“First the ring, then the bracelet.”
The motto, effectively parroted the past few years on the World Series of Poker Circuit, encouraged poker players to compete in various events around the country, which are spread out over the nine months when the WSOP “big one” is dormant. The National Circuit is potential stair ladder to greater success for many poker players, who may not quite have the bankrolls or skills necessary to come and play with the best at the world, at the WSOP.
Nick Jivkov, a 34-year old semi-pro poker player and business owner from Des Plaines, IL took the slogan literally. He cashed ten times in various WSOP Circuit events around the country during the last few years, ultimately winning a gold ring in 2010 at the IP in Biloxi. Until this year. Jivkov had yet to cash in any WSOP event in Las Vegas.
All that changed this evening when Jivkov not only final tabled the Pot-Limit Hold’em event, which took place at the Rio Las Vegas. He went on to win a dramatic victory, rubber stamping his arrival on the tournament poker scene as a champion. Jivkov collected $189,818 in prize money to go along with his first WSOP gold bracelet. Amazingly, this $136,000 in previous earnings. Indeed, Jivkov got the ring, and then the bracelet. Among the more notable names that finishes in the top twenty were—Tommy Vedes (4th), Daniel Negreanu (5th), Thom Werthman (10th), Steve Brecher 12th), Nam Le (16th), and John Juanda (18th).
Nick Jivkov hereby becomes the fifth player to win a gold bracelet at this year’s WSOP.
Cory Zeidman Victorious in Champion-Stacked Stud/Eight
Event Motivation can come from many different sources, even from some people that might be surprising. Just ask Cory Zeidman, winner of the latest World Series of Poker gold bracelet event, held in Las Vegas.
Zeidman was propelled to his biggest career victory by none other than former NFL star Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, the flamboyant ex-Dallas Cowboy linebacker from the Tom Landry-era, who gave his friend several pep talks during the final day of what turned out to be Zeidman’s greatest poker triumph.
During breaks in the tournament action, Zeidman called his close friend back in Texas on his cell phone, who has since become a highly sought-after motivational speaker. Henderson provided just the right mix of solace and guidance, giving Zeidman an extra boost of confidence that enabled him to overcome one of the most champion-heavy final days in recent WSOP memory.
Given his connections to star athletes like Henderson through his full-time work in sports marketing, it’s no surprise that Zeidman shares a winner-take-call mentality. Take for instance, his unusual pattern of results playing in World Series of Poker events over the years. When Zeidman cashes— which has now occurred eight times with his most recent feat—he tends to go very deep. Indeed, there are no min-cashes on Zeidman’s tournament resume. He’s no slacker. When he enters an event, Zeidman plays with a single purpose in mind—to win.
“I would have been devastated if I would have come back this year and finished second,” Zeidman stated in a startling interview, just moments after his victory. “I had to win this. I knew this gold bracelet was going to be mine.”
Indeed, Zeidman’s previous showings in WSOP events includes placing 6th all the way to 39th (which occurred in the 2003 Main Event Championship). That’s a pretty impressive record when one considers the mentality of many fellow non-pro players, which is to somehow get into the money above all else, giving up the chance of building enough chips to make a serious run at victory. It’s like sacrificing one’s own heart on some Mayan alter, trying to appease the sun gods and Zeidman would have none of that.
Zeidman’s tournament strategy, tenacity, and will to win—whether it came from former footballer Henderson or some deeper hunger from within—paid off royally in spades on Thursday night when he managed to out-duel a lion’s den of final-day survivors en route to his first-ever WSOP title. Zeidman’s jubilation came in the $1,500 buy-in Seven- Card Stud High-Low Split event, which was worth $201,559 in prize money. Given the strength of his competition, Zeidman could be doubly-proud of his accomplishment.
Seven-Card Stud High- Low Split has become an event popular with many of the game’s most accomplished tournament players. As proof, the list of in-themoney finishers in Event #4 reads like a virtual “Who’s Who” in poker over the past 20 years. Names gracing the official results included multiple big names–including Chris Bjorin, Michael “the Grinder” Mizrachi, Todd Brunson, Marsha Waggoner, Linda Johnson, Frank Kassela, Mike Sexton, David Singer, Jerrod Ankenman, and Frankie O’Dell. And that was just the list of uber-notables that cashed in the top twenty. Then, there was Nadell, the other Mizrachi, Madsen, Shak, Bell, Appleman, Billirakis, Schneider, Shchmelev, Waxman, and Filippi who populated the 21-64 range. You get the idea. The runner-up was longtime tournament journeyman and two-time gold bracelet winner, Chris Bjorin, from London–who shows absolutely no signs of slowing down as an accomplished tournament player. Bjorin may very well be playing the best poker of his life at the moment as he continues to defy conventional wisdom that seniors can no longer compete amongst the wave on former online wunderkinds. This marked Bjorin’s 62nd time to cash at the WSOP, which now ranks fifth all time.
