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Poker News | World Series of Poker | WSOP2008 | WSOP 2008 Circuit Events

Frank Panetta Wins First World Series of Poker Circuit Event at Caesars Atlantic City

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2008 World Series of Poker Circuit
Caesars Atlantic City
Official Report

Event #1
No-Limit Hold’em
Buy-In: $300 (+40)
Number of Entries: 1,056
Total Prize Money: $317,100
March 6, 2007

Frank Panetta Wins First World Series of Poker Circuit Event at Caesars Atlantic City

76-Year-Old Retiree Wins $76,104

Exciting Final Table Includes Player Being Disqualified for Unruly Behavior

1.Frank Panetta Brick, NJ
2.Andy Santiago
Bensalem, PA
3.Todd Rebello
Oak Bluffs, MA
4.Lee Ervin
Staunton, VA 22,197
5. Lesley S. Thornburg *
Richmond, VA
6.Edward “Yank” Sullivan
Durham, NC
Donald MercerSneads Ferry, NC12,684
“Karate Mike” SantoroEgg Harbor Tsp., NJ
Francis Snyder
Philadelphia, PA

* player disqualified

Atlantic City, NJ – The first event of this year’s Caesars Atlantic City tournament series began with a huge turnout and unexpected drama. A near-record 1,056 players showed up for Event #1, the $300 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em championship. This was one of the largest fields in the four-year history of the WSOP Circuit. Only a few events held last year in Tunica and Atlantic City attracted a bigger turnout.

The two-day tournament was won by Frank Panetta, a 76-year-old former real estate investor from Brick, NJ. Now retired, Panetta is a regular inside Atlantic City’s poker rooms. Cheered on by his wife of 52 years, Panetta earned his biggest poker cash ever as he officially collected $76,104 in prize money. Experience clearly counts for something.

Panetta’s victory was nearly overshadowed by what must be considered one of the oddest and most awkward moments in poker tournament history. When play was at five-handed, the chip leader was disqualified from play and was forcefully removed from the tournament room. It was a stunning turn of events for the remaining players and for the hundreds of spectators swarming over the feature table watching and witnessing a possible first in tournament poker. Although no one can be certain, no chip leader has ever been disqualified from a major poker tournament. A complete review of the episode unquestionably reveals that the proper decision was made (Note: See full description below).

The large field packed inside the special events facility at Caesars Atlantic City meant that the top 99 players collected prize money. After 1,018 players had been eliminated on the first day, the remaining 38 contestants returned to their seats on Day Two to compete for a seat at the final table. When the final nine had been determined, Pennsylvania’s Andy Santiago had ascended to the chip lead. He was one of two finalists with one million chips or more. The colorful (and very loud) Virginian, Lesley Thornburg arrived at the final table in second place, with exactly one million. All remaining players had less than 700,000, with three players short-stacked:

Seat 1:

Lee Ervin

Seat 2:

Andy Santiago

Seat 3:

Todd Rebello

Seat 4:

Mike Santoro

Seat 5:

Frank Panetta

Seat 6:

Edward Sullivan

Seat 7:

Don Mercer

Seat 8:

Francis Snyder

Seat 9:

Lesley S. Thornburg


Players were eliminated in the following order:

9th Place – Francis Snyder
did not last long. He had just enough chips to post his big blind. On his final hand of the tournament, he was all-in a four-way pot holding pocket sixes. The final board showed K-K-9-3-A, which failed to improve the vulnerable hand. Mike Santoro ended up scooping the pot with an ace (good for two pair), which meant an early and undesirable elimination for Snyder. The 22-year-old Philadelphian collected $6,342 for ninth place.

8th Place
– Next, an odd thing happened when “Karate Mike” Santoro got chopped off the final table under the most unusual circumstances. Committing every poker player’s nightmare blunder, he admittedly misread his hand when four diamonds were on board, and (mistakenly) thought he held the king of diamonds. Santoro was dejected afterward, but took the misfortune in stride. Frank Panetta seized the pot, and the Tae-Kwon Do instructor and poker player from nearby Egg Harbor Township, NJ earned $9,513 for eighth place. Santoro’s error in judgment is certainly not indicative of his excellent tournament results in recent years. Santoro had previously finished high in the U.S. Poker Championship and events held at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City.

7th Place – Don Mercer was one of two North Carolinians at the final table. On what proved to be his last hand, he took a tough beat when his A-J was crushed by the chip leader’s Q-4, resulting in a seventh-place finish. Mercer had A-J suited but Andy Santiago managed to flop two pair – queens over fours. A jack on the river (good for a pair) was purely academic. The 61-year-old retiree ended up taking $12,684 for the seventh position.

