Each year, the World Poker Tour teams up with the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles to host a ladies-only poker tournament that culminates in the winner being granted a seat into the WPT's famous Ladies Night invitational event. The initial ladies tournament takes place as part of the Legends of Poker series, and then the WPT episode is filmed the day after the Legends of Poker main event final table.
The 2007 Ladies No-Limit Hold'em tournament began on August 18th as a two-day event with a $1,000 buy-in. But this was no ordinary tournament. With the help of the WPT, the Bike joined with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an organization established to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. In addition to a cash donation from WPT Enterprises and Hands-On Mobile, the Bike donated 15% of each buy-in to the charity. In addition, the women who participated in the event were treated to pedicures and a lunch buffet. There were 125 women who entered the tournament in total, including a few pros from the tournament circuit like Kathy Liebert, Evelyn Ng, and Karina Jett.
The tournament moved quickly in the beginning with the money bubble hitting only eleven hours into the event, then play slowed a bit. By the end of the first night, they reached their goal of 18 players remaining to return on Day 2. The chip leader was a relative unknown in the poker world, Phil Just, with 55k in chips. The most recognizable name going to the second day was Pamela Brunson, sister of Todd and daughter of Doyle Brunson - a legendary figure in poker.
Day 2 started with Brunson making moves early with her 10k, doubling up twice in the first hour, then continuing her timely aggression throughout the day to make it to heads-up play against Carol Fuchs. Brunson had her opponent dominated, though the two remaining women would play for about an hour until Brunson came out the winner. Fuchs took home $17,215, but it was Brunson who won the $34,435 first place prize, along with a trophy, a seat into the 2007 Legends of Poker $10k main event, and a seat at the WPT Ladies Night invitational tournament.
The Big Night
The WPT Ladies Night table consisted of five invited players - J.J. Liu, Linda Johnson, Kristy Gazes, Mimi Tran, and Melissa Hayden - with the sixth seat reserved for the winner of the Legends ladies tournament. Pamela Brunson happily took her place at that table. While only the first place finisher wins anything, which is simply a $25,000 seat into the season-ending WPT World Championship at the Bellagio, the tournament is one that can bring notoriety and opportunity for the woman who wins. Just ask Clonie Gowen, Isabelle Mercier, Jennifer Tilly, or J.J. Liu - all past winners.
Liu, the reigning champion who had given birth to a baby girl only nine days prior to this year's event, went into battle immediately with Gazes on the K-10-7-8-8 board. Liu had A-K but Gazes showed pocket 10's for the winning full house. Liu went home in 6th place.
Soon after, Hayden ran into Johnson. The flop was , and though Johnson checked Hayden bet with her pocket Q's, and Johnson quickly moved all-in with J-8 of clubs. Hayden called. The flop was a but the came on the river to give Johnson the flush and Hayden her ticket out of the event in 5th place.
Another elimination would not be seen for nearly 85 hands with the four remaining players tightening up and fighting for the chips in play. Finally, it was Tran who raised pre-flop with A-10, but Johnson reraised with pocket Q's. Tran pushed all-in, and Johnson called. The board was an unimpressive 4-3-3-4-7, and Tran left in 4th place.
Brunson had become short-stacked at the table and finally moved all-in from the small blind with K-5. Gazes called with A-9. The board came 6-6-3-Q-2, and Brunson was forced to leave without a second title in so many weeks. She was out in 3rd place.
Heads-up action would be exciting with Gazes and her dominating 1,032k and Johnson with 468k, but both players had an equal amount of determination to win this title. Gazes has cashed in numerous WPT tournaments, and Johnson sincerely wanted to make her first WPT appearance as a player and not an announcer, a memorable one.
Only a few hands into heads-up play, Johnson raised to 82k on the button, Gazes moved all-in with pocket K's, and Johnson immediately called with pocket J's. The dealer produced the five cards that would seal the deal - A-4-3-5-4 - and Johnson accepted her second place finish.
Gazes was thrilled to take her first WPT title, especially with her mother in the audience to cheer her to victory. She hopes that she will soon be able to add a WPT $10k event win to her already impressive resume as well.
*Pictures courtesy of WPT*