Amid all the turmoil in the poker world over the last 45 days, it has all come down to this. All the talk is over, tournament directors, floor staff and dealers have had their last good night of sleep for the next two months and the chips and cards are prepped and ready for action. Today, the 42nd Annual World Series of Poker kicks off action with two events on the schedule.
In actuality, the 2011 WSOP has already hit the ground running before the “official” starting events begin today. Over the weekend, the WSOP Circuit National Championship was played at Caesars Palace. The National Championship tournament qualified the top 100 players from the year-long series of Circuit events played across the United States. Of those 100 qualifiers, 97 of the players showed up to take part in a $1 million freeroll event, which paid the final table and offered the champion a $300,000 payday and handed out the first official bracelet of the 2011 WSOP.
Beginning on Friday, the 97 players fought through two days of play before the final table was determined for the action on Sunday. Jonathan Poche, who earned his seat in the WSOPC National Championship by winning the final Circuit stop of the year in New Orleans, headed a final table that included veteran player Charles “Woody” Moore, Texan La Sengphet and Markham, Ontario’s Adam Hui. Adam was the only player from outside the United States who earned their way to the final table for battle on Sunday.
Slightly after noon Pacific Time, the nine survivors met to determine who would leave Caesars Palace with the first title of the 2011 WSOP. Although Sengphet – one of only two women who qualified for the tournament – clipped him for some chips early, Poche made his way back by disposing of Hui. On an A-K-J flop, both Jonathan and Adam sent their chips to the center, with Adam’s tournament life on the line. Although he was able to muster two pair with his K-J, Adam stared in despair as Jonathan tossed down pocket Aces for the flopped set. No miracle runner-runner would come for Hui, who earned his way into the tournament by winning the WSOPC stop at Caesars in April, and he was dispatched from the National Championship in eighth place ($35,000).
Over the span of the next nine hours, the winner of the first-ever WSOPC National Championship was determined. Poche could not maintain his chip lead, eventually falling out of the tournament in fifth place at the hands of Sam Barnhart, who assumed the chip lead. Sengphet, who won two preliminary tournaments during the 2010-11 WSOPC season and made her way into the event on her accumulated points, was unceremoniously dumped from the table in fourth. When it reached heads up play, Barnhart had lost his lead to James Anderson, the victor of the first ever WSOPC Regional Championship in Hammond, IN, but the duo were quite close in chips.
The duo jousted for about thirty minutes before the champion was determined. Pre-flop, Barnhart made no bones about how much he liked his hand, moving all in from the big blind. Undaunted, Anderson looked to his hole cards and made the call, a solid favorite (62/38) with his A-10 of diamonds against Barnhart’s off suit K-Q. A thrilling K-J-7 (one diamond) rainbow flop gave the lead to Barnhart and provided plenty of sweat for both competitors, but an innocuous six on the turn and a second seven on the river gave the championship, the $300,000 payday and the first bracelet of the 2001 WSOP to Sam Barnhart.
At the 2011 World Series of Poker on Tuesday, the traditional start to the most prestigious event in poker begins with the $500 Casino Employees Event. The Casino Employees tournament – honoring the hard working men and women whose main goal it is to provide all of us with an exciting time at the casinos – has always drawn a very large field. 721 players showed up in 2010 for the two day tournament and there are no indications that the field won’t be larger this year.
What most eyes will be on, however, in the Amazon Pavilion at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino will be Event #2, the $25,000 Heads Up No Limit Hold’em Championship. The field, which is capped at 256 players, was expected to draw some of the brightest young stars of the game who have honed their talents at these specialized tables in online competition. The events of April 15, however, have left many players with huge bankrolls tied up online and could impact the size of the field.
The comparable event to the $25K Heads Up Championship at the 2010 WSOP was a $10,000 buy in tournament won by Ayaz Mahmood, who picked up his first ever WSOP bracelet after defeating Germany’s Moritz Schmejkal for the title. Of the 256 runners in the 2010 tournament, there were several Canadian players who made their mark on the tournament and cashed, including Gavin Smith (who would go on to win his first WSOP bracelet just days later), Sorel “Imper1um” Mizzi and Timothy Adams. Others who went deep in the event include Vanessa Rousso, Faraz “The Toilet” Jaka, Russia’s Alexander Kostritsyn and France’s Ludovic Lacay.
So the time has finally come…time to put the stench of “Black Friday” behind us and enjoy the greatest celebration of the game of poker in the world. It is now the time for the legends of the game to continue to show their dominance, time for the brightest stars to shine even greater, and time for the latest unknowns to make their mark on the biggest stage in the world. Today is a celebration, as the 2011 World Series of Poker has begun!