Atlantic City, NJ – Most poker tournaments reach a stage at which there is a definite turning point, a fateful series of events where momentum decidedly shifts towards one player and abandons another.  The most recent WSOP Circuit tournament held at Caesars Atlantic City reached that point when play became three-handed.

Three players battled it out for more than four hours before the self-admitted underdog in the fight, a 41-year-old network engineer from Fairfax, VA named Earnest Whistler, made a startling comeback and vanquished two far more experienced poker tournament pros. 

Indeed, Whistler managed not just the unthinkable act of defeating Goliath.  In fact, he whipped two Goliaths.  The remnants of the final table and tournament room resembled the epic ancient battlefield at Carthage.  All that was missing were the fading flames of the pyres and motionless bodies, although 661 lifeless former tournament souls were missing when the newest poker conqueror was crowned.

Amongst the 661 players getting their collective tails kicked were two New Yorkers, Adam “Lippy” Lippert and Vinny Pahuja, who have a combined dozen tournament wins and more than $1.6 million between them.  Contrast this with Whistler, with one lone unremarkable cash in a B-level tournament, and you have all the makings of a classic upset.  That’s exactly what it was, with Whistler catching a gratuitous flurry of cards when play became short-handed which provided the propulsion towards the most satisfying of victories.

The three-handed battle with Whistler, Lippert and Pahuja at center stage was full of extraordinary hands and contentious emotions.  At several points, heated words were exchanged.  One could argue emotions were fueled by the rank amateur far outperforming expectations, lighting the fuses of frustration within Lippert and Pahuja. 

It was Pahuja in particular who grew increasingly agitated with the course of events.  As his chip lead gradually evaporated and then disappeared altogether, the poker pro made no attempt to hide his aggravation.  Caught in the crossfire was Whistler, who could only marvel at being at a major tournament final table at the first time.  Whistler collected the top cash prize totaling $53,939 plus his first gold ring, which is the ultimate token of achievement presented to all tournament champions who win WSOP Circuit events around the country.

This was the third of 12 WSOP Circuit events on this year’s Caesars Atlantic City schedule.  The tournament attracted 662 entrants.  After most of the field was eliminated on Day One which clocked in at 14 hours, six tables of survivors returned on Day Two and played another lengthy session, which lasted another 16 hours and ended well past midnight.  The top 63 finishers divided prize money from a $192,642 prize pool.

Final table play began on a Saturday night inside the Palladium Arena at Caesars.  The only previous WSOP Circuit winner was two-time former champ Adam “Lippy” Lippert, who began play in eighth place, but who would ultimately manage to shape the course of events which unfolded and produced the latest winner. 

Long Islander George Walther arrived at the finale with a slight chip lead, but soon became a non factor within only a few hands.  Vinny Pahuja appeared to be the player to watch, and did not disappoint as what some would describe as the finale favorite. 

Earnest Whistler ended up playing a duel role, that of the wild card and the joker. 

The wide scattering of chips as play began made the competition one of the most uncertain finales of the season.  Indeed, the final table was a wide open affair, and given the low blinds (16,000-8,000), all the stacks at the table had time to patiently wait it out for the best possible situation.  The nine finalists and their starting chip counts were as follows:
 

Seat

Player

Hometown

Chip Count

1

Tim Goenert

Montreal, Canada

500,000

2

Earnest Whistler

Fairfax, VA

426,000

3

Adam "Lippy" Lippert

Brooklyn, NY

224,000

4

George Walther

Huntington, NY

690,000

5

Vinny Pahuja

New York, NY

653,000

6

Irek Zoziak

Frederick, MD

278,000

7

David V. Corazza

Honesdale, PA

572,000

8

R.J. Grazul

Kearny, NJ

214,000

9

Jason DeLozier

Arlington, VA

410,000

 

Players were eliminated in the following order:

Ninth Place:  A Nightmare for the Early Chip Leader
 

George Walther, a retired phone company worker, was disconnected from the final table and went out only 30 minutes into play.  One can only describe Walther’s experience as a disaster.  He bluffed off most of his stack just as play began and then went bust a short time later holding A4 against pocket 9’s. 

Walther managed to catch a 4 on the flop which provided some hope.  But he got no further help from the deck and had to settle for $3,853.  Walther also managed to finish in the top 12 percent of the field at last year’s WSOP Main Event, certainly an impressive accomplishment. 

