Reed Zhao Wins WSOP Circuit Opener in Palm Beach

Palm Beach Kennel Club Sets Record for Largest Major Poker Tournament in Florida History

West Palm Beach, FL (Feb. 19) – The World Series of Poker came to Florida for the first time as the Palm Beach Kennel Club attracted a whopping 877 players for its inaugural gold ring tournament.
Attendance and prize pool figures here set a new record as the biggest single-venue poker tournament ever held in Florida.  Since liberalized poker laws took effect last June, the Sunshine State has experienced a poker boom not unlike that which took place throughout the United States and Europe a few years ago.  Poker appears to be expanding everywhere throughout the state.  But the WSOP’s arrival in Florida marks a monumental leap forward and a coming of age for a region with a rich poker history, which has already produced many outstanding players.
The Palm Beach Kennel Club is a legendary host for the most recent WSOP Circuit stop.  In many ways, the facility is to dog racing what Binion’s Horseshoe once was to poker.  The racetrack first opened in 1932 and has been offering live dog racing ever since.  However, poker has become just as popular as betting on greyhounds.  The PBKC poker room recently expanded in size to 60 tables.  As predicted, they were all filled to capacity when the WSOP Circuit rolled into South Florida, making its debut on February 17th. 
There were other firsts here in Palm Beach, as well.  This marked the first time a major poker tournament has ever been held at a dog track.  It was also the first time a WSOP-related tournament had taken place at a non-full scale casino.  The first-day atmosphere was equally as remarkable as bad beat poker stories blended in with barking greyhounds rounding the backstretch and the roars of bettors holding fistfuls of tickets.
The first tournament was a $345 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em competition.  Two starting days were needed in order to accommodate the record field.  Also for the first time, players were permitted to re-enter on the second day, provided they busted out during day one. 
The total prize pool for Event #1 amounted to $255,207 – a new poker record for Florida.  The top 90 finishers collected prize money.  This tournament very likely had the largest number of first-time cashers for any WSOP Circuit event in history.  About two-thirds of those who made it into the money had never cashed in any major tournament before, proving the enormous drawing power of the WSOP in attracting new players to tournament poker. 
Among the more experienced players who made it into the money were John Spadavecchia (47th place) from nearby Lighthouse Point, FL.  A former WSOP gold bracelet winner, he is best known for finishing third in the 1994 WSOP Main Event.  Another familiar face was Ronnie “RoNasty” Bardoh, who took 24th place in last year’s WSOP Main Event.  He finished 10th here in West Palm Beach.  All finishers can be seen HERE. 
When the nine finalists took their seats at the final table next to the packed grandstand overlooking the oval track filled with a full card of live greyhound racing, the seating order and chip counts were as follows:
SEAT 1:  Jermaine “daKingLion” Gerlin (Gainesville, FL) – 492,000 
SEAT 2:  Terry Siele (Delray Beach, FL) – 359,000 
SEAT 3:  Michael Hollen (Tampa, FL) – 1,800,000 
SEAT 4:  Reed Zhao (Lexington, KY) – 1,566,000 
SEAT 5:  Denis Mendoza (Miami, FL) – 1,350,000 
SEAT 6:  Cyndy Crosby (Memphis, TN) – 816,000
SEAT 7:  Jeff Lee (Fort Lee, NJ) – 260,000 
SEAT 8:  Filipp Khavin (St. Petersburg, FL) – 568,000 
SEAT 9:  Sean “OctoSean” Westbrook (Granada Hills, CA) – 1,054,000
Players were eliminated in the following order:
9th Place – Terry Siele was the first player eliminated from the nine-handed finale.  On his last hand, he tried to steal a round of blinds and antes.  But his pre-flop raise was called by Cyndy Crosby who tabled pocket jacks.  Her big pair held up, which put Siele out on the rail with $4,688 in prize money.  Siele is a retired mailman from Delray Beach, FL.  He was also a Navy Seal and Vietnam veteran.  Siele has several previous cashes in poker tournaments around the country -- most notably at Caesars Palace, the Venetian, and the old Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas.
8th Place – Cyndy Crosby was a force to be reckoned with at the final table.  She was undisputedly the most aggressive player during the first hour of play.  But Crosby’s fearless style backfired as she lost much of her stack on two-ill-timed bluffs.  Her final hand came when she failed to make a pair after moving all-win with A-6.  Crosby, who is originally from New Jersey and now resides in Memphis, earned $5,898 for eighth place.  She is a retired Federal Express employee. 
7th Place – Denis Mendoza was the most animated player at the final table.  He repeatedly jumped from his seat, pounded the table, and screamed various words and phrases at no one in particular, which made for an interesting spectacle.  Mendoza had plenty of chips most of the way, but took a few beats midway through the drama and ended up in seventh place.  Mendoza’s final hand took place when he took a tough beat after flopping a pair of aces.  His opponent had J-4 suited and managed to catch two pair on the river.  That left the Cuban (now living in Miami) with $7,512 in prize money.    
6th Place – Jeff Lee did a nice job managing to survive nearly three full hours with the shortest stack of the finalists.  He patiently waited to make his move and got his chips in with the best hand holding A-K.  But Lee was crushed when his opponent tabled J-9 and flopped a straight.  The former student-turned poker pro from Fort Lee, NJ earned $9,686 in prize money.  
5th Place – Jermaine “daKingLion” Gerlin was another player who proved tough to defeat.  But Gerlin finally ran out of chips and took a tough beat late when he flopped two pair, which ended up losing to a set of fours.  “DaKingLion” still managed to roar in his fist major live tournament cash, to the tune of $12,649 in prize money.  Gerlin, from Gainesville, FL mostly plays online and in cash games. 
4th Place – One of the biggest hands of the tournament took place in a three-way pot, with Filipp Khavin hitting the rail.  Khavin, originally from Belarus (now living in St. Petersburg), was short stacked and made a bold move with K-4, hoping to either steal some chips or get lucky and double up.  But he was called in two spots, by Sean Westbrook (K-Q) and Michael Hallen (J-J).  A queen flopped, which catapulted Westbrook into the lead.  Hallen lost his chip lead, while Khavin had to settle for a payout amounting to $16,731.  This was only the third WSOP-related tournament Khavin had played.
3rd Place – Sean “OctoSean” Westbrook was the miracle catcher during much of the finale.  He managed to hit key cards at several critical moments, which enabled him to seize the chip lead at one point.  But Westbrook eventually ended up on the losing end of a huge hand, which knocked him out in third place.  Westbrook’s finale hand took place when he pushed all-in with A-9.  The raise was called by Michael Hallen, who showed A-4.  A four came on board, killing Westbrook’s chances of victory.  The bass player from Granada Hills, CA who now plays poker much of this free time ended up with a nice payout totaling $22,419.
2nd Place – The runner up was Michael Hallen, a 24-year-old poker pro from Tampa, FL.  He was cheered on by a large gathering who stayed for the duration.  Hallen has been playing live tournaments for only about 18 months and has already accumulated nearly $100,000 in winnings.  Second place paid $30,435.
When heads-up play began, Michael Hallen enjoyed about a 6 to 1 chip lead over Reed Zhao.  But Zhao staged a remarkable comeback.  he doubled up three successive times over a span during which about a dozen hands were dealt and took a 3 to 2 advantage over his rival.  The final hand took place when Hallen was dealt     versus Zhao’s    .  It appeared Hallen might regain the chip lead, but Zhao caught runner-runner spades to make a flush.  The final board showed          .
1st Place – Florida’s first-ever first WSOP Circuit champion is Reed Zhao, from Lexington, KY.  He is a 24-year-old poker pro.  Zhao attended the University of South Carolina before starting to play poker professionally.  He concentrates mostly on high-stakes online cash games and has been very successful. 
This marked Zhao’s first win in a live major tournament.  He earned a well-deserved $49,258 in prize money.  Zhao was also presented with the gold ring, which is the ultimate token of achievement given for winning a WSOP Circuit event.  This was his first WSOP-related tournament victory.
Zhao jumped out in front of the pack as the early leader in the point race for the top player at this inaugural Palm Beach series.  The poker player who accumulates the most overall points receives a pre-paid entry into the $1 million 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit National Championship, to be held in May at Caesars Palace Las Vegas.
There are nine more gold ring events remaining on the WSOP Circuit schedule at the Palm Beach Kennel Club.  Poker tournaments run through March 1st.
This year, all players on the WSOP Circuit can accumulate points which are used to qualify towards the WSOP Circuit National Championship tournament, held in May 2011 in Las Vegas.  The $1 million tournament will be nationally televised and will be open to only 100 qualifiers.  For the first time ever, a WSOP gold bracelet will be presented to the winner. 
The 2010-2011 World Series of Poker Circuit schedule which includes all upcoming tour stops and dates can be viewed here.