For the fourth straight year, the world’s largest and most prestigious poker tournament series has come to Caesars Atlantic City.  In fact, Atlantic City has hosted more World Series of Poker Circuit tournaments than any other place.  Including events held at Caesars, Harrah’s and Showboat casinos, Atlantic City has now hosted a total of nine WSOP Circuit tournaments, all since 2005.  With millions of poker players within commuting distance to the New Jersey shore and lots of enthusiasm for the tradition and history of the WSOP, it’s easy to understand how the city known for its famous boardwalk has become a poker hotbed.

The 2009 WSOP Circuit at Caesars Atlantic City began today.  The first of 11 scheduled events was completed.  The first event attracted 812 entries, a sizable generating nearly a quarter-million dollars in prize money.
     
The winner was Brian Fitzpatrick, from Fallston, MD.  He is a 24-year-old poker pro, who earns his living playing on the Internet.  Fitzpatrick previously attended Towson University before taking up poker as his trade.  He won $63,336 for first place, which is his biggest cash ever.  Fitzpatrick’s other tournament accomplishments include a win two years ago at the Binion’s Poker Classic, and cashes at various tournaments throughout the country, including the WSOP in Las Vegas.

The $340 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament was played over two days, in the aftermath of a snowstorm that left ten inches of white powder on the beachfront.  The top 81 players collected prize money.  All of the action took place inside the grand ballroom, inside Caesars Atlantic City.

When final table play began on day two, Fitzpatrick was ranked fourth in chips.  Bill Pollard, from Chestertown, MD arrived with a 2 to 1 chip lead over his closest rival.  By being patient and waiting for the right moments, Fitzpatrick stayed in contention and closed out his victory in just under four hours.  The final hand, which was a proverbial “coin flip” for both of the two finalists, was won by Fitzpatrick.  It all came on the final card dealt of the tournament.  Had Fitzpatrick not caught a life-saving jack on the river to make a higher pair and drag the biggest pot of the tournament, you would now be reading about a very fine poker player named Bill Pollard – who ended up coming in second.  As they say, “that’s poker.”

Players were eliminated in the following order:
10th Place – A few hands into play, Sam Parzow got into a race against Mike Somma, holding A-K against 9-9.  The pockets nines held up.  Parzow failed to make a pair, giving up 200,000 in chips and relinquishing his chances of victory in the process.  Parzow, a self-employed auto broker from Severn, MD drove away $2,679 for tenth place.

9th Place – David Miller, from Bethlehem, PA was the shortest stack and committed his final chips with K-10 in what turned out to be a three-way pot.  Miller failed to triple up, losing to Wayne Dove’s pair of aces.  Miller, who recently discharged from the military, saluted his competitors and marched off with $4,872 for ninth place. 

8th Place – Mike Somma, a self-described 27-year-old poker degenerate from New York City has an impressive track record in Atlantic City’s tournaments.  He took first place at a Harrah’s WSOP Circuit event in 2006, and has now cashed four times in local Circuit tournaments.  He’s also cashed four times in major events held at the Borgata.  But Somma’s bid for Circuit ring number two came up short.  Sensing he had to make a move, he tried to steal a round of blinds and antes with Q-10, but got called by Wayne Dove in the big blind who woke up with pocket tens.  Somma was eliminated in eighth place, good for a payout totaling $7,308

7th Place – Allen Chang was the youngest finalist, at age 22.  The Brooklyn poker player made a pair of kings on his final hand, but lost to Bill Pollard’s straight.  With another knock out punch, Pollard became the first player to cross the million-chip mark.  Meanwhile, Chang walked away in seventh place, which paid $9,744.

6th Place – When play became six-handed, Trevor Savage was the shortest stack and couldn’t wait around for big cards.  Dealt K-10, Savage moved all-in pre-flop, hoping to steal some chips.  Brian Fitzpatrick made the call holding pocket eights, which held up.  Savage, who finished 7th in a previous WSOP Circuit event at Harrah’s, collected a very respectable $12,180 in prize money for sixth place.

5th Place – One of the most interesting hands of the tournament took place midway through the finale.  Paul Spitzberg was dealt A-10.  Brian Fitzpatrick had 3-3.  Wayne Dove was dealt A-A.  After Fitzpatrick made a standard pre-flop raise, Dove moved all-in for another 83,000.  Spitzberg flat called, as did Fitzpatrick.  The flop was a mix of dream and nightmare, depending on where one was sitting.  The board cards, A-J-3 gave two players a set, and a third player top pair.  This pot was destined to get much bigger.  First to act, Fitzpatrick moved all in with his bottom set.  Spitzberg thought long and hard and finally announced “call,” tabling his nearly hopeless hand.  Fitzpatrick thought he’d win a massive pot, but then Dove flipped over his pocket aces for the higher set, gutting Fitzpatrick like freshly-caught salmon.  All Spitzberg could do was mumble that he should have raised all-in before the flop, in order to knock out the player with the low pair.  Spitzberg, who came in 108th in the 2007 WSOP Main Event and was featured frequently on the ESPN telecast that year, accepted a fifth-place payout totaling $14,616.

4th Place – Christopher Albanese’s stay at the final table was largely uneventful.  He failed to win any pot of significance.  Yet the 31-year-old New Yorker remained patient throughout and climbed up the money ladder en route to a fourth-place finish.  Albanese ended up losing to Wayne Dove’s three sixes on his final hand of the night.  He added $17,052 to his poker bankroll.  This was Albanese’s third major tournament cash already in 2009.

3rd Place – Wayne Dove experienced the greatest emotional highs and lows of anyone.  He jettisoned between the chip lead and shortest stack at various points during play.  However, Dove ended up flying away in third place after losing his final hand of the night with a dominated A-J against Bill Pollard’s A-Q.  Dove, who works as a service manager for a pest control company, was exterminated from the tournament after nibbling away $19,488 for his share of the prize pool.

2nd Place – When heads-up play began, Bill Pollard enjoyed a 3 to 1 chip advantage over Brian Fitzpatrick.  On the verge of his first major live tournament win, Pollard looked like he might coast to victory.  But then he lost a big pot with a straight, which was cracked by a diamond flush.  That critical hand gave Fitzpatrick a slight chip lead.  Then, the outcome of the tournament basically came down to a coin flip.Fitzpatrick was dealt A-J.  He raised.  Pollard moved all-in with pocket tens.  Fitzpatrick called.  The first four cards were 9-6-2-3, keeping Pollard in the lead.  Down to just six outs (aces or jacks), Fitzpatrick watched with absolute delight as the final fateful card of the tournament rolled from the deck – a jack, sealing the victory for one player and crushing the optimism of another.  Fitzpatrick’s pair of jacks beat the pocket tens. 

As the runner up, Bill Pollard was paid $33,616 – an impressive prize on any normal day.  But Pollard wasn’t
thinking as much about the 33 grand he won, as the extra $30,000 he “lost” on that brutal river card.  Indeed, poker players think differently.  

1st Place – Brian Fitzpatrick’s victory was cheered by several friends and followers who were among the large gathering of spectators.  In addition to being paid 63 thousand in cash for first place, Fitzpatrick also received a gold ring, presented to all tournament winners.  Indeed, the motto of this year’s competition at Caesars Atlantic City is “First the Ring, then the Bracelet” – a bold reminder to all poker players that the steps to fame and fortune poker fame are often paved at events such as these.
The WSOP Circuit at Caesars Atlantic City continues through March 14th.  Based on the early turnout, the action should be spectacular over the next ten days and particularly this coming weekend, when two more moderately-priced No-Limit Hold’em tournaments are scheduled.