Tuesday was the last day of the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event in Palm Beach as the field played from 24 to a winner. This event truly was a tournament of firsts. It was the first time a WSOP-branded event was held at a noncasino property. It was the first time a dog track hosted a major poker tournament of any kind. And it was the first time a Circuit ring was awarded to a player younger than 21.
The day dawned with three tables still in play, and it took about seven hours to shrink the field to the requisite nine. Zhen Cai was one of the big stacks throughout Day 2, but he was the first to fall on Day 3. Cai was already getting short when he flopped a flush draw with , but he bricked the turn and river against Ryan Lenaghan and his top set with . Less than one level into the day, six players were out, and the rest were redrawn for the final two tables.
Frank "gator93" Hernandez, best known for his online poker prowess, had quite a day on the live felt, as well. Gator's day started when his eliminated Don Todd and his in 20th place. Just a half hour later, Hernandez lost more than half his stack when Mike Morton doubled through him with on a board. That put Hernandez back in the realm of 20 big blinds, but it wasn't long before he doubled up again when his held against Barry Wiedemann's on a board that ran . About a half hour after that, he doubled up again, this time climbing over a million chips when his topped to take a bite out of John Riordan's big stack. Just a moment later, however, the two men tangled again, and Riordan got all of his chips back, with interest. Hernandez's betrayed him when Riordan's tripped up on the board. Gator was back down around ten big blinds, and Riordan's finished him off just a few minutes later as Hernandez flopped top pair with on a disastrous flop.
That left 15 players in the field, and two hours later, the final 10 gathered around the unofficial final table for the last redraw of the night. Jorge Rivera was the short stack, and his 455,000 chips quickly went into the middle with . Riordan looked down at and made the call, and the board set the final table and sent the nine finalists off to dinner.
When they returned, the action came at a fairly brisk pace. Thomas Aprea had just over 10 big blinds to start the final table, but a half hour and a couple of double-ups later, he was suddenly in second place with 50 bigs in front of him. A little over an hour into play, Gerald Timmons got his money in with with a chance to triple up. Aprea isolated with his inferior ace-jack following the flop, but the on the river sent him another pot and cued the first elimination of the final table. Overnight chip leader Jesse Okonczak was getting short on chips by that time, and he took his stand with . Riordan looked him up with , and a board full of blanks ushered Okonczak out in eighth place. Moments later, Dave MacDonald fell in seventh when his could not catch up to Aprea's . Well, it caught up momentarily on the flop, but the turn reversed the tides once again, and the river sent MacDonald to the cashier.
It was just another few hands before another all-in and a call, and this time it was Jon Brody at risk. He shoved with , and it looked like he was set to double as Riordan tabled the dominated . Despite Brody's pleas for, "No ten," the dealer peeled one right off on the flop, and the board was the last one of his day. Ryan Leneghan went out in fifth place, getting his last 1.65 million chips into the pot with his dominated by Austin Buchanan's . Buchanan's chips didn't last long, though, and he was next to exit in fourth place after taking his up against Riordan's to no avail.
When four-handed play began, Mike Morton was the short stack with less than 13 big blinds, but he was a man on a mission for the remainder of the final table. During four- and three-handed play, Morton seized control of the table. He doubled through Riordan with against , and he doubled through him again ( > ) on the very next orbit. That got him close to 3 million in chips, and he kept on attacking the chip leader. A couple hands thereafter, Morton and his flushed their way to another big pot to pull his stack over 4.4 million and right on the heels of Riordan's. There was a war brewing between the two men, and the big one came in due time. On a board of , Riordan led with heavy betting on the flop and turn. When the river came, he shoved in with (Broadway), but Morton's had hit the river even harder. That 7.5 million-chip pot turned the tides in favor of Morton, and Riordan was playing from behind for the first time all day.
Thomas Aprea had done some remarkable work through the middle stages of the day to survive until three-handed play, but that's where his run ended. His pocket fours ran straight into Riordan's pocket fives to send him off in third, setting the stage for the heads-up match that seemed inevitable as the evening wore on.
It was Morton and Riordan battling it out for the ring, and there was certainly no pussyfooting around. Million-chip bets began to become more frequent, and it wasn't long before another massive pot unfolded. Riordan had about 5 million chips when he got his money in on the turn of a board with , and he was in the lead. Morton's had plenty of outs to end the tournament right there, however, but the river swung the match back into Riordan's favor in a big way. Just a few hands after that big clash, Morton shoved the rest of his chips in with on a flop, and Riordan called him down with . The pair of sevens managed to hold for Riordan as the turn and river filled out the final board of the day.
With that, John Riordan has become the youngest player ever to win a WSOP-C gold ring at the tender age of 19. The good news comes with a bit of a sting, however, as he is not eligible to use the National Championship seat that would otherwise be awarded to a Circuit Main Event champion. In fact, we'll have to wait two years to see Riordan play a major tournament in the U.S., but if his performance in Palm Beach is any indication, he'll be ready to make some waves when the time comes.
That wraps up the ninth stop on the WSOP Circuit, but there's no rest for the weary. Our Live Reporting team is heading to Atlantic City for the March 11-13 event at Caesars.
In the meantime, follow us on Twitter to keep up with all the goings-on.[/I]