ALI! ALI! ALI!
March 13, 2011 - 06:33:54 PM EST
Atlantic City, NJ (March 13, 2011) – Atlantic City’s adaptation of the “Thrilla’ in Mania” and “Rumble in the Jungle” came in the form of a blistering three-day poker bout headlined as the “Battle on the Boardwalk.”
Brian Ali ended up as the undisputed king of the boardwalk battle. He delivered a relentless flurry of knockout blows to his opponents en route to his first World Series of Poker Circuit title victory.
Ali topped a tough class of heavyweights in the latest WSOP Circuit Main Event Championship, held at Caesars Atlantic City. He collected a $139,284 cash prize for first place. Ali was also presented with his first gold ring, the ultimate prize awarded for winning a WSOP Circuit tournament.
Immediately following his domineering victory, Ali floated around the final table like a butterfly. The last day’s events had featured Ali stinging his opponents like a bee. Indeed, there were no phantom punches thrown at this final table. He demolished all challengers in the quickest final day of the entire WSOP Circuit season for any Main Event so far – officially clocking in at a lightning-fast 3 hours and 55 minutes.
There was no rope-a-dope in Ali’s strategic repertoire. To the contrary, he was willing to engage his opponents at every given opportunity. When Ali faced a seemingly borderline call, he always made the decision to tangle and counterpunched. Rivals were all but outmatched, barely managing to lay a glove on Ali, who was enjoying the poker rush of his life. Indeed, the deck certainly proved to be in Ali's corner.
“This is so exciting for me to win this,” Ali stated in a post-tournament interview. “I was just thinking about this last night that I could win the same amount of money buying a lottery ticket or something like that. But it would not mean the same at all. This victory is something I really had to earn. I had to beat some really, really tough poker players, not just here but over the past three days. So, I’m flying high right now.”
In the end, Ali’s poker victory posed obvious opportunities to take poetic license with comparisons to the legendary boxer and cultural icon. While the poker winner lacked the braggadocios bravado of the “other Ali,” the two champions shared at least one glaring similarity during their moments of triumph. Both Ali’s made winning look too easy and sure had fun while doing it.
The $1,500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament -- officially listed as Event #10 -- attracted 442 entries. Attendance surpassed even the most optimistic of projections in what is one of the gaming industry’s most challenged markets. Main Event participation was way up not only from last year’s number (there were 174 players), but was significantly ahead of the same championship event which took place at Harrah’s Atlantic City, last December. That tournament attracted 352 entries.
The prize pool amounted to $633,110. The top 46 finishers were paid. A list of players who cashed can be found HERE.
The tournament was played over three consecutive days. After more than 75 percent of the starting field was eliminated during the first day, just 82 survivors returned for Day Two action. Next, players battled down to the final table during the second day of play. The third day featured the final table, which was played inside the spacious Palladium Ballroom, located on the second floor at Caesars Atlantic City.
When “Shuffle Up and Deal” was announced at 2 pm on a Sunday afternoon, the nine finalists and their starting chip counts were as follows:
Seat 1: A. G. Winchester Falls Church, VA 1,034,000 in chips
Seat 2: Jeff Frazier Troy, VA 956,000 in chips
Seat 3: Roland Israelashvili New York, NY 645,000 in chips
Seat 4: Brian Ali Brooklyn, NY 1,380,000 in chips
Seat 5: Joe Caffrey Silverton, NJ 759,000 in chips
Seat 6: Patrick Houchins Annapolis, MD 1,621,000 in chips
Seat 7: John Andress Doylestown, PA 808,000 in chips
Seat 8: Jerry Van Strydonck Arlington, VA 1,177,000 in chips
Seat 9: Jeff Rowland Indianapolis, IN 438,000 in chips
The big news coming into the final table was the reappearance of the defending champion. Roland Israelashvili won $264,715 and a gold ring in a brutally-tough finale last year which lasted more than 12 hours. He hoped to become the first-ever repeat WSOP Circuit Main Event champion in the seven-year history of the national tournament series. However, he faced a major challenge, since he was ranked eighth in chips at the start.
The early chip leader was Patrick Houchins, from Annapolis, MD. But his chip advantage did not last long. A huge hand took place early which ultimately shaped the final outcome. Just two hands into play Brian Ali rivered the nut flush and shocked just about everyone by seizing the chip lead so early. He moved all-in against the bigger stack, held by Houchins -- who showed trip jacks on the fateful hand. Spectators and players gasped that the two biggest stacks tangled so early. The exchange meant that Ali rocketed up to 2.8 million in chips, which was three times the count of his closest rival. Meanwhile, Houchins plunged to the shortest stack at the table.
