The World Series of Poker (WSOP) Circuit stop at the Palm Beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach, Florida is in full swing and whether tournament officials want to admit it or not, the turnout has to be more than anyone expected.
Things exploded right from the get-go. The first ring event was a $345 No Limit Hold’em tournament with two starting days and, for the first time, players who busted out during the first flight of Day 1 could buy in again on Day 2. As a result, the first WSOP Circuit event in Florida set a record for the largest single-venue tournament in the history of the state, fielding 877 players. Several other milestones were hit:
First major poker tournament to take place at a dog track
First event in the WSOP family of tournaments to be held at something other than a full-scale casino
The $255,207 prize pool was the largest in the history of Florida poker
The two largest stacks – Michael Hallen and Reed Zhao – were the last two men at the final table. And while they went into heads-up in the same order they started the final table, they weren’t nearly as close in chips as they were at the beginning of the day, as Hallen had a 6:1 chip lead over Zhao.
But as we know, things can change quickly in poker. Zhao doubled-up three times in quick order to take a 3:2 lead. To cap it all off, Hallen got his chips in with a dominating hand – A-10 versus A-8 – but Zhao hit a runner-runner flush to win the first gold ring and $49,258 at the Palm Beach Kennel Club.
Player reaction to the event has been very positive overall. For example, on TwoPlusTwo, third place finisher Sean “OctoSean” Westbrook said, “I’m the god-like luckbox who took 3rd. All in all, a pretty fun event.”
About the worst review out there was from Hallen, who was not happy about the Kennel Club’s alcohol policy: “Please do not have more than 8 drinks here, as they will cut u off. Have not been disruptive or anything to my table and all the sudden I’m cut off?”
Event #2 was a $500 No Limit Hold’em tournament and while it was not as large as the first event, the 409-player field was still impressive. Triumphing over his competition was 23-year old Miami resident James Giraldo. Strictly an online poker player, this was the first live tournament of Giraldo’s life.
He was actually at a chip disadvantage throughout much of heads-up play, but nibbled away at Roberto Alberro‘s stack over the course of two hours to eventually pull into the lead. Finally, with the board reading A-9-8-6 with two spades, both players got all of their chips into the middle. Alberro had Q-10 of spades for a gutshot straight draw and a flush draw, while Giraldo had K-7 for an open-ended straight draw and king-high. A king hit on the river, clinching the ring for Giraldo and a healthy $43,191 payday.
They were back for a $345 No Limit Hold’em event on Sunday and this time, the two-day event saw 465 players signup. “Tampa Bay Ray” Del Cueto had promised his wife that he’d win the whole thing if he made the final table, but that promise was looking a bit empty, as he started final table play as the second shortest stack with just 142,000 chips, about one-eighth of the tally of the chip leader, Donald Gousse. Fortunately, he wasn’t the only one in trouble, as two other players had fewer than 200,000 and two more had fewer than 300,000.
Gousse had the lead almost the entire final table, but ran into trouble when play got three-handed. He was eventually eliminated with A-7 against Ray’s A-K and it was on to heads-up. In the one-on-one portion of the match, A-7 proved to be a lucky hand, as Ray used it to knock out Matthew Bellucci. Holding 6-3, Bellucci moved all-in on a flop of A-K-6. Of course, Ray called and took it on home along with $28,800.
The WSOP Circuit stop at the Palm Beach Kennel Club will continue for the rest of the month, concluding with the Main Event, a $1,600 No Limit Hold’em tournament, running from February 27th to March 1st. Rather than having two starting days, there will be two starting flights taking place on the same day. The first will begin at 11:00am, with the second commencing at 7:00pm. The survivors from both flights will be merged on Day 2, which, along with Day 3, will start at Noon.