Bryan Campanello has plenty of Circuit accolades. He is a two-time ring winner, he's qualified for the National Championship before, and he even has something almost none of his peers do--a gold bracelet, won last year in the Razz event. However, for once, Campanello was on the outside looking in, as he came to Harrah's New Orleans trying to qualify for this year's National Championship field, something several of his friends had already checked off their to-do list.
Campanello was down to his last chance to punch his ticket, the $1,675 buy-in Main Event. The Texan came into the final table with the big stack, but a long battle of heads-up play against Gary Friedlander had Campanello on the brink of elimination more than once. In the end though, he was able to battle back to claim his third ring, his first Circuit Main Event victory, a $175,459 payday, and, most importantly, the last Circuit seat into the WSOP National Championship, which gets underway in Atlantic City on Thursday.
After winning his third ring in the Harrah's New Orleans Main Event, Bryan Campanello said, "It feels good! I'm tired...we played heads-up for, like, four hours, a really long time. Winning these mains is insane. There's so many people, 557 entrants here. I had a chance at Choctaw to do it a year and a half ago...to get the opportunity to finally close the deal and sneak my way into the National Championship as, literally, the last person in, feels pretty awesome to manage to do that. Sometimes things just fall
your way and this week they happened to do that, so it's really cool."
Despite beginning heads-up play against Gary Friedlander with a slight chip advantage, Campanello was unable to gain any ground early. Things looked bleak for a moment, then Campanello found a double up and battled on. The chip lead changed hands several times over the course of the roughly four-hour heads up match, with Campanello all-in and at risk for his tournament life three separate times. The third time was the charm, however. From there he was able chip away at Friedlander's remaining stack. On the final hand, Campanello's pocket queens held up against Friedlander's queen-jack after a preflop all in. Friedlander collected $108,523 for second place.
A bracelet and three rings is a lot of WSOP hardware for a 22 year old. He explained how he got started: "I was the last year of the Moneymaker effect. The kids who were 13 and old enough to understand there was a game and learn how to play it, but not old enough to play online. We played home games and stuff like that and had fun. I really enjoy games and really hate normal life, so I had to find something that I could do where I could play a game. Luckily poker stuck."
About how he became so good, so fast, Campanello says, "The easiest way to learn poker is to just keep trying things and if they work, then keep doing them and if they don't work, then figure out what else does. Watching people who are better than you and learning also helps."
Campanello is headed straight to Atlantic City for the National Championship, which begins on Thursday. Then he's headed for Las Vegas. "I'm playing something like 37 tournaments this summer, so the plan is to win a bracelet. Once you get a taste of winning the WSOP bracelet -- I now get why Hellmuth's crazy. I understand it now. You get the taste and I want that again...I just want another one of those."
The Main Event, officially Event 11, was a three-day $1,500 (+$175) No Limit Hold'em tournament, which fielded 557 entrants over two starting days. Flight A on Friday saw 252 players and Flight B on Saturday drew 305 players. The total prize pool came to $835,500 and the top 63 finishers were paid.
Some of the notables who cashed include four-time ring winner Maurice Hawkins (63rd), Juan Mendoza (62nd), Joseph Morneau (58th), Andrew Spears (57th), Seneca Easley (56th), Abraham Araya (44th), Rex Clinkscales (40th), Joshua Williams (36th), WSOP bracelet winner Larry Wright (30th), Charles “Woody” Moore (24th), Ting Ho (22nd), Ashly Butler (21st), and Joseph Hebda (20th).
Only 51 players advanced from Flight A and only 60 advanced from Flight B, bringing 111 players back for Day 2 -- only 20% of the starting field -- on Sunday. At the end of Day 2, only ten players remained to return for the final day on Monday. The 10th place finisher, John Parten, hit the rail about 5 minutes into Day 3, so the official final table began at about 12:05 pm CDT Monday.
Here are the final table results of the Harrah's New Orleans Main Event
1st - Bryan Campanello - $175,459
2nd - Gary Friedlander - $108,523
3rd - Alan Ramkhalawan - $79,356
4th - Daniel Doucet - $58,886
5th - Eric Blair - $44,307
6th - John Kloch - $33,796
7th - James Henson - $26,134
8th - Agustin Berumen - $20,486
9th - Fadi Massaad - $16,276