Romeo Mendoza Comes From Behind to Defeat A.J. Kelsall in the $2,200 High Roller

2020 WSOP Circuit – February
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Tampa, Florida – Event 8
$2,200 High Roller (Re-Entry)
$100,000 Guaranteed
Entries:  173
Prize Pool:  $346,000
February 12-13, 2020

Romeo Mendoza
Romeo Mendoza

When heads-up play began in Event 8 ($2,200 High Roller) between Romeo Mendoza and A.J. Kelsall, Mendoza was outchipped by more than 3.5-to-1. But an ace on the river reversed Kelsall’s momentum, and Mendoza held onto the lead after that and closed out the victory for his first WSOP Circuit ring.

“It means a lot,” said Mendoza, “especially because I won it here in my hometown. I’ve been playing at this casino since it opened.”

When the 10-handed final table began, Kelsall had a sizable lead with 132 big blinds, and it looked like he might coast to his first February 13th victory. (More on that later.) When there were four players left, Kelsall had almost as many chips as the other three players combined, and he had that 3.5-to-1 lead over Mendoza when heads-up play began.

Then there was the river card that changed everything.

Kelsall check-shoved the turn on a board of Qh10s9d6c, and Mendoza tanked for a long time before he called with AsAd for an overpair. But Kelsall turned over Qd6s for two pair, and Kelsall was one card away from his first February 13th victory. (Don’t worry, that’ll make sense soon.)

But the river card was the Ah, giving Mendoza a set to win the pot and double into a 3-to-2 chip lead. Mendoza was in control after that, eventually winning when his KsQs beat Kelsall’s 10s10c after the board double-paired with aces and jacks.

“I’ve been playing with A.J. for over 15 years,” said Mendoza. “We’re both hometown guys. We play high-stakes cash games all the time together, so it’s really cool that it was me and him.” But even though they are friends, they were playing for a WSOP Circuit ring, and both of them wanted it. “I felt that if me and A.J. got heads-up, I would win. I kind of know how he plays.”

As for Kelsall, this is the third time in the past four years that he made a final table on February 13th. The last two times (2017 and 2018) he lost to two-time WSOP bracelet winner Loni Harwood, something they’ve joked about ever since.

With Harwood absent from this final table and Kelsall holding a commanding chip lead, all signs pointed to this being Kelsall’s year to finally win on February 13th. Until that ace of hearts fell on the river.

Final Table Results:

1st:  Romeo Mendoza  –  $88,717 + WSOP Circuit ring
2nd:  A.J. Kelsall  –  $54,831
3rd:  Eric Salazar  –  $38,190
4th:  Steven Veneziano  –  $27,206
5th:  James Calderaro  –  $19,834
6th:  Miguel Hernandez  –  $14,805
7th:  William Medina Diaz  –  $11,322
8th:  Hamid Izadi  –  $8,876
9th:  Ben Diebold  –  $7,138
10th:  Arkadiy Tsinis  –  $5,891