Play has continued in the Jack Binion World Poker Open in Tunica, MS, with some noise finally being heard from the professionals in the tournament. Through the early events, it was the amateurs making the moves, with many professionals not getting within sniffing distance of even the cash-out level. As the buy-ins have increased, however, the Vegas pros are coming to play.
Tony Cousineau of Daytona Beach, FL, has played steady poker and played it in a multitude of disciplines. While he hasn't picked up a bracelet yet, he has cashed in several of the events and he has to be a favorite to take the tournament's Player Of The Tournament award. The only couple to win World Series of Poker bracelets in the same year, Dr. Max and Maria Stern, have also performed well. Additionally, Men "The Master" Nguyen and Scott Fishman have awoken to play some excellent poker as well.
In the $500 Seven Card Stud Event, Avner Levy of Boca Raton, FL, outlasted the 244 player field to take the World Poker Open bracelet and the $37,308 first place prize. He was able to defeat the aforementioned Maria Stern and add another WPO bracelet to his wrist; he also took a No-Limit bracelet in 2003 at this event.
The professionals continued to flex their muscles in the $500 Pot Limit Hold 'Em (with rebuys) event. Can Kim Hua of Rosemead, CA, made the cash-out level and Chris "The Armenian Express" Grigorian of Panama City, FL and Tony Cousineau both made the final table. The victory, however, went to another professional, Raul Paez of Barcelona, Spain. He became the first foreign born player to win at this year's WPO, and added $99,657 to his pocket and his entry into the Championship Event for this year's tournament.
Two-time 2004 WSOP bracelet winner Scott Fishman came to Mississippi to reestablish the professionals on the Mississippi coast. He made a great run in the $500 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo Split event, but came up just short as he finished second to David Eller. Eller pocketed $40,047 in vanquishing the 272 player field.
In what has to be the story of the tournament (and possibly of ANY tournament), Sirous Bagchcehsaraie of Los Angeles, CA, captured the $500 Omaha Hi/Lo Split Tournament. What is not amazing is defeating the 442 opponents in the tournament, but the factor that, at the final table, he was at one point down to five thousand chips and in danger of being eliminated. He began a stirring comeback and was able to persevere over Dr. Max Stern of Las Vegas, NV (who went into the final table as the leader), and Gary Jones of London, England. With the thrilling victory, Bagchcehsaraie also took $64,467 and the coveted, and well-earned, World Poker Open bracelet.
In the $1000 No-Limit Event, the amateurs once again came to the front. The 667 player field was the second largest of the tournament so far. At the end, Johnny Landreth of Lanett, AL was able to be the last man standing and walked away with the top prize of $175,597. Landreth also moved on to the Championship Event with the victory.
The $1000 Limit Hold 'Em Event was more of a siege than a poker tournament. It took an astounding 299 hands for the champion to be determined at the final table, which included Jose Rosencrantz and Minh Nguyen. After the carnage was over, it was Nick Yobbagy of Fort Collins, CO, who was able to end the tournament of Hung Ly of Los Angeles, CA. A thoroughly exhausted Yobbagy picked up the riches for his efforts, the $90,171 first place check, the WPO gold and diamond bracelet and the spot in the Championship Event.
It has been a thrilling ride through the early stages of the Jack Binion World Poker Open, and it will only continue to become more exciting as we have not reached the Championship Event, which will start with supersatellites on January 23rd, with the finals to begin the next day. Between now and then, however, are some fairly prestigious titles of their own on the line. It remains to be seen what will happen over the next week as the warfare continues in the dark of the Mississippi night.