When it comes to mouth-watering food and great live music, no city beats New Orleans.  The poker action here isn’t too bad either.  In a sense, everyone who visits New Orleans ends up a winner.

That’s a perspective shared by thousands of poker players, who come to the Crescent City each year to play in the South’s most prestigious poker tournament series. 

“If I enter a tournament and go deep, that’s awesome,” said Jerry Siemens, a small business owner who visits New Orleans about twice per year.  “And if I bust out, then I have the rest of the night free to have a great dinner or hear the music on Bourbon Street.  So, it’s a win-win deal for me.”

This marks the fifth consecutive year Harrah’s New Orleans has hosted a WSOP Circuit stop.  The inaugural series in 2005 set several attendance records, which still stand to this day.  But each and every year, the turnout for tournaments and live action has been consistently high.  The poker market was so lively here two years ago that New Orleans began to host not just one, but two WSOP-related events yearly.  The Winter Bayou Poker Challenge continues to be held in December.  The regular Bayou Poker Challenge always takes place in May.

The Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel and Casino is located in the perfect spot.  It is only steps away from the famous French Quarter, with hundreds of world-class restaurants, bars, and other attractions.  The Mississippi River is only a two-minute walk away.  Other popular destinations within walking distance of the casino include the Audubon Nature Institute Aquarium, IMAX theatre, Steamboat Natchez Riverboat, and many other fun places.  Antique 1930s-era streetcars run up and down adjacent Canal Street and run throughout the city.

The Harrah’s Hotel is located directly across the street from the casino.  At 26 stories high, it offers spectacular views of the New Orleans area, including water traffic floating along the Mississippi River.  The 450-room luxury hotel is a AAA Four Diamond award winner and is one of the best places to stay in the city.

Inside the casino, the Harrah’s New Orleans Poker Room offers 23 tables with around the clock cash-game action.  Due to the large turnout for tournaments an extra 45 tables are added to the special events center, which becomes the tournament arena for the duration of the two-week series of events.

This year, the Bayou Poker Challenge instituted a number of key changes, which appear to be largely responsible for the boost in attendance.  The primary changes are more tournaments, more starting chips, and more playing levels.          

There are now two daily gold ring events.  No-Limit Hold’em tournaments are mostly scheduled to start at noon.  Other tournaments such as Omaha High-Low Split and Pot-Limit Omaha are mostly scheduled at 5 pm.  This means the tournament action goes around the clock at Harrah’s.

Players also get lots of added play, due to more starting chips and added levels.  On average, tournament players are starting with about 40 percent more in chips than the same events held last year.  Furthermore, levels have been added at key points so that increases are incremental, instead of tournaments elsewhere which drastically increase blinds and antes, making the events a crapshoot.  These vital changes increase the skill factor in the tournament – yet another reason the World Series of Poker and WSOP Circuit events are the most popular events for poker players.

Casey Lang Chiasson (Lafayette, LA) Wins Event #1

The first event of the 2009 Bayou Poker Challenge attracted a whopping 572 players.  This was the largest turnout at Harrah’s New Orleans for a World Series of Poker Circuit tournament in more than two years.  In fact, the $300 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em event was the sixth-largest tournament in New Orleans history, since Harrah’s began hosting major poker tournaments.

The tournament winner was Casey Lang Chiasson, from Lafayette, LA.  He is a 30-year-old graduate student attending the University of New Orleans.  This is turning out to be an incredible week for Chaisson.  Only five days from now, he will graduate from college and will receive his M.B.A.  Chiasson plans to pursue a career in hospital management after graduation.

Chiasson started the final table ranked fifth in chips, which was about in the middle of the pack.  He seized the chip lead late in the tournament and won the finale which lasted about four hours.

The final hand of the tournament came when the runner up Kirk Danna raised pre-flop with A-2.  Chiasson re-raised all-in with A-Q.  Danna reluctantly called.  The dominant hand prevailed, which gave Chiasson his first tournament victory ever.  He had never cashed in a tournament prior to this victory.

Chiasson won first place prize money totaling $48,272.  He was also presented with a gold ring, the ultimate achievement for winning a WSOP Circuit event.  He will add a cap and gown to his wardrobe shortly, at his graduation ceremony later this week.

The top ten finishers were as follows: 

1st Place – Casey Lang Chiasson, a 30-year-old graduate student attending the University of New Orleans, won his first tournament ever.

2nd Place – The runner up was Kirk Danna, a 50-year-old air conditioning technician from Houston, TX.  He previously finished in the money at last year’s WSOP, taking 28th place in an event.  Second place paid a very respectable $25,468.

3rd Place – Norman Rockwell did not end up making the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.  He did however, take third place.  The college student from Chalmette, LA earned $13,317 in prize money.

4th Place – Allen Perry took fourth place.  The 59-year-old self-employed part-time poker player from Magnolia, TX achieved his first WSOP-related in-the-money finish in this event.

5th Place – The fifth place finisher was Chip Ervin.  He is a 30-year-old personal trainer from Tuscaloosa, AL.  This was Ervin’s second major tournament payday.  His first cash occurred two years ago at the Gulf Coast Poker Championship, in Mississippi. 

6th Place – Dan Walsh finished in sixth place.  He is self-employed and lives in Powder Springs, GA.  Walsh, who also enjoys scuba diving and flying his own plane, has previously cashed three times – including twice earlier this year at the Southern Poker Championship in Mississippi. 

7th Place – Matthew Bourgeois, a 30-year-old college instructor at LSU from Baton Rouge, LA was the seventh-place finisher.  It was a somewhat disappointing ending for the Bourgeois, who began play at the final table second in chips.  He cashed at last year’s WSOP Circuit event at Harrah’s New Orleans, as well.

8th Place – Dennis Booze won a gold ring at the WSOP Circuit held at Tunica in January.  His bid for a second gold ring fell short as he ended up as the eighth-place finisher in this tournament.  This marked his sixth time to cash in a WSOP Circuit tournament, after previous paydays at Caesars Indiana, Harrah’s New Orleans, and the Tunica Grand.  In his day job, Booze works as a school teacher and baseball coach in Henderson, NV.

9th Place – Jacob Naquin went out in ninth place.  He owns a liquor store in Houma, LA.  Naquin won a big tournament at the IP Poker Classic a few years ago in Biloxi, MS.  He also cashed way back in 2004 at the first-ever Bayou Poker Challenge.

10th Place – Robert Walker (no-relation to the Las Vegas pro by the same name) was eliminated in tenth place.  The ship captain from Mobile, AL had previously cashed at a tournament in Biloxi, MS.  This was his first WSOP Circuit cash.

Notable Players Who Finished In-the-Money – Chris Lovelace finished 23rd.  He took 104th place in the WSOP Main Event in 2007.  He also finished in third place at the WSOP Circuit championship event in New Orleans that same year.  Judy Rhodes took 34th place.  She was the runner up in last year’s Bayou Winter Poker Challenge ladies tournament.