As the World Poker Tour (WPT) Championship heads to Day Four at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, a host of top professionals are at the top of the leader board, headed by Season Nine WPT event winner Sam El Sayed and Canada’s Nenad Medic.
By the end of the late registration period on Sunday, the pros had come out in force to create one of the toughest fields for a poker tournament, typical of the WPT Championship. 220 players ponied up the $25,000 buy in, building a prize pool of slightly more than $5.3 million. The 220 players vastly outpaced the numbers from 2010 (195 players) and ensures that the winner of the 2011 WPT Championship will take home a $1.6 million payday.
A couple of the Canadian players in the field got off to a tough start on Monday. Haralabos Voulgaris battled with veteran poker player Billy Baxter in the early going, doubling up the seven time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner just minutes into Day Three play. After doubling up Baxter, Voulgaris would be sitting below the chip average but, as the day wore on, he was able to right the ship.
A short stacked Shawn Buchanan was in position to get back into the tournament but fell short in his effort. The Vancouverite found an A-Q to his liking and sent the remainder of his chips to the center of the felt against Jonathan Layani, who only could muster a J-10 to head to battle. Once the flop came ten high to give Layani the hand, Buchanan – who made a thrilling run in this event in 2010, eventually finishing third – was out of the tournament.
Halfway through the afternoon, another one of Canada’s hopes was ushered from the Fontana Lounge at the Bellagio. Daniel Negreanu, who normally is one of the deep runners in tournaments held at the Bellagio, battled against Ashton Griffin and described his downfall over Twitter. “Ashton raised sb, I call K9.” Daniel explained to his followers. “Flop K-Q-3. he bet (and) I call. Turn 7, he bet (and) I call 32k. River 6, he bet 70k, I instacall. He shows KJ. Played fine.”
As Day Three ran into the evening, Voulgaris was able to build back from the early Baxter hand. He doubled up himself through Jeff Forrest, rivering a King against Forrest’s pocket Queens, to vault back up to nearly 200K in chips. By the time play had ended Monday evening, Voulgaris – who has made two WPT final tables and cashed in ten WPT events through his career – sat on a stack of 292,500 and was in the middle of the pack of the 52 players who remain.
Another player on a rush during Day Three action was Nenad Medic. In one of the most stunning hands of the tournament, Medic and Shawn Cunix saw a flop of A-7-5, along with Voulgaris. Cunix checked his option out of the small blind and, once Medic bet out 21,000 and Voulgaris got out of the way, pushed a reraise of 55K to the center. Medic called and another Ace came on the turn. Cunix upped the action to 100,000 and an undaunted Medic made another call. A third Ace came on the river, which is where the action got even more heated.
Cunix announced all in, only to have Nenad immediately call and turn up his Big Slick for the rivered four of a kind. A stunned Cunix could only usher his cards to the muck, commenting to the table that he had pocket sevens for a flopped set and turned full house. The massive hand moved Nenad Medic into the chip lead, which he would hold onto almost to the end of Day Three play.
Nenad jousted with Steve Kelly through the rest of the evening to see who would go home the end of Day Three chip leader. While the two battled it out, however, 2011 WPT Amneville winner Sam El Sayed slipped past them to take the honor of Day Three chip leader, holding 1.1 million in chips. Nenad is just 9,000 chips behind El Sayed, however, while Kelly is approximately 100K chips behind the duo.
When play begins for Day Four at noon (Pacific Time) on Tuesday, the 52 players will get down to determining who will take home some of the bounty from the WPT Championship. 27 players will earn a minimum payday of $37,167 for their efforts, but all of the men (no women currently remain in the field) still in competition are looking to become the next WPT Champion. To do that, they will have to be around on Friday when the WPT Championship final table will play out.