The World Series of Poker Circuit kicked off a new year with its first stop at the Horseshoe in Council Bluffs, Iowa, putting to the test the WSOP's new system that will allow a Circuit player to win a WSOP bracelet for the first time. The Circuit's makeover is designed to give players who can't afford big buy-ins a shot at a World Series bracelet. But the first person to lock up a seat in the $1 million guaranteed National Championship bracelet event is no stranger to big buy ins — or gold bracelets. Blair Hinkle earned the first seat in the National Championship by winning the Council Bluffs $1,500 Main Event on Tuesday. To get his first Circuit ring and a chance at his second WSOP bracelet, Hinkle had to outlast three-time Circuit-ring winner Dwyte Pilgrim, who finished third.
Drawn by the low buy-in and the chance to earn a seat in a bracelet event, 251 players ponied up $1,500 at the Horseshoe to enter the Main Event. The main event of the previous WSOP-C held in Council Bluffs was a $5,000 buy-in but only drew 46 runners. The supersized field and solid structure meant that after two days of play, 13 people still remained to start the Final Table Day. Two were quickly eliminated, and then pro Bernard Lee fell on the final table bubble. Lee ran into to finish in 10th place, earning $6,582.
Lee's exit set the final table, and it was all business when the top nine came back from dinner break. Hinkle held a narrow chip lead over Pilgrim, who had been chip leader for most of the previous two days. Short-stack Kevin Calenzo was the first to leave the final table, picking up $8,103 for ninth place. Daniel Biddle went from one of the larger stacks to out in eighth place in a matter of minutes, giving most of his chips and a big chip lead to Shiva Dudani.
Hinkle caught up a bit when he busted John Wakeen in seventh place, but then he doubled up Pilgrim and fell to the bottom of the heap. An orbit later, Pilgrim and Hinkle tangled again and switched stacks. While they focused on each other in big pot after big pot, Dudani found another victim, sending Jack Do home in sixth place. Hinkle resumed the honors to bust Charles Moore in fifth, then Dudani took out Matt Lawrence in fourth.
Pilgrim was the short-stack with three left, and it was soon clear that he wouldn't be earning another Circuit ring this week. He got his last chips in the middle with on a board, but his top pair was drawing dead against Hinkle's . Pilgrim added $39,531 to his impressive Circuit cashes, which include nearly $5,000 for winning a $235 preliminary event days earlier.
Hinkle had the edge to start heads-up play, and though Dudani put up a fight, one-half of 2008's bracelet-winning brothers finished him off in under an hour. Dudani shoved the river of board, and Hinkle called with for two pair. Dudani could only show a jack-high bluff, and that misstep was enough to end his day in second place with $54,715. Hinkle grabbed $88,555 along with the gold WSOP-C ring and a seat in the National Championship event, which will be held in Las Vegas in May.
Here is how the Council Bluffs final nine finished:
1. Blair Hinkle - $88,555
2. Shiva Dudani - $54,715
3. Dwyte Pilgrim - $39,531
4. Matt Lawrence - $29,092
5. Charles Moore - $21,795
6. Jack Do - $16,608
7. John Wakeen - $12,867
8. Daniel Biddle - $10,131
9. Kevin Calenzo - $8,103
Head on over to WSOP.com for all the updates from this event.