We just completed Season VII of the World Poker Tour (WPT) with the $25,000 buy-in Championship event at Bellagio. Due to the economic slowdown, the number of entries was down substantially from a year ago (545 to 347).  However, most of the big names in the poker world were there and the event was incredible.  What most players really liked was that they were given $100,000 in starting chips and only played five levels (90 minutes each) per day.  You didn’t have to play those 12 to 14 hour days like you do at many big-time poker tournaments.

Kudos to Tournament Director Jack McClelland and the staff at Bellagio for the structure and hours they set up for play.  I have yet to hear one player complain about this setup – starting at noon, playing five levels, and then stopping for the day at 8:30 pm (with no dinner break necessary).  If there was a complaint, it was that we started the blinds too low ($50-$100).  It’s not often you hear players wanting to kick up the blinds!

My co-commentator Vince Van Patten and I were not allowed to enter any WPT events during the first six seasons, but the WPT now encourages us to play some if we want to.  So, I decided to play and unfortunately ended up contributing $25,000 to the WPT Championship prize pool.  I lasted two and half days and went out around 100th place (which paid zip, as only the top 50 made the money).  I must say that I really did enjoy playing even though I got knocked out.  To compete against top players (old and the new) is challenging and fun.  And like nearly all who get eliminated from any tournament, I’ll join them and say, “I just didn’t catch enough cards or have any luck.”

OK, OK.  I know you’re dying to know how I went out.  After two folds, Nick Binger (who was probably the chip leader at our table with about $550,000) was playing well and aggressive and made it $12,000 to go.  I had an A-K offsuit and about $150,000 in front of me.  I contemplated calling (because I hate A-K) and moving all-in, but I decided to re-raise it to $36,000 so I could still get away from this hand if someone behind me came over the top.  Everyone folded and Nick took a long time before deciding to call.  The flop came A-10-6, all diamonds.  He checked.  Now what would you do with nearly $85,000 in the pot?  I moved all-in.  He had the Q-J of diamonds, flopped a flush, and quickly called.  Bye-bye Mike.  Back to the booth.   I don’t really fault my play here, but in hindsight, I wish I had moved all-in pre-flop with the A-K.

There’s always a lot of pain dished out during any tournament, but Jennifer Harman‘s tale of woe, considering when it came, would be tough for anyone to take.  She played for five days, got down to 11 players, picked up two Aces, re-raised with them, and then got all of her money (over $800,000) in pre-flop.  He held the 10-2 of hearts (and no, she wasn’t up against Doyle Brunson).  A deuce on the flop and a ten on the turn shattered Jennifer’s dream of taking this title.

When the smoke cleared, the final table (six players) was pretty incredible.  It consisted of two WPT champions (Scotty Nguyen and Bertrand “Elky” Grospellier) and three others under the age of 24, including the two chip leaders, who were both 21: Yevgeniy Timoshenko and Christian Harder. In addition, Shannon Shorr had over $3 million in career earnings.

What can you say about Scotty Nguyen when it comes to performing, but “wow”?   The guy has five World Series of Poker bracelets (including the Main Event in 1998 and the $50,000 HORSE tournament last year), a WPT title, and eight WPT final table appearances. “Elky” is the hottest guy on the circuit right now.   He already has both WPT and EPT titles on his resume and if he would finish fourth or better in this tournament, he would attain the coveted “WPT Player of the Year” award.  He did just that with his third place finish!  Nice going, Elky!

Folks, now let me introduce you to the next superstar of the poker world: Yevgeniy Timoshenko.  He’s 21 years, two months old (and looks like he’s 13).  He’s originally from the Ukraine, but grew up in Washington.  Let me tell you, the kid is amazing and fearless on the green felt.  Prior to this event, he had already earned nearly $1 million in non-U.S. tournaments.  He won the Asian Poker Tour championship event in Macau, won an event at the Irish Open, and made a final table at last year’s WSOP Europe.  He came to this final table as the big chip leader and rolled over the competition, going wire to wire for the victory.  Think about it, the guy just turned 21 and already has over $3 million in career earnings!

Besides his poker skills, here are some things that really impress me about the kid:  He’s well-mannered, well-spoken, and has a lot of class.  As soon as he made this final table, he went out and bought himself a suit and got a haircut.  I hope others follow his example: You look good, you feel good, you play good.  Congratulations, Yevgeniy!

Final Results of the WPT Championship:

1st place – Yevgeniy Timoshenko  ($2,149,960)
2nd place – Ran Azor  ($1,446,265)
3rd place – Betrand “Elky” Grospellier  ($776,245)
4th place – Christian Harder  ($571,965)
5th place – Shannon Shorr  ($408,550)
6th place – Scotty Ngyuen  ($285,985)

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