“I really did not want to play against the chip leader heads-up so early,” Ali later recalled. “But I was dealt A-K. When I picked up the nut flush draw on the turn, I decided to go with it. If (Houchins) had moved all-in instead of just betting 400,000 I would not have made the call.”
Ninth Place – Joe Caffrey was eliminated about an hour into play. He shoved with his final 200,000 holding Q-T suited. John Andress made the call and tabled A-9 suited. The board came A-K-9-3-T, with no flush possible. Andress plucked the modest-sized pot holding two pair -- aces over nines. Caffrey was out in ninth place with $13,168 in prize money. Caffrey, a 23-year-old graduate of Rider University, is currently studying sports management at Seton Hall. He took fourth place in the WSOP Circuit Main Event held at Harrah’s Atlantic City earlier this season, which means he has now made two straight final tables in Atlantic City.
Eighth Place – A.G. Winchester was the next player to hit the rail. About two hours into play, Winchester shot his final bullet holding Q-J. Nothing but blanks came on board. The two face cards lost a race to a pair (pocket fours) held by Brian Ali. Winchester, a 23-year-old poker player from Falls Church, VA ended up with eighth place and $16,486 in prize money.
The next hour of play was a massacre, with Brain Ali wielding the deadly sword. In fact, five players were eliminated over the next 60 minutes – a highly-unusual amount of action for any big buy-in tournament. Ali decapitated four of the unfortunate finalists – starting with Jerry Van Strydonck (7th) and ending with Patrick Houchins (3rd).
“I was just catching hands at the right time,” Ali stated afterward. “Each hand I was dealt was something I had to play, especially as it became short handed.”
Seventh Place – Jerry Van Strydonck, a 25-year-old poker player from Arlington, VA went out when his top pair was cracked by a set. Van Strydonck pushed with K-8 after a king flopped. But Ali had pocket fives and hit a saintly five on the flop. The trips held up kicking Van Strydonck to the rail with $20,930 in prize money. Van Strydonck, a Cornell University graduate, has more than $300,000 in career tournament earnings. This was his ninth major tournament cash, but first in-the-money finish in a WSOP-related event.
Sixth Place – Jeff Rowland (a.k.a. Ellis Jeff Rowland) played great poker over three days and delivered one of the final table’s most impressive performances. Short-stacked from the start, Rowland catapulted four spots up the money ladder even though he never had many chips. Rowland’s fate was ultimately sealed when he lost to a board showing a four flush. There were four clubs on board, and Rowland had the ten of clubs. Ali shoved all-in on the river, leaving Rowland with a very tough decision. He decided to call and then watched in horror as Ali flipped over the ace of clubs, completing the nut flush. That left Rowland with $26,951 for sixth place.
Fifth Place – At one point, it appeared that defending champ Roland Israelashvili might make history by winning back-to-back titles. He played a very similar style to the manner that won in 2010, by patiently waiting for his opponents to make critical mistakes and inching up the money ladder to the point where he had all the chips. But this time, it was Israelashvili who made a questionable play. On the controversial hand, he inexplicably called an all-in shove by a threatening stack -- with A-Q. His hand lost to pocket aces. That cut Israelashvili’s stack by 60 percent. Then a few hands later, he was low on chips and pushed with a real dog hand, 9-7 suited. The raise was called instantly by Patrick Houchins, who tabled pocket jacks. The two hooks held up, leaving Israelashvili in fifth place. There would be no repeat champ. The 53-year-old professional poker player originally from the Republic of Georgia now living in New York City, added $35,213 to his career WSOP Circuit winnings.
Fourth Place – The confrontation which settled fourth place was a headline-writer’s dream. Brian Ali ended up in a showdown with Jeff Frazier. The end result: “Down Goes Frazier!” Ali was dealt A-Q. Frazier had A-8. Ali had his opponent covered three times over. Ali delivered an initial hook that staggered Frazier when the flop came A-Q-4. That gave Ali top two pair. But Frazier connected with an uppercut on the turn, when an eight landed. Both players had two pair with one final round to come. Frazier desperately needed to catch one of two remaining eights in the deck to deliver a staggering upset. But the final bell rang when a blank hit the river, knocking Frazier over the ropes and out of the ring. Jeff Frazier (a.k.a. Ellis Jeffrey Frazier) from Troy, VA collected $46,698 in prize money. He is a 52-year-old service manager who was making his first WSOP-related tournament appearance.
