First Event in “The Big Easy” Opens with Record 945-Player Field

New Orleans, LA (May 13, 2012) – Everyone knew the season’s World Series of Poker Circuit finale would be huge.  But no one could have predicted the astonishing turnout at Harrah’s New Orleans for opening day.  

The first of a dozen gold ring events -- $355 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em (Event #1) -- attracted a record-smashing 945 entrants.  The attendance figure set a new record as the largest poker tournament ever held in New Orleans.  The previous record was set on May 18, 2005 during the height of the so-called poker boom, in what was the first WSOP Circuit event ever held in the city’s history.  That event seven years ago drew 833 players, paltry by comparison to this year’s Mardi Gras of poker dreams.

This year’s opener was played over a four-day period, from Thursday through Sunday – concluding on Mother’s Day.  The record turnout was something of a surprise, given the many activities currently taking place in New Orleans.  One of the largest conventions in the city’s history was held during the same week the WSOP Circuit began, which made hotel rooms difficult to come by.  

But nothing stops an army of determined poker players, many of whom are franticcally chasing points in what is everyone’s last chance to move onto the leader board in this season’s WSOP Circuit rankings.  Indeed, Harrah’s New Orleans is the 17th and final World Series of Poker Circuit stop of the 2011-2012 season.  Only the top ranked players will compete in what will be the second annual WSOP Circuit National Championship, to be held at the Rio Las Vegas starting on July 6th.  That tournament will be nationally televised on ESPN.  

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The first gold ring of the Harrah’s New Orleans series went to Yung “Andy” Hwang, from Houston, TX.  For his victory, Hwang collected the handsome sum of $52,249.  He was also presented with his first WSOP Circuit gold ring – the ultimate prize for winning an event on the nation’s premier tournament tour.

This marked Hwang’s first win on the Circuit, following several high finishes.  In fact, all four of Hwang’s in-the-money finishes included a final table appearance.  Interestingly, Hwang has improved each and every time he’s cashed – moving from 5th to 4th to 2nd, and finally to first.  With his victory, Hwang has more than enough points to qualify for a seat in the National Championship.

Meanwhile, second place went to Josh Evans – the poker pro from Dallas who has been one of the stars of the current season.  Evans has one gold ring victory from Harrah’s Rincon (San Diego).  This was his second time to finish as runner up this year.

Third place went to longtime tournament veteran Charles "Woody" Moore, from Las Vegas, NV.  Moore is in the midst of a career renaissance as a tournament player.  He’s been a consistent performer all year, and comes off a final table appearance in the Main Event held at Harrah’s St. Louis, just three weeks ago.

With their top three finishes – Hwang, Evans, and Moore are all certain to be competing in the National Championship.

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The first of a dozen gold ring tournaments began on Thursday with 945 entries.  The total prize pool came to $274,995.  The top 99 players were paid.  All players who cashed received WSOP Circuit National Championship ranking points.

A full list of all players who cashed in Event #1 can be seen here.

The tournament was played over four consecutive days – with two “Day One” starting flights.  Slightly more than ten percent of the starting field -- 128 survivors -- took seats on the third day of action, played on Saturday.  Some 11 hours later, the final table was finally set.  Player returned for the finale, on Sunday.  

The final table featured two former WSOP Circuit gold ring winners – Woody Moore (Southern Indiana -- 2010) and Josh Evans (Harrah’s Rincon – 2011).

The final table players and starting chip counts were as follows:

Seat 1 – Dwayne Vetter with 819,000 in chips
Seat 2 – Josh Evans with 1,695,000 in chips
Seat 3 – Lacey Coffey, Jr. with 907,000 in chips
Seat 4 – Jose Serratos with 433,000 in chips
Seat 5 – Todd Cowan with 1,117,000 in chips
Seat 6 – Andy Hwang with 1,419,000 in chips
Seat 7 – Stephen Hesse with 677,000 in chips
Seat 8 – John Finnan with 611,000 in chips
Seat 9 – Woody Moore with 1,787,000 in chips


The final playing session began at 1 pm local time.  Play finished at 7 pm making the total duration about six hours.  The official order of finish was as follows:  

9th Place – Dr. John Finnan was the first player to bust out.  The 65-year-old physician from New Orleans was diagnosed with a ninth-place finish.  Finnan has enjoyed some previous success in major tournaments.  Last year at a tournament held in Mississippi, he won the Heads-Up championships.  This marked his first time to appear at a WSOP-related final table, after five tries.  He plans to attend the WSOP this summer, and hopefully make a few more final tables.

8th Place – Todd Cowan became the second casualty at the final table.  He was taken out by madman Woody Moore.  Cowan is a 43-year-old locomotive engineer (really!).  He hoped to steamroll over his opponents given his healthy stack size when play began.  But not much went right for Cowan during his hour-long stay at the final table and he was derailed in eighth place.  His best previous tournament performance was eight years ago at The Venetian in Las Vegas, where he won a tournament for $45,000.

7th Place – Jose Serratos ended up in seventh place.  He is a full-time cash-game player from Detroit, MI.  Serratos has enjoyed a big year in tournament poker.  He made three final table appearances at the most recent Chicago Poker Classic (Horseshoe Hammond) and finished second in the “Best All-Around Player” race for that series.  This was his third time to cash in a WSOP Circuit event.
 
6th Place – Dwayne Vetter came in sixth.  He is a 48-year-old business consultant from Houston, TX.  This was his highest WSOP-related finish, to date.  Vetter collected $10,372 in prize money.
    
