When the World Poker Tour wrapped its sixth season of tournaments with the WPT Championship at Bellagio in April, players received a break from the WPT while the World Series of Poker played out in Las Vegas. But just as the WSOP main event began to hit its stride, the WPT came back with its popular Bellagio Cup.
At the 2007 WPT Bellagio Cup, a total of 535 players bought in to the $10K event. The 2008 event upped the ante to a buy-in of $15K and drew 446 players for an even more massive prize pool – this time the total was $6,489,300 with the first place player set to receive $1,673,700. For those who stuck around Las Vegas after the WSOP for one more tournament, it would pay off for those 100 players who made the money and especially the one lucky man or woman who would cash in that first prize check.
With a new network on tap to broadcast the shows (Fox Sports), a new WPT Live Updates hostess to interview players (Amanda Leatherman), and new starting chip stacks (45,000), the World Poker Tour kicked off its seventh season with quite a bit of excitement at Bellagio.
The tournament began with three first days to accommodate the players coming over from the WSOP and to stay within the special restrictions of the Bellagio. Day 1A brought 104 players to the Fontana Lounge, including some of the biggest names in the game – Howard Lederer, Barry Greenstein, Michael Mizrachi, Antonio Esfandiari, and Eli Elezra. Kevin Saul returned to defend his title as the defending champion. At the end of the first day, 70 players were still in the game – a testament to the large 45K starting stacks in relation to the 50/100 blinds – and online poker pro Marco Johnson was in the lead at the end of play.
More players strolled in to the Bellagio on Day 1B – 133 to be exact – and a number of them were well-known in the poker community. The list included Doyle Brunson, JC Tran, Erik Seidel, Freddy Deeb, Kristy Gazes, John Gale, Phil Laak, Jennifer Tilly, and Gavin Smith. When play stopped for the day, 96 remained in the tournament. Day 1C brought the most of any of the beginning days of the event, as 209 registered to play, making the combined field one that consisted of 446 players. From that third day, 155 made it through to see the entire tournament field united in one place for the official second day of play.
Day 2 began with 321 players and Marco Johnson at the helm with 240,250 in his chip stacks. But players began dropping like worn-out tournament pros. Beginning with Nick Schulman, Nam Le, and Scott Clements at the start of play, the eliminations came rapidly throughout the day as players like Doyle Brunson joined the ranks of those looking for cash games. The day ended with only 125 remaining.
Day 3 was bound to be exciting, as the money bubble was set to burst for the final 100 players to be paid. The 25 unpaid exiting players set the stage, with one missing player ending up as the money bubble. Bob Stupak never showed up for the third day of play and ironically, his stack dwindled all the way to hand-for-hand action and put him out in 101st place. And then the money kicked in, and when the day finally ended, only 32 were left standing – or sitting in the case of poker players with Mike Watson holding an outstanding chip lead.
Plenty of names left the building during Day 4 action, including Barry Greenstein, Ted Forrest, Jimmy Tran, Hevad Khan, and Daniel Alaei. The last woman standing was Sabyl Cohen-Landrum, who was eliminated in 16th place for a $64,640 cash. When the final ten players were seated together to play to the last six who would play the filmed table the following day, the eliminations were:
The final table was set to be played on Day 5 at the Bellagio as follows:
Action got underway in a slow and cautious manner, though the shorter stacks were going to be forced into movement sooner rather than later. And so it happened on the 16th hand of the final table.
Mike Watson made an initial raise, and Gabe Thaler called from the big blind. With a flop of , Watson bet, and Thaler made a check-raise all-in for close to 2 million chips. Watson called with , and Thaler showed that he was ahead with . The of changed nothing, but the turned it around. Watson caught his flush, and Thaler was ousted in 6th place for $129,275.
Play slowed again with little action that went post-flop. After 44 hands, Watson maintained his chip lead but John Phan gained ground to inch ever closer to the lead. But just when things were going his way, Phan lost a monster hand to Luke Staudenmaier that put Luke above all other players at the final table and Phan near the bottom. Phan then took another hit at the hands of Ralph Perry who doubled through “The Razor.”
The crippled Phan pushed all-in from the small blind on the very next hand for his last 760K, and David Benyamine called from the big blind with . Phan showed for the better hand, and hope remained. But it diminished as the cards were dealt . Benyamine got his flush, and Phan got sent to the rail in 5th place with $193,915.
Right away, more action hit the stage. Watson raised from the small blind, and Perry moved all-in from the big blind for a little over 2 million in chips. Watson called with and Perry turned over . The board came , and Watson’s pair of Aces on the river was good. Perry was forced to accept 4th place and $290,900.
Three-handed play began with Staudenmaier slightly leading Watson in chips, and Benyamine sat in a solid third place. But not for long. Benyamine soon doubled through Staudenmaier to leap out in front of his two opponents. More chips changed hands a short time later when Staudenmaier doubled through Watson. It would then take approximately 40 hands for another big hand to keep the attention of the fans.
Watson and Staudenmaier tangled in the 117th hand of the night, and Watson doubled through to begin making his climb again, but Staudenmaier was left with only 540K after the crucial hand. Two hands later, Staudenmaier pushed and received two callers. After a flop of , Watson bet, and Benyamine check-folded face up. Watson brought out the , and Staudenmaier had to show only . The turn and river were and , and Watson took it down again. Staudenmaier took leave of the final table in 3rd place with a consolation prize of $452,465.
Heads-up play began with the following chip counts:
With blinds at 80K/160K and a 15K ante, hand #120 started the battle. And it would be just that, as some chips – no significant amounts – changed places over the next 29 hands.
Finally, there was action. Benyamine made an initial raise to 500K, and Watson raised back to 1.5 million. Benyamine shoved all-in with , and Watson called quickly with . The board came , and Watson caught his card on the river to double up to take a commanding chip lead of 17,440,000 to Benyamine’s lowly 2,665,000.
Game on. Watson moved all-in on the button, and Benyamine called for his last few chips with . Watson showed the dominated . The dealer brought out , and Watson’s two pair took it down. David Benyamine finished in second place for $840,295.
Mike Watson, the 24-year old Canadian online pro, took down the first tournament of the WPT’s seventh season. He took home a WPT bracelet, a Bellagio bracelet, an entry into the WPT World Championship in April of 2009, and a whopping $1,673,770!