Poker players of all ages and levels of experience flocked to Mashantucket, Connecticut last week to meet up with the World Poker Tour. The $10,000 buy-in main event of the Foxwoods World Poker Finals is one of the most popular stops on the tour, and this autumn tournament was proof of that.
The preliminary events in the World Poker Finals series saw a good turnout and a few pros took down those titles, including Nam Le who won the $1,000 no-limit hold'em event and Bernard Lee who won the $2,000 no-limit hold'em event. When the main attraction began on November 7th and 8th, Foxwoods was the scene of a massive event. There were 575 players entered in the tournament, creating a life-changing first prize of $1,704,986, though only the final fifty finishers would win any piece of the massive yet top-heavy prize pool. And though some complained about the payout structure, the actual tournament structure was what enticed them to play.
By Day 5, the 19 remaining players included some interesting names. The two at the top of the leader board were Freddy Deeb and T.J. Cloutier respectively, and two former World Poker Finals champions - Nick Schulman and Nenad Medic - were each looking to make World Poker Tour history by winning the same tournament twice. With a mix of young internet pros, everyday Foxwoods players, and seasoned pros, Day 5 was one of the most exciting as they played down to the final six. Cloutier had a spectacular run but was eliminated in twelfth place. Deeb had a tough day when faced with pocket K's in a key situation; he mucked them pre-flop saying that he had never been faced with such a tough laydown in all of his years of tournament poker. He simply couldn't pick up much momentum the rest of the day and busted in ninth place.
The two former champs both made it through to the televised final table. Schulman was the youngest WPT champion in history when he won the event two years prior at the age of 21, and he entered the final table second in chips only to internet pro Tom "Durrr" Dwan. Medic was the previous year's champion who took that title at the age of 23, and though severely short-stacked, he was looking to defend his title. The chip counts of all six players were as follows:
Seat 1: Nenad Medic 555,000
Seat 2: Mike Vela 4,155,000
Seat 3: Mark Weitzman 855,000
Seat 4: Mike White 2,455,000
Seat 5: Nick Schulman 4,395,000
Seat 6: Tom Dwan 4,875,000
Dwan took hits on the first few hands, sending two million in chips to White in the first hand and doubling Medic in the second hand. In the fourth hand, it was Weitzman, the new short stack, who was put to the test. He moved all-in from the big blind with A-3 and was called by Medic with A-5 of hearts. The board came to give Medic the flush. Mark Weitzman, a 21-year veteran of professional poker, was sent home in sixth place with $189,142.
White lost several key pots over the next thirty hands until he was finally left with less than a quarter of a million. Finally, he decided to push all-in with 7-6 of diamonds, and Vela called with K-10. The dealer turned over J-4-3-10-2 without enough diamonds for White but with the 10 for Vela. Mike White, who won his way into the tournament via a satellite and spends most of his time running a commercial construction business, was pushed out in fifth place for $243,184.
The chip leader at the beginning of the day saw his chips slide the way of his opponents, and Dwan found himself near the 1.5 million mark. Dwan moved all-in on the button after Schulman raised, then Vela called from the big blind. Schulman folded. Vela showed K-J and Dwan had A-K. The flop and turn were harmless with a 10-7-3-10, but the river brought the J to give Vela the better hand. Tom Dwan, better known as "Durrr" in the online poker world, left in fourth place with $324,244.
As Vela took over, it was becoming more difficult for either of the two prior WPT champions to compete. Finally, upon one of Vela's raises, Medic took him to task with his stack of nearly 3 million. Vela called and showed A-J to Medic's A-7 of diamonds. The board didn't bring a flush draw for Medic; it was K-9-8-J-J to give Vela trips and a monstrous chip lead. And it eliminated Medic, the Canadian poker pro who came close to winning this event twice in a row, in third place for $486,367.
Heads-up action began with Vela and his 13,015,000 in chips versus Schulman with 4,255,000. It would only take seven hands with Schulman making some attempts but getting no action until the tournament would finally come to a head. Schulman raised on the button, and Vela reraised. Schulman moved all-in with pocket 5's, and Vela called immediately with A-Q. The flop was horrid for Schulman with A-Q-J. The turn was a 7 and the river an 8 to give Vela the victory with two pair.
Nick Schulman, the young poker pro known as "TheTakeover" online, finished the tournament in second place for $864,652. Mike Vela, the senior vice president of an investment company and proud family man, won the World Poker Finals, earning the WPT title, $1,704,986, and a $25,000 seat into the season-ending WPT World Championship in the spring of 2008. Though he intends on keeping his job and continuing his job and life as it is, he admitted that this prize is going to add some great comfort to his life.
While two former champions fell short of making history, the newest WPT champion has shown that he has what it takes to play an aggressive and careful game - all the way to the finish line.