The Southern Poker Championship is a tournament held each year at the Beau Rivage casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. With more than 30 preliminary tournaments, reasonable buy-ins, and a down-home southern U.S. feeling, many players head to the Beau for several weeks each year. And this year was no different, which made the appearances of several players like Nick Binger, Michael Binger, Jason Mercier, James Van Alstyne, and Scott Clements on the winners list for the series not too difficult to believe. But it was Dwyte Pilgrim who made the biggest splash with two preliminary victories.
The majority of the players stayed around for the World Poker Tour Main Event, which began on January 24. The $10,000 buy-in attracted a relatively small crowd this year of only 208 players. As compared to the 283-player field last year, the decrease was significant, as was the prize pool that produced payouts for only the top 18 players and only $739,486 for first place. Though it is a significant sum of money for any player, there aren’t many WPT events offering less than $1 million for first place. Nevertheless, a WPT title was at stake as well as television time for the final table players.
Some of the biggest names in the poker world were in attendance, including Daniel Negreanu, Jeff Madsen, Gavin Smith, Bill Edler, Jonathan Little, Hoyt Corkins, John Cernuto, Lee Markholt, Eric Baldwin, Paul Wasicka, and Adam Levy. Out of the 208 who started the day with chips, only 105 survived. And it was Southern Poker Championship star Dwyte Pilgrim in the lead with 175,900 chips, followed by the aforementioned Little and 152,100 chips. The rest of the top five were rounded out with Jonathan Stanton, Chad Brown, and James Jewett.
Day 2 whittled the field from 105 players down to 27, and that journey saw names like Chad Brown, Paul Wasicka, Jonathan Little, Daniel Negreanu, and Nick Schulman hit the rail along the way. But when the tournament director counted just 27 player in their seats, action was stopped for the day with Jared Jaffee in the lead holding a stack of 546,000 chips. Tyler Smith came up behind with 462,500 chips, and the top of the leaderboard was completed by Jonathan Kantor, James Mackey, and Tommy Vedes.
Day 3 saw the fight to make it into the money, but players like Kathy Liebert and Dwyte Pilgrim were not able to make it there. Both had been crippled earlier and couldn’t double up enough times to get back in the tournament. Upon the elimination of Seamus Cahill in 20th place, hand-for-hand play began and wasn’t without drama as Justin Smith and Vitor Coelho both doubled up successfully. Dan O’Brien did the same through Jonathan Kantor, leaving the latter with only 60K. And Hoyt Corkins doubled through Justin Smith, who was back down to only 120K after the hand. But it was the next attempt that didn’t work out as planned. Sam Rashid pushed the last of his chips all-in with pocket kings from the big blind, but original raiser Narinder Khasria just happened to be able to make the call with pocket aces. The board blanked with 9-3-2-Q-10, and Rashid was out on the bubble in 19th place.
The 18 players left redrew for seats at the last two tables of the tournament, and play continued. Shawn Quillin was the first to leave in 18th place, and other notables following included Tommy Vedes in 17th place, James Mackey in 14th, Justin Smith in 13th, and JJ Liu in eighth place. When only seven remained, it was final table bubble time, at which point Andy Philacheck pushed all-in for his last 208K with . Hoyt Corkins called with , and the board came , and the flopped two pair for Corkins eliminated Philacheck in seventh place, which was worth $67,540.
The final table was then set for January 27 as follows:
|Seat 1: ||Tyler Smith ||1,169,000 |
|Seat 2: ||Hoyt Corkins ||2,069,000 |
|Seat 3: ||Jonathan Kantor ||894,000 |
|Seat 4: ||Jerry Vanstrydonck ||1,044,000 |
|Seat 5: ||James Reed ||377,000 |
|Seat 6: ||Jared Jaffee ||762,000 |
Play began slowly, as the players knew that they had deep stacks and quite a bit of money was on the line.
It took 16 hands to see an all-in and call, and it happened when Kantor doubled through Smith, leaving the latter crippled with 32K chips.
Two hands later, a hand started with a raise from Vanstrydonck and reraise from Jaffee. Smith called all-in for his tournament life in the big blind, and Vanstrydonck folded out of the way. Jaffee showed , and Smith could only show . The board of brought nothing for the at-risk player. Thus, Tyler Smith was the first to be eliminated from the final table, taking $86,837 with him for sixth place.
Of the five remaining, Reed was the shortest stack with less than 500K. As he continued to bleed chips, he finally took a chance and doubled up once through Vanstrydonck. But he decided to attempt it again three hands later. He pushed for his last 388K with , and Jaffee called with pocket eights. The flop of gave Reed a few more outs, but the turn and river ended his hopes. James Reed was ousted from the table in fifth place with $106,134.
Over the course of the next twenty-plus hands, Jaffee was the one losing chips and sitting firmly as the short stack of the table until a playable hand came up. Action began with Corkins raising, Kantor and Vanstrydonck calling, and Jaffee reraised all-in from the big blind for his last 661K. Corkins was the only caller and showed pocket jacks, and Jaffee was alive with . The dealer slowly gave them a board of , and Jared Jaffee was eliminated in fourth place with $135,079.
With only three players left, Vanstrydonck started as the short stack but took a pot worth close to a million off Corkins to climb the leaderboard. When Kantor subsequently did the same, Corkins was the new short stack at the table. About 50 hands later, Corkins was able to double through Vanstrydonck, but Kantor went on to double through Corkins. It was turning into a long battle with an oft-changing chip lead.
Finally, though, Vanstrydonck tried to chip up again. After Corkins raised the hand, Vanstrydonck moved all-in from the big blind with , only to find that he was up against the of Corkins. The board blanked with , and Jerry Vanstrydonck was gone in third place, for which he received $196,829.
Heads-up action then began with the following chip counts:
|Hoyt Corkins ||3,635,000 |
|Jonathan Kantor ||2,665,000 |
Play started rather slowly. Both players seemed careful about their moves, but Corkins used a cautious aggression to continuously chip up throughout the almost-20 hands of play. But when Corkins took down a 1.7 million-chip pot, he put quite the chip gap between him and his opponent.
Three hands later, Corkins put Kantor to the test with an all-in move preflop, and Kantor decided to call with . Corkins showed and improved immediately on the flop. Kantor was looking for running cards, and the was one of them that would give him the winning flush. But the river could only produce the . Jonathan Kantor was eliminated in second place, which was worth a cash prize of $366,643.
Hoyt Corkins claimed his second World Poker Tour title, putting him in an elite group of players who had accomplished that unique feat. His last WPT win was in 2003, and though he was no stranger to WPT final tables, he worked hard over the years to obtain a second victory. Corkins’ WPT Southern Poker Championship came with a WPT bracelet, Beau Rivage bracelet, and $739,486 in prize money.