The 2008 Winter Bayou Poker Challenge continued today with another mid-week poker tournament.  The $300 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em event attracted players from all over the country. The competition was held inside the special events theatre at Harrah's New Orleans, conveniently located next to the famous French Quarter. The two-day competition drew 175 entries, with $50,925 in prize money at stake.

The winner was Luke O'Connor, from Bay St. Louis, MS. O'Connor is a 24-year-old poker pro. He has been playing seriously since age 19. O'Connor has split his time between casinos in the Gulf Coast region (where Bay St. Louis is) and Canterbury Park, a racetrack and cardroom near Minneapolis, MN. O'Connor won the top prize, $16,499. He was also awarded a gold ring, presented to all winners at this year's Bayou series.

The tournament's top 18 finishers collected prize money. In-the-money finishers included players from six different states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas). The final table consisting of nine players was played to completion on day two. Final table action wrapped up in a rocket fast 1 hour and 45 minutes, making it one of the shortest final tables of the year at any venue.  The top nine finishers included:

9th Place – Devin Jarreau, who previously cashed in the Harrah's New Orleans WSOP Circuit Main Event, held last May. Jarreau came into the final table as the shortest stack and lasted only seven hands before making his exit.

8th Place – Wendell J. Welch, a salesman from Baton Rouge, LA.  Welch won $74,545 in Event #1 at the 2007 WSOP Circuit event in New Orleans. He was also the runner up in last December's Bayou Poker Challenge. This time, he was low on chips and could do no better than eighth place.

7th place – Dino Tedesco, a sales manager from Metairie, LA. This was Tedesco's second time to make it to a final table in New Orleans. He took fifth place at the 2007 series. Tedesco has now cashed four times in Bayou Poker Challenge events.

6th Place – B. J. McBrayer, a pro poker player from Tuscaloosa, AL who now has $180,000 in career tournament earnings. This marked McBrayer's sixth time to cash at Harrah's New Orleans. His previous finishes include a 23rd, a 21st, two 5ths, and a 3rd.

5th Place – Chris Gonzalez, a pro poker player from Houston, TX. Gonzalez arrived with about an average chip stack and appropriately finished in the middle of the pack.

4th Place – Mike Blum, a business owner from Harvey, LA. Blum ran into poker's version of a freight train as he lost all of his chips to four jacks.  Still, this was his highest tournament finish ever. He previously took 13th place in Event #2 at the 2007 Bayou Poker Challenge.

3rd Place – Jason Mann, making his first cash ever in New Orleans. Previously, Mann has finished in-the-money twice at the Caesars Palace Classic, in Las Vegas.

2nd Place – Tom Boone, a 70-year-old retired banker from Baton Rouge, LA. Boone is an LSU graduate, served in the U.S. Navy, and has been married for 45 years. He won a tournament last year at the Midwest Regional Poker Championship and came close to victory in this event as well. However, Boone took K-Q up against pocket aces in what turned out to the be the final hand of the night. As runner up, Boone collected $8,657.

1st Place – Luke O'Connor, a poker pro from Mississippi. This marked O'Connor's second major tournament career win. He was also triumphant in an event held at the Canterbury Park Fall Classic (in Minnesota). He finished second place in another event at that same tournament, as well.  O'Connor won this tournament with pocket aces on his final hand.

This was the second straight tournament with a modest turnout. Although poker tournaments in New Orleans have traditionally drawn huge numbers, there's no doubt that the poker economy is feeling the pinch of the nation's financial downturn. The Winter Bayou Poker Challenge continues through December 10th. Bigger field sizes are expected in the coming days ahead as the weekend approaches. Hotel reservations are reportedly nearing sell-out status for Thursday through Saturday.