Then, the real drama began. One of the biggest hands of the tournament unfolded when the eccentric and boisterous Virginian, Lesley Thornburg got tremendously lucky and survived his first all-in of the day. Thornburg, who had been given two warnings for unsportsmanlike behavior on the previous day, pushed everyone’s patience to the limit with a ceaseless display of loud comments and baiting tactics lasting several hours. Nearing disqualification, opponents breathed a temporary sigh of relief when he called an all-in raise by Andy Santiago – holding a totally dominated hand (Thornburg’s A-7 a huge dog versus A-Q). Kaboom! A seven flopped and the Virginian had seized the chip lead with a cavalier display of luck. The magic (or misfortune, depending on one’s perspective) would continue.

6th Place – Just two hands later, Thornburg the new chip leader caught lightening in a bottle once again. He called an all-in bet by Edward “Yank” Sullivan, who had raised all-in pre-flop with 7-7. Thornburg tabled 4-4 and needed help. Wham! A four flopped, and the huge crowd turned a mental backflip. Thornburg ended up making a full house and all poor Yank could do was walk away with a bad beat story. Edward “Yank” Sullivan, a carpenter and boilermaker from Durham, NC collected $15,855 for sixth place. Sullivan also finished 122nd in the WSOP main event last year.

5th Place – Then, all hell broke loose. Literally. Holding onto a perilous chip lead, Thornburg lost self-control and began jamming chips into the pot with reckless abandon. Warned by tournament officials (repeatedly) to stack his chips properly and obey the rules, Thornburg crossed the final demarcation of everyone’s patience when he shoved half of his stack into the pot and then later announced, “all in.” Fed up with the annoying and confusing antics, officials announced Thornburg’s immediate disqualification. Lesley Thornburg, a general contractor from Richmond, VA earned $19,026 in prize money.

4th Place
– Thornburg’s chips were removed from play. By default, Andy Santiago had regained the chip lead. Following the ejection, play was considerably more civil with the remaining four players cordially trading chips and conversation back and forth for 45 minutes, before the next player’s elimination. That came when Lee Ervin, a 56-year-old attorney from Staunton, VA was cut away from the finale by the slimmest of margins. On his final hand of the night, his Q-6 lost to Q-7 when a queen flopped. Unfortunately, Ervin held the inferior kicker. Ervin pocketed $22,197.
3rd Place
– After a financial deal was struck between the remaining three players, Todd Rebello went out next. He took a bad beat holding Q-J against Frank Panetta’s Q-9. A nine flopped and in an instant, Rebello went from the potential chip leader to the third place finisher. Rebello, a salesman from Massachusetts with many tournament cashes along the East Coast, pocketed $25,368 as the official payout.

2nd Place – When heads-up play began, Andy Santiago enjoyed a slight chip lead. But he lost a few hands and was covered by Panetta, who by that time had assumed the chip lead for the first time in the tournament. The final dramatic hand to what had been a day filled with suspense came about six hours into play when Panetta held the K-10 of hearts and called an all-in pre-flop raise by Santiago, holding the dominated K-7. The flop was horrible for Santiago, getting absolutely no help and to make matters worse -- losing a potential out. A flop of Q-5-4 with two hearts meant that Santiago was down to just two outs (two black eights). A heart on the turn sealed the deal, giving Panetta a flush, and Santiago was suddenly drawing dead. The tournament was finally over. Frank Panetta had won his first major event, and Andy Santiago – the chip leader most of the way – was left to ponder what might have been. As the runner up, Santiago officially collected a prize totaling $42,824. The 34-year-old poker pro, and proud father of two, had previously won several daily tournaments held in Atlantic City.

1st Place – For first place Frank Panetta
pocketed his biggest poker win ever. He also received the coveted gold and diamond ring, presented to each and every tournament winner at Caesars Atlantic City. Panetta’s victory proves once again, that one is never too old to win a poker tournament or enjoy the game. As winning photos were taken and chips were stacked at the end of the night, the 76-year-old retiree and grandfather of four proudly introduced his wife in the post-tournament ceremony conducted at the final table. He received hearty congratulations from his opponents and from several well-wishers in the crowd. Alas, experience counts. Silver hair is a sign of wisdom. And sometimes, nice guys even finish first.

For more information, please contact:

Nolan Dalla -- WSOP Media Director at (702) 358-4642
Or visit our official website:

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