Battle on the Boardwalk
Atlantic City, NJ – To win, all poker players must pay a price.  More often than not, the price of victory is not measured by the size of the entry fee or the expenses of entering a poker tournament.  For many poker players, the much greater sacrifice is the accompanying disappointment that comes with playing tournament poker full time.  In between extraordinary moments of fulfillment manifested in tournament triumphs are torturous moments of defeat, disappointment, and despair.   

Roland Isra, a 52-year-old professional poker player from New York City, knows the perils of poker all too well.  He has come to the threshold of a major tournament victory numerous times.  But each and every prior occasion when it seemed that Isra might finally win a big tournament, he suffered a bad bet or was the victim of some cruel misfortune.  Nevertheless, Isra endured over the years and to his credit, finally earned a major breakthrough victory at the most recent World Series of Poker Circuit championship. 

Isra overcame a number of significant chip disadvantages, outlasted many of the East Coat’s best poker players, and collected the top cash prize at Caesars Atlantic City, which totaled $264,715.  He was also presented with his first gold ring, the ultimate token of achievement given out to all tournament champions who win WSOP Circuit events held around the country.

Isra, who was born in the former Soviet Union (actually the Republic of Georgia) worked as a jeweler for 25 years before he began playing poker seriously in 2002.  Isra managed to cash in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, finishing 37th.  He also achieved seven other WSOP cashes, and did well in many other tournaments played elsewhere.  Yet, this victory marks his biggest tournament win ever.

This was the fifth straight year Caesars Atlantic City has hosted a WSOP Circuit stop.  The Main Event was the last of 12 tournaments played at Caesars, all of which are classified as “gold ring” events.  This year’s championship attracted 174 entrants, from 20 states and seven different nations.  The buy-in was $4,900 (+250), creating a prize pool totaling $817,015.  

The tournament was played over three days during March 12-14.  More than half the field was eliminated on Day One, which clocked in at 14 hours.  Eight tables of survivors returned for Day Two which played for another 14 hours.  The top 18 finishers collected prize money. 
Along those who cashed was Paul Wasicka, perhaps best known as the runner up finisher to Jamie Gold in the 2006 WSOP Main Event.  Wasicka finished 12th.  Another top pro who cashed was Jacobo Fernandez (14th), who enjoyed a huge year at the 2008 WSOP when he cashed seven times and made three final tables.  Las Vegas pro Nick Binger also made the money, finishing in 17th place.

Final table play began on a Sunday afternoon and was held inside the Palladium Arena at Caesars.  Christopher Mitchell arrived as chip leader and was in a comfortable position throughout the competition.  He faced serious threats from various challengers, most notably Roland Isra and Dan Witcher in the late stages of the competition.

Chris Klondicki arrived at the final table ranked second in chips.  He had a unique opportunity to pull off an East Coast poker parlay.  Klondicki won the Main Event championship at Atlantic City’s earlier WSOP Circuit stop, played three months ago.  Klodnicki won his first gold ring and $215,915 at Harrah’s Atlantic City last December.  He was also the only player to make back to back WSOP Circuit final tables at Caesars.  He finished 8th in last year’s championship event.  This time, he took fourth place.

The low blinds (6,000-12,000) and average chip stack of 570,000 at the start of play gave all competitors plenty of time to be patient and wait for a hand.  Tournament structures for all the tournaments played at Caesars this year have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from many players and postings at online poker forums. 
Tournament players have been given plenty of starting chips and blind increases have been incremental, allowing for skillful play to overcome the short-term luck factor which is a part of all tournaments.  This has resulted in several lengthy final tables, which have lasted 8 to 10 hours on average.  However, this final table clocked in at 12 hours.

The nine finalists and their starting chip counts were as follows:


