The vibe at the Bicycle Casino was one of a reunion. When the players descended upon the Bike for the WPT Legends of Poker $10K main event on Saturday, August 23rd and Sunday, August 24th, many of the tournament circuit regulars had not seen each other since the World Series of Poker ended over a month prior. The Legends event signifies the beginning of a tournament season that begins a worldwide ramp-up, and it was clear that those who had taken post-WSOP breaks were glad to be back in action at the tables.
After the 2007 Legends of Poker lured a record 485 players to the Bike, it wasn’t clear if 2008 would bring the same numbers, especially after Day 1A only attracted 161 players. Though many notable pros were in attendance – Erik Seidel, Men Nguyen, David Pham, Erick Lindgren, Joe Sebok, Gavin Smith, Jeff Madsen, and 2007 Legends champion Dan Harrington – it was going to require a full house on Day 1B to even come close to the previous year’s number.
It didn’t happen. Day 1B attracted 212 players, and though it seemed to be a packed house with the famous poker faces milling about, it was not. This number brought the grand total of entrants to only 373, more than 100 fewer players than last year. Even so, first prize was set to be over $1.1 million, still sufficient to make it a tournament worth playing. All in all, the prize pool was $3,545,738, and the top 36 finishers would get a piece of that pie.
When both first days of the tournament were wrapped and in the books, there were two recognizable names at the top of the leader board – Ali Eslami, long time poker pro, and Adam Weinraub, relative amateur but winner of the 2006 WPT Invitational. Freddy Deeb was a solid fourth, with Mark Seif coming in 11th. A total of 248 players were set to return on Day 2.
The official second day of play saw a dramatic drop in the field, as it went from 248 to only 79 finishing the day. Adam Weinraub played an amazing day, and even after losing a 150K pot to an opponent midday, he came back to sit atop the leader board with 461,900 that he would take into Day 3. Ali Eslami slipped a bit, and despite being quite close to Weinraub most of the day, he lost a significant pot late in the evening to finish the day in the 14th spot. Poker pro Matt Keikoan took over the second place position on the board, but a number of other pros filled in the top ten, including Max Pescatori, Mark Seif, and Marco Johnson.
The 79 players who returned for Day 3 knew that it would be a tough one, as the field played to the money and likely beyond. The goal was to play to the final 27, and despite some later protests since the original schedule noted that Day 3 would play to 36, the tournament staff stuck to their plan of playing to 27.
Contrary to many tournaments, it took quite some time to get to the money bubble. It was more than six hours into play that it got closer. Season 6 WPT World Champion David Chiu was eliminated in 39th place, Mark Seif left in 38th, and just after hand-for-hand action began, it was Day 1 chipleader Ali Eslami who took the unfortunate title of bubble boy out in 37th place. He had become severely short-stacked as the day progressed, and he was all-in with A-Q against the pocket Kings of his opponent. The Queen on the flop didn’t help, and the money bubble had burst.
The following players then cashed in order, beginning with 36th place: Van Nguyen, Andrew Shack, Kevin Zhu, James Sileo, Josh Vanduyn, Max Pescatori, Justin Scott, Mark Wilds, and Matt Graham. All received $14,085 for their finishes, and with 27 players remaining, action was halted for the day.
Day 4 began with a new chip leader in Paul Smith. He was the closest player to the million chip mark with 946,000, and players on his heels were Amit Makhija, Layne Flack, Lee Markholt, and Matt Keikoan. Allen Cunningham was above average, and others like John Phan, Adam Weinraub, and Maria Ho had some work to do but were still in contention.
It didn’t take much time for the eliminations to ensue as follows:
27th place: Ben Fineman ($21,125)
26th place: Adam Weinraub ($21,125)
25th place: Ron Jenkins ($21,125)
24th place: Allen Cunningham ($21,125)
23rd place: Mario Ho ($21,125)
22nd place: Tan Le ($21,125)
21st place: Jim Hof ($21,125)
20th place: Marco Johnson ($21,125)
19th place: Kirk Conrad ($21,125)
With 18 places left and another money jump in place for finishers going forward, play did not slow much at the two final tables. It took only one hand after the reseating to see Rodeen Talebi ousted in 18th place, and two more hands brought the end of Philip Stark’s 17th place finish. A short time later, Samuel Ngai took 16th place. All three players earned $28,165 for their accomplishments.
The next payout increase found the following players unable to continue on to the final table. Takashi Shiono took 15th place courtesy of John Phan, Gary Najaryan was out in 14th place by way of Zach Clark, and seasoned pro Lee Markholt exited in 13th place at the hands of the relentless John Phan. All three players received $35,205, more than three times their buy-ins, which is not a bad investment but is no victory either.
As John Phan took the reins and gained an incredible amount of momentum, he took on the responsibility of sending Jinyun Lin home in 12th place. Next, it was Kyle Wilson’s turn to eliminate a player, that individual being Sirous Baghchehsaraie who finished in 11th place. And after a bit of a slowdown in the action, it was Denny Lee forced out in 10th place by Trong Nguyen. These three players went to the cashier cage for $42,250 each.
The last nine players got together at one last table to play down to the final TV six. Amazingly, John Phan was the short stack at the table with Amit Makhija at the head of the pack. Ray Voskanian was only slightly in front of Phan, and Voskanian evidently felt the pressure. Though he did double through Matt Keikoan to stay alive, the two tangled again, and it was Keikoan who came out on top, eliminating Voskanian in 9th place for a $70,415 payday.
Play slowed. Tremendously. Hours passed with no eliminations among the final eight players and very few double-ups or significant exchanging of chips.
After some time has passed, it was Layne Flack who had been losing chips and was one of the shorter stacks. But he found his spot to move all-in for the double-up with pocket Aces. Phan called with pocket sevens but found a seven on the flop and another on the turn to beat his opponent with quads. Flack was gone in 8th place with $105,620.
And players settled back in to play for the TV table with one more player to be eliminated. Matt Keikoan was the shortest man when seven-handed play began, and he wasn’t able to do much about that. Only a few hands later, Keikoan was all-in from the small blind with 7-4 offsuit, but Zach Clark had awakened with A-K suited in the big blind. The board came , and it did nothing for Keikoan who was the TV bubble boy and left in 7th place $140,830 richer.
The final table of the WPT Legends of Poker was set with one very familiar face in Phan, several other pros and semi-pros, and a significant chip leader in Makhija. Seating assignments and chip counts for the final table will be as follows:
Seat 1: Trong Nguyen 980,000
Seat 2: Amit Makhija 3,225,000
Seat 3: Paul Smith 1,130,000
Seat 4: John Phan 2,415,000
Seat 5: Zach Clark 2,025,000
Seat 6: Kyle Wilson 1,425,000
Thursday, August 28th will see the play down of the final table at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles.
(Thanks to WPT Live Updates for specific hand and chip count information.)