The tournament included not only a relatively surprising finale outcome, but a number of other dramatic storylines, as well. First and foremost, the longest drought for female gold bracelet winners has now hit the 223-event mark. That’s right --- 223 tournaments have been played at the WSOP since a female scooped the final pot of an open tournament. This eclipses the seemingly endless string of events played between 1982 and 1996, which had zero female winners in open events over what amounted to a 14-year femme famine.
Vanessa Selbst remains as the last female to win an open event, which took place in the $1,500 buy-in Pot- Limit Omaha championship, held in 2008. With two more stag winners for Event #3 and Event #4 on this day, the longest void in WSOP history has now been surpassed–a dubious factoid, indeed. The other big development was Mike Sexton’s double cashing in simultaneous poker events. While the WSOP is one of the few tournaments which allows for the possibility of participants playing in two events at the same time, few players have been able to manage even a minimal overlap, let alone three straight days which are in conflict. Sexton’s cashing in two events simultaneously (Event #3 and Event #4)—where all three playing days overlap— is unprecedented.
Furthermore, Sexton has proven once again that he’s among the very best at Seven-Card Stud High-Low Split. This was his 11th time to cash in this event since 1985, which is a phenomenal feat. In fact, he finished as the runner up in 2011, and then ended up as the 15thplace finisher this year. Oh one more thing—Sexton also won this event—back in 1989.
But this was not a good day for females–even though they took four of the top 13 money spots–an unusually high number of any WSOP event. This was not a good day to be a longtime pro, with previous WSOP titles. This was not even a good day for Mike Sexton, who endured yet another painful disappoint by coming up just short of another victory. The hour, the day, the night, and the tournament belonged to someone else– Cory Zeidman, who hereby becomes the fourth player to win a gold bracelet at this year’s WSOP.
“Jungle Boy” Leif Wins New WSOP Event—Heads-Up Mix: No-Limit Hold’em/Pot- Limit Omaha
One thing’s for certain. The World Series of Poker is never dull. There’s always something happening at the Rio–making that several things happening–no matter what the day or schedule of events.
The WSOP also is willing to take some risks and offer unique attractions that are not even on the map of poker consciousness elsewhere. Consider the third gold bracelet event offered on this year’s schedule–a first-time-ever poker tournament called “Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em / Pot Limit Omaha.” The concept calls for competitors to play alternating 20-minute rounds of No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha–in the pressure cooker of a headsup format.
Sure. Heads-up events have been held in the past. There’s also been plenty of No-Limit and Pot-Limit action. But never before in history has this rich gumbo of popular poker ingredients all been tossed into a collective pot and served to a medley of ravenous poker aficionados.
The “dinner” cost $3,000 to attend (the entry fee), which didn’t exactly dissuade 317 guests from sitting down at the table in order to dine at what amounted to the grand opening of a nine course meal. That’s right, nine “courses” as in headsup matches necessary for the ultimate winner, in what amounted to a gauntlet of increasing difficulty. Culinary showman Emeril Lagasse would never have stood a chance.
As things turned out, the guy with the coolest name in poker—Leif Force—ended up as the head chef of the affair, collecting an indubitably appetizing $207,708 in prize money as his main course, plus a sparkling new WSOP gold bracelet for dessert. The enigmatic-looking poker pro, nicknamed “Jungle Boy” for his unorthodox appearances at WSOPs past, seems to have gradually melded into semiconformity as his WSOP earnings have continued to uptick in recent years. Force, from Tallahassee, Florida is best known to many for his 11th-place finish in the 2006 Main Event Championship, when he won a staggering $1,154,527 in his first-ever appearance at the WSOP. Since then, Leif has posted some nice results, but nothing close to winning what amounted to his most prestigious title ever.
