Today At 2011 WSOP, Day 4: James Baker, Matt Marafioti Fall Short In Bracelet Chase And Grudge Matches Underway


On this, the first Friday of play for the 2011 World Series of Poker in the Amazon Ballroom at the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino, tournaments are in full swing in every corner. The big announcement of the largest ever buy in poker tournament on Thursday, however, has made waves, especially considering the current landscape of the online game.

“The Big One for One Drop,” a $1 million buy in event, was announced by WSOP officials on Thursday, with 11% ($110,000) of every buy in earmarked for the charitable cause One Drop. One Drop is a charity that aims to fight poverty worldwide by providing access to clean drinking water and is supported by former World Champion Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, among others. The announcement of the event has drawn considerable support from not only poker players but many in the business world.

Fifteen players have signed on to play in the massive $1 million buy in event, including Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, four time WSOP bracelet winner Bobby Baldwin (now an exec with MGM-Mirage Resorts), Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin and Texas businessman Andy Beal. Professionals who will be involved include Gus Hansen, Patrik Antonius, Johnny Chan and Antanas “Tony G” Guoga.

Canada will play a huge part in the event, not only from a player perspective but also providing more players for the tournament. Daniel Negreanu has stated that he will step to the felt for the tournament and satellites for the event will be set up by Quebec’s Casinos. The potential for the tournament to fill out upwards of four tables (36 players) or more exist, making this an event that will draw considerable attention. ESPN, noting this, will be taping the event for broadcast during its 2011 WSOP coverage.

Outside of the announcement for “The Big One,” several tournaments were in action on Thursday and two more will open up play on Friday.

Event #1 – $500 Casino Employees Event – Final Table

Sean Drake

After not determining a champion on Wednesday, the final four players in the $500 Casino Employees Event turned up on Thursday afternoon to determine the winner of the first bracelet of the 2011 WSOP. Canada’s James Baker was in the mix, sitting in second behind Sean Drake when play began.

After Christopher Perez (4th) and Claudio Falcaro (3rd) were eliminated in roughly an hour and a half of play, Baker and Drake went about the task of deciding the champion. James held the chip lead at the start of heads up play, but the duo would draw essentially even after a few hands. The duo would swap the chip lead during the two hour battle before a key hand turned the tables for Drake.

On a K-J-6 (two clubs) flop, both players liked it enough for Drake to bet 105K in chips and for Baker to call. A second Jack on the turn got the action going, with Baker betting out after a check from Drake. Sean decided this was the time to make his move and check raised James, only to see the Canadian moved the remainder of his stack to the center of the felt. Drake called and tabled pocket Kings for a flopped set and a turned full house. Baker had to be dismayed by the cooler he just hit, turning up J-6 for a flopped two pair and a smaller full house. The turn card didn’t bring the case Jack, leaving Baker extremely short on chips. On the very next hand, Sean Drake finished off James Baker, denying the Canadian the shot at taking down the first bracelet of the 2011 WSOP.

Sean Drake pocketed $82,292 and the WSOP bracelet for his efforts, while James Baker could console himself by taking away $50,807 for his $500 investment.

Event #2 – $25,000 Heads Up No Limit Hold’em Championship – Day 3

Matt Marafioti

The final eight players came to the tables on Thursday with plans in place to only play one round, ensuring that the victor will be determined Friday in this event. Canada’s Matt Marafioti was one of those final eight players, but he faced the daunting challenge of facing 2010 WSOP Europe Heads Up champion Gus Hansen in the quarterfinals.

The Hansen/Marafioti battle would be the longest lasting of the four heads up matches on Thursday, with Yevgeny “JovialGent” Timoshenko, Eric Froehlich and Jake Cody taking care of their opponents in approximately three hours. Marafioti was able to make some headway in the early going but, under the unique format of the WSOP Heads Up tournament that provided three “bullets,” or sets of chips for play, he was unable to crack into Hansen’s reserve stack. After Hansen won a race, holding pocket tens to Matt’s A-K, Marafioti actually opened up his reserves to continue battle and was never able to recover.

On the final hand, Hansen hit two pair with a J-6 on a 10-A-6-J board – with the large cards all spades – and Matt made his stand holding just the Queen of spades for the potential of a royal and regular flush to win the hand. A blank fell on the river and Matt Marafioti came up just short in his efforts at Canada’s first WSOP bracelet of 2011, earning $138,852 for his finish.

A champion will be determined in this event on Friday, with Hansen taking on Cody and Timoshenko facing Froehlich. The eventual champion of Event #2 will take away an $851,192 payday and the title of WSOP Heads Up World Champion.

Event #3 – $1500 Limit Omaha Hi/Lo – Day 2

As play begins on Friday, 25 players are left to determine the final table of the first non-Hold’em tournament of this year’s WSOP. Day 1 chip leader, Canada’s Guillaume Rivet, is among those players, but he sits on the short stack with 37,000 in chips. Others who are in the running for the championship are chip leader Francesco Barbaro, Russia’s Vladimir Shchmelev (one of the stars of last year’s WSOP), Jimmy Fricke and Humberto Brenes.

Of the 90 players who have taken home something for their efforts in Event #3, Quebec’s Miguel Proulx (28th, $6868) and Ontario’s Daniel Tossounian (84th, $2809) are among those with some extra cash in the bankroll. The final table of the tournament will play on Saturday, with the champion taking home the WSOP bracelet and a $262,283 payday from the largest Omaha field in the history of the WSOP.

Event #4 – $5000 No Limit Hold’em – Day 1

865 runners came to the line for the first mid-level buy in tournament of the WSOP, outpacing last year’s 792 player field and building a prize pool of slightly more than $4 million. By the time the final cards fell early Friday morning, only 243 of those players were around to move onto Day 2 action this afternoon.

