2 Rings Down, 1 Gold Bracelet to Go

When Dwyte Pilgrim makes a promise, he delivers.  Just three weeks after winning his first-ever WSOP Circuit gold ring at Caesars Atlantic City, Pilgrim put on yet another astounding display of poker acumen by triumphing in a Circuit championship.  This time, history was made on the other coast, at the Harrah’s Rincon Casino and Resort, near San Diego.

Pilgrim’s latest “gold ring” championship came in the $5,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament which attracted 106 entries, generating $503,100 in prize money.  The winner’s share amounted to $125,775, plus a $10,000 seat into the 2009 WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas coming up in July.  Pilgrim was also presented with his second gold ring, the ultimate token of achievement on the WSOP Circuit.  The official ring presentation was made by Tournament Director Jimmy Sommerfeld.

Pilgrim’s victory was hardly a surprise considering what was written about him immediately following his previous WSOP Circuit victory in Atlantic City back on March 7th:

Dwyte Pilgrim’s previous successes came in the form of six previous cashes, five of which took place at the December 2008 WSOP Circuit event at Harrah’s Atlantic City.  Indeed, Pilgrim had five cashes during that ten day tournament series – which is a stunning accomplishment given the sizes of many tournament fields in Atlantic City.  It appears Dwyte Pilgrim is a player to keep a close eye on in the months and years ahead.  A not-too-bold prediction:  Burgeoning with self-confidence, a blossoming bankroll, and obvious natural talent, tournament poker has not seen the last of Dwyte Pilgrim.

Sure enough, 26-year-old Dwyte Pilgrim – burgeoning with self-confidence, a blossoming bankroll, and obvious natural talent – claimed another victory.  With each and every accomplishment, Pilgrim is growing a little taller in stature in the highly-competitive jungle of high-stakes tournament poker.  His first big step was cashing five times last December in his initial series of poker events.  Then, it was winning a gold ring in a WSOP Circuit preliminary event.  Now, it is winning a WSOP Circuit championship.  For Pilgrim, the next step is as obvious as it is daunting – winning a WSOP gold bracelet.

It’s been an astonishing four-month rush for the former loan officer from Brooklyn, NY.  He only started playing live tournaments last December.  The Guyana-born poker pro is very quickly becoming the next possible poker star, blessed with everything anyone would want in a celebrity – personality, likability, and great poker talent.

The Main Event at Rincon attracted a wide-diversity of poker talent comprised of both professionals and amateurs.  At least a quarter of the field won their way into the championship as satellite qualifiers.  The Main Event attracted five former WSOP gold bracelet winners -- including Bob Slezak (2001), Steve Billirakis (2006), Robert Cheung (2007), Jason Young (2008), and David Daneshgar (2008).  In addition, several former WSOP Circuit gold ring winners participated -- including Michael Binger (2008 Harvey’s Lake Tahoe champion), Matthew Stout (2008, Harrah’s Atlantic City), Dwyte Pilgrim (2009, Caesars Atlantic City), and Christopher Tryba (2009, Harrah’s Rincon).  Other notable players entering -- included Eric Lynch (poker author and nine-time WSOP in-the-money finisher) and Paul Smith (poker coach and radio talk show host).

The top nine finishers collected payouts.  All the action took place over two very long days inside the Rincon Pavilion Showroom.  At the end of day one, only 16 of the original 106 players survived.  Esther “E-Tay” Taylor was the chip leader.  The Las Vegas poker pro was competing to become the first WSOP Circuit Main Event winner in history.  The previous highest finish by a female player was by Jennifer Harman, way back in the Circuit’s inaugural season of 2005 at the Rio in Las Vegas.  Kathy Liebert was the highest previous female finisher at Rincon, finishing third here in 2007.

Players battled down to the final nine survivors on day two.  Those players took seats at the final table which began at 3:30 pm.  When final table play commenced, Christopher Tryba began as the chip leader.  Like Pilgrim, he too was competing to become a two-ring winner.  Tryba won an event here at Rincon a few days earlier.  Ranked eighth in chips was Pilgrim, never once deterred from what would become a resounding victory.  The top nine finishers were as follows:

9th Place – John Farrell came in short-stacked.  It appeared Farrell might double up when he moved all-in and got a much-needed call from Christopher Tryba.  Farrell showed his pocket kings against Tryba’s J-10, after the flop came 10-9-3.  Tryba’s top pair was a big dog to the overpair.  But a ten on the river (making trips for Tryba) burned Farrell, who owns a fireplace store in San Diego.  Nevertheless, the 63-year-old recreational poker player managed to collect $20,124 for ninth place.

8th Place – Jonny “Cosmo” McGowan survived a number of all-in situations late in the tournament.  But his fuck finally ran out when he took A-Q up against Esther Taylor’s pocket eights.  Taylor’s middle pair held up, which put “Cosmo” into orbit.  McGowan, a 23-year-old poker pro from San Diego, has three WSOP cashes, plus a win at last year’s Wynn Poker Classic.  The cash game specialist is building an impressive list of accomplishments in what has been a short tournament career.  His eighth-place finish in the Rincon championship was worth $25,155 in prize money.

