The days of December are slow in Las Vegas. Save for the cowboys in town for their rodeo, conventions are on hiatus as the holidays approach. While the poker bloggers wreaked havoc on the Strip, the Bellagio was front and center in the world of live tournaments. Nineteen days of No-Limit Holdem tourneys brought some of the best players in the world ready to prove themselves as well as take home a seat in the WPT Championship.
Beginning on December 1st, the first nine days brought seven new champions and a nice addition to bankrolls. The first $1.5k event drew a field of 540 players all shooting for $253k top prize. WSOP Bracelet holder Kevin Song, from California, ended Brandon Cantu 's quest for the WPT Championship seat. Cantu won his WSOP bracelet this summer in a $1.5k NLHE event but couldn't hold off Song's quest for this title. Song is one of the best tourney players you've never heard of, making final tables regularly in WPT, WSOP, and other cash tourneys in Las Vegas and California.
Event #2 brought a $2k buy-in and 378 players with a top prize of $266k. Top young guns Alex Jacob and David Williams cashed but fell short of the final table. John Strzemp, Brad "Yukon Brad" Booth, and David "Devilfish" Ulliott were the top three chip leaders when the final table started. Booth is one of the most aggressive players in high stakes cash games, and it was a welcome relief for everyone when William Lin sent him out in 7th place. Lin had half the chips after knocking out Booth and dominated the field until his pocket 7's came up against Strzemp's 9's. The 9's held up, and the former WSOP Main Event runner-up in 1997 was in good shape. Lin exited in 5th, then shortly after Sam Alsharairi moved all-in from the small blind vs. Ulliott, who called him with . Alsharairi flipped over pocket aces but the Devilfish made him pay, turning a flush to knock out Alsharairi in 4th place. David Farber left in 3rd, and Ulliott grabbed the title after an hour of heads-up play with Strzemp.
Event #3 $2.5k, was taken down by Holland's Steve Wong. The $215k top prize added to his year of success. The summer brought his first WSOP final table and over $170k in total winnings. It was when the tourney circuit headed back to the Bellagio that he started heating up. October Festa Al Lago V saw Wong making three final tables in a ten day span, highlighted by a $199k 1st in the $5k event and a whopping $542k as runner-up in the $10k WPT event. That's $950k won in the last three months at the Bellagio, a spectacular run that may not be finished yet.
Event #4, $3k buy-in, drew 203 players and yielded a very tough final table. Longtime MTT player Tony Ma was knocked out in 9th, his nineteenth cash this year including two WSOP and two WPT cashes. Rene Angelil is no longer known in poker circles as the husband of Celine Dion. His regular cashes and titles in the $1k Bellagio Weeklies show he's no celebrity poker player, and his third place finish brought his top cash this year ($62k). Britain's Roland de Wolfe finished second ($124k), another player with a final table at the WSOP. He took down the EPT's Irish Masters in October for almost $700k, and his consistency is proving that he's an up-and-comer to watch. Ralph Perry added this win and the $234k top prize to his WSOP PLO bracelet this year. It's been a solid year for Perry, and this win continues a nice run since the summer for him.
Event #5, $5k buy-in, brought a field of 175 players vying for the $330k top prize. David Daneshgar from LA grabbed the victory, marking his third title and fifth six-figure payday in 2006 in four cities: Los Angeles, Atlantic City, Barcelona, and now Las Vegas. Daneshgar is a player to watch heading into 2007.
Seattle's Jay Glazer took the Event #6 $1.5k title. With a field of 519 players, his $244k was by far his best performance of his career. Nick Binger, younger brother of WSOP Main Event 3rd place finisher Michael, had a solid cash in 11th place. Glazer doubled up Gioi Luong early but got healthy again in a battle of the blinds with Ty Witteman, whose kings were no match for Glazer's aces and was out in 7th. Timmie Derosa has the top female finish at the Festa al Lago with her 6th place here.
Johnathan Westra crippled Glazer's A-Q with his pocket kings, and survived an all-in on the next hand by catching a runner-runner flush. Farzad Bonyadi came to the final table even in chips with Glazer and more experience, but his exit in 4th paved the way for the shootout in the end. Westra had a monster chip lead when Luong was quickly eliminated in 3rd place, 1.3mil in chips to Glazer's 330k. Ten minutes later, they were even, and it took Glazer another twenty minutes to bring things to an end. His pocket aces sealed the deal with Westra short-stacked, and Glazer completed a great final table.
Event #6, $2k buy-in, turned in a star-studded final table, one of the toughest in the second half of the year. The 379 entrants saw Kenna James leave in 9th, but the last five players were a Who's Who of poker's present and future. Barry Greenstein ran into a runner-runner flush to leave in 5th. Justin "zeejustin" Bonomo is better known as the outed MTT winner a year ago who used two accounts in the same tourney to take home a PartyPoker event-and was reported by an acquaintance. His 4th place finish here shows what most know, that zeejustin has game. Men "The Master" Nguyen finished a solid 3rd, and it was down to David "The Dragon" Pham and JC Tran. What made Pham's performance even more remarkable was that he was multi-tabling, playing the Event #7 $2.5k during breaks while at the final table. Tran prevailed and added the $266k top prize to what has been an incredible run which included winning $670k by taking down the WCOOP Main Event in October and taking $312k in the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods. Add six cashes this summer in the WSOP and it's been a terrific year for Tran.
Incredibly, Pham matched his runner-up finish by doing the same in Event #7 $2.5k. He finished ahead of two rock stars from this summers World Series. Main Event Final Tabler Rhett Butler showed his WSOP result was no fluke, finishing a strong 4th here. Jeff Madsen (3rd) became the youngest bracelet holder ever then added a second bracelet to his stash. Pham's $181k combined with the $149k from Event #5 softened the blow of coming up second best over two days. This time, Danny Wong from Calgary stole top prize. Calgary is known for its rodeo, so Wong must have felt comfortable with all the cowboys strolling through the Bellagio. His $319k payday comes on the back of his $561k for finishing runner-up in the $10k II Bellagio Cup in August.