For the fifth consecutive year, Harrah's Rincon Casino and Resort is hosting the world’s largest and most prestigious poker tournament series.   Once again, the World Series of Poker Circuit has returned to the luxurious coastal mountain resort, with breath-taking views of the Palomar Mountain Range and the scenic valleys below.  Located within an hour’s drive of San Diego and two hours of Los Angeles, Harrah’s Rincon is the eighth of ten tour stops on the 2008-2009 season circuit.

This year’s inaugural event tied the record for the largest poker tournament ever to be held in San Diego.  With 646 entries, the number of participants in Event #1 matched the previous mark set in February 2007 at Harrah’s Rincon.  Hundreds of players and spectators jammed into the Rincon Pavilion.  The tournament turnout was so large that additional tables were used in both the poker room and sports bar area, called “The Pit.”

The tournament winner was Michael Robinson, from San Diego.  He is a 21-year-old pre-med student.  Robinson is completing his junior year of college at UC-San Diego.  Robinson’s victory was impressive both for his relatively young age and for the manner in which he captured his first tournament victory.  During the later stages of the tournament, Robinson staged a fantastic comeback which dazed just about everyone in the crowd, not the least of which was the shocked and disappointed second-place finisher.  Robinson was down to being one card away from elimination at one point, but roared back and won the $31,328 cash prize, the official payout for first place.  Robinson was also presented with a gold ring by Tournament Director Jimmy Sommerfeld.  The gold ring is the ultimate token of achievement for WSOP Circuit events.

The $200 buy-in two-day No-Limit Hold’em tournament generated $125,324 in prize money.  The top 63 players collected payouts.  After most of the field was eliminated on the first day, the final table started in the afternoon on day two.  Michael Robinson and Michael Clarner were neck-a-neck in chips when final table action began, with Clayton Gerow in third place.  The triumvirate would end up in the top three money spots. 

The finale lasted a quick 2 hours and 45 minutes.  The top nine finishers were as follows:

9th Place – About 20 minutes into play, Bill O’Gorman got involved in a three-way pot that left him broke and busted.  He clearly had pot odds to move all-in with A-K of hearts after the flop came with two hearts.  Troy Rickertsen was also all-in holding pocket queens.  Clayton Gerow had both of his opponents covered with pocket eights.  The flop showed 7-5-4.  The turn and river brought a seven and a jack, but no heart.  Rickertsen’s pair of ladies dragged the main pot, while Gerow scooped the side pot, and O’Gorman took the consolation prize as the ninth-place finisher.  Bill O’Gorman, a mold inspector from San Diego was making his first final table appearance ever in a major poker tournament.  He received $2,193.

8th Place – Steven Sladky arrived with a healthy stack (slightly above average in chips) but ran miserably cold during his hour-long stay under the final table spotlight.  He moved all-in pre-flop holding pocket eights.  He raise was called by Clayton Gerow, with pocket jacks.  The higher pair held up, which put Sladky out in eighth place.  The health and safety manager from Newport Beach who used to work on Navy submarines collected $2,506.  Sladky has only been playing poker for about a year, so this was a notable accomplishment.

7th Place – Tony “TNT” Nasr is sure to liven up any final table.  With his constant talk and banter, TNT is one of tournament poker’s most combustible personalities.  TNT finally fizzled out in seventh place when he moved all-in holding pocket fives.  He lost to Troy Rickertsen’s A-J after a jack flopped.  Nasr, the Lebanese-born poker pro who now lives in Whittier, CA, earned $3,133.  He has four WSOP in-the-money finishes and numerous final table appearances over the past decade.

6th Place – A few hands later, R.W. Kuehn was dealt A-K.  He moved all-in and was called by Clayton Gerow, who tabled pocket sixes.  Kuehn failed to improve which meant the middle pair let Gerow add to his emerging chip castle.  He held a decisive chip advantage at that point.  Meanwhile, R.W. Kuehn was forced to accept a sixth-place finish.  The 67-year-old retiree who was making his first WSOP-related final table appearance received a payout totaling $3,446.

5th Place – Shaun Davis departed a short time later.  Desperately low on chips, the plumber from El Cajon, CA moved all-in with a weak hand which failed to connect.  Davis ended up losing to a pair of jacks.  He collected an official payout of $3,760 – quite impressive given that he arrived at the final table as the player lowest in chips.

4th Place – Troy Rickertsen fought for about two hours before busting out in fourth place.  He was dealt Q-J and made a pair, but lost to a Broadway straight.  As a top four finisher, the accountant from San Diego balanced his tournament ledger $4,386 in the black.  This was Rickertsen’s second time to cash in a WSOP-related event.

3rd Place – Down to three players, Michael Clarner went out next when his A-K was chopped down by Clayton Gerow’s Q-J.  A jack flopped, suddenly putting Gerow in the lead.  His pair of jacks held up which meant a third-place finish for Clarner.  The 22-year-old poker player from San Diego earned $8,146 as his official share of the prize pool.

2nd Place – When heads-up play began, Clayton Gerow held about a 6 to 1 edge over Michael Robinson.  Over the next twenty minutes, Robinson clawed and scratched his way back to the point where he was about even in chips with his rival.  The tournament appeared over when Gerow had A-10 and flopped a ten versus Robison’s pocket eights.    But the board ran runner-runner to make Robinson a straight, which gave him new life.  It would all be over within five minutes.

Stunned by the reversal of fortune, half a dozen hands later Gerow got all his chips in with the worst of it holding K-7 on what turned out to be the final hand of the tournament.  Robinson was dealt K-J.  The final board showed J-10-7-A-9 giving both players a pair.  But the jacks scooped the final pot of the night.  As the runner up, Gerow received $15,666.  The 54-year-old poker player from upstate New York quietly accepted is finish as the runner up and congratulated the winner.   

1st Place – The winner of the first WSOP Circuit gold ring presented in San Diego this year is Michael Robinson.  This marked his first-recorded major tournament in-the-money finish.  At one point late at the final table when he was his battling back after near-certain elimination, Robinson faced one of several all-in situations.  Standing up from his chair and turning away from the table unable to watch, he called out to no one in particular, “How many more coin flips can I win?”  After yet another fortuitous flop where he caught his desired card, Robinson reacted by saying, “I can’t believe this.  I did it again.”  That pretty much summed up the tournament for Michael Robinson.         

Still to come are 13 more WSOP Circuit gold bracelet events.  The WSOP Circuit at Harrah’s Rincon continues through April 1st.