Upping The Ante
WSOP rings in a massive field for the Colossus, Hellmuth’s 14th bracelet, and a ton of poker action
By Sean Chaffin
Action got underway in late-May at the46th Annual World Series of Poker at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Fireworks were frequent with record-setting turnouts and payouts with poker tables as far as the eye could see. Phil “Poker Brat” Hellmuth also became the talk of the poker world in June by winning his record-setting 14th championship bracelet.
Hellmuth’s title came in Event 17, the $10,000 Razz Championship. Razz is a game played similar to seven card stud, but in which players must attempt to make the worst hand possible, A-2-3-4-5 being the best. Hellmuth bested a tough final table and a field of 103 for the $271,105 top prize.
“I felt overwhelmed and humbled at my WSOP bracelet ceremony today,” Hellmuth Tweeted after the win. “I was also pretty emotional: great experience though!”
In other news, the $565 buy-in brought in massive crowds to the Rio seeking some poker glory. For a small buy-in, one player would walk away with “colossal” cash. The fifth event on the WSOP schedule, the Colossus featured a smaller buy-in as an attempt to offer a bit of the WSOP experience to average Joe poker players. Houston’s Cord Garcia outlasted a massive pool of 22,374 entries (in a re-entry format) over four starting flights for a $638,880 payday. The tournament featured 14,284 unique entries—meaning players in total with 64 percent re-entering. Of that, WSOP were pleased that 5,664 players were making their WSOP debut.
The win was Garcia’s first WSOP cash and proved a big one for the 25-year-old poker pro who cut his teeth in Houston underground games before testing the circuit waters in his early-20s.
“It feels like it is my breakthrough, but at the same time, I feel like I am capable of doing bigger things,” Garcia told WSOP.com after the win.
Amazingly, Garcia’s friend Ray Henson (also from Houston) finished third in the event. The pro has won four WSOP-Circuit rings and he and Garcia actually roomed together at the Rio during the series.
The event proved more popular than WSOP executives had planned with huge registration lines and tables filled to capacity. Planners had guaranteed a prize pool of $5 million, but would need 10,000 entries to meet that. The massive turnout, however, increased the prize pool to $11.187 million with the number of entries making it the largest poker tournament in history. More than 2,200 players cashed in the event, and organizers had to add an extra day of play because of the large turnout.
“Wow! When you see a crowd that could fill many sports venues, there’s not much else you can say,” WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart said. “We want to thank everyone who traveled from near and far to be part of this historic event, particularly the first timers. We love to bring poker enthusiasts together and help build positive momentum for the game. I also want to acknowledge the thousands of event staff and volunteers who rallied together to make this weekend possible. In putting the WSOP together, we are lucky to lean on many great people whose passion goes beyond a paycheck.”
Some big name pros racked up some bracelets in the first half of the series. In the last few years, the Mizrachi brothers have become one of the best-known families in poker. In Event3, $1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo, it was Robert Mizrachi bringing home his third bracelet after overcoming a 2-to-1 chip disadvantage in heads-up play. Mizrachi, the eldest of the poker clan, also won the Dealer’s Choice event in 2014. His brother Michael has three bracelets as well and Donny and Eric Mizrachi also play the family game as well.
“Anytime one of us is playing, we cheer for each other,” Mizrachi told WSOP.com afterward. “When (Michael) is playing, I’m always wanting him to do well, and win if I’m not in it. There’s never been a rivalry between us.”
Pennsylvania’s Paul Volpe was looking for a “Player of the Year” title after two early runner-up finishes and another final table appearance. He led the pack after through late-June with Phil Galfond just behind him. Galfond won a title in Event 29, the $10,000 No-Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship, and also had a fourth place finish as well.
In the $10,000 Limit 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball Championship, poker pro and Commerce Casino regular Tuan Le topped a stacked field to accomplish something pretty amazing—winning the event in consecutive years. The rare back-to-back victory in the same event had not been accomplished since 2009.
“This year’s victory is like ten times as big as last year,” Le said afterward. “When you defend a title, that’s a totally different ball game. It’s a statement. Anyone can get a rush onetime and win, but to do it again, makes a statement. For me, last year was about the money. This year was about the bracelet.”
Italy’s Max Pescatori accomplished his own double at this year’s WSOP. The professional took down the $1,500 Razz tournament (Event 9) for $155,947, and then also won Event 41, the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo 8 or Better Championship, for another $292,158.The wins bring his career bracelet total to four and career winnings at the WSOP to more than$2 million.
“I believed I could do it, because stud is my best game,” Pescatori said. “Coming into the series, I thought this event was my best shot to win another gold bracelet. The win in Razz (gold bracelet number three) wasn’t the event I necessarily thought was my best chance, so that was nice to get it there. But I always thought Stud was the game where I could go deep. I even spent a lot of time beforehand studying and thinking more about the game.”
Pennsylvania’s Brian Hastings also won two gold bracelets this summer and third win overall. Ten days after winning the $10,000 buy-in Seven-Card Stud Championship (Event #27), Hastings was back at it winning the $1,500 Ten-Game Mix. His earnings in the two events topped $370,000.
Longtime pro Daniel Alaei added his fifth bracelet by winning the $10,000 Omaha Hi-Lo 8 or Better Championship for $391,097. While he may not be a major name like Hellmuth or Daniel Negreanu, at only 30 years old he has a bright future in poker and continues to find major success at the felt. Other major name pros notching wins include Jeff Madsen (his fourth), Jason Mercier (his third), and Daniel Idema (his third).
While pros had a great run through the first part of the summer, some amateurs made their mark as well. Miami real estate broker William Kakon walked away with a bracelet in Event 11, $1,500 Limit Hold’em. The 38-year-old was the first WSOP winner born in Morocco and said he makes the WSOP part of his vacation—and this year took home $196,055. Israeli Idan Raviv, 24, won the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em 6-Handed event. The 24-year-old high-tech worker topped a field of 1,651 players for the bracelet and $457,007. While he still plays recreationally, Raviv has found success at major European tournaments and now the WSOP.
High school teacher and football coach Jeffrey Tomlinson notched a huge win in the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em (Eight-Handed) tournament. The 51-year old part-time poker player from Jupiter, FL, took home the bracelet and more than a half-million dollars. Tomlinson is a football coach for the Palm Beach Gardens High School Gators, and during the summer becomes a poker shark.
One interesting story came from Florida’s Perry Shiao. The 26-year-old works as a poker dealer, but moved to the other side of the table for the MONSTER STACK $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em tournament. The event offered a huge starting stack, and Shiao worked his stack into a bigger monster to bring home the win over a massive field of 7,192. His earnings? A whopping $1.28 million.
“I came out here to chase the dream,” Shiao told WSOP.com. “My birthday was the first day this tournament started. I couldn’t have given myself a better birthday gift.”
Shiao said he still planned on keeping his job as a dealer at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, FL.
One of the biggest wins by an amateur came in the $1,500 Millionaire Maker No Limit Hold’em tournament, the second year for this event. Electrical engineer Adrian Buckley, 27, took home almost $1.3 million after outlasting a field of 7,275. The event marked the first ever event, first ever cash, and first ever win for the part-time player from Westminster, CO. At the WSOP, dreams really can come true. That will again happen when the $10,000 Main Event kicks off on July 5 with ESPN once again filming it all.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas. His new book is Raising the Stakes: True Tales of Gambling, Wagering & Poker Faces, available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.