7th Place – A few hands later, Pogos Simityan was eliminated.  He held a domineering hand, A-Q versus Christopher Tryba’s underdog Q-10.  Trouble was, Simityan didn’t have enough chips to pose much of a threat to Tryba.  All the chips went in pre-flop which meant Tryba got to see five cards cheap.  A ten on the river gave Tryba the only pair, plus what remained of Simityan’s small stack.  Simityan, who owns and operates an auto body shop, wasn’t too bent out of shape about his seventh-place showing, which paid $30,186. 

6th Place – Josh Prager came in touted as one of the players to watch among the final nine.  He finished in the top 100 of the 2005 WSOP Main Event.  He also cashed for half-a-million dollars at the European Poker Tour’s championship in Monte Carlo two years ago.  The 35-year-old poker pro didn’t fare as well in this event.  Prager busted out when he moved all-in with pocket sevens, which was called and ultimately hammered by Dwyte Pilgrim’s pocket nines.  The higher pair held up, resulting in Prager’s elimination.  The MBA-turned-poker-pro earned $35,217 as the sixth-place finisher.

5th Place – Thao “Scratch” Thiem was scratched off the final table about two hours into the game when he took a brutal beat.  Thiem flopped the nut straight holding Q-J.  The flop came A-K-10, with two spades.  Dwyte Pilgrim had K-3 of spades, good for a pair and a flush draw.  Pilgrim had survived a desperate situation before, catching a near-miracle card a few hands earlier when he was all-in against Esther Taylor (he rivered an ace, taking the winds of out Taylor’s sails for a while).  He somehow managed to get struck twice by lightening.  Pilgrim caught a spade which made a flush and left Thiem drawing dead.  In a short run of only about 20 hands, Pilgrim went from the shortest stack at the table to the chip leader.  Thao “Scratch” Thiem was not so fortunate, being forced to settle for fifth place.  The Minneapolis-based poker pro received $40,248.

4th Place – For Pilgrim, hitting two big draws changed everything.  With the chip leader continuing to apply pressure, the remaining three players jockeyed for position.  Christopher Tryba saw his situation go from bad to much worse when he was short-stacked and moved all-in with K-J.  Charles Williams called the raise and tabled pocket jacks.  Drawing pretty much to a king, Tryba missed, which knocked out one of the last two former WSOP Circuit gold ring winners.  Tryba, who won his first gold ring just a few days ago here at Rincon, cashed for $50,310 as the fourth-place finisher.

3rd Place – Charles Williams is known in the poker world primarily for his role as a casino executive at Reno’s Grand Sierra.  Williams, a 42-year-old poker room manager has also made it to several final tables in the past.  But this marked his best chance to win a WSOP-related event after a decade spent playing tournament poker.  Williams try for a gold ring came up short.  He moved in with A-6 and was called by Pilgrim, holding pocket eights.  An eight on the flop gave Pilgrim a set and ruined Williams’ chances of staging a comeback.  Nevertheless, Williams collected $75,465 for third place.  

2nd Place – When heads-up play began, Dwyte Pilgrim had Esther Taylor covered by about a 2 to 1 margin.  He won the final flurry of hands and eliminated his final adversary, who accepted her runner-up finish gracefully.  This was “E-Tay’s” second consecutive final table appearance at Harrah’s Rincon.  She finished fourth in the $1,000 buy-in No-Limit event.  This time, the Las Vegas poker pro earned $100,620 as her official payout.

1st Place – “To know me is to love me,” Pilgrim said jokingly, immediately following his victory.  “Now look out, I’m shooting for the gold bracelet.” 

          Perhaps it’s a cliché to headline Pilgrim’s win by suggesting that a new star is born.  But if anyone is now primed to join the ranks of the big-time tournament poker inner-circle, it’s Dwyte Pilgrim.  He’s truly destined for greatness, provided he keeps his priorities straight and plays his card right.

With 12 “gold ring” events now completed at Harrah’s Rincon, the nearly two-week long tournament attracted nearly 5,000 total entries and awarded close to $1.8 million in prize money.  This marks Rincon’s fifth year to host a WSOP Circuit.  The beautiful luxury resort, nestled in the mountains about 40 miles northeast of San Diego, is one of only three casinos which have hosted a Circuit series during all five seasons.  Based on the strong turnout this year, a visit to Rincon during season six is most certainly in the cards.

The next WSOP Satellite tournament takes place at Harvey’s Lake Tahoe, during which the 2009 Sierra Poker Classic will be played from April 2-12.  The next WSOP Circuit event takes place at Caesars Palace Las Vegas from April 11-29.  The last WSOP Circuit stop of the season will be played at Harrah’s New Orleans from May 8-20.

Harrah’s Rincon WSOP Circuit Champions (2005-2009):

2005 – Chris “Jesus” Ferguson
2006 – Darrell “Gigabet” Diken
2007 – Peter Feldman
2008 – Mike Pickett
2009 – Dwyte Pilgrim