West Palm Beach, FL (Mar. 1) – Further proof that big-time No-Limit Hold’em tournaments are fast becoming the private domain of a newer, younger super-generation of poker players was on full display at the Palm Beach Kennel Club.

John Riordan, a 19-year-old professional poker player (that’s no misprint), won the most recent World Series of Poker Circuit championship.  He collected $210,180 for first place.  Riordan was also presented with a WSOP Circuit gold ring, the coveted prize awarded to all winners in poker’s biggest and most prestigious national tournament series.

While the classification “professional poker player” is way overused in today’s lexicon of tournament coverage, there’s no doubt that John Riordan is the real deal.  Despite being at an age when most of his peers are either entering college or pursuing entry-level jobs, Riordan is already in the express lane racing on a fast track to possible superstardom in the game he is in the process of mastering.

Riordan resides in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.  He first began playing poker online in free-money games at age 13.  He started playing for real money when he turned 18 and competed in steadily bigger-stakes games as both his bankroll and skills grew.  Riordan now plays in high-limit cash games almost daily, often buying into $200-$400 Pot-Limit Omaha games, $40,000 at a time.  He is also becoming a regular player in many of the highest stakes live cash games in South Florida.  And it bears mentioning again, he's nineteen. 

Until the WSOP Circuit came to Florida, Riordan’s tournament options were severely limited.  In fact, he had no live tournament resume whatsoever.  Due to his age (under 21) he wasn’t able to play in most other tournaments held throughout the U.S.  Even with this dramatic victory, Riordan won’t be eligible to compete in the WSOP held in Las Vegas until the year 2013.      

While the poker world will likely have much to fear and fans will have much to anticipate when Riordan makes his inevitable entrance onto the regular tournament circuit 15 months from now, he will still be able to bask in the glow of at least one major tournament victory.

Riordan held the chip lead during most of the later stages of the Palm Beach Main Event and won – by any estimation – a victory that was just as eye-catching as it was deserved.  He dominated play from start to finish at the final table.  Afterward, Riordan seemed to think of his victory as an almost inevitable conclusion.  Sort of like being born into royalty and receiving the customary coronation at adulthood.  Such is the mindset of poker pro who clearly possesses extraordinary skill and self-confidence.  Indeed, although the comparison might seem outlandish now, mark these words:  Only time will tell if Riordan is the next Phil Ivey or Tom Dwan.

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This marked the first time a WSOP-related tournament had ever been played inside the state of Florida.  The tournament series began on February 17th and included ten official gold ring events.  The championship capped a two-week poker festival during which previous poker records were shattered and several new records were set for Florida’s booming poker scene.  Among the more notable happenings at Palm Beach were:

-    The biggest single-venue poker tournament ever held in Florida.  Event #1 ($345 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em) attracted a whopping 877 entries, shattering the previous state record.
 
-    Florida’s first major poker tournament female champion.  June Amer won a WSOP Circuit gold ring and $65,338 in the $550 No-Limit Hold’em competition (Event #7).
 
-    The youngest final table participant in WSOP Circuit history.  John Riordan became the youngest player ever to make the top nine in any Circuit tournament.  Florida law permits players over age 18 to enter poker tournaments.  This is the only WSOP Circuit event where this is possible.  He also became the youngest winner in history.
 
-    The largest $500 buy-in tournament of the 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit season, so far (through nine tour stops).  Event #7 attracted 664 entries.
 
-    One of the largest poker tournaments ever held at a (non-casino) racing facility anywhere in the world.
 
-    To pay tribute to the WSOP coming to Florida for the first time, several dog races were named in honor of world champion poker players.  All racing matinees held at the Palm Beach Kennel Club included two feature races named after former WSOP winners.  The program began on Feb. 17th with the “Scotty Nguyen Feature Race.”  Racing continued daily through March 1st with the “Jonathan Duhamel Feature Race.”  These special races not only drew big crowds and lots of betting at the racetrack.  The dog races were also simulcast across the nation to many casinos and bettor parlors.

