In First WSOP Circuit Tournament Ever, Surprise Champion Earns Gold Ring and $188,830

Atlantic City, NJ (December 12, 2011) – The World Series of Poker Circuit came to a thrilling conclusion on Monday night at the Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City.

Tuan Phan won the biggest WSOP Circuit Main Event Championship, attendance wise, ever held on the Jersey Shore.  He overcame a big field of 618 entrants, which was the largest turnout of any Main Event held during the eight seasons the WSOP Circuit has been played Atlantic City.  In fact, attendance increased by a whopping 75 percent over last year, when 352 players showed up for the same buy-in tournament.

For his victory, Phan collected $188,830 in prize money – his biggest payout ever.  He was also presented with his first WSOP Circuit gold ring, given out by John Arthur – Poker Director for Harrah’s Atlantic City. 

“I can’t believe this,” Phan said afterward, as he high-fived several supporters cheering on the rail.  “This was my first WSOP tournament.  It’s really amazing to win.”

Phan is a 30-year-old paralegal, from Vienna, VA which is located outside Washington, DC.  However, he also owns and manages the office, which caters to the Vietnamese community in the capital region.  Regarding poker, he has no tournament cashes to speak of.  Hence, this was a shocking outcome not just for who won but how he managed to defeat so many more experienced playes.

Leaving no doubt this was Phan’s day and tournament to win, he arrived at the final table with a huge chip lead.  He then proceeded to knock out eight out of the last nine players.

The heads-up duel was an all-Vietnamese final.  Phan defeated Hao Le, another Vietnam-born American from the Washington, DC area.  Oddly enough, neither player had any notable previous tournament finishes, making this a somewhat surprising conclusion for a tournament that began with 618 entrants, including many of the East Coast’s most accomplished poker players.


The Main Event Championship wraps up a hugely successful run of tournaments here in Atlantic City over the past two weeks.  Overall attendance and prize money were both up over last year.  Three tournaments attracted in excess of 500 players. 

Aside from Phan winning the Main Event, some of the other stars of this year’s Harrah’s Atlantic City series included:

Jamie Kerstetter cashing five times -- including her two final table appearances and an in-the-money finish in the Main Event Championship.  The tax attorney and part-time poker pro from Monroe, NJ solidified her status as one of the Northeast’s top female players at the moment, with multiple impressive performances.

Doug “Rico” Carli cashed just once at this series (finishing 35th in Event #4), but nonetheless added to his legacy as the player with the most WSOP Circuit cashes in history.  Carli now has 53 in-the-money finishes, the most of any player for all eight seasons combined, by far.

Mark “Pegasus” Smith’s made a deep run in Event #11 and came close to winning a record sixth WSOP Circuit gold ring in one of the last events, but finished seventh.  He still has five gold rings, more than any player in history.

Manh Nguyen’s phenomenal year in WSOP Circuit events played in Atlantic City.  Nguyen, from Pittsburgh, PA played at the WSOP Circuit for the first time last spring.  He finished first and second in two events.  Nguyen returned to the final table of the Harrah’s Main Event Championship, ultimately finishing in fifth place.

Jeffrey Gurfinkel, with first- and sixth-place finishes, was on par to win the “Best All Around Player” title for Atlantic City.  But Hao Le’s runner up finish in the Main Event gave him a second and third place showings, which barely eclipsed Gurfinkel – who outlasted 887 players in one event and 423 players in the other.


Harrah’s Atlantic City has a rich history hosting WSOP Circuit events.  In fact, it was the very first casino ever to host such a tournament, which occurred back in January 2005 during the Circuit’s inaugural season.  Since then, Harrah’s Atlantic City has been an anchor on the national tour, having hosted a tournament series during each and every season.  During most years, Harrah’s has been the final event of the year, with its events usually taking place in December.  It’s one of only four Caesars properties to host a WSOP Circuit stop during all eight seasons – the other casinos being Harrah’s Rincon (San Diego), Harrah’s New Orleans, and Harvey’s Lake Tahoe.  Indeed, Harrah’s Atlantic City has established itself as a flagship stop, and this year was no exception based on the heavier than expected turnout for many events.

Final table action was streamed on WSOP.com.  As is the case with all gold ring event final tables, there was a five-minute delay.  This allowed poker players and fans from all over the world to tune in and watch the action from Atlantic City.


