Anyone who doubts that poker has become an international game would be advised to examine the last names of the top six finishers at the most recent World Series of Poker Circuit tournament, which just completed.  Sheleheda, Nenezic, Nepomnyaschiy, Shawish, Ramkhalawan, and Bueti.  It was a tournament announcer’s worst nightmare.  One might have expected an alphabet soup of letters atop the winners’ list at a poker tournament somewhere in Eastern Europe.  But this was at Caesars Atlantic City.

The final table consisted of players either born in, or with family roots in -- the Ukraine, Montenegro (former Yugoslavia), Russia, Palestine, Trinidad and Tobago, Italy, and China (for the announcer’s sake, “Chan” was the easiest to pronounce).  Left standing after a four-hour battle was the Ukrainian-American, Bill Sheleheda who was declared the winner and officially collected $57,195 in prize money. 

Sheleheda is a 65-year-old retired former business executive.  He was one of the financial pioneers who helped to create the Discover Card.  Three decades ago, Sheleheda and his management team were given $4 million as a start up investment from Sears Financial, which was aiming to cross into the lucrative credit services market.  Years later, that initial $4 million investment matriculated into a stock IPO worth $14 billion.  When it came to exercising good business sense and making money, Sheleheda sure knew what he was doing.  Given the obvious parallels between business and poker, it’s no surprise then that Sheleheda has became a pretty good poker player, too – and now, a poker champion.  

The second of 11 scheduled events at Caesars ended today, with Sheleheda’s first-ever major tournament victory.  The $500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament attracted 369 entries, generating $184,500 in total prize money.  The top 36 players were paid.  All of the action took place over a two-day period inside the grand ballroom, at Caesars Atlantic City.

When final table play began on day two, Sheleheda was ranked third in chips.  Al “Jedi” Nepomnyaschiy, an Atlantic City local started with about a 3-2 chip lead over his closest rival.  Players were eliminated in the following order:

10th Place – A few hands into play, short-stacked Glenn James was dealt A-K.  He moved all in and was called by Bill Sheleheda, with 9-9.  The flop essentially killed James’ chances of victory,as Q-9-6 gave Sheleheda a set of nines.  The board paired on the turn, and the 180,000 pot was scooped by a full house.  James, a sales manager from Raleigh, NC collected $2,214 for tenth place.  With his 30th-place finish in Event #1, James already has two cashes in the first two events at this series.

9th Place – The next hand, Arthur Shap was dealt 10-10 and moved all-in.  Antonio Bueti woke up in the big blind with Q-Q and instantly called.  Shap failed to improve, which meant two players had been eliminated in just ten minutes.  Shap, a businessman from Brooklyn, NY earned $5,535 for ninth place.

8th Place – An hour passed before the next bust out.  That came when Daniel Chan found himself low on chips and he tried to steal a round of blinds and antes holding K-8.  “Jedi” Nepomnyaschiy called his raise and tabled A-Q.  Jedi made a pair of aces on the hand and dragged what remained of Chan’s paltry stack.  The New York City-based poker player settled for an eighth-place finish, which paid $5,535.

7th Place – Joe DeFilippo suffered every hold’em player’s worst nightmare.  He was dealt pocket kings and moved all-in before the flop.  Danilo Nenezic must have thought he was dreaming when he looked down and saw pocket aces.  After making the call, Nenezic rubbed some extra salt in DeFilippo’s mortal wound as the final board showed 10-9-7-10-A, good for a full house.  The contractor from North Carolina nailed down $7,360 for his seventh-place showing.

6th Place – A few hands later, Antonio Bueti moved all-in with pocket eights.  Bill Sheleheda had enough chips to make the call, holding A-4 suited.  It appeared that Bueti might double up, but an ace on the river crushed the Italian-born investment advisor, who became the final table’s next casualty.  Bueti, from Mr. Kisco, NY added $9,225 to his poker portfolio for sixth place.  Bueti has previously cashed two times at the WSOP in Las Vegas.

5th Place – Next, Alan Ramkhalawan tried to make a move with 8-7 suited and was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  Sensing desperation, Danilo Nenezic called the all-in raise with A-J.  Neither player made a pair, which meant the ace-high played.  Ramkhalawan, a pharmacist from Florida who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, was prescribed $11,070 in prize money for his fifth-place finish.

4th Place – When play became short-handed, the four survivors agreed to a deal.  Terms of the financial agreement were not disclosed.  However, tournament rules required that the competition be played out to its proper conclusion.  Accordingly, the players moved all-in with some peculiar hands in the closing stages of the tournament, resulting in an unorthodox finish.  The official fourth-place finisher was Kayid Shawish, from McLean, VA.  The Palestinian-born poker player, who is now retired, received an official payout of $12,915.

3rd Place – Third place went to Al “Jedi” Nepomnyaschiy, a 26-year-old photographer originally from Russia.  “Jedi” has enjoyed success at other poker tournaments, particularly at the Borgata in Atlantic City.  His official payout for this event amounted to $14,760.

2nd Place – The second-place finisher was Danilo Nenezic, a 37-year-old chess instructor from Montenegro, what was the former Yugoslavia.  Nenezic has an impressive list of credentials at international chess matches.  He is now adding to his gamesmanship by doing just as well in poker tournaments.  Nenezic’s official payout came to $29,520 as the runner up.

1st Place – Bill Sheleheda won his first tournament with a pair of sixes.  He had previously cashed in several small tournaments near his home in Lusby, MD.  But this victory marked his first time in the winner’s circle – and his first and only time to cash on the WSOP Circuit.  Interestingly, both tournament winners so far this year are from Maryland.  Yesterday’s tournament winner was Brian Fitzpatrick, from Fallston, MD.

The WSOP Circuit at Caesars Atlantic City continues through March 14th.  Based on the early turnout, the action should be spectacular over the next several days and particularly this coming weekend, when two more moderately-priced No-Limit Hold’em tournaments are scheduled.