Feming Chan

Atlantic City, NJ



Dan Witcher

Mt. Pleasant, SC



Christopher Mitchell

Sumter, SC



Grayson Ramage

Red Hook, NY



Richard Austin

Lansdale, PA



Roland Isra

New York, NY



Chris Klodnicki

Voorhees, NJ



Jesse Chinni

Ellicott City, MD



Konstantino Dimitroulakos

Tonton Falls, NJ


Ninth Place:  Lights Out for Austin  
Richard Austin, a retail store owner from Lansdale, PA was the first player to be eliminated.  He was low on chips and tried to steal a round of blinds and antes holding a marginal T8, but ended up making an ill-timed bluff when he was called by an opponent holding pocket 9’s. 
Neither player improved, which meant Austin was out in ninth place.  He collected $16,340 in prize money.  Austin’s previous poker accomplishments include two other WSOP Circuit final tables, once for second place (two years ago in this same championship event) and the other for second place.
Eighth Place:  Pastry Chef Rolled
Konstantino Dimitroulakos, a Greek-born pastry chef now living in Tinton Falls, NY arrived at the final table with the shortest stack.  He survived for about an hour before going bust with A8 offsuit, which lost to pocket 10’s.  The final board showed QQJ28, giving Dan Witcher two pair.  Dimitroulakos earned a nice payout totaling $24,511.  He is on a nice run in tournaments, having cashed in three consecutive events.
Seventh Place:  Feming Chan is No Johnny Chan
Feming Chan, who is self-employed and lives in Atlantic City, NJ went out on a bluff.  He tried to steal pre-flop holding 96 suited.  Grayson Ramage had a much bigger big stack and decided to fade the raise from the big blind with JT offsuit.  Chan picked up a big draw, when the flop came J95, with two cards to Chan’s suit.  But he ended up missing both the flush and straight draws, while Ramage’s top pair (J’s) held up.  Chan settled for a payout which amounted to $32,681. 
Sixth Place:  Bucknell College Student Expelled
Grayson Ramage, a college student at Bucknell University, went out on a disappointing hand when he called an all in raise by the chip leader, Chris Mitchell.  Ramage had pocket Q’s.  But Mitchell held pocket A’s.  Neither player improved, which meant Ramage was eliminated.   
Ramage’s take from the prize pool came to $40,851.  Among his accomplishments are a 35th place finish in the 2009 WSOP Main Event, and a 3rd place showing at the Harrah’s Atlantic City WSOPC championship last December.
Fifth Place:  Chinni Takes the Fifth
Jesse Chinni, a poker pro from Ellicott City, MD went bust when he moved all in with pocket 5’s, which lost to Dan Witcher’s A J.  The board made a straight for Witcher.  That meant Chinni had to settle for fifth place, which paid $49,021.  Chinni, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Maryland, has now made it to two WSOP Circuit final tables. 
Fourth Place:  Former WSOP Circuit Champion Ousted
Chris Klodnicki’s shot to win back to back WSOP Circuit championships in Atlantic City came to an abrupt end when he took the final table’s worst beat.  Klodnicki, a poker pro who now lives in Philadelphia, PA moved all in with pocket 9’s.  He was called by Dan Witcher, holding pocket’s 8’s.   
It looked like Klodnicki would double up, but an 8 of the river made Witcher a full house and also ejected one of the tournament’s most dangerous players.  Klodnicki, a graduate of Lehigh University, who has enjoyed great success in tournament poker the last few years, collected $65,362.
Third Place:  Witcher Bewitched
Dan Witcher, from Mount Pleasant, SC battled three-handed for nearly four hours before he busted out in third place.  He moved all in with pocket 10’s, which turned out to be a case of terrible timing for the 25-year-old.  Chris Mitchell called the big bet and flipped over pocket A’s.  The better hand held up, which removed Witcher from the tournament.  Third place paid $81,702.

Second Place:  Christopher Mitchell Finishes as Runner Up

Chris Mitchell, a poker pro from Sumter, SC dominated this tournament over three full days.  He held a dominant chip lead at the conclusion of Day One.  By Day Two, Mitchell had increased his chip advantage to the point he was more than 2 to 1 over every other player that remained, except one.  He also arrived at the final table with about one-third of the total chips in play. 
His runner up status and $138,894 in prize money for second place did not mask his disappointment with the final outcome.  Mitchell suffered a serious of beats in the final stages of the tournament, and went card dead at the worst possible time.  He ultimately lost his remaining chips when he missed an outside straight draw, which was topped by the champion’s two pair.
When heads-up play began, the two survivors were close to even in chips.  It took about three hours for the outcome to be decided.
Video of the final hand of the tournament.

First Place:  Roland Isra Wins!
Roland Isra, from New York, NY collected the $264,715 top prize, plus a seat into to the 2010 WSOP Main Event ($10,000 entry and expenses paid) to be held in Las Vegas in July.
Interview with Roland Isra moments after his championship victory:  (Part I)     (Part II)