The Main Event Championship was a three-day $1,500 (+100) No-Limit Hold’em tournament.  As is the case with all Main Events on this year’s 16 WSOP Circuit stops, there were two starting flights.  The first playing session on Saturday lasted from noon until 6 pm.  The second session played from 7 pm until 1 pm.  All Day One survivors returned to Day Two, played on Sunday.  Day Three, which included the final table, was played Monday.

The total prize pool came to $899,190.  The top 63 players were paid.  All players who cashed received WSOP Circuit National Championship ranking points.

Among those who cashed was Jamie Kerstetter, from Monroe, NJ – who finished in 58th place.  She was the only player to cash five times at this Harrah’s Atlantic City series.  Kerstetter, who made two final table appearances (finishing second and sixth), tied the record for most cashes at a single WSOP Circuit stop.

Another notable player who cashed was Jeff Papola (New York, NY), a former WSOP gold bracelet winner with more than $1.3 million in earnings.  He finished 38th. 

A full list of all players who cashed in Event #10 can be seen here.

During the first playing sessions, about half of the players were eliminated.  Then, another 300 or so ever knocked out on Day Two.  There were only 20 survivors who resumed action on the final day and then played down to the final table.  After another two hours of play, the ten finalists were determined as follows:

SEAT 1:  Mike Devinsky (Middletown, NJ) – 1,009,000 in chips
SEAT 2:  Marc Andre Fox (Montreal, Quebec-Canada) – 1,314,000 in chips
SEAT 3:  Tuan Phan (Vienna, VA) – 947,000 in chips
SEAT 4:  Daniel Rohde (New York, NY) – 1,188,000 in chips
SEAT 5:  Hao Le (Arlington, VA) – 1,700,000 in chips
SEAT 6:  Larry Riggs (Maysville, NC) – 1,200,000 in chips
SEAT 7:  Manh Nguyen (Pittsburgh, PA) – 3,200,000 in chips
SEAT 8:  Kevin Kaikko (Lakewood, NJ) – 367,000 in chips
SEAT 9:  Anthony Zinno (Boston, MA) – 729,000 in chips
SEAT 10:  Denis Gnidash (Fair Lawn, NJ) – 708,000 in chips

Manh Nguyen arrived at the final table with a decisive chip lead.  He had about one-quarter of the total chips in player.  Nguyen had 3.2 million versus his closest rival, who had 1.7 million.

Play officially began at 3 pm and ended at 10 pm, resulting in a seven-hour finale (minus a one-hour dinner break).

10th Place – Daniel Rohde was eliminated about one hour into play.  He arrived at the table with a slightly higher than average stack.  But Rhode failed to establish any momentum in his final session and was derailed as the first casualty.  He is a 23-year-old poker player from New York City.  Rohde, who graduated from the University of Michigan earlier this year, collected $14,099 in prize money.  This was his first time to cash in a WSOP-related tournament and first major tournament finish in two years, after a run of cashes in various East Coast tournaments during 2007-2009.

9th Place – Mike Devinsky ended up as the ninth-place finisher.  He is a 24-year-old poker pro from Middletown, NJ.  This was his first time to cash in a WSOP-related tournament.  Devinsky collected $17,516 in prize money.  He has accumulated more than $100,000 in live tournament winnings, with all previous cashes taking place at the Borgata in Atlantic City.
8th Place – Denis Gnidash, from Fair Lawn, NJ finished in eighth place.  He is a student at Lehigh University.  Gnidash received $22,048 in prize money.  This was his second time to cash at this series.  Gnidash also cashed twice at this year’s WSOP in Las Vegas.  He now has seven overall major tournament cashes this year.

7th Place – Kevin Kaikko, an IT consultant from Lakewood, NJ finished in seventh place.  He was the lowest chip stack at ten-handed, and managed to jump three spots up the money ladder.  Kaikko received $28,127.  This was Kaikko’s first time to cash in a WSOP-related event in six years.  He finished 47th in the 2005 WSOP Main Event Championship, which paid $173,000.  This was Kaikko’s ninth major cash overall.

