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WSOP Circuit: The Race for the National Championship

WSOP Circuit banner

The first three events in the new World Series of Poker Circuit season have concluded, so the season is now a quarter of the way done. For a lot of players, the goal is to make it to the National Championship at the end of the season. To do so, one must qualify by completing one of the following four tasks.

  • Win the $1,500 Main Event at any WSOP Circuit Tour location.
  • Be the "Casino Champion" by accumulating the most points at any of the individual WSOP Circuit stops' 10 official open "ring" events.
  • Make the final table (9 players) at any of the four $10,000 buy-in regional championships.
  • Accumulate enough points between all the WSOP Circuit stops to be positioned in the Top 36 cumulative point standings at the end of the 2010-11 WSOP Circuit Tour.

Through the first three stops, including one regional championship held in Hammond, Indiana, 15 players have already locked up a spot in the 100-player field that will make up the National Championship. Here’s a look at those 15 players and how each already secured a spot. It is important to note that all 15 have a guaranteed spot in the National Championship; therefore, the point totals associated with each player don't matter.

PlayerQualification
Blair HinkleCouncil Bluffs Main Event Champion
Robert GeoratoCouncil Bluffs Casino Champion
Charles MooreSouthern Indiana Main Event Champion
Kevin ManleySouthern Indiana Casino Champion
Kurt JewellHammond Main Event Champion
Ian WileyHammond Casino Champion
James AndersonMidwest Regional Champion
Gabe PatgorskiMidwest Regional Final Table
Bernard LeeMidwest Regional Final Table
Curt KohlbergMidwest Regional Final Table
Dave SandsMidwest Regional Final Table
Shannon ShorrMidwest Regional Final Table
Brandon AdamsMidwest Regional Final Table
Anthony HartmannMidwest Regional Final Table
Mark OwensMidwest Regional Final Table

You’ll notice that there’s a good mix of names you may know and some you may not know. This is a huge reason the newly revamped Circuit is a huge success so far this year. With this newly-added point system creating a battle for spots in the National Championship, plenty of lesser-known players are showing what they’re made of. Many have been grinders along the poker circuit for quite some time. With four ways to qualify for the big National Championship and play for a WSOP gold bracelet along with plenty of cash, new stars will be born.

When you take a look at the top 36 on the points leaderboard, you’ll come across even fewer names that you’ve already heard about. As it stands right now, 52.5 points are good enough to put you in that top 36, but it won't be for long. Three players not on this list have accumulated 52.5 points, but make up places 37, 38 and 39 because of tiebreaker implications. Leading the way is Kevin Calenzo with 155 points.

PlacePlayerPointsRings WonMoney Finishes
1Kevin Calenzo15505
2Shiva Dudani152.515
3Jeremy Schwartz15012
4Brett Schwertley11515
5Joel Merwick102.505
6Steve Zolotow10001
7Dan Perper10001
8David Paredes10001
9David “Bakes” Baker10001
10Chris Klodnicki10001
11David Adkison10001
12Keven Stammen10001
13Ryan Julius10001
14William Souther9512
15Jeffrey Epstein87.512
16Michael Foster8003
17Steven Weixel77.513
18Jared Kenworthy7501
19Scott Clark7512
20Tuan Bui Le72.513
21Matthew Lawrence7003
22Ryan Austin7002
23Drazen Ilich7012
24Edward Corrado67.503
25Casey Hayes67.502
26Nadir Babck6513
27Luther Lewis6504
28William Reynolds6001
29Nick Jivkov6002
30John Holder6001
31Dwyte Pilgrim6001
32Kristopher Bradshaw6002
33Kevin Marcus6012
34Edwin Choi5501
35Keith Correll52.503
36Juan Rodriguez52.512

*Note that the first couple of events on the fourth stop this season may be included in these point standings.

Calenzo has surely done all he can to secure that top spot on the leaderboard. In this year’s tour, Calenzo has final-tabled two Main Events in Council Bluffs and Southern Indiana while also final-tabling a H.O.R.S.E. preliminary event in Hammond before running very deep in that Main Event, as well. Back-to-back-to-back final tables would have been absolutely remarkable, but Calenzo only managed a 21st-place finish in Hammond. Out of 872 players, though, that’s reason to hang your head.

