Pilgrim Gets a Ring

The fourth of 11 scheduled events at the World Series of Poker Circuit concluded today at Caesars Atlantic City.  By any definition, this was the most interesting final table played so far of any of the preliminary events.  The finale had great drama, interesting personalities, and lots of exciting poker action.

The winner was Dwyte Pilgrim from Brooklyn, NY.  He is a 26-year-old former loan officer who has since become a bona fide professional poker player.  “I have probably spent the 150 days of the last year playing at the casino,” Pilgrim said matter-of-factly, immediately following his biggest tournament payday yet.  Pilgrim was the dominant player during the later stages of this tournament.  In fact, on his two biggest confrontations, he had the best hand from start to finish and deservedly took first place.  His official payout amounted to $83,955.  Pilgrim was also presented with the coveted gold ring, which is awarded to all WSOP Circuit champions at this year’s Caesars series.

The $500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament attracted 579 entries, which generated $289,500 in total prize money.  The top 54 players collected payouts.  All of the action took place over a two-day period inside the Palladium Ballroom, only steps away from the famous Atlantic City boardwalk.

When final table play began on day two, the four biggest stacks were very close in chips -- with Dwyte Pilgrim, Chris Reslock, George Schiavello, and Vlad Frenkel all locked within 100,000 in chips of each other.  During much of the four-hour-hour finale, it appeared that highly-experienced tournament pro Chris Reslock would add to his impressive poker resume with another major victory.  However, Pilgrim had other plans and even managed to earn Reslock’s respect when the two shook hands after the tournament.  Players were eliminated in the following order:

10th Place – A few hands into play, Marinko Matura was dealt A=9 suited.  He moved all-in but was called by “Joey the B” Brooks, with A=K.  A king on the turn gave Brooks top pair (kings) and left Matura drawing dead, putting the proud union steamfitter from Franklin Square, NY out in tenth place.  Matura, a Croatian-born recreational player with a few previous cashes in Atlantic City tournaments, earned $3,184.

9th Place – Just two hands later, it was Ed Rappa’s turn to feel some pain.  He pushed all-in with AQ.  Vlad Frenkel was delighted to make the call, and tabled pocket rockets.  Frankel’s aces ended up gutting Rappa, who ended up was the ninth-place finisher.  Rappa, a former U.S. Marine who made a whopping 15 final tables at major poker tournaments last year, collected $5,790 in prize money.

8th Place – Five minutes later, Brent Catalano moved all-in holding, pocket tens.  Chris Reslock woke up the blind with pocket jacks and instantly called.  The higher pair survived, which bounced Catalano to the rail.  The former structural engineer-turned-professional poker player from Atlanta, GA who has previously made final table appearances at Foxwoods and elsewhere received a $8,685 payout for eighth place.

7th Place – About 90 minutes into the finale, “Joey the B” Brooks made an all-in raise with pocket jacks.  Tony Swain was getting low on chips and decided to make the call, showing A=10.  Neither player improved his hand, which meant the jacks won the pot and Swain was left with no chips.  Swain, who owns an amateur poker league in Virginia which has 2,500 active members, was playing in his first major tournament ever.  He could be proud of his seventh-place finish and $11,580 in prize money.

6th Place – George Schiavello arrived at the final table ranked second in chips.  But he ran card dead late in the tournament and ended up finishing sixth.  After the duration of play passed the two hour mark, Schiavello tried to steal a round of blinds and antes but was caught by Chris Reslock who won the hand with ace-high.  Schiavello, an electrician from northern New Jersey, received $14,475.

5th Place – Down to five players, Kenny Elazzeh sat comfortably in chips.  But he took a tough beat when his two pair lost to a flush.  On his last hand pf the tournament, Elazzeh made top pair on the flop (tens) and then rivered two pair (tens and sevens).  But Chris Reslock ended up making a spade flush, which put the 46-year-old engineer out as the fifth-place finisher.  Elazzeh, from New Bern, NC collected a payout of $17,370.

4th Place – With veteran Chris Reslock seemingly in command with the chip lead, there were four players left.  Reslock’s rivals moved all-in several times as chips were traded back and forth for nearly an hour.  Then, four players dropped to three when Vlad Frenkel made a curious play holding Q-J.  Reslock made a standard pre-flop raise under the gun, and Frenkel moved all-in with his vulnerable face cards.  Reslock practically beat Frenkel into the pot as he revealed his hand -- pocket aces.  The dejected Frenkel didn’t improve, which put the general manager for a Lincoln car dealership out in forth place.  Frenkel earned $20,265.

3rd Place – Just when it appeared Reslock might coast to yet another tournament victory, everything suddenly changed.  His last 20 minutes at the final table was a nightmare.  One of the finale’s most interesting hands took place when wisecracking would-be champ Dwyte Pilgrim trapped Reslock and managed to double up.  Pilgrim who was dealt pocket tens feigned weakness before and after the flop, calling raises by Reslock.  After the flop came 9-8-7, Reslock (on a straight draw) announced “all-in” and Pilgrim called with his overpair.  Neither player completed his straight, but the tens dragged the big pot which spread the chips evenly amongst the final three players.  “It took me 17 hours to set that play up,” Pilgrim shouted to the crowd, while a grim-faced Reslock sat silently behind his mirrored sunglasses.

Then, Reslock and Pilgrim tangled again on a critical hand.  The former tournament champion re-raised pre-flop holding pocket deuces.  Pilgrim made the call and showed pocket fours.  “It doesn’t get any better than this,” Pilgrim barked out to the crowd.  Reslock was certainly dominated and he failed to improve.  Incredibly, Pilgrim had his adversary covered in chips.  That knocked the former WSOP gold bracelet winner out in third place.  Reslock received a payout totaling $23,160.  Reslock has won two major championships in Atlantic City – the Showdown at the Sands held in 2003, and the WSOP Circuit Showboat championship in 2005.
2nd Place – When heads-up play began, Pilgrim enjoyed a slight chip lead over “Joey the B” Brooks.  The surviving players agreed to a financial deal, and the tournament was played to its conclusion.  Pilgrim won the final hand of the tournament with a pair of queens and raked in his first major tournament victory.  Joseph “Joey the B” Brooks, a 42-year-old poker pro from nearby Egg Harbor Township, NJ, was officially paid $44,293.  Brooks had previously won an event at the Borgata and made final tables of previous WSOP Circuit events at Harrah’s Atlantic City.

1st Place – 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. 

With four events now completed at Caesars Atlantic City, over one-million dollars in prize money has already been awarded to players.  The WSOP Circuit continues through March 14th.