Eating is one of the great pleasures of life. My ever-expanding 40-inch waistline and a veracious appetite for every delicacy from hamburgers to trout almondine are a testament to being a disciple of the knife and fork.  If ever there was a holy land for food, for me -- it would most certainly be in New Orleans.

I’ve visited New Orleans nine times since Katrina.  Each time I return here, I see a city a little more vibrant than before.  Not that this great city ever lacked fun things to do, but unless you have been here and experienced the day-to-day life and the nightlife too, one really can’t understand the cosmic financial -- and more vital, emotional -- comeback this community has made in just four years.

It’s a testament to the people that make this city so special, to have come so far, so fast.  Of course, there is still a great amount of work that remains.  But this city is clearly on the right path.  A “comeback” is normally a term used to describe sports teams or star athletes, those who overcome odds against them and demonstrate great determination.  If there’s such a thing for a place, New Orleans should be rebranded as “the Comeback City.”

My travels to New Orleans are mostly due to so many World Series of Poker Circuit events being played in the Big Easy.  By my estimate, I have spent 85 days in New Orleans in the last three years.  Other than the time I spend at my home in Las Vegas, this is more days than any other city.  So, in a sense, New Orleans feels like a second home to me.  It’s not just the quantity of time spent, however.  It is the quality of that time and the many wonderful people I have met – at bars, in restaurants, and certainly inside the Harrah’s New Orleans poker room.

I think anyone who does not experience all that New Orleans has to offer is missing out.  I wish to amend what I wrote earlier.  Eating is one of the great pleasures of life.  So too is, visiting New Orleans. 

Nancy Birnbaum Wins Event #3

Mother’s Day was truly memorable for Nancy Birnbaum.  She won the most recent World Series of Poker Circuit tournament held at Harrah’s New Orleans.  Birnbaum became the first woman to win an open event in New Orleans in the five-year history of the WSOP Circuit events (aside from the annual ladies-only tournament). 

Event #3 on this year’s Bayou Poker Challenge schedule was a $500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament, which was played over two days.  The competition attracted a strong field of 341 entries.  The top payout was one of the largest cash prizes awarded to the winner in any non-Main Event held in New Orleans over the past two years.  The finale was played on Mother’s Day. 

Birnbaum works in real estate and lives in Atlanta.  She has become quite a serious poker player within the past year, winning her way into last year’s WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas.  She also won the ladies championship event (Spring Break Poker Championship) at the Beau Rivage in Mississippi a few months ago.  She also finished 17th in the 2007 WSOP Ladies Championship held in Las Vegas.  This performance in New Orleans marked her eighth career tournament final table appearance.

Birnbaum started off the final table as one of the largest stacks.  But she lost some momentum early on day two and needed a big hand to seize the chip lead.  That happened when play was three-handed.  Birnbaum was dealt pocket aces, and doubled up versus the then-chip leader and never lost her advantage from that point forward. 

The final hand of the tournament came when runner-up Todd Wood was dealt pocket fours and moved all-in.  Birnbaum was dealt A-J suited and called.  Birnbaum caught a jack on the river to take the last pot and her biggest poker win ever. 

Birnbaum won first place prize money totaling $51,269.  She was also presented with a gold ring, the ultimate achievement for winning a WSOP Circuit event.

The top ten finishers were as follows: 

1st Place – Nancy Birnbaum, a.k.a. “Trouble” became the first female champion to win an open event at Harrah’s New Orleans.  Appropriately, her victory came on Mother’s Day.  This was Birnbaum’s third time to cash in a major tournament this year, and second win.

2nd Place – The runner up was Todd Wood, from New Orleans, LA.  This was his first recorded cash in a major tournament.

3rd Place – Tyler Smith came close to having the best comeback story of them all.  He was down to less than 2,000 in chips at one point late on day one (players began the tourney with 6,000 in chips).  He coasted all the way to the final table and ended up finishing in third place.  Smith, who won a gold ring last year in the $500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em at Harrah’s New Orleans, now has over a quarter million dollars in lifetime tournament earnings.

4th Place – Keechi Settlemyre, from Missouri City, TX finished in fourth place.  Settlemyre is a tree farmer, who raises pine trees.  This was his highest major tournament finish, to date.

5th Place – Shawn P. Quillin, a.k.a. “Doc” was eliminated in fifth place.  The physician and radiologist from Charlotte, NC enjoyed his best previous finish two years ago in the WSOP Circuit championship at Caesars Indiana, where he took 11th place.  So making the final table in this event was a first.

6th Place – Larry Price went out in sixth place.  The insurance adjuster from Gretna, LA previously finished as the runner up in last year’s Bayou Winter Poker Challenge (good for $83,058).  This marked his third major tournament cash.

7th Place – The seventh-place finisher was John Payne, from Guntown, MS.  The former aircraft worker, who is now retired, cashed for the second time in a major tournament, this time for $6,615.

8th Place – Dave Chocheles ended up as the eighth-place finisher.  The litigation adjuster from New Orleans and LSU graduate won a charity tournament (“Habitat for Humanity”) previously.

9th Place – The ninth-place finisher was Randal DuBois, from Abbeville, LA.  He previously took fourth place in the 2009 Acadiana Series of Poker tournament.

10th Place – Nick Nicoletta, a retiree from Gulfport, MS finished in tenth place.  Last year, the former plywood manufacturer nailed down 365th place in the 2008 WSOP Main Event.

Notable Players Who Finished In-the-Money – Mark Wilds, from Gulfport, MS is one of poker’s most consistent under-the-radar performers.  He’s won nearly $800,000 in his career including 18 WSOP cashes, 8 WSOP Circuit cashes, and 61 in-the-money finishes overall.  Wilds finished 14th in this event.  The 21st-place finisher was Gabriel Andrade.  This was his fifth WSOP Circuit cash at Harrah’s New Orleans.  The 22nd-place finisher was George Guzman.  He took third place last year in Event #6 at the WSOP in Las Vegas, good for $93,806.  Kevin Tran finished in 24th place.  Tran took third place last year at the Caesars Poker Classic in Las Vegas.  Joseph McGuire finished in 25th place.  He previously won a WSOP Circuit gold ring at Caesars Palace Las Vegas in Event #6.