Back by popular demand, the Festa al Lago tournament series at the Bellagio in Las Vegas was reinstated to the World Poker Tour schedule during its seventh season. After having skipped the tour stop in 2007, players seemed anxious to have it back in 2008 with the WPT at the helm of the main event.
Even so, attendance was down for the preliminary events. It certainly seemed that the WPT event at the Bellagio would be sparsely attended, but the $15,000 buy-in main event proved that hypothesis wrong. A total of 368 players ponied up the funds to participate in the World Poker Tour event, creating a prize pool that boasted of a first prize of $1.4 million. The draw of the WPT was still strong.
The tournament began with two starting days, the first of which began with 153 players who took their seats among some of the biggest names in the game, like Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu, Jennifer Harman, Erik Seidel, and Antonio Esfandiari. Also in the crowd were Layne Flack, Gavin Smith, Phil Laak, J.C. Tran, Joe Sebok, Jennifer Tilly, Tom Schneider, Eli Elezra, Freddy Deeb, Andy Bloch, Carlos Mortensen, Allen Cunningham, and Phil Hellmuth.
Hellmuth showed up with someone who has been rumored to be interested in trying out the poker circuit - Olympic gold medalist and 2008 Summer Games record setter Michael Phelps. Phelps did not play but took enough of an interest to check out the scene and perhaps consider a future seat in a major poker tournament. Meanwhile, Hellmuth lost some chips while introducing Phelps to the poker community, more to Tilly in one hand, then the rest of them to Will Failla with A-Q versus Failla’s pocket kings.
Day 1A ended with approximately 100 players remaining and Esfandiari in the lead. He took that lead after doubling through November Nine member Scott Montgomery near the end of the day and ended with more than 265,000. Tilly sat near the top of the leaderboard with nearly 200K, and the rest of the field trailed.
The second starting day boasted of even more of poker’s greatest and most well-known players, including Barry Greenstein, Isabelle Mercier, Gus Hansen, Howard Lederer, Erick Lindgren, David Williams, David Benyamine, Erica Schoenberg, and Nenad Medic. The number of players showing up on Day 1B was 215, which created that complete field of 368, with the top 50 finishers receiving a piece of the prize pool.
By the end of the day’s action, it was Daniel Schreiber and Brian Rast who sat atop the leaderboard with stacks nearing the 200K mark, but Ryan Young, Tim West, David Chiu, J.C. Alvarado, and Brad Booth were close behind to pursue the lead.
Day 2 would see the field diminish quite a bit, as only 105 would survive it. Chip leaders like Esfandiari, Schrieber, and Rast lost their fights and went from top dogs to railbirds by the end of the day, though Tilly stayed in the game and did well on the second day. Daniel Negreanu took over as the chip leader with more than 500K by the end of play, and chasing him were Justin Bonomo, J.C. Alvarado, Dutch Boyd, Nenad Medic, and Jamie Rosen.
The third day of the Festa al Lago tournament would see the money bubble burst and the field diminish by more than 50%. It got interesting when the bubble neared and Daniel Negreanu was in contention for that position. After losing the majority of his chips in the first few levels of the day, staging somewhat of a comeback, then losing the chips again, he joined Ted Lawson and Jennifer Tilly on the money bubble. All three players busted at the same time and chopped 50th place three ways.
Once the bubble burst, more players hit the door, leaving only 34 survivors when it was said and done. Among them were Ryan Fair in the top spot in chips, William Mietz in second, and Bertrand Grospellier in third - all over one million chips each. Others still in contention were Joe Sebok, Michael DeMichele, Nenad Medic, Brad Booth, Scott Clements, Nam Le, Daniel Alaei, Dutch Boyd, Justin Bonomo, Isaac Baron, Andrew Robl, Adam Levy, and Jamie Rosen.
Day 4 began with those 34 finalists trying to make it down to a number that would get them within reach of the final WPT table. Some of them who came in with short stacks and couldn’t improve included J.J. Liu and Chris Bjorin. Dutch Boyd left early, and Brad Booth didn’t make it through the day, as was the case with Scott Clements and Bryan Devonshire as well. Erica Schoenberg and Isaac Baron busted at the same time and split the 19th and 20th place prize monies.
With only 17 players remaining, Nam Le enjoyed a much-needed double-up, and Nenad Medic doubled through Andrew Robl to stay alive. With only 12 remaining, it was Bertrand Grospellier leading the dozen with Odie Dardon not far behind. Under the two million mark and still in the fight were Nenad Medic, William Mietz, Joe Sebok, Michael DeMichele, and Olav Prinz Von Sachsen. Nam Le was also surviving, as was Andrew Robl, Mike Wattel, Jimmy Tran, and Adam Levy.
When the final 12 returned on Day 5, it didn’t take long for Grospellier to lose his lead, as Tran immediately doubled through him to get over the million chip mark. Grospellier continued to lose ground, as did Medic, who allowed Levy to double through him. But the first exit of the day was Andrew Robl, who pushed all-in with and was called by Sebok’s . The board came , and Robl left in 12th place with $53,290 in prize money.
Wattel was making a run and doubled through DeMichele twice. All the while, Grospellier was gaining ground again with a double through Nam Le. One who wasn’t able to keep his momentum going was Jimmy Tran, who finally moved all-in with pocket kings to the pocket queens of Mietz. The flop hit Mietz, however, with , and it finished with to give Mietz the win. Tran was shown the door in 11th place with $53,290.
The roller coaster ride continued as the ten survivors took their seats at one table. Sebok took a sizable pot from DeMichele to take the chip lead, and DeMichele doubled through Medic to stay alive. Medic then doubled through Sebok. The chip lead changed hands numerous times as they looked for someone to take 10th place. Finally, that person was found in Mike Wattel, who pushed with pocket kings against the of Medic. The board ran out , and the pot went to Medic while Wattel went to the rail with 10th place prize money of $63,945.
Sebok continued to fall, as Von Sachsen doubled through him. He then got involved with Grospellier, which would lead to his demise. Sebok got it all-in with versus Grospellier’s , and the board came . Joe Sebok was forced out before the televised final table again, this time settling for 9th place and the $85,260 that went with it.
While Nam doubled and Von Sachsen stayed alive with a chop in a hand with Levy, it was Michael DeMichele who was the next to leave. When Medic pushed all-in with , DeMichele called all-in with , and the dealer gave them . The full house was good for Medic, and DeMichele was ousted in 8th place with a $106,580 prize.
Finally, the up-and-down day came to an end. Olav Prinz Von Sachsen was the short stack and pushed all-in with . Grospellier called with pocket threes, and it was off to the races as the board came . The turned trips solidified Grospellier’s victory in the hand, and Von Sachsen took the position of final table bubble player. His consolation prize for 7th place was $133,225.
The final table was set with Grospellier holding a massive lead and Levy coming up with the short stack. The chip counts going toward the World Poker Tour stage were as follows:
Bertrand Grospellier 6,420,000
Nenad Medic 3,025,000
Nam Le 2,275,000
Odie Dardon 2,070,000
William Mietz 1,400,000
Adam Levy 1,370,000
(Thanks to WPT Live Updates for specific hand and chip count information.)