6th Place – Anthony Zinno, an attorney from Boston, MA was dismissed from the final table in sixth place.  He lost a race on his final hand with pocket sixes, losing to a pair of jacks.  Zinno made a nice run and finished with $36,372.  This was his fourth time to cash in a WSOP event, including a major move in the 2008 Main Event Championship, where he finished 205th.  Zinno now has 15 major tournament cashes and nearly $250,000 in live tournament earnings.
5th Place – Manh Nguyen was eliminated during the fourth hour of play.  The former gold ring winner (March 2011, Caesars Atlantic City) hoped his strong run in Jersey Shore tournaments might continue.  But Nguyen took a tough beat on his final hand, losing to a set of deuces.  Nguyen, a former poker dealer who now plays full time, ended up collecting $47,684 in prize money.

4th Place – Larry Riggs, a farmer from Maysville, NC planted a $1,600 buy-in for this tournament.  Three days later, the seed grew into a tasty fruit worth $63,375 in prize money.  This was the best finish after coming in the money three previous times – all during last year’s WSOP Circuit season.  This was Riggs ninth time to cash in a major poker tournament, all since the start of 2010.

3rd Place – Marc Andre Roy, a 25-year-old poker pro from Montreal, Quebec (Canada) made a deep run, ending up in third place.  He did everything possible to accumulate chips.  But Roy simply could not overcome the flurry of big hands that went in the direction of his last two opponents – Tuan Phan and Hao Le.  Roy ended up settling for third place and received $85,405 in prize money.  This marked his first time to cash in a WSOP-related tournament. 

2nd Place – Hao Le, a 44-year-old musician from Fairfax, VA finished as the runner up.  He played a magnificent tournament, cashing for the second time at this year’s Harrah’s Atlantic City series.  Le ended up with $116,796 in prize money.

When heads-up play began, Tuan Phan enjoyed about a 2 to 1 chip lead over Hao Le.  The two finalists battled for more than an hour.  Le closed the gap somewhat and was down by about 3 to 2, when the final incredible hand was dealt as follows:


There was a small pre-flop raise, which started the fireworks.  Le, hoping to suck his opponent in, didn’t want to overplay his monster hand.  It seemed like the perfect double-up opportunity.  After the flop gave Phan a pair of threes, there was another small bet and a call.  The river was a nightmare card for Le, who didn’t know it.  He made a bet, was raised all-in by Phan, and instantly called with the overpair.  Incredibly, Phan had spiked a set of threes.  Le was left drawing to two remaining aces, but missed.  Phan was declared the champion.

1st Place – Tuan Phan shocked the Atlantic City poker scene by coming out of nowhere to win the WSOP Circuit Main Event Championship and $188,830 in prize money.  Incredibly, this was his first time ever to cash in a WSOP-related tournament.

Perhaps fittingly, the top two finishers from this tournament series automatically qualified for seats in the WSOP Circuit National Championship, which is classified as a WSOP gold bracelet event.  Phan won his seat via the Main Event Championship, which is an automatic bid.  Le won his seat by edging out several other players (most notably Jeffrey Gurfinkel) in the points standings.

The next WSOP Circuit stop will be played at the Bicycle Club Casino, in Bell Gardens, CA.  This marks the first time ever that a WSOP-related tournament will be played in the Los Angeles area.  The 12 gold ring tournaments will be played January 1-12, 2012.

WSOP Circuit Gold Ring Winners at Harrah’s Atlantic City:

Event 1:  Richard Smith (Warrenton, VA) defeated 704 players and won $41,995
Event 2:  Jeffrey Gurfinkel (Brooklyn, NY) defeated 888 players and won $50,446
Event 3:  Michael Linster (Levittown, NY) defeated 288 players and won $35,529
Event 4:  Jeffrey Manns (Philadelphia, PA) defeated 555 players and won $33,922
Event 5:  Peter Ippolito (East Meadow, NY) defeated 370 players and won $37,926
Event 6:  Jeremy Burleson (Charlotte, NC) defeated 428 players and won $28,646
Event 7:  Ryan Hall (Newark, DE) defeated 292 players and won $33,989
Event 8:  M. Rosenberg (Atlantic City, NJ) defeated 187 players and won $14,148
Event 9:  Richard Ward (Max Meadows, VA) defeated 195 players and won $49,178
Event 10:  Tuan Phan (Vienna, VA) defeated 618 players and won $188,830 
(Note:  Events 11 and 12 are still pending at press time)