Valley Center, CA -- For the seventh consecutive season, Harrah’s Rincon is hosting a World Series of Poker Circuit stop.  The 19-day tournament series started earlier this week with a $345 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament, which was the first of ten gold ring events on this year’s schedule.

The poker festival got off to quite a memorable start.  Local part-time poker player Alexandru Masek won his third career WSOP Circuit gold ring.  He moved within a victory of two players who share the all-time Circuit lead in wins -- with four each.  The all-time wins leaders are Mark “Pegasus” Smith and Men “the Master” Nguyen.

Masek’s accomplishment is truly remarkable for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, he is not a full-time poker player.  His poker resume would be impressive for any professional player who plays regularly on the tournament circuit.  But Masek is limited to playing in major tournaments only a few weeks out of the year, for a very good reason.

He’s got other priorities.

Masek is a 26-year-old law student.  He is currently enrolled in his third year of law school at the University of San Diego.  Incredibly, each of Masek’s tournament victories took place while he was in the midst of his legal studies.

“My first win took place two years ago here in San Diego,” Masek said.  “It was during spring break when won my first ring here at Harrah’s Rincon.  Then, last year on my spring break, I won my second ring in Atlantic City.  It’s pretty amazing that on spring break this year, I ended up with my third gold ring.”

Masek topped a big field totaling 391 players who packed the poker room and tournament arena at Harrah’s Rincon.  He earned $22,794 for first place.

The second event was a $555 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament which attracted 149 players.  The winner was Justin “Choctaaaaw” Kruger, from Dennison, TX.   He took his unusual nickname from being a regular at the Choctaw Casino-Resort, which is located near his home in Texas across the Red River in Oklahoma (in Durant).  Kruger earned $17,505 in what is his first WSOP-related victory.

Kruger is arguably the hottest player on the WSOP Circuit at the moment.  He has already cashed five times this year.  Kruger has also appeared at four final tables, finishing 1st, 7th, 7th, and 9th.  His previous successes took place at Choctaw and Tunica.

The third tournament completed so far was a $345 buy-in Omaha High-Low tournament.  The winner was Matthew Ardo, from San Diego.  He is a 24-year-old engineer.  This was Ardo’s first time to cash in a WSOP tournament.
Seven more gold ring events remain to be played.  In fact, a big weekend is expected as players flock to Rincon for daily No-Limit gold ring tournaments.  Two $345 No-Limit Events and one $555 No-Limit event will be played from Friday through Sunday.

The finale of this year’s Rincon series will be the Western Regional Championship.  The $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em Championship runs March 27-30 and will be televised on the Versus Network.  This will be the third of four Regional Championships.  Satellites are being held at Rincon to earn a discounted seat into one of Southern California’s most prestigious tournaments of the year.

Harrah’s Rincon is the eleventh WSOP Circuit stop of the season, following well-attended tournaments held in several other locations throughout the U.S.  The 2010-2011 season includes a total of 15 WSOP Circuit stops.

All tournaments take place inside the special events center, located on the main floor of specious and luxurious Harrah’s Rincon.  In addition to gold ring events, there more than 20 second-chance tournaments are on the schedule, as well as single table and mega satellites.  Cash games run around the clock inside the Harrah’s Rincon Poker Room.  To see the complete Harrah’s Rincon tournament schedule, please click here.

At least eleven players from the San Diego series will qualify for automatic seats in the $1 million WSOP Circuit National Championship tournament, to be held in May.  Qualifiers include the $1,500 buy-in Main Event winner.  The Best All-Around Player (point leader) will also win a seat.  And, the nine players who make the final table of the Regional Championship will automatically qualify for a chance at the $1 million, plus a WSOP gold bracelet.  This is unquestionably the best chance for many poker players to make history and win the most coveted prize in all of poker.

The WSOP Circuit at Harrah’s Rincon continues through March 30th.  A complete schedule can be seen HERE.