The fourth stop on the ninth season of the World Poker Tour brought the crew to a familiar place, as the Borgata in Atlantic City began participating in WPT events as far back as Season 2. It wasn’t until 2009 that the Borgata organizers did something different though, and reduced the buy-in for the event to the lowest that any casino has offered since the WPT’s first season. The 2009 buy-in was pushed down to $3,500 due to the recession, and players indicated their appreciation by signing up en masse with a number of 1,018 players. This year, the buy-in stayed at $3,300 + $200, and the registration numbers set a record.
It all started with the first of two starting days. Players sat down for their eight levels, and the count showed 311 of them in the field. Some of the early eliminations included names like Mike Leah, Michael Binger, Todd Terry, Adam Junglen, Vanessa Selbst, and Matt Matros, but a total of 190 players did survive. When all was said and done, only 193 were left and Jeff Papola was in the top spot on the leaderboard with 156,200 chips, followed by Giuseppe Pantaleo with 148,300 chips, and the rest of the top five were Allen Bari, Alexander Kim, and Francis Lamothe.
The second starting day attracted a whopping 731 players, which set the entire registration number at 1,042, beating the previous year’s numbers and setting a record as the largest ever for a WPT event. The prize pool was set at $3,438,600, which was going to allow the top 100 players to be paid and $733,802 to go to the winner. A few of the players sidelined early in the day and assured of not winning that top prize were Andy Frankenberger, Alex Bolotin, Lee Markholt, Robert Varkonyi, Soheil Shamseddin, and actor James Woods. And when play ended for the night and the chips of the 448 seated players were counted, Vincenzo Abate appeared to be the chipleader with 201,475, with Jerry Maher in second place with 176,875 chips. Adel Jo, DJ Whorley, and April Cromie rounded out the top five.
Day 2 started with 641 survivors from their starting days, but many didn’t make it through the second day of play, and some of the eliminated were Adam Levy, Tiffany Michelle, Maria Ho, Steve Buckner, Bill Gazes, Gavin Smith, Chris Bell, and Nancy Todd Tyner. The night ended when Level 16 ran out of time, and there were exactly 165 players left in the field. Reporters noted that the chipleader looked to be John D’Agostino with 681,200 chips, and Giuseppe Pantaleo was in second with 668,100. The rest of the top five were Francis Lamothe, Lars Bonding, and Marc Goldman.
Day 3 brought those 165 players back but quickly saw the likes of Bernard Lee and Allen Bari hit the rail before the money bubble. It didn’t take long to get through the bubble, and it actually burst when Greg Merritt committed all of his chips on a flop with pocket kings. Pantaleo called with pocket deuces for the set, and the on the turn and on the river eliminated Merritt in 101st place. The rest of the 100 players were guaranteed $6,671 for their efforts. Some of those who cashed throughout the rest of the night included Jacobo Fernandez in 93rd place, Keith Crowder in 86th, Matt Brady in 76th, Carter Gill in 66th, Jonathan Little in 59th, Ali Eslami in 57th, hip-hop producer Irv Gotti in 56th, Lars Bonding in 47th, Nick Binger in 38th, and Guiseppe Pantaleo in 31st. The night ended with 27 players remaining and Brandon Novena in first place with 3,343,000 chips, followed by David Grana with 2,224,000. Others in the top five were Michael Simhai, John D’Agostino, and defending champion Olivier Busquet.
The goal of Day 4 was to find the final table of six players, and part of that process was the eliminations. It started with John Leonard taking home $15,009 for 27th place, and some of the others who followed were Olivier Busquet in 25th, the WPT’s own commentator Mike Sexton in 20th place, John D’Agostino in 14th, and Lee Childs in ninth. After Andrew Youngblood exited in eighth place, the very next hand found Jeff Papola pushing all-in with . Ofir Mor called from the big blind with , and that pair held up to the board. Papola left in seventh place with $118,408.
With that, the final table was set with chip counts as follows:
Seat 1: Kia Mohajeri 4,225,000
Seat 2: Benjamin Klier 6,125,000
Seat 3: Ofir Mor 7,300,000
Seat 4: Brandon Novena 5,125,000
Seat 5: Dwyte Pilgrim 4,800,000
Seat 6: Daniel Makowsky 3,300,000
Action started with an aggressive Pilgrim who quickly moved into the chip lead, and he then extended that lead on the 11th hand of the night by taking a pot worth 2 million chips from Mor. Not long after, Makowsky doubled through Pilgrim, but the latter continued his rise.
Mohajeri doubled through Klier, though the latter moved his way back up to more than 5.5 million chips. But on the 35th hand of the night, Klier was ready to risk it all from the big blind with . Mohajeri called with , and the flop of brought him some straight outs. The on the turn kept the jacks in front, but the on the river made top pair for Mohajeri and eliminated Ben Klier in sixth place with $148,427.
A short while later, Mor doubled through Makowsky and left him with only 25K behind. Makowsky was all-in from the small blind on the next hand, and Pilgrim and Mohajeri went along and checked down the board of . Makowsky did have pocket fives, but Pilgrim took the hand with A-Q. That sent Daniel Makowsky packing in fifth place with $183,449.
Pilgrim climbed higher on the leaderboard by taking a 4.5 million-chip pot from Novena, though Mohajeri surged ahead, took a big pot from Pilgrim, and moved ever so slightly into the chip lead.
Novena couldn’t recover from the earlier hit and pushed his last 2,575,000 chips all-in preflop with . Pilgrim made the call with , and the flop of gave him top two pair. The on the turn and on the river ended the hand, and Brandon Novena headed to the cashier cage to pick up $223,475 for the fourth place finish.
The next 50 or 60 hands saw a lot of action, as Mor doubled through Pilgrim but Pilgrim moved back up into the chip lead. However, when Mor then took a big pot from Mahajeri, Mor took over the top spot for a short while, though Mohajeri doubled through Mor to take it back. Ultimately, Pilgrim catapulted past both of them.
Mor finally made his all-in move with , and Mohajeri called with . The dealer spread the cards to show , and the two pair for Mohajeri eliminated Ofir Mor in third place with $266,835.
Heads-up play then began as follows on the 149th hand of the night:
Kia Mohajeri 18,875,000
Dwyte Pilgrim 12,475,000
Pilgrim played his aggressive game and took over the chip lead about 15 hands into the match. And he never let up. The 193rd hand of the night found the two players going to see a flop of . Mohajeri bet 2 million chips, and Pilgrim check-called to see the on the turn. Pilgrim led out with a 2 million bet that time, and Mohajeri responded with an all-in move holding for two pair. Pilgrim called and showed for the straight though, and the came on the river to allow that to stand. Kia Mohajeri finished the tournament in second place with $440,945.
An emotional Dwight Pilgrim, who has numerous WSOP Circuit rings to his name, finally took down a major live tournament title with the WPT Borgata victory. He was awarded $733,802, a gold bracelet, and the title of WPT champion.