Eighth Place:  R.J. is D.O.A. 
R.J. Grazul, a telecommunications technician from Kearney, NJ played well, but ultimately busted out.  Grazul was down to his last 100,000 in chips and made what turned out to be a fateful move with pocket 9’s, which were hammered by the supreme pre flop Hold’em hand, pocket A’s.  This was the third time Grazul has entered a WSOP Circuit event, and the third time indeed turned out to be a charm, worth $5,779 in prize money.

Seventh Place:  Another Big Stack Bites the Dust
Tim Goernert, a business owner from Montreal, Canada had plenty of chips early, but ran cold as the tournament progressed.  He was down to about 200,000 and was the lowest stack size when he moved all in holding AQ.  His raise was called instantly and subsequently was dominated by AK.  When a K came on flop, that essentially ended Goernert’s chance of making a comeback.  However, the poker player from Quebec could certainly be proud of his seventh place showing, which paid $7,706.

Sixth Place:  Jozwiak Out Sixth
Irek Jozwiak, a technician from Frederick, MD went bust when his all in bet with AJ was called by a rival holding pocket K’s.  Jozwiak failed to catch either of his cards and ended up as the sixth place finisher.  The former U.S. Marine had previously cashed in several smaller tournaments and also won a major event held in Atlantic City just a few years ago.  He ended up with a nice payout from this tournament totaling $9,632.

Fifth Place:  D-Lo Goes
Jason DeLozier (a.k.a. “D-Lo”), a consultant from Arlington, VA hung on for more than three hours but ultimately crashed in fifth place.  He was dealt pocket 9’s on his final hand, which were dominated by the chip leader’s pocket 10’s.  A 10 flopped, which all but discharged DeLozier from the competition.  He ended up losing the big pot to a full house.  DeLozier played excellent poker over two days and could be proud of his win, which amounted to $11,559.

Fourth Place:  Corazza Misses Straight Draw 
David V. Corazza, a builder and contractor from Honesdale, PA nailed down fourth place.  On his final hand he moved all-in with an open ended straight draw, but missed.  He ended up losing his whole stack to a pair of fives.  Nevertheless, with this finish, Corazza added to a nice record of accomplishment in tournaments, as this was his fifth time to cash in a major tournament.  Fourth place paid $13,485.  “Not bad for playing poker for a couple of days,” he said.

Third Place:  Two Time Former Gold Ring Winner Misses Third Attempt 
Adam “Lippy” Lippert, a highly-accomplished professional poker player from Brooklyn, NY put on a clinic in how to overcome adversity.  He arrived at the final table as one of the shortest stacks, and managed to scratch and claw his way all the way up to a third place finish. 

Lippert arguably might have won this event had he not taken a brutal beat when play was at three-handed.  He had a good sized stack and had his adversary, Ernie Whistler, covered with pocket K’s versus A10.  But an A came on the turn which changed the entire outcome of the tournament.  Lippert managed to re-stage another comeback and came within reach of the chip lead.  But he ended up losing another big pot late which sealed his fate. 

Lippert, a two time WSOP Circuit gold ring winner, with previous victories at Harrah’s New Orleans and Caesars Indiana collected third place prize money totaling $15,411.  He now has more than $700,000 in live career tournament winnings.
 
Second Place:  Vinny Vanishes
Vinny Pahuja, a 30-year-old poker pro from New York City experienced a roller coaster ride of emotions.  At one point, he appeared well on his way towards his fifth major tournament victory within just three years.  Then, late in the finale he became severely short stacked.  That did not stop Pahuja from staging a major comeback and drawing about even in chips with his final foe. 

But in the end, Pahuja succumbed to Whistler’s unconventional playing style and a rush of favorable cards which made it all but impossible to overcome. 

The final hand of the tournament came when Pahuja was low on chips and moved all in with KQ.  Whistler called with AQ.  The final board came QJJ99 giving both Whistler and Pahuja two pair.  But Whistler held the better kicker with an A.  Pahuja, a former Wall Street analyst who has earned more than $800,000 in career tournament winnings, collected $27,933 in a less than satisfying performance as the runner up.

First Place:  Whistling Dixie
Earnest Whistler, a 41 year old network engineer from Fairfax, VA earned $53,940 plus a gold ring in what was his first tournament victory ever.

The WSOP Circuit at Caesars Atlantic City continues through March 14.  This year’s schedule includes 12 gold ring events, along with multiple second-chance tournaments, single table and mega satellites, plus cash games going around the clock inside the Caesars Poker Room.  This marks the fifth straight year that Caesars Atlantic City has been a part of the WSOP Circuit.  This is the seventh WSOP Circuit stop of the 2009-2010 season following previous tournaments held in Chicago, Southern Indiana, Lake Tahoe, Harrah’s Atlantic City, Tunica, and Council Bluffs.