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John Riordan’s coronation, officially known as the $1,600 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em Main Event championship, began on February 27th and attracted a huge field totaling 712 players.  The turnout was so large that two starting sessions were required – a rarity for big buy-in tournaments.  The 72 survivors who were fortunate enough to finish in-the-money divided the prize pool totaling $1,035,960.  A list of all players who cashed can be viewed HERE:

The Main Event began with former WSOP champions Greg "Fossilman" Rayner (2004) and Jerry Yang (2007) in attendance.  Several other former WSOP gold bracelet winners also participated.  About half of the field was eliminated on Day One.  That left 366 players remaining, who returned on Day Two.  During the following session, the field size was reduced to just 24 players.  Then, about six hours into Day Three, the final table was finally reached, with Riordan in total command as chip leader.

Given the unusual circumstances of a poker tournament being held at a dog track, the tournament seemed far more invigorating than the normal run-of-the-mill poker competition.  Play was frequently interspersed with racing calls and cheering from the grandstand.  The final table was played on the main stage adjacent the racetrack, appropriately called “The Finish Line.”

When players took seats at the final table which began at 8 pm on a Tuesday night, the seating order and starting chip counts were as follows:
 
SEAT 1:  Jon Brody (Davie, FL) – 1,500,000 in chips 
SEAT 2:  David MacDonald (Jupiter, FL) – 920,000 in chips     
SEAT 3:  Ryan Lenaghan (Mobile, AL) – 1,420,000 in chips 
SEAT 4:  Austin Buchanan (Winter Park, FL) – 1,100,000 in chips 
SEAT 5:  Jerry Timmons (Cooper City, FL) – 980,000 in chips    
SEAT 6:  Mike Morton (Mays Landing, NJ) – 2,000,000 in chips 
SEAT 7:  Jesse Okonczak (Destin, FL) – 1,280,000 in chips 
SEAT 8:  John Riordan (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) – 4,500,000 in chips   
SEAT 9:  Thomas J. Aprea (East Marion, NY) – 600,000 in chips 

   
The final table lasted about five hours, ending at about 1 am.  Players were eliminated in the following order:

9th Place – Nearly two hours passed before the first elimination.  That moment finally came when Jerry Timmons was dealt pocket queens.  It appeared he might double up, but Thomas Aprea called the raise with A-J suited and flopped a jack.  Then, another jack hit the river, making trip jacks.  That put Timmons out on the rail.  Jerry Timmons is a 56-year-old owner of a septic tank company from Cooper City, FL.  He was flushed away in ninth place, good for $19,665 in prize money.

8th Place – Jesse Okonczak was the chip leader at the end of Day Two.  He enjoyed the mixed blessing of making the final table, but was eliminated in eighth place.  Okanczak’s stack gradually dwindled as time passes, which forced him to make a move with the relatively repulsive Q-3.  The raise got snap called by K-Q in a battle of the blinds.  Okanczak failed to improve and exited with $24,771 in prize money.  Jesse Okonczak, a 24-year-old poker pro from Destin, FL has several online cashes.  But this marked his first WSOP-related in-the-money finish. 

7th Place – Dave MacDonald went out about three hours into play.  He was low on chips and made a move with A-7.  The raise was called by A-T.  A seven flopped making it appear MacDonald was on his way to a double up.  But a ten on the turn basically ended his hope for a big comeback.  Seventh place paid $31,599.  Dave McDonald is a 52-year-old part-time poker player from Jupiter, FL.

6th Place – This was Jon Brody’s big comeback into tournament poker.  Brody was one of the game’s brightest rising stars about 7-8 years ago, just before the poker boom.  He cashed multiple times at the WSOP and was a highly-successful cash-game player.  Then, he vanished.  Brody decided to leave it all in order to spend more time with his family and focus on his business.  Brody essentially disappeared from the poker scene until this event.  What could have been one of the year’s best comeback stories was derailed by three big hands within a 30 minute span where Brody had the best hand, and ended up taking beats and losing his chips.  The first of these was his pocket queens losing to pocket tens.  The final hand occurred when Brody held A-Q and was all-in versus Q-T.  A ten flopped, ending the Brody Cinderella story.  Jon Brody, a 40-year-old businessman from Davie, FL settled for $40,837.

5th Place – Ryan Lenaghan was a steady force at the final table, but ran out of chips late and accepted fifth  place.  On his final hand, he shoved with K-Q, which ran into Austin Buchanan’s A-Q.  The dominant hand held up, leaving Lenaghan with $53,468.  Ryan Lenaghan is a 25-year-old poker pro from Mobile, AL.  He enjoyed previous successes in tournaments held in Biloxi as well as Los Angeles.
 
