The next to last event prior to this year's World Poker Tour Championship event in Las Vegas wrapped up Thursday evening with the crowning of a new champion during the World Poker Challenge in Reno. Competition was fierce throughout the tournament as 592 players came to the felt in the $5,000 Main Event with early surprises and a final table that showcased some of the great "unknown" poker players around today.
Early action through the first two days of the event were dominated by the continued emergence of professional poker player Liz Lieu. Lieu, who made her debut on the poker scene in last year's World Series of Poker, rocketed to an early lead through skillful play and a fearless style that left many opponents scratching their heads as she gathered their chips and they left the tournament. Liz' story wasn't the only signal that some excellent players are in the shadows of tournament poker, however.
With only 36 players cashing out in the tournament (a surprisingly low 6% of the field; WPT events have often cashed out at percentages up to 25% of the field), action was tense as the bubble burst on Day Three. Once that occurred, however, action increased with eliminations quickly taking the field down to the final six. Notable professionals David Plastik, Gavin Smith, Chau Giang, Juan Carlos Mortensen, the aforementioned Lieu, Patrick Poels and Fabrice Soulier all went out prior to the final ten in the tournament and, with the departure of online player Carl "colson10" Olson on the television bubble in seventh place, the final table was set.
What was unique about this final table was the number of excellent "unknown" professional poker players that have made quite an impact on the poker world. Jason Stern and Greg "FBT" Mueller both have excellent tournament resumes, albeit not in major events. They have often competed and won in the preliminary events of many tournaments worldwide, thus escaping the notice of those who only look at high dollar events. Tom Schneider is a frequent combatant in the cash game world who also is a noted author and businessman. Leading the field to the final table was fan favorite Barry Greenstein, who came to the final table with the second chip stack and the desire to add a second WPT title in 2006 to his mantle.
Alas, it wasn't to be for Greenstein. Early in the action, Mike Simon (who had come to the final table as a slight chip leader) crippled Barry Greenstein with a set of eights with an Ace kicker over Barry's King kicker. The "Robin Hood of Poker" was never able to recover from that and finished in sixth. Jonas Norrman, who qualified for the tournament online for just over $6, was the next to go out in fifth place, netting a check of $113,830 for his investment. Greg Mueller carried his aggressive style to a fourth place finish soon afterwards.
When Tom Schneider departed the tournament in third place, it came down to Jason Stern and Mike Simon. If Stern had little experience under the bright lights of major poker tournament pressure, he still had the advantage here; Simon had never reached the rarefied air of this position. The two players battled back and forth over the span of an hour and a half before Simon was able to take the title from Stern and become the champion of the Reno event, taking the trophy, the $25,000 seat at the WPT Championship and slightly over $1 million for his efforts.
The professionals move from the mountains of Reno to the latest event to be added to the WPT schedule with the $10,000 Foxwoods Poker Challenge event in Connecticut. Action should be intense there as it is the final opportunity for players to earn their seat into the WPT Championship at the Bellagio in Las Vegas this month. For now, however, Mike Simon has the poker world applauding his efforts as the latest million dollar champion of the WPT.
Ed note: Vince Van Patten of the World Poker Tour plays at Hollywood Poker