5th Place – Lacey Coffey, Jr. was the fifth-place finisher.  He is a 40-year-old professional poker player from Houston, TX.  Coffey has 12 previous cashes, including a second-place finish in a WSOP Circuit event held earlier this season at the IP Biloxi.  He collected $13,521 in prize money.
 
4th Place – Stephen Hesse came in fourth place.  He is a self-described aspiring pro grinder from Nassau Bay, TX.  Hesse was a successful former online poker player who is now making the adjustment to live games.  He won an event earlier this season in Bossier City, LA.  This time, Hesse collected a nice payout, totaling $17,847.

3rd Place – Charles “Woody” Moore finished in third place.  The outcome was a mixed blessing for Moore, who now easily qualifies for a spot in the National Championship.  He will have a shot at a million dollars in a few months, but still had to endure the bitter aftertaste of just coming up short again in his quest for a second WSOP Circuit gold ring.  Moore now has more than $1.3 million in career tournament earnings, following his $23,853 score in this tournament.

2nd Place – Josh Evans finished as the runner up.  He is a poker pro from Plano, TX.  This was Evans’ 13th time to cash on the Circuit.  He also has five in-the-money finishes at the WSOP in Las Vegas.  With his $32,317 cash in this event, Evans is on the verge of crossing the $1 million mark in total WSOP-related earnings for his career.

When heads-up play began, Hwang enjoyed a sizable lead over Evans.  But the deep stack structure gave the underdog a fighting chance to make a comeback.  Evans lasted about 45 minutes before finally moving all-in at what turned out to be the wrong time.

Hwang:        
Evans:      
Flop:       
Turn:   
River:    

Evans moved all in pre-flop flop, and Hwang snap called.  Evans still had outs, essentially drawing to one of the three remaining aces.  But the pocket kinds held up, giving Hwang the victory.

1st Place – Andy Hwang from Houston, TX became the first WSOP Circuit champion crowned this year at Harrah’s New Orleans  He won $52,249 for the victory.  He was also presented with his first gold ring.

With his victory, Hwang moves into the top spot all alone as the early leader in this WSOP Circuit’s “Best All-Around Player” standings.  The (one) player who accumulates the most overall points in Harrah’s New Orleans’ twelve combined gold ring tournaments receives a pre-paid entry into the 2011-2012 WSOP Circuit National Championship.  It should be noted however, that Hwang is virtually guaranteed a seat anyway, based on his point total.   

At least two players from this tournament series will qualify for the WSOP Circuit National Championship, which is classified as a WSOP gold bracelet event.  The other automatic qualifier will be the winner of Main Event championship (to be held May 19-22).

With the first tournament wrapped up, there are still 11 more gold ring events remaining in what is being billed as a “12 rings in 12 days” poker series.  The WSOP Circuit at Harrah’s New Orleans continues through May 21st.  This year’s schedule includes not only all the gold ring events, but multiple second-chance tournaments, single table and mega satellites, plus cash games going around the clock inside the poker room

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MORE ABOUT THE WSOP CIRCUIT AT HARRAH’S NEW ORLEANS AND THE WSOP CIRCUIT NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

The 17th and final World Series of Poker Circuit stop of the 2011-2012 season is taking place at Harrah's New Orleans, conveniently located right next to the famous French Quarter.  This year’s tournament series runs May 10-21.

New Orleans has become a favorite destination for poker players and regulars on the WSOP Circuit.  For each of the past eight seasons, Harrah’s New Orleans has been the last waltz of a long poker symphony.  This year, New Orleans wraps up seventeen WSOP Circuit event stops, which have attracted tens of thousands of poker players from all over the United States, and beyond.  

The current season began last September at Horseshoe Bossier City (Shreveport), and now comes full circle back to the state of Louisiana for what promises to be a thrilling conclusion to what has been a record-breaking poker tour.
 
There's a lot at stake for poker players who will make their way to the Crescent City over the next two weeks.  Not only are nearly a dozen gold rings up for grabs, as well as lots of prize money.  What seems to be driving attendance is the wildly-popular WSOP Circuit National Championship rankings.  New Orleans is the last chance players will have to earn points to qualify for this year’s National Championship.
 
Since the season began, all tournament players have been in the running for 100 guaranteed pre-paid seats in the $1 million WSOP Circuit National Championship finale.  In a sense, every National Championship seat is valued at $10,000 -- since that’s the proportion of the million dollar-plus prize pool each player represents.  Another 100 players are eligible to buy into the tournament (top ranked players from each of the past two WSOPs in Las Vegas), which means the event will cap out with well over a million dollars at stake.

This marks the second straight season that the WSOP Circuit has utilized a national ranking system based on accumulated points.  All players earned their points by finishing in-the-money in one or more of the 204 total gold ring tournaments which are being offered this season.

What awaits the fortunate 100 players who will advance to the National Championship?  First, there is the chance to win a lot of money.  Second, is the opportunity to appear on national television, since the tournament held at the Rio Las Vegas will be broadcast nationally on ESPN – one of only three events this year to be covered in full by the network.  Third, all players will be competing for the most coveted prize in the game of poker – the WSOP gold bracelet.  This is the second time that a gold bracelet has been tied to the WSOP Circuit.  Last year, Sam Barnhart, from Little Rock, AR won the inaugural WSOP National Championship title.
So, the final opportunity for most players to be crowned the 2012 “WSOP Circuit National Champion” will take place at Harrah’s New Orleans.  Over 12 consecutive days – through May 21st – tournament players will be jockeying for position in what will be the final chance to earn ranking points.  

At the conclusion of the Harrah’s New Orleans tour stop – on May 21st -- the final official list of 100 players who qualify will be announced.