This was classified as WSOP schedule Event #3, since it’s the third gold bracelet of 61 to be awarded this summer in Las Vegas. The tournament was played over three consecutive days and nights, starting on Tuesday at noon, and concluding Thursday evening at a relatively early hour, so far as final tables go. Leif had his money and gold bracelet by 8:00 pm, just as most other shows in Las Vegas were just getting underway. Instead, Leif found himself taking a bow and a curtain call of his own.
The tournament began with 317 players–a nice turnout considering the debut nature of the event plus the $5,000 buy-in. After the first day, only 64 players survived. The second day included the field being further reduced to the last 8 players. Once the final heads-up match was reached on Thursday, players were moved to the ESPN Main Stage, where Force defeated Jason Koon in a span of about 90 minutes. For his runner-up finish, Koon–a local Las Vegas player—collected $128,660. The Event #3 prize pool totaled $870,870. The top 64 finishers were paid. Among those who cashed in the round of eight were two former WSOP gold bracelet winners—Andy Frankenberger and Annette Obrestad.
The next group of in-themoney finishers (round of 16) included three more former title holders–Josh Arieh, David Williams, and Mike Sexton.
In fact, Sexton, an inductee into the Poker Hall of Fame two years ago, entered two events which began the same day. Even though the Heads-Up format of Event #3 (which included mandatory down time) allowed Sexton more time to concentrate on the Eight-or-Better competition, he nonetheless entered the record books, of sorts. Sexton accomplished what is believed to be a first in poker history. He entered both tournaments, and not only cashed in both but also managed to finish in the top 16 for both tournaments. Indeed, two min-cashes would be quite impressive. But to think that Sexton ran deep in two overlapping events is phenomenal. But in the end, Sexton was just one of 316 casualties, whose hopes of WSOP bracelet glory will have to wait... at least until the next event.
Force hereby becomes the third player to win a gold bracelet at this year’s WSOP.
Brent Hanks Wins $517,725 and WSOP Gold Bracelet— Nears $1 Million in WSOP Earnings
The first World Series of Poker tournament of the year open to all players concluded tonight with the crowning of a new poker champion.
Brent Hanks, from Las Vegas, won the first $1,500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament of 2012, which has proven to be one of the schedule’s most popular events. Hanks, a 29-yearold professional poker player, collected a whopping $517,725 in prize money. He was also presented with his first WSOP gold bracelet, which is the ultimate prize in poker. Prior to playing for a living, Hanks was a fifthgrade school teacher. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.
Hanks’ victory was memorable on several fronts. First, he had to overcome a huge field size. Second, he was down by a 2 to 1 margin when playing heads-up against a very formidable opponent—Jacob Bazeley, from Ludlow, KY. Oddly enough, the two finalists were both the same age and worked as school teachers at once time during their lives. They were also friends who hung out together at dinner and on breaks at various times during the tournament.
But what was most incredible was Hanks’ unthinkable comeback during Day Two. At one point when players has just reached the money, Hanks was down to a just a single small blind and ante. He was all-in before the cards were dealt and then won the hand. Hanks went on to win four of the next five hands and then gradually rebuilt his stack. By day’s end, he was not only back in contention, he was one of the chip leaders entering the final stages of the tournament—proving once again that just about anything is possible in a poker tournament.
As things turned out, that small blind situation on Day Two ended up being a halfmillion dollar hand. Think about that, next time you are struggling to stay alive in a WSOP event and are losing hope.
With this victory, Hanks has accumulated nearly $1 million in career winnings in WSOP events alone. This was his 12th time to cash at the WSOP, a remarkable feat given his young age. In fact, all of Hanks’ WSOP earnings have been achieved since 2008. He’s previously won $3 This was classified as WSOP schedule Event #2, since it’s the second gold bracelet of 61 to be awarded this summer. The tournament was played over three consecutive days and nights, starting on Memorial Day, and concluding late Wednesday.
Just prior to the start of the Rio’s first event, WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel took the main stage and began things in grand style. Prior to the Memorial Day start, veterans were recognized in a brief service held inside Brasilia. The national anthem was also played to commemorate the national holiday.
Performing the official “Shuffle Up and Deal” honors was poker player “Captain” Tom Franklin, a two-time WSOP gold bracelet winner and former United States Marine Corps and Vietnam War veteran. He acknowledged veterans at this year’s WSOP, by asking them to stand and be recognized. The crowd gave the vets a nice ovation.
