Sam Barnhart, a software analyst for the Arkansas Department of Education, is the winner of the Harrah’s Tunica World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event.

For his win, Barnhart took home $148,612, the coveted diamond-encrusted WSOPC Main Event ring and an automatic seat into the WSOPC National Championship to be held in May at Caesars Palace.

Barnhart, who lives in nearby Little Rock, AR is a long-time cash game player in Tunica and a regular in the 20-40 limit hold’em game at the Horseshoe just a couple of miles up the road.

Barnhart’s table mates over at the Horseshoe poker room followed his progress throughout the day on After his win, shift supervisor Dale Carden made the announcement to the crowd, eliciting a roar of applause.

Ready to call it quits after a disappointing series, Barnhart almost didn’t play in the event.

He said that he checked out of his room, packed up his truck and was ready to leave with just $300 left in his wallet when he decided to pop his head into the tournament area one last time before heading back to Little Rock.

Teresa Sommerfeld, wife of tournament director Jimmy Sommerfeld, convinced Barnhart to play in one of the last two $180 buy-in Main Event mega satellites. Barnhart won his seat in that satellite and as they say, the rest is history.

The three-day, $1,600 buy-in No Limit Hold’em championship event began Sunday morning with 480 players each taking a shot at their share of the nearly $700,000 prize pool.

Among the notables in the event were Tommy Vedes, Dwyte Pilgrim, Chris Tryba, Doug “Rico” Carli, Mark “Pegasus” Smith and Maurice Hawkins. 111 players made it through day one and returned Monday to play down to the final nine.

Vedes did well to make it into day two near the top of the leader board, but after a bad run of cards, was eliminated just short of the money bubble.

Previous event ring winners, Jessie Bryant, Tripp Kirk and La Sengphet were also eliminated on day two to give Kyle Cartwright the Harrah’s Tunica Casino Championship and a seat to the WSOP Circuit National Championship Event to be held on May 27 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

In his live tournament debut, Cartwright, a 23-year-old University of Memphis graduate, beat out fields of 410 and 508 players to win two events here at Tunica, earning him a total of 100 points.

Joining Barnhart at the final table was the 2010/2011 WSOPC Midwest Regional Champion, Kurt Jewell. 
The chip leader was poker pro John Nguyen of Fairview Heights, IL while Mary Harden, the last woman standing in the event, rounded out the top three when final table play resumed.





Chip Count

Mary Harden

Ooltewah, TN



Kurt Jewell

Frankfort, KY



John Holley

Destin, FL



Sam Barnhart

Little Rock, AR



John Nguyen

Fairview Heights, IL



Jesse White

Billings, MT



Preston Derden

Houston, TX



Brian Burney

Branson, MO



Marco Palacios

Austin, TX



Ninth Place

After tournament director Kevin Ferguson made the final table introductions, play began shortly after noon with blinds and antes at 15,000/30,000/4,000.

Early into the action, Jewell moved all-in from the small blind with    and John Holley called for all his chips with pocket fours. Holley remained ahead after the flop came down    , but the   on the turn made Jewell’s flush. Unable to fill up on the river, Holley saw an early exit from the final table stage.

Holley is a 49-year-old professional fisherman from Destin, FL. For his ninth place finish, he earned $13,789.

Eighth Place

A short while after Holley’s elimination, a game changing hand took place between Nguyen and Jewell.

After a 468,000 four-bet by Jewell, the two went heads up with a million in the pot to a     flop, after which Nguyen called Jewell’s 370k bet. Jewell checked the   turn but called when Nguyen fired out 550k.

After both players the   river, Jewell turned over    which was good enough to take the pot putting him up to around 4.7 million, leaving Nguyen with around 800k.

In the next level of blinds, 20,000/40,000, Preston Derden, Jessie White and Sam Barnhart were able to double up through the larger stacks.

Jewell, the benefactor to most of those short stacks, started the round with about 117 BB’s but fell to around 3.3 million when he doubled Barnhart after getting counterfeited on the river. It was all downhill from there for Kurt, who shortly afterward lost a massive pot to Harden leaving him with around 700,000.

The very next hand, Jewell was all-in for his remaining chips with    and got called by Barnhart,  who turned over   .

Ace-King remained ahead through a K-2-6-4-9 board to eliminate Jewell in stunning fashion. Jewell, the 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit Midwest Regional champion, is 25 years old and holds a degree in sports management from Eastern Kentucky University. For his eighth place finish, he collected $17,328.

Seventh Place

With blinds now at 25,000/50,000, Derden moved his four big blinds all-in UTG and was called by Jessie White from the big blind with pocket aces.

Aces held through a jack-high board, to send Derden to the rail. Derden is a 64-year-old retiree from Houston, TX. He finished sixth in the 2010 WSOP Seniors event. Derden’s 11th WSOP-related cash here at Tunica earned him $22,084.

Sixth Place

The chip leader at the start of the final table, Nguyen was unable to fully recover after losing the mammoth three-million chip pot to Jewell earlier in the day.

After bleeding down to around 400,000, Nguyen made a final stand after moving all-in with pocket fours. Barnhart made the call, tabling   . Barnardt moved ahead after spiking an ace on the flop, where he stayed through the river. Nguyen is 26-year-old poker pro and avid golfer from Fairview Heights, IL. He took home $28,547 for his sixth place finish.             

Fifth Place

The short stack at the start of the final table, Marco Palacios did well to survive as long as he did, outlasting the two starting chip leaders.

He eventually ran out of steam however, running    all-in into Barnhart’s pocket aces. The aces held through a king-high board and Palacios’ run was over.

Palacios is 32 years old and just recently received his chiropractic license and soon plans to practice in his hometown of Austin, TX. He is a former college first baseman and has two WSOP and three WPT cashes under his belt. For his fifth place finish, he pocketed $37,422.

Fourth Place

With blinds at 30,000/60,000, Brian Burney re-raised all-in for 750,000 with    and got a call from Harden who turned over pocket kings. The flop came down     to give Burney the lead, but also a huge sweat with a flush draw for Harden. The turn was a benign  , but a   fell on the river to give Harden the pot and eliminate Burney.

Burney is a 41-year-old pharmacist from Branson, MO. His third-ever WSOP Circuit cash earned him $49,759.

Third Place

Harden was the chip leader with play down to three with over 4.2 million in chips. After yielding a large pot to Barnhart that dropped her to under two million, she and Barnhart tangled in another critical heads-up pot.

The two saw a flop of     after which Barnhart called Harden’s 200k bet. After both players checked the   turn, Harden moved all-in with a   on the river. Barnhart made an instant call, tabling    and stunning Harden who showed   .

After chips were counted out it was determined that Harden was indeed covered and she made her exit from the final table.

The Ooltewah, TN mother of two, who just minutes earlier, was in position to make World Series of Poker history by becoming the first-ever woman to win a Circuit Main Event was forced to settle for a third place finish worth $67,122.

Second Place

Heads up between White and Barnhart began at about 6:45 pm with blinds and antes at 40,000/80,000. Barnhart had a modest chip lead to start the matchup and was able to increase it further to more than a 2-1 advantage. 

About a half an hour into play, White re-raised Barnhart all-in for 3,000,000 preflop with   and Barnhart instantly called, tabling   . The final board of the night was dealt out       to eliminate White and give Barnhart the championship win.

White is a 46-year-old self-employed construction contractor from Billings, MT. For his runner up finish, he collected a healthy $91,881.

With his first major tournament win under his belt, Barnhart says that he will be taking a year off from work to follow the WSOP Circuit and “see how it goes.”

The 50-year-old Arkansan was absolutely ecstatic after his victory.

“Oh gosh, this is what it’s all about right here!” he said, proudly holding up his Main Event ring.

“All of the tournaments, the time you spend, the money, this is why we play.”

See the complete Harrah’s Tunica schedule and previous results here.  The next circuit stop is Palm Beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach, FL. You can find the complete 2010/2011WSOP CIRCUIT SCHEDULE here.