The 2008 Winter Bayou Poker Challenge began with a $200 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament held at Harrah’s New Orleans. The two-day competition attracted 183 entries, with $35,502 in prize money at stake.

The winner was Kevin Cooper, who plays poker regularly at Harrah’s. He is a 31-year-old waiter.  Cooper won $11,504 for first place. This was his first-ever major poker tournament victory.

The tournament’s top 18 finishers collected prize money. The final table consisting of nine players was played to completion on the second day. The top nine finishers included:

9th Place – Michael Andrews, a nightclub owner from New York City. Andrews is a former cash game pro, who left poker by choice in order to develop his business. However, he has returned to the game and is now determined to play in more tournaments.

8th Place – Joseph Phelps, a casino marketing director from Mississippi. Phelps has previously cashed in several small tournaments locally, as well as in Atlantic City.

7th place – Herb Bollinger, Jr., a retiree from nearby Mandeville, LA. Bollinger came to the final table with the shortest stack, managed to quadruple up at one point, but ultimately busted out in seventh place.

6th Place – Mark Wilds, a professional poker player from Biloxi, MS. Wilds has cashed 18 times at the WSOP, and finished an impressive 77th place in the 2008 Main Event. He has nearly $700,000 in career tournament earnings.

5th Place – Johnny Gibson, a contractor from Baton Rouge, LA. He was the chip leader when final table play began, but was eliminated in the middle of the pack. Gibson has been married 15 years and is the proud father of three sons. This was his third time to make it to a final table at a major tournament. 

4th Place – Jay Zheng, a 21-year-old student originally from China. Zheng had the chip lead at one point but ran card dead late in the tournament and ended up as the fourth-place finisher.

3rd Place – Janice Randall, a homemaker and recreational poker player from suburban Metairie, LA.  Randall was the beneficiary of one of the tournament’s most exciting moments when she spiked a river card to make a straight, which brought cheers from her loyal group of followers. She ultimately took third place, her best major tournament finish ever. Mrs. Randall is a regular poker player at Harrah’s New Orleans.

2nd Place – Ben “Moose” Davis, a local poker player from New Orleans. “Moose” almost won this event, but was never able to close out the victory.  He was outchipped when play became heads-up but managed to last nearly an hour before being eliminated. He also cashed at the WSOP Circuit here last year.

1st Place – Kevin Cooper, a 31-year-old waiter from Lafayette, LA. He completed a straight against Davis to win the final decisive hand of the tournament. During the finale’s nearly four-hour duration, Cooper was cheered on by his wife. She joined her husband onstage for a victory celebration. Born and raised in Louisiana, Cooper has college degree in engineering from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.  He is employed at a local restaurant and enjoys playing poker part-time.