4th Place – Austin Buchanan was seeking his first major tournament victory, but fell just short.  He ran low on chips late and finally moved all-in holding A-2, which ran into the chip leader’s A-9.  A nine on the turn gave mega-stacked Riordan a pair and ejected the 22-year-old poker pro from the finale.  Fourth place paid a very respectable $70,939 in prize money.  This was the first major cash for Austin Buchanan, from Winter Park, FL.  Buchanan says he is proud to be a lifelong fan and season ticket holder of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, which proves he has the intestinal fortitude to endure the inevitable pain of playing poker professionally.

3rd Place – Thomas J. Aprea is a modern-day renaissance man.  His eclectic career began as a bodyguard in the music business.  Next, he worked as a commercial fisherman.  Later, he built racing engines.  And, he played a lot of poker on the side.  Now retired, Aprea was making his first WSOP-related final table after several small cashes in various tournaments around the country.  He almost pulled off a magical victory worthy of his diverse background, but instead hit the felt when he lost his final hand holding pocket fours.  John Riordan had pocket fives, called the all-in raise, and the higher pair held up.  Thomas J. Aprea, a 70-year-old retiree from East Marion, Long Island (NY) received $95,392 in prize money.

2nd Place – The runner up was Mike Morton.  He is originally from Mays Landing, NJ and now lives in Florida.  Morton is a 21-year-old bartender.  Morton had the chip lead for a brief time, but took two tough blows late in the tournament and ended up with second place.  Morton collected a nice consolation prize totaling $130,057.  Mike Morton works at his family business called “Passions,” a nightclub located in Hollywood, FL.  

When heads-up play began Morton enjoyed a slim chip advantage over Riordan – about 8 million to 6 million.  The decisive hand of the tournament took place when Morton had 6-4 and moved all-in with top pair and an open-ended straight draw.  Riordan called and tabled his overpair, pocket tens.  When all the chips went in, the board showed 6-5-3-3.  Morton was drawing to 14 outs, but missed when an 8 hit on the river.  That gave Riordan most of Morton's chips and a decisive advantage.  Riordan later said he considered folding the overpair after he was check raised all-in to a dangerous-looking board.  But he ended up making the perfect read and made the correct call.

The final hand took place just a few hands later when Riordan’s     bested Morton’s     to a final board showing          .  Morton pushed on the flop with his spade flush draw, but missed.  Riordan ended up winning with a pair of  .

1st Place – John Riordan, a 19-year-old poker pro from Palm Beach Gardens, FL is the newest WSOP Circuit champion.  He received a top prize totaling $210,180.

Following his first live tournament victory, Riordan proudly posed with a huge pile of poker chips and his newly-won WSOP Circuit gold ring.  He was also congratulated by “Ghost,” a five-year-old honey-coated greyhound who races regularly at the track.  It was hard to tell who was more satisfied, Riordan after being crowned the latest WSOP Circuit champ, or the lapping doll-faced greyhound receiving loads of affection from poker players and spectators alike. 

Oddly enough, Riordan will not be eligible to compete in other WSOP Circuit tournaments during the remainder of the season, due to being underage.  In fact, the next time Riordan is likely to be seen participating in a WSOP-related event will be next season in Florida, where he hopes to come back defend his title.  Meanwhile, one expects that Riordan will continue tearing up the high-limit cash games, both online and inside Florida’s cardrooms.  Scary as it might seem, like fine wine, Riordan is likely to only get better with age.
 
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Six more tour stops remain on the WSOP Circuit schedule.  The next tournament series is being held at Caesars Atlantic City, which runs March 2-14.  A complete list of tour stops and previous results for all tournaments can be seen HERE at WSOP.COM.


Final Note:  For the first time ever, a WSOP-related poker tournament was held at a dog track.  The Palm Beach Kennel Club is determined to provide assistance in finding good homes for many retired former racing greyhounds.  The racetrack works closely with a wonderful charitable organization called Greyhound Pets of America.  To learn more about the greyhounds and ways to adopt what might be a new loving member of your family, please visit:  www.greyhoundpetsfl.org