First the Bracelet, then the Ring
New Orleans, LA – The World Series of Poker uses a catchy slogan to promote its national tournament circuit.  The popular slogan goes, “First the Ring, then the Bracelet.” 
The routine is for poker players to gain valauble tournament experience at various WSOP Circuit stops around the country, and then later come to Las Vegas and play in the WSOP to compete for poker’s ultimate prize – the gold bracelet.

Fred Berger has things backwards.  The business owner from Slidell, LA won his gold bracelet at the 2002 WSOP.  Eight years later, he won his first WSOP Circuit gold ring victory.  Berger topped a tough field of 156 players at Harrah’s New Orleans and ultimately became the 2010 Bayou Poker Challenge champion. 
For his win, he received $197,584 in prize money, plus a pre-paid seat into the 2010 WSOP Main Event, to be played in Las Vegas.  Berger was also presented with the coveted gold and diamond ring, awarded to all WSOP Circuit winners.

This was the final tournament of the 2009-2010 World Series of Poker Circuit season and the sixth Bayou Poker Challenge championship held at Harrah’s New Orleans.  The Bayou series is held every May in the Crescent City and traditionally comes at the end of the eight-month long WSOP Circuit season. 
The $5,000 (+150) buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament was played over three consecutive days during May 17-19, 2010.  The Main Event paid out the top 18 finishers, who divided a prize pool totaling $745,600.

The tournament officially began with a $10,000 donation given to the New Orleans Area Habitat For Humanity and “Project Full House,” which is a charitable partnership jointly supported by the World Series of Poker and Cabot Creamery Cooperative, from Vermont. 
Demonstrating the poker community’s support for good causes, poker players from around the country made donations at all eleven WSOP Circuit locations, with the pool of funds graciously handed over here in New Orleans.

The Main Event attracted several notable players, including multiple former WSOP gold bracelet winners.  Among them was six-time WSOP title holder T.J. Cloutier, who is also a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. 
A local celebrity among those who entered was Paul Prudhomme, the world-famous New Orleans chef and connoisseur of Cajun-style cooking.  After 87 players were eliminated on Day One, 69 players returned.  During Day Two, players reached the prize money and played down to the final table.

The tenth place finisher was Jean “Prince” Gaspard, who won the 2009 Bayou Poker Challenge championship.  He was on track most of the way to defend his title.  However, Gaspard was eliminated at 4:30 am following a long Day Two holding pocket jacks, which ended up losing to pocket aces.

After winning a huge pot late on Day Two, Montana poker pro Ben Keiley arrived at the final table with a distinct chip lead over his closest threat, Ed Corrado, a retiree from Florida.  Chander Jain, from Houston, started off play in third place.  The remaining six players were each outchipped by margins of greater than 2 to 1.  The eventual winner, Fred Berger started out in fifth place with about an average-sized stack.

The final table included a cross generational mix of players.  Ranging in ages from 23 to 79, three generations of poker players competed for the Bayou Poker Challenge championship.  The Day Three finale also attracted a large crowd of spectators. 
Among those who watched part of the final table action was former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, who previously represented Illinois and once sought the Democratic presidential nomination.  She was accompanied by local dignitaries, who also happen to be part of the local New Orleans poker scene.  

Final table player introductions can be seen in this short video clip:
The nine finalists and their starting chip counts were as follows:




Chip Count


Fred Berger

Slidell, LA



Chander Jain

Houston, TX



Joel Merwick

Omaha, NE



Ben Keiley

Missoula, MT



Jacob Naquin

New Orleans, LA



Ed Corrado

Naples, FL



Fernando Perez

Mexico City, Mexico



Jared Ingles

Baton Rouge, LA



Mike Beasley

Hollywood, FL


Final table play began at 3:00 pm and ended past midnight.  Eight out of the nine finalists ended up singing the blues, in the following order:

Ninth Place:  Jared Ingles Goes “Boom, Boom”
Jared Ingles lasted just one hand.  As the shortest-stacked player, he tried to steal a round of blinds with a marginal hand, but got caught bluffing by a player holding AK.  An ace flopped which basically ended Ingles’ shot of moving further up the money ladder.  Jared Ingles, from Baton Rouge, LA now has nearly a dozen major cashes and about $200,000 in career tournament earnings at the ripe young age of 23.  He collected $20,504 for ninth place.

Eighth Place:  “The Thrill is Gone” for Chander Jain
Chander Jain, an IT consultant from Houston, lost a race on what turned out to be his final hand and went out in eighth place.  Jain was dealt JJ and moved all-in.  He got a call by AK and watched with disappointment as the flop brought an ace, turning his pocket pair from a small favorite into a huge underdog.  The turn and river failed to bring the jack of salvation for Jain, who was forced to settle for a payout of $24,232. 

Interestingly, Jain was the 156th and final player to register for this tournament.  His last-minute entry turned out to be a wise investment, indeed.  Jain previously made another final table at a major tournament held earlier this year in Mississippi.  He has won about $50,000 this year in live tournaments alone.     

Seventh Place:  Jacob Naquin is “Born Under a Bad Sign”
Jacob Naquin, who owns a convenience store in New Orleans, was bagged up as the seventh place finisher.  On his final hand, the 31-year-old part-time poker player took AJ up against pocket queens, with the predictable result.  The big pocket pair won the pot, although a jack on the flop gave Naquin some hope.  That’s as much improvement as Naquin would receive, who ended up collecting $29,824.  Naquin has several small cashes in various Bayou Poker Challenge events, dating all the way back to 2004.

