The heads-up match between Tyler Martinez and Chuck Thompson in the latest WSOP Circuit tournament was a striking contrast of style and personality.  On one end of the table sat Thompson, the burley 69-year-old white-bearded poker veteran of decades of battles over the green felt.  On the opposite end was Tyler Martinez, the 23-year-old online poker pro, who is relatively new to live tournaments.  Indeed, with all due respect to Martinez – who has certainly put in massive hours playing on the Internet – his adversary Thompson was winning poker tournaments way back before the younger man was even born.

But none of that mattered.  When the two players sat down face to face, Martinez’ skills and experiences were every bit as impressive as Thompson’s.  As the hands played out with Martinez ultimately prevailing, one could arguably say another torch has now been passed to a new generation of poker talent.  That sobering message is not necessarily new, with so many exceptionally-talented players in their 20s winning poker tournaments.  But the way Martinez won, outfoxing the savvy vet with a mix of well-timed aggression and one exceptional trap play that worked to perfection was memorable.  Martinez defeated Thompson and earned $13,749 in what was his first live poker tournament victory.  He was also presented with a WSOP Circuit gold ring, the ultimate token of achievement for Circuit victories.

The $300 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament attracted 189 entries, creating a prize pool totaling $54,999.  The top 18 finishers collected payouts.  All of the action took place over a two-day period inside Rincon Pavilion Showroom.

After 180 players were eliminated on the first day, nine survivors took their seats at the final table which was played on the second day.  Pablo Lopez, who works as a bartender in San Diego, sat down with a massive chip lead.  His stack size contained perhaps the highest proportion of chips of any nine-handed final table at any major poker tournament played so far this year.  Lopez had a whopping 41 percent of the chips on the table – an almost unheard of chip advantage for a major tournament.  But his good fortune only carried him as far as third place.  The top nine finishers were as follows:

9th Place – Noel Huelsenbeck was the first player to bust out.  He was short-stacked but picked up a very playable A-K and moved all-in hoping to double up.  Huelsenbeck got a caller, Tyler Martinez who tabled K-Q.  It seemed the nearly/-perfect situation for Huelsenbeck.  But a queen on the turn shattered the comeback hopes of the 41-year-old business owner from San Diego.  Huelsenbeck collected $1,650 for ninth place.

8th Place – Next, Justin “the Juiceman” Hagan was squeezed.  He won a WSOP Circuit gold ring at Harrah’s Rincon two years ago, but came up short this time in his attempt to become a multi-ring winner.  On what turned out to be Hagan’s final hand, he moved all-in with pocket sevens.  Clifton “the Hanger” Allen made the call and showed A-J.  A jack flopped which left the Juiceman drawing slim.  Hagan was eliminated and took eighth place, good for $2,200. 

7th Place – Maxine Gregory was the first female to make a final table appearance at this year’s Rincon series.  She doubled up early but busted out when she moved all-in with K-Q, which was called and dominated by Clifton Allen’s A-Q.  The ace high played, which put the interior designed from Denver out in seventh place.  Gregory, who is also an artist, earned a tournament commission worth $2,750.

6th Place – Clifton “the Hanger” Allen got hung up when he played A-J against Chuck Thompson’s A-Q.  Allen was all-in and was certainly not happy to be left drawing with a dominated hand.  Things went from bad to much worse when a queen flopped, then impossible when an ace fell on the river, giving Thompson the sizable pot and eliminating the health club owner from Camarillo, CA.  Allen has several tournament cashes on his impressive resume, including placing 226th in last year’s WSOP Main Event.  Sixth place paid $3,300.

5th Place – A few hands later, Monte Hanson looked to be in good shape to double up against Chuck Thompson when he re-raised all-in with K-J.  Thompson, on a steal attempt was borderline pot-committed and decided to call with 9-3.  Thompson ended up catching perfect cards to make a straight, which eliminated Hanson.  The professional golfer and golf tournament host from San Diego finished in fifth place and caddied away $3,850 in prize money.

4th Place – Phil Tramel went out next.  The 67-year-old retiree from San Deigo was getting desperately low on chips and defended his blind against a raise.  Tramel had been card dead during much of the final table and was not happy to play 4-3 suited on his final hand.  He faced Tyler Martinez who showed A-10.  An ace on the flop pretty much ended the tournament for Tramel, who received $4,620 for fourth place.  

3rd Place – Pablo Lopez seemed to take a wait and see approach to much of the early action.  He let other players bust themselves and was determined to allow his big stack size to carry him to a heads-up situation.  But he didn’t quite get that far, busting out in third place.  Lopez was primed to succeed and get into a duel with Chuck Thompson.  Lopez re-raised all-in pre-flop holding pocket tens.  Tyler Martinez called and showed the A-K of diamonds.  The flop came with two diamonds, essentially putting both players into a coin-flip situation.  An ace on the turn rocketed Martinez into a decisive advantage with top pair and he dragged Lopez’s final chips.  Pablo Lopez, the 60-year-old San Diego bartender went out on the rocks in third place, which paid $5,500.

2nd Place – When heads-up play began, Tyler Martinez enjoyed nearly a 2 to 1 chip lead over Chuck Thompson.  But the longtime poker pro from Santa Cruz won a few big pots and drew close to even with his adversary.  The players battled back and forth for about three dozen hands.  Then, the final hand of the tournament took place when Thompson had 10-9 and made top pair (actually two pair, with one pair on board).  The final board showed 9-6-5-5-3.  But Martinez patiently waited and let Thompson trap himself by moving all-in.  Martinez called and showed pocket aces, good for a higher two pair.

The second-place finish was bittersweet for Thompson, who has endured many final tables and in-the-money finishes during his impressive career.  He was 6th in the WSOP Main Event in 1995.  Thompson is also a member of the Seniors Hall of Fame.  The Santa Cruz-based poker pro received $8,800.

1st Place – Tyler Martinez was cheered on by his grandparents and girlfriend, who watched the young poker pro earn his first victory.  Later, when asked what he does for a living, Martinez spoke about playing poker online.  He also said he is an entrepreneur interested in starting his own business.  “Tell everyone I am an entrepreneur,” Martinez said.  “If anyone wants to do a business together, tell them to call me.” 

It’s possible that Martinez’ phone will ring.  But given the current economic climate, he may be one of the few people who seriously may be better off, at least financially speaking, to continue pursuing a poker career. 

With six gold ring events now completed at Harrah’s Rincon, the tournament has attracted more than 2,741 total entries and has awarded $619,487 in total prize money.  Still to come are eight more events and three more daily double tournaments which begin at 4 pm.  The WSOP Circuit at Harrah’s Rincon continues through April 1st.