Two Canadians who cashed in the 2010 version of this event, Steven Goosen and Owen Crowe, are attempting to make a repeat performance in this year’s tournament and will be alive for Day 2. The top Canadian remaining in the field is Montreal’s Gabriel Alarie, who is currently 31st with 88,000 in chips. The remaining players are all looking up to chip leader Gavin Cochrane, who is stacked with 175,500 in chips.

There is plenty of play left to go in this tournament, however. The final table will be determined on Saturday, with the WSOP bracelet and the $874,116 first place prize being handed out during Sunday’s action.


Event #5 – $1500 Seven Card Stud – Day 1

Lost amid the chaos of four other events – not to mention the WSOP Grudge Matches – was the start of Event #5, the $1500 Seven Card Stud tournament. The event drew out a nice field of 357 players, but it was smaller than the 408 players who battled in 2010. By the end of play yesterday, 112 hardy souls were left to move on to Day 2.

Alberta’s Kenny Shakura is the chip leader heading into play on Day 2, but his 49,300 chip stack is only slightly more than 3000 chips ahead of second place Ylon Schwartz, the fourth place finisher at the 2008 WSOP Main Event final table. The only other Canadian left in the field is Ontario’s Alexander Wice, who is down the leader board in 62nd place. Other notable names remaining in the field include Andy Bloch, Shaun Deeb and Eli Elezra.

The tournament is scheduled for three days, with the final table set to be played on Saturday. It could be a couple of very long day – and nights – for these Stud masters, as the glacial pace of Stud doesn’t lend itself to quick knockouts. As of press time, the number of players to be paid and the top prize have yet to be announced.

WSOP Grudge Matches

In one of the special themed events of this year’s WSOP, the Grudge Matches – featuring seminal moments of heads up play from WSOP history – took to the felt for the fans. The matches on Thursday – former World Champion Chris Moneymaker and Sam Farha reengaging their rivalry from the 2003 WSOP Main Event and the Phil Hellmuth/Johnny Chan mano y mano fight from the 1989 Main Event – promised much and seemingly gave the fans what they wanted.

In the Hellmuth/Chan matchup, “The Orient Express” consistently applied the pressure to the 11 time WSOP bracelet winner and was in control for much of the match before taking down the “Poker Brat.” In essence, Chan earned the revenge for what happened all those years ago when, looking at winning his third consecutive WSOP Main Event (a feat never achieved at the WSOP), Hellmuth denied him and became, at that time, the youngest ever winner of the Main Event and put him on the course to become the all-time winningest player at the WSOP.

In an entertaining twist to their match, Moneymaker and Farha decided on a best of three format. The first match would feature the same stacks they had at the start of their matchup in 2003, the second match would flip those stacks and, if necessary, the third match would be with even stacks. The fans got their money’s worth, as all three matches were played to determine who would take home bragging rights.

Using his original chip stack from 2003, Moneymaker took the first match, only to see Farha take the second with the situations reversed. The third match, with equal stacks, was a battle of survival as both players held the lead during play. In the end, however, Moneymaker would emerge as the winner of Match 3 and take the overall series 2-1.

One more Grudge Match remains, which will feature Chan taking on Erik Seidel in a replay of their well-known 1988 battle, remains to be played. Seidel was still alive in Event #3, forcing a postponement of play. At this time, WSOP officials have not stated when the heads up between Chan and Seidel will take place.

STARTING TODAY:  Event #6 – $1500 Limit Hold’em and Event #7 – $10,000 Pot Limit Hold’em World Championship

At noon today, the $1500 Limit Hold’em tournament will take to the stage at the Rio and, in what should be a very solid field, the $10,000 Pot Limit Hold’em World Championship opens play at 5PM. Both tournaments are scheduled for three days, with a champion crowned on Sunday.

In 2010, Matt Matros was able to earn his first WSOP bracelet by outlasting a 625 player field in the $1500 Limit Hold’em. With the low buy in, there should be a good field for this event and it could even pass the 2010 numbers, as it is starting on the first weekend of the WSOP schedule. Canada’s Terrence Chan made a strong run at the championship last year before being eliminated in third place, and four other Canadians, including Shawn Buchanan, cashed among the 63 finishers.

268 players took their shot at the 2010 Pot Limit Hold’em World Championship, but the final table was notable for the presence of two of Canada’s brightest poker stars. Matt Marafioti announced to the world his emergence on the poker scene by finishing runner up to eventual champion Valdemar Kwaysser and top pro Peter Jetten earned just under $95,000 for his seventh place finish. This year’s tournament could be the first true test of how much “Black Friday” has impacted the poker community.

As usual at the WSOP, the first weekend is a whirlwind of activity. Several bracelets will be awarded over the next few days, but Canada has to be proud of the performance of both James Baker and Marafioti in the early events and look for the first WSOP bracelet to be awarded to a Canadian very soon!

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Earl Burton
Earl Burton is a veteran journalist in the poker industry, having covered the game since 2004. He has played the game much longer, however, starting out playing in family games at a very early age. He has covered tournaments across the United States, including the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker and various charitable events. Earl’s background includes writing for some of the top poker news sites in the industry as well as other poker media outlets that include Poker Player Newspaper and Canadian Poker Player Magazine. Earl keeps an unblinking eye on the poker world, offering coverage of news from the industry, tournament action, player interviews, strategy and his opinions on the game. Whenever possible, Earl will also step to the tables to demonstrate that there’s more than just writing talent behind his poker game!


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