The final table of the most recent World Series of Poker Circuit tournament might as well have been a NAFTA summit. All three of the North American countries were represented -- with six Americans, two Canadians, and one Mexican proudly taking their seats in the finale (there was one Texan too, for those who heard the Governor of the Lone Star State and his recent remarks on secession).
At the end of the tournament it was a Nevadan who was left sitting alone and declared the winner. Blake Buffington, a 55-year-old CPA from Las Vegas won $28,533 and his first WSOP Circuit gold ring. Buffington, who is originally from Little Rock, AR, had previously cashed numerous times in various tournaments throughout the country. He had several high finishes at WSOP Circuit events held at the Tunica Grand and Caesars Palace, in addition to the big summer WSOP event at the Rio in Las Vegas. In fact, Buffington had previously won six major tournaments, all since 2003. However, this marked one of his most prestigious wins to date.
Buffington’s victory did not come easy. The $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament attracted 111 entries, generating a prize pool totaling $106,670. The top 18 players collected payouts. All of the action took place over a two-day period inside the Caesars Palace Las Vegas Poker Tournament Room.
After 101 players were eliminated on the first day, the final table was played out on day two. Given the 60 minute levels, lots of chips, and some very good players, the finale lasted more than seven hours. The top nine finishers were as follows:
9th Place – Ricky Chow was the first player to be eliminated. Just a few hands into the finale he moved all-in on a straight draw, but missed completely and ended up losing to Blake Buffington’s pair of kings. Chow a Chinese restaurant owner from Vancouver, BC (Canada) got deep fried but managed to collect $2,691 for ninth place.
8th Place – Mike Allis went out next. The retiree from Idaho started off with a decent-sized stack. But he took a few beats and ended up collecting $3,499 in prize money.
7th Place – Seven-handed play dragged on for nearly two hours. During that span, Blake Buffington seized the chip lead, with Francisco Navarro coming up close on his heels. Thomas Troughton wasn’t so fortunate. He went card dead late in the tournament and ended up going on in seventh place. The electrical contractor from Canada short-circuited the prize pool for $4,307.
6th Place – Faye Sonntag hoped to become the second woman to win an open event at Caesars, after Suzanne Carrillo became the first ever to accomplish the feat just days earlier. On what turned out to be her final hand, Sonntag appeared to be in good position to double up when she held two pair on the turn. But a high second pair came on board counterfeiting her lower pair, resulting in the Las Vegas bookkeeper’s elimination. Sonntag, who has enjoyed numerous in-the-money finishes at tournaments throughout the country, settled for sixth place and a payout totaling $5,384.
5th Place – Joaquin Sosa went out in fifth place when he lost a race with A-K versus Andy Dishongh’s pocket eights. The lab tech from Chicago picked up $6,729 in prize money. Sosa also took fifth place in the WSOP Circuit championship event at Council Bluffs, IA two months ago.
4th Place – Gioi Luong appeared to be a serious threat at one point, but he lost two huge pots late in the tournament and went out in fourth place. Luong lost part of his stack with A-K against pocket tens, and then lost the remaining half when he pushed all-in on a flush draw and a middle pair which failed to improve. Andy Dishongh scooped up the pot with top pair and became the table’s new chip leader. Meanwhile, Luong ended up with a payout amounting to $8,614.
3rd Place – During the three-handed match, Francisco Navarro was down to just a few chips and seemed destined for a third-place finish. But he managed to stage a remarkable comeback that last for 90 minutes and actually took over the chip lead when play became heads-up. The critical hand came when Navarro had A-4 and watched the flop come A-5-2. Randy Dishongh moved all-in with pocket fives, good for a set. Navarro called and then caught a 3 on the turn to make a straight. The board failed to pair for Dishongh, and Navarro raked in the monster-sized pot. Dishongh, a CPA from Houston, added $11,036 for his poker bankroll.
2nd Place – Navarro held a slight edge in chips when play became two-handed. The duo battled back and forth for nearly an hour. The most decisive hand of the tournament took place when Navarro had A-5 and moved all-in after flopping two pair, aces and fives. Buffington thought long and hard about making the call with the remainder of his chips and finally did so, tabling A-10 (for top pair only). A ten on the turn saved Buffington, who ended up taking down the pot with a higher two pair. “I wasn’t real proud of catching that ten,” the experienced Buffington remarked later. “But, I’ll sure take it.”
Devastated by the loss of chips, Navarro went out a few hands later and the tournament ended. To his credit, Navarro played magnificently. He later said he plays poker mostly for fun and still has a lot to learn. Nevertheless, Navarro has already cashed several times in Las Vegas. This marked his third time to cash in a WSOP Circuit event at Caesars Palace Las Vegas. The doctor from Guadalajara, Mexico received a nice payout totaling $17,227.
1st Place – Blake Buffington managed to get lucky on one big hand. But for the most part, he played a nearly perfect tournament from start to finish and appeared to be the player with the most experience and achievements amongst the top finishers. It would be hard to say that Buffington “deserved to win,” given Navarro’s determination and obvious love for the game. But the day and night belonged to Buffington, who appears well on his way to winning more tournaments and making a lot of money along the way.
With fourteen events now completed at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, the tournament has attracted nearly 3,000 total entries and has awarded in excess of $2 million in total prize money. The WSOP Circuit continues through April 30th.