Third Place – Patrick Houchins, a.k.a. “Cake Jones” (online poker name) was never quite able to recover from the early confrontation against Ali, when he lost most of his stack on the second hand of play. Houchins made a heroic comeback and took his 200,000 stack back up over a million. But he ran out of steam late when his pair lost to a better kicker. Houchins had 7-4 and flopped a seven. That brought a push by Houchins and a quick call by Ali, who also had a seven. But Ali held a king side card which ended up connecting for two pair on the turn. The final board showed 8-7-2-K-T, which put Houchins out in third place. The 26-year-old poker pro from Annapolis, MD received $62,893 in prize money.
Second Place – In some ways, it was a miracle that John Andress finished as high as second place. No question, he has tremendous poker talent. But Andress found himself down to just 4,000 in chips at one point in the middle of Day One. With less than a quarter of the starting stack, Andress then went on a rush and ended the day with an average-sized stack. He went on a major roll on Day Two and ended up almost upsetting Ali during the heads-up finale. Instead of winning however, Andress had to settle for a nice consolation prize amounting to $86,071. Andress, a recent graduate of Penn State University, is a 22-year-old professional poker player from Doylestown, PA.
When heads-up play began, Ali enjoyed about a 5 to 2 chip lead over Andress. The challenger Andress managed to double up once, which brought him very near to Ali in chips. But that was as close as Andress would get to what turned out to be an elusive tournament victory.
The final hand was played out as follows:
All the chips went into the pot on the turn. Ali modestly bet out 200,000, with a completed straight. Andress shoved all-in with two pair. Ali immediately called. A brick on the river ended the tournament. Ali ended up winning with an eight-high straight. Andress had two pair – kings over sixes. Ali was declared the champion.
First Place – Per champion Brian Ali collected $139,284 for first place. He also received the coveted WSOP Circuit gold ring. Ali was awarded an automatic seat valued at $10,000 into the season-ending National Championship finale, which is to be televised from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in May.
Ali is a 51-year-old retiree from Brooklyn, NY -- where he was born. Ali served in the U.S. Marine Corps from age 17 to 21. Until last summer, most of his life was spent working for a major telephone company. He was offered a buyout option last June and decided to accept. That gave Ali more free time to travel and enjoy leisure activities. One of his favorite recreational pursuits in playing poker. However, Ali does not consider himself to be a professional player. That status could change should Ali continue to enjoy success and win major poker tournaments.
After the tournament was over, Ali posed proudly for photographers. He was plucked down in front of a huge pile of poker chips and stacks of currency. Photographers requested that Ali grab some of the prize money and smile.
“With pleasure,” was Ali’s reply. “With pleasure!”
This tournament capped yet another successful tournament series at Caesars Atlantic City. This was the tenth (of 15) World Series of Poker Circuit stops of the current 2010-2011 season. Players flocked to the Jersey Shore from all over the Northeast and beyond to compete for ten gold rings, piles of prize money, and critical ranking points necessary to qualify for the WSOP Circuit National Championship.
The following players won the ten gold ring events held at this year at Caesars Atlantic City:
Event 1 – Thung “Patrick” Lu defeated 742 players and won $43,184 ($350 NLHE)
Event 2 – Peter Ippolito defeated 254 players and won $30,181 ($570 NLHE)
Event 3 – Mike Summers defeated 158 players and won $12,414 ($350 LHE)
Event 4 – Paul Lambrakis defeated 386 players and won $41,186 ($570 NLHE)
Event 5 – Jaeik Cho defeated 477 players and won $138,807 ($350 NLHE)
Event 6 – Travell “T” Thomas defeated 155 players and won $30,445 ($750 NLHE)
Event 7 – Mun Nguyen defeated 90 players and won ($350 OM-HIGH)
Event 8 – Gregg Fishberg defeated 185 players and won $46,657 ($1,100 NLHE)
Event 9 – Vincent Basilicata defeated 288 players and won $20,113 ($350 TURBO NLHE)
Event 10 – Brian Ali defeated 442 players and won $139,284 (NLHE MAIN EVENT)
The winner of Event #7, Mun Nguyen, from Pittsburgh, PA won the race for the Best All-Around Player at the Caesars Atlantic City series. With his first and second-place finishes in two gold ring tournaments, he received a pre-paid entry into the $1 million 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit National Championship.
The next WSOP Circuit stop is at Harrah's Rincon, near San Diego. Tournament runs from March 11-30. Harrah's Rincon will host the third WSOP Circuit Regional Championship, taking place March 27-30. The $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em tournament will be nationally televised.
About the author
: Nolan Dalla's work is found all over WSOP.com, as he is the Senior Writer for poker's longest-running poker series and has contributed to the site since 2005.
He is also the longtime Media Director of the World Series of Poker. He's become the lone link from poker's modern age back to the old days when the WSOP was played at Binion's Horseshoe
– where Dalla served as the casino's Director of Public Relations.