Sixth Place:  It’s a “Mean Ol’ World” says Joel Merwick
Joel Merwick was the player to beat during much of this tournament.  He was the chip leader at end of Day One and maintained a healthy stack size throughout play, at least until about four hours into the final table when he took a nightmare beat on his final hand.  Merwick had A2 and saw a flop with an ace and a deuce.  He moved all-in with two pair and got a call from a rival with an ace (one pair). 

Unfortunately, one of the other cards paired on the river, and Merwick lost with kicker problems when both players ended up with two pair.  Merwick, a 29-year-old entrepreneur from Omaha, NE had to settle for a sixth-place finish, which paid $37,280.  Merwick also cashed in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, finishing 189th out of 5,619 players.  This marked his sixth time to cash in a WSOP Circuit event.

Fifth Place:  “It’s a Cryin’ Shame,” Says Fernando Perez

Originally from Belgium, Fernando Perez now lives in Mexico City and currently practices law.  The attorney was short-stacked for five hours and finally busted out on a tough beat when his A9 lost to K9 of hearts, when the opponent made a heart flush.  Perez, one of an emerging number of poker players from Mexico who have begun to play more tournaments, received a nice settlement totaling $46,600.  Perez has one other cash in his tournament resume – at the 2008 WSOP .   

Fourth Place:  For Ed Corrado, “Out Goes the Light”
Ed Corrado demonstrated that age is no barrier to playing with the best in the game.  The 79-year-old retiree from Naples, FL had an average-sized stack most of the way, but lost many of his chips when he was bluffed out of a big pot by Fred Berger.  That left him short-stacked. 

A few minutes later, Corrado moved all-in with A8 which got a call from pocket nines.  The middle pocket pair held up, leaving Corrado on the rail with a fourth-place finish.  Corrado collected a nice sum amounting to $59,648.  Corrado now has nearly 30 major cashes, three wins, and several WSOP-related cashes on his record.  He also final tabled last year’s Winter Bayou Poker Challenge, finishing in second place to Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler.

Third Place:  “The Sky is Crying” for Ben Keiley
After the top three players agreed to a deal, the next player to bust out was the early chip leader, Ben Keiley.  On his final hand, the Montana poker pro tried to make a move pre-flop with K5 suited.  But his all-in raise was called by Fred Berger, who tabled AJ.  Keiley took a temporary lead on the hand when the five flopped.  But an ace fell on the turn, and Berger surged back into the lead.  Keiley failed to catch one of five outs on the river and ended up with an official payout amounting to $76,424. 

An interesting side note and lesson to all poker players regarding Keiley’s experience:  At the end of Day One, Keiley was down to just 9,000 in chips, which amounted to about a round of blinds and antes.  He even later said he almost flew home without completing the tournament.  As it turned out, Day Two was huge for Keiley and he ended up making his biggest poker score ever.

Second Place:  Mike Beasley “Can’t Be Satisfied”
Mike Beasley, a poker pro from Hollywood, FL, is enjoying the year of a lifetime.  He cashed for half a million dollars in a recent tournament held in Connecticut.  In his next major, Beasley came to New Orleans and ended up taking $119,296 for this effort, quite a consolation prize for a non-victory.  Nevertheless, the experience was bittersweet for 46-year-old Beasley who was visibly disappointed that he did not win.

Beasley was outchipped by about a 5 to 1 margin when the final hand of the tournament was dealt out about 1:30 am.  Beasley moved all in with    .  Berger called and showed    .  The board ran out           which gave Berger the final pot of the tournament with a pair of 10s.
First Place: Fred Berger Says -- “Lets the Good Times Roll”
Low-key Fred Berger did not make a big scene following his victory.  But he was clearly thrilled with the course of events and satisfied with how he played – thus embodying the mark of a true professional.  Berger remarked afterward that his victory here in New Orleans was particularly special.

When asked about what he remembers most about winning his WSOP gold bracelet eight years ago, Berger recalled that he defeated Chris “Jesus” Ferguson in heads up play, and ended up winning the Pot-Limit Hold’em championship.  Incredibly, it was the first WSOP tournament Berger had ever played – resulting in poker’s most coveted prize.  Berger has since gone on to win more than $900,000 in various tournaments, including this payout which amounted to $197,584.

“I plan on giving ten percent of my winnings to charity,” Berger stated afterward.  “That’s how I do things.  The rest of the money – I’ll give it to (my wife).  I hope she might stake me in a few future tournaments.”

Incredibly, Berger’s victory almost never happened.  In fact, he almost won nothing at all.  When the tournament still had 19 players on Day Two, one spot away from the money Berger moved all-in holding pocket 8s.  He got an annoying call from a bigger stack, holding AK.  Berger ended up winning the critical race and 24 hours later, he was the tournament champion.

On second thought, perhaps Berger is following the credo “First the Ring, then the Bracelet,” after all.  With plans to play in the upcoming WSOP to be held in Las Vegas which begins next week, perhaps what Berger really means is “First the Ring, then the Bracelet – this year.”

An interview with Fred Berger and the final hand of the tournament can be seen at: