We're just one day away from the start of the 2014 Western New York Poker Challenge. The annual series is taking place within walking distance of the world famous Niagara Falls at the Seneca Niagara Casino, where the best poker players in the region will duke it out for nine days in 16 events.
The PokerNews Live Reporting Team will be on the floor providing coverage of the series, much like we did at the 2013 Seneca Fall Poker Classic at the same venue last year. Now that we've had a chance to witness the play in several tournaments at Seneca, we decided to put together a "Players to Watch" list for the upcoming series, with a little help from Seneca Niagara Poker Room Manager Amanda Scarcelli.
The Seneca Poker Room has been Spears' personal playground for the past year. Last August he took down the Summer Slam Series Main Event for $23,700, and a few months later he went wire-to-wire to win the $1,500 Fall Poker Classic Main Event for $52,410. However, as Scarcelli points out, Spears has found success outside of his home turf as well. In September he claimed his first World Series of Poker Circuit ring in Cincinnati, winning a $365 Turbo tournament for $10,801. He'll be a force again at the WNYPC.
You'll know the minute Travell Thomas steps into a poker room. A big personality and infectious laugh are part of Thomas' persona that he plays to his advantage at the table. He also has game, as shown by some big results across the country since 2009. Thomas has a pair of WSOPC rings to go along with victories at the Borgata Poker Open, Heartland Poker Tour, and even last year's WNY Poker Challenge, where he won two side events for more than $16,000 combined. He also finished eighth at the Seneca Fall Poker Classic Main Event last year.
Like Thomas, Pfeifer has been traveling the tournament circuit for years but calls the Seneca Poker room home. Most of his success, though, has come at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. Pfeifer won the East Coast Poker Championships at Turning Stone in 2006 for $56,656, his biggest score until he emerged victorious at the 2010 Heartland Poker Tour Main Event at Turning Stone for $157,819. He then won the Seneca Niagara DeepStacks Poker Open Main Event in 2011.
Block has been on a roll since winning a side event at the Seneca Fall Poker Classic last November. In December, he won his first WSOP Circuit ring and also finished third in an event at Harrah's Atlantic City, securing the title of Casino Champion which comes with a seat to the WSOPC National Championship. He told PokerNews that he'll be playing every event in the upcoming series at Seneca Niagara.
All but two of Nablo's recorded live tournament cashes have come on the East Coast, with many of them taking place in his stomping grounds of Niagara Falls. He has several victories at Seneca, but his biggest score there came last November at the Seneca Fall Poker Classic Main Event. He joined Thomas and Spears at the final table, eventually finishing sixth for $8,929.
Rivera is coming off a big series at last year's WNY Poker Challenge where he made two final tables, officially placing second and third. Both of those events were won by the aforementioned Thomas, but Rivera chopped one of them three-handed. Rivera also won the 2012 Summer Slam Main Event at Seneca Niagara for $20,330, but most of his damage on the circuit has taken place at the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza. He's won two events there in the past three years.
Mueller knows how to navigate a field. According to the Hendon Mob, Mueller has 21 live tournament cashes to his credit. He made the final table in 11 of those tournaments, including the Seneca Fall Poker Classic Main Event last year (he finished fourth for $14,558). Mueller's first tournament win came a month later at the SuperStacks Hold'em Series at Turning Stone, and he kept the momentum going by winning a side event at the Borgata Winter Poker Open in January. Last month he placed seventh in a $1,100 Fallsview Poker Classic event for $18,134. That tournament was eventually won by red-hot tournament pro Mike Leah.
Our coverage of the 2014 Western New York Poker Challenge begins Friday at 11 a.m. ET. You can follow all of these players and more in the PokerNews Live Reporting Blog.