GA                  $4,734

8.  Brian Taylor                      Macon, GA                   $3,550

9.   David Rabbi                    
 Las Vegas, NV             $2,130

10. James R. Beetz                Houston, TX                 $2,130

11. David Vacuum” Tobin   
Prairie DuChien, WI      $1,893

12. Terry Renwick                
New Palistine, IN         $1,893

13. Clare Villemez               
Las Cruces, NM           $1,657

14. George Privitera              Cheektowaga, NY        $1,657

15. Stephen Morgan               New Albany, IN            $1,420

16. Jim Payton                       Camby, IN                     $1,420  

Final Table Started at: 4:00 pm CST

Final Table Ended at: 7:15 pm CST


Report by Nolan Dalla – JBWPO Media Director


Tournament Director – David Eglseder

Co-Tournament Director (Horseshoe) – Ken Lambert, Jr.

Co-Tournament Director (Gold Strike) – Robert McGovern

click for Schedule of Events
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