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Poker News | Casino Poker | Tournament Reports

Celebs & Pros Attend Annual WPT Invitational

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The World Poker Tour’s Invitational has been a favorite on the tournament circuit for years. Celebrities take advantage of the freeroll to play poker with the pros and take a chance on proving that their home game practice has paid off. Professional poker players always enjoy the idea of a freeroll, not to mention the opportunity to schmooze with their favorite poker-playing TV and film stars. And with an open bar and free buffet reception to kick it off, it becomes quite the enjoyable event.

The problem with the Invitational has been its timing, as it clashes with the NBC National Heads-Up Championship. While the 2007 event didn’t seem to be terribly affected, the 2008 tournament saw more of a reduction in the number of pros attending. This year’s event was also more lacking in big Hollywood names and had to rely more upon reality television stars to fill the bill. Even so, there were some big names in the crowd, and the 400-player max limit was extended to allow alternates and resulted in a total of 445 players.

With the reception beginning two hours before the tournament was scheduled to kick off at 7pm, food was aplenty and drinks were flowing in the outdoor makeshift reception area. A DJ spun club-type music and the lighting was dimmed to create a fun, atypical poker atmosphere. Celebrities shyly worked their way over to poker pros to chat about the game and get advice, while poker pros took the time to get to know some of their favorite celebrities. And members of the staff and media took some rare time to enjoy themselves as well.

Everyone took their seats at 7pm for the announcement that cards were in the air, and it was interesting to note the table match-ups. Each table seemed to have poker pros and celebrities, and WPT and CardPlayer employees were thrown into the mix, including WPT founder and CEO Steve Lipscomb, and WPT video hostess Kimberly Lansing. The blind structure was set up to ensure a fast-paced tournament, and the amateur status of many players helped that goal as well.

Some of the poker pros in the field were Miami John Cernuto, Kenna James, David Singer, David Pham, Kristy Gazes, JC Tran, Max Pescatori, Antonio Esfandiari, Chad Brown, Victor Ramdin, Mike Sexton, Linda Johnson, Gavin Griffin, Marsha Waggoner, Barry Greenstein, Joe Sebok, Men Nguyen, JJ Liu, Cyndy Violette, and Gavin Smith.

Among the celebrities were Don Cheadle, Mekhi Phifer, Brian Baumgartner, Josh Molina, Tia Carrere, Camryn Manheim, Norm McDonald, Dick Van Patten, Ricki Lake, Sara Rue, and Michael Vartan.

And overlapping the two categories
were Montel Williams, Mimi Rogers, James Woods, Wil Wheaton, Norm McDonald, and Jennifer Tilly.

By the end of the night, the field had dwindled to only 112 players who would return for the second day of play. The only six players who had more than 100,000 in chips led the field as follows:

1. Shane “Shaniac” Schleger 191,000
2. Grant Lang 144,400
3. Kenny Tran 124,000
4. David “The Dragon” Pham 118,100
5. Tim Phan 109,800
6. Adam “Roothlus” Levy 102,000

Those who returned on Day 2 were playing for a slim prize pool of $225,000 with only the top six finishers receiving any of it, top prize being $125,500. However, there were additional payouts in the form of charity donations for the top ten celebrity finishers. Those who finished fourth through tenth in the celebrity category only received a $1000 donation to the charity of their choice. Second and third place celebs won $2500 for their charities, and the last one standing would win $10,000 for their designated cause.

Having to play down from 112 to the six final tablists may have seemed a daunting task if it weren’t for the accelerated blinds and antes.

As the second day progressed, it looked as if Schleger and pro Amnon Filippi would make a serious run at the final table, and the celebrity contingent was diminishing quickly. Fourteenth place would find the last celebrity hitting the rail; Tom McGowan was awarded $10,000 for the charity of his choice. And the next player out was Schleger.

Players finally settled in to one ten-player table, and amazingly there were four women still vying for their seats at the TV table – Van Nguyen (wife of Men “The Master” Nguyen), WPT hostess Kimberly Lansing, Beverley Kruskol, and Debby Perkins.

Scott Ross was quickly eliminated by Lansing, then Billy Baxter sent Filippi packing in ninth place. Seemingly on a roll, Baxter then took out Lansing, much to the dismay of her fellow WPT staff and her fan club that had rooted for her on the rail.

Looking to take out one more player to end the day at the early hour of 10pm, Baxter couldn’t help himself when Perkins moved all-in from the button for 300k, and Kuskol called from the small blind. Baxter came over the top from the big blind, having both players covered, and Kuskol called. Perkins showed A-5, Kuskol turned over pocket 8’s, and Baxter gladly showed his pocket Q’s. The board came 5-2-2-9-J to give Baxter the win with two pair. Since the two women in the hand were eliminated in a tie for sixth place, they split the prize and each took home $2500.

For the first time in World Poker Tour history, there will only be five players at the final table. They and their chip counts are as follows:

Billy Baxter 1,250,000
Van Nguyen 760,000
Justin Marchand 815,000
Ethan Ruby 910,000
Elias Madia 710,000

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