Calenzo hails from New Hartford, New York, and his results date to 2003. In August of 2004, he took second in an event at the Second Annual Empire State Hold’em Championships at Turning Stone for $7,560. After that, Calenzo didn’t have another cash until 2008. In 2009, he had his best year yet, taking home over $70,000 during the year. The big score that year came in the Deep Stack Extravaganza II Main Event in Las Vegas at The Venetian. The buy-in was $2,500, and Calenzo finished third for over $64,000, by far his largest cash to date.

A little over a year later, Calenzo was able to set another career high for his largest cash, this time with a victory. Calenzo won the $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em event at the September 2010 Borgata Poker Open in Atlantic City. He was awarded $79,307.

Looking at that list, there are a few players you should start learning about. The first would be Calenzo, but we’ve already talked about him. Shiva Dudani is the next person, sitting right behind Calenzo with 152.5 points. Dudani is also crushing along this year’s WSOP Circuit tour with five cashes and one ring won. Watching this guy in action, you see a force at the table, but one you’d never know was coming. He isn’t well-known yet, which makes him all that more dangerous.

Checking Dudani’s record prior to the splash he’s made on the Circuit this season, there isn’t much there. Dudani has a few cashes including a win in June 2009 at a Caesars Mega Stack event for nearly $17,000. He also has one WSOP Circuit cash from last season in a preliminary event at Horseshoe Hammond, but that’s about it. He’s racked up nearly $75,000 in tournament winnings in 2010, all from WSOP Circuit events. This guy’s got some game, so when you combine that with his fearlessness at the table, he will be one player you need to keep on your radar.

Joel Merwick is another player on this list who’s performing well on the WSOP Circuit’s new season. Merwick has over $110,000 in career earnings, much of which comes from WSOP-branded events. The first cash on his record is an in-the-money finish in the WSOP Main Event back in 2005. He finished in 189th place for $39,075. Although that’s his only WSOP cash, Merwick has 12 WSOP Circuit cashes. Out of those 12, six are final tables. Most of those final tables came in prelim events, but last season on the Circuit, Merwick final-tabled the $5,000 WSOP Circuit Championship Event at Harrah’s New Orleans. He went on to finish in sixth place there for $37,280. He also final-tabled the Main Event in Southern Indiana this season, placing ninth for $9,163.

In the first stop on this season’s tour in Council Bluffs, Merwick cashed three times including a 24th-place finish in the Main Event. He has 102.5 points on the National Championship leaderboard and sits in fifth place for players who have yet to automatically qualify.

The last player we’ll let you know about is Mike Foster from Chicago. Even though he’s young, he has two scores over $40,000 and a WSOP Circuit gold ring. With over $95,000 in career tournament winnings, Foster won $45,580 after taking down a side event at the Bellagio Cup in 2006. His Circuit win came in 2008 at the Horseshoe Hammond where he won the $1,100 No-Limit Hold’em event, which was worth $40,275.

In this season’s Circuit tour, Foster already has three cashes thath ave gotten him 80 National Championship points. Two of those cashes were in Indiana in preliminary events. He cashed in the $350 No-Limit Hold’em event and then final tabled another $350 No-Limit Hold’em event, finishing in sixth place for $4,423. He then went on to final-table the Main Event there and won $33,043 for his third-place finish.

Both Merwick and Foster are very calm and collected players who always seem focused directly on the task at hand: winning. Both have amazing table presence and are able to manipulate their opponents very well during tournaments, which is why they’ve been doing so well this season.

We hope we’ve help shed some light on the race for the National Championship, and we will keep you filled in as the season progresses. Don’t forget to familiarize yourself with the players we’ve talked about here because before you know it, they may be household names in poker.

With the WSOP Circuit only a quarter of the way complete, there’s plenty of action still to be had. If you’re interested in trying to get a seat in the National Championship, check out the WSOP Circuit schedule to find a stop near you. If you’d like to read about how the points system works, check out the overview and qualification details.

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