The first ever tag-team WSOP tournament was held as a unique new attraction for poker players who were seeking something just a little bit different from the usual isolation chamber that is typically associated with most major poker competitions.
Now that it’s over, if you were to ask any of the more than 2,000 players how much they enjoyed this unique event, which is likely to become a staple at future WSOPs, the reviews would probably be universally positive.
This would be true for two players, anyway.
Teams formed based on rules which allowed up to four players to participate -- per entry. Each member of the winning team was to be awarded a coveted WSOP gold bracelet. This marked the first time in 34 years that a team event had been held at the series. The last such event, called “Mixed Doubles,” was completed at the 1982 WSOP. That event required two players (a male and a female) to compete. It was also a Seven-Card Stud tournament back then. The revised competition was a No-Limit Hold’em event and had no restrictions on gender or number of players, so long as at least two people competed, but not more than four.
The rules also allowed for maximum flexibility among the participants. So long as one of the players played a round of blinds on Day One of the tournament, he or she was fully entitled to be a member of the team, and hence be eligible to receive a gold bracelet.
The winning team was comprised of Doug Polk, 27, from Las Vegas and Ryan Fee, 28, from Philadelphia. Both are professional poker players. Interestingly, they entered as a duo to promote a new poker site they own and operate.
“We entered this tournament because we thought it would be a good way to promote our new coaching site, upswingpoker.com,” Fee said. “We thought – it would be a cool way to promote the website, especially if we won!”
As expected, the event took on a festive atmosphere, particularly during the first of three playing days. The rails around the tournament arena weren’t just packed with spectators and fans. They were loaded with teammates, cheering on their friends and family who were members of the same team. As the teams entered into the money and maneuvered their way towards the final table, the action became far more serious. No player wanted to cost their teammates a chance to win a gold bracelet.
The tournament concept was perhaps best embodied by the Little Family, who entered as a team. Jonathan Little, the seasoned poker pro, strategist, and book author invited his parents, Larry and Rita Little to join a team. The Little Family ended up making it all the way to the final table, ending up with a ninth place finish.
The $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament played over three days and nights and concluded upon the ESPN main stage at the Rio in Las Vegas.
The teammates collected $153,358 in prize money together (to be distributed as they wished), making this not just a huge financial bonanza, but also a shared thrill among close friends.
Doug Polk and Ryan Fee won their victory by coming out on top at a final table which included some big names quite well known in the poker world. In fact, the top two teams were ones you might consider “super groups” of players with extraordinary talent. The final moment of triumph came when Fee scooped the final pot of the tournament against Gabriel Paul (teamed up with Niel Mittelman/Adam Greenberg) who finished as the runners up.
“Two weeks ago, we were making fun of the format, that you could just play a round of blinds, and we went on a (podcast) and really made fun of the whole concept,” Fee said. “Then, we won! Hooray!”
Fee is mostly a cash game player. Polk plays just about everything but became proficient at playing online and even has participated in a significant academic study called “Man vs. Machine,” where he played heads-up for real money against a computer. This was Fee’s first gold bracelet win. This was Polk’s second win, after he took a Turbo NLHE event two years ago.
“I’m not big on tournaments, but I would definitely do this again,” Fee said as he was high-fived by Polk, both wearing a shiny new gold bracelet.
This tourney attracted 863 teams which created a prize pool totaling $776,700. The top 130 teams collected prize money.
Of special note was Ryan Laplante cashing in this tournament. This was his 12th in-the-money finish at the 2016 WSOP. That is the highest number of cashes by any player in history over the course of the summer series. However, his record is likely to be challenged by several players this year and in the future, since a new format adopted at the start of the series pays out 15 percent of the field, instead of 10 percent as was previously the case.
Aside from the winners, here’s a brief report of the other top finishers who made the final table:
Second Place: Mittleman-Greenberg-Paul -- $94,748 Niel Mittelman, from Libertyville, IL cashed for the 20th time in his career / Adam Greenberg, from Long Grove, IL cashed for the first time at the WSOP / Gabriel Paul also cashed for the first time ever at the series.
Third Place: Charania-Rettenmaier -- $66,458 Moshin Charania cashed for the 38th time at the WSOP / This was Marvin Rettenmaier’s 27th time to cash
Fourth Place: Dempsey-Godfrey -- $47,278 James Dempsey won his gold bracelet in 2010 / Christopher Godfrey cashed for the third time at the series.
Fifth Place: Owen-Ahmed-Glaser-Lybaert -- $34,118 Owais Ahmed won a gold bracelet in 2011 and now has more than $1.1 in earnings in his 20 cashes at the series / Bart Lybaert, from Belgium, cashed for the 14th time / Benny Glaser has won two gold bracelets at this year’s series, and three overall.
Sixth Place: Gale-Shulman – $24,982 “Gentleman” John Gale, from the U.K., is a two-time gold bracelet winner / T.J. Shulman, from Florida, cashed for the fifth time at the series
Seventh Place: Peters-Altman -- $18,564 Reuben Peters, from Boston, MA cashed for the third time at the WSOP / Robert Altman, from Telluride, CO picked up his second cash. This was the first final table appearance by either player.
Eighth Place: Padula-Urban-Caruso -- $14,003 Michael Padula enjoyed his first cash ever in a series event / Daniel Urban also cashed for the first time / Marco Caruso also cashed for the first time here at the WSOP.
Ninth Place: Little-Little-Little -- $10,724 Larry Little enjoyed his third series cash / Rita Little cashed for the second time / Their son, Jonathan Little, the poker pro and author, cashed for the 35th time in his career at the WSOP.