The tournament began with 2,101 players. After the first day, only 239 players survived. The second day included the field being further reduced to the last 15 players. Once the final table was reached on Wednesday, players were moved to the Pavilion Main Stage, which is the new setting for final table action–aside from those that take place on the ESPN Main Stage (since many events overlap, multiple final table areas are necessary). The tournament prize pool totaled $2,836,350. The top 216 finishers were paid. Among those who made deep runs were former gold bracelet winners Andrew Badecker (3rd), Vanessa Selbst (4th) and J.P. Kelly (8th).
In a bit of irony, Vanessa Selbst had a chance to end what is now a record-matching drought for female poker players. She came close to becoming the first female gold bracelet champion in an open event since 2008, when—of all people—Selbst herself won the $1,500 buyin Pot-Limit Omaha championship. With yet another stag winner, the longest void gap has now been matched in WSOP history. The longest streak had been 221 straight events, between 1982 and 1996—which will now be surpassed.
Also of special note was Phil Hellmuth’s 61st-place finish. He continues to add stature and distance to his legacy, with what amounts to the 86th WSOP cash of his career—by far, the all-time leader.
Hanks hereby became the second player to win a gold bracelet at this year’s WSOP, after Chip Saechao won the Casino Employees Championship opener.
California Blackjack Dealer Wins Casino Employees Championship
The first World Series of Poker tournament of the year concluded at the tail end of a memorable Memorial Day weekend with the crowning of a new poker champion, whose victory was a surprise even to the winner.
Chiab “Chip” Saechao, from Visalia, CA, won the Casino Employees Championship, which is a special competition limited exclusively to employees of the gaming industry. He collected $70,859 in prize money. Saechao was also presented with his first WSOP gold bracelet, which is the ultimate prize in poker.
Saechao is a full-time blackjack dealer at the Tachi Casino, in Lemoore, CA–which is located in California’s Central Valley (near Fresno). This marked his first time to cash in a major poker tournament and first time to compete in the Casino Employees Championship. However, Saechao did play twice previously in the WSOP Main Event Championship. Afterward, Saechao made a startling revelation that he intended only to play in cash games at this year’s WSOP, but instead decided to try out one gold bracelet event upon arrival–ultimately ending up with the top prize.
This was classified as WSOP schedule Event #1, since it’s the first gold bracelet of 61 to be awarded this summer in Las Vegas. The tournament was played over two consecutive days and nights, during a busy Memorial Day weekend. The final hand was a thrilling conclusion to the hardfought tourney, as ultimate victor Saochao spiked a ten on the turn, which proved decisive, against his opponent’s top pair and top kicker. Saochao ended up making a full house–tens over queens–while the second-place finisher closed with three-queens. The runner up was Patricia Baker, from Little Torch Key, FL. She nearly broke the three-year consecutive string of all-male stag gold bracelet winners by becoming the first female since Vanessa Selbst to win a gold bracelet in an event other than the Ladies World Championship. Instead, she accepted a nice consolation prize amounting to $43,754. Just prior to the start of the Rio’s first event, WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel took the main stage and began things in grand style. Keeping with ritual that has become an annual tradition, all casino employees in the room were thanked for their dedication and professionalism.
Next, longtime poker dealer Richard Turnbull, from Reno, NV was introduced. He is an 85-year-old veteran of World War II–during which he served proudly in the U.S. Navy. Turnbull started dealing poker 37 years ago and has since worked at the Fremont, Las Vegas Hilton, MGM, and Sahara. Effel jokingly introduced the honoree by saying, “Turnbull has dealt more bad beats than Mike Tyson.” Then, Turnbull gave the crowd a rousing rendition of the customary announcement which begins all WSOP events. “Shuffle Up and Deal” boomed across the room at 12:10 pm and cards flew into the air for the first time on the tournament floor. The Casino Employees Championship began with 732 players. After the first day, only 46 players survived. Second day action took place on Memorial Day, lasting until well past midnight.
Some of the more notable names who cashed included WSOP Executive Ty Stewart, who oversees much of poker’s biggest show on earth. Shattering the myth once and for all that poker is a game of skill, Stewart not only miraculously made the money, but was also within a pot of two of making the final table. He finished 19th. Also in the money was former PokerStars executive Dan Goldman, now a consultant to a Native-American casino in California. He took 22nd place.
Upon gazing at the dazzling piece of jewelry he had just won, Saechoa was quite impressed. “I plan to wear it and show it off,” he said, moments after the victory. “Not too many can come over here to Las Vegas and go back home with this.”