Valley Center, CA (March 30, 2011) – The inaugural World Series of Poker Circuit Western Regional Championship debuted this week at the Harrah’s Rincon Resort and Casino, near San Diego. 

This 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit season includes four Regional Championships.  Last October, the first Northern Regional took place in Chicago.  Last December, the Eastern Regional took place in Atlantic City.  San Diego hosted the Western Regional.  The Southern Regional will take place in New Orleans, in May.

Harrah’s Rincon is located about 40 miles north of San Diego.  The resort is one of only three venues which have hosted a WSOP Circuit stop during all seven seasons.  Harrah’s Rincon is located on tribal land owned by the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians.

All Regional Championships, in addition to the season-ending National Championship, are nationally-televised.  Tournament coverage will be broadcast later on the Versus Network.  Dates and times will be announced at WSOP.com.

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The first-ever Western Regional Championship was a $10,000 (+300) buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament.  The competition attracted a total of 98 entries.  The total prize pool amounted to $950,800.

The winner was Ali Eslami, from Los Angeles, CA.  He collected $282,242 in prize money.  Eslami was also awarded a WSOP Circuit gold and diamond ring, which is the ultimate symbol of achievement for winning a WSOP Circuit event.  He also qualified for an automatic seat into the WSOP Circuit National Championship.

Eslami endured a number of ups and downs en route to his victory.  He was among the chip leaders during most of Day Three (of the four day tournament), but arrived at the final table with only a slightly above-average stack -- ranking fourth in the chip count.  About midway through the final table, he regained the momentum of the previous day, and won a convincing victory. 

Eslami, who plays regularly at the biggest cardrooms in the Los Angeles area, is primarily a cash-game player.  But he has also enjoyed some success in major tournaments.  He final tabled the HORSE event at the 2007 WSOP.  Eslami also enjoyed at least one unusual claim to fame.  He teamed up with a fellow poker pro to defeat an automated poker bot in a widely-celebrated match which was created by the University of Alberta, in Canada -- perhaps proving (at least for now) that humans are still superior to machines when it comes to poker.

Indeed, Eslami is one very tough poker player, whomever the competition..
 
Following his first WSOP-related victory, Eslami credited Dr. Jerry Buss (owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers) and popular touring pro Chad Brown with proving the inspiration that propelled him to victory.  More details on Eslami's two very special sources of inspiration appear later in this article.
 
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Among those who entered this tournament were former WSOP Main Event champions Phil Hellmuth (1989), Carlos Mortensen (2001), and Jerry Yang (2007).  Other former WSOP gold bracelet winners who participated were Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Eric Froehlich (E-Fro), Scott Montgomery, David Williams, and Kathy Liebert.  At least two recent WSOP Main Event final table “November Nine” players played in this event, including Scott Montgomery (5th place in 2008) and Joseph Cheong (3rd place in 2010).  Incredibly, none of the well-known poker stars finished in the money.

The 14th-place finisher was Daniel Negreanu.  He was one player off the “bubble.”  Negreanu suffered a brutal run during his last 90 minutes in the tournament during Day Three, falling from among the chip leaders to the rail within a relatively short time frame.

The dreaded bubble finisher was Kyle Bowker, from Walton, NY.  For 13th place, Bowker received little more than sympathy (and no prize money).  He endured a brutal beat on his final hand.  Bowker was all-in holding pocket nines.  He flopped a nine, which was good for a set against Dana Kellstom’s pocket aces.  With one card to come, an ace hit the board, giving Kellstrom a higher set (trip aces).  It was a tough way to exit for Bowker after playing excellent poker over nearly three days.

Finishing in 10th, 11th, and 12th places respectively were – Kwinsee Tran, Alejandro Garcia, and Joe Parker.

The “final table bubble” had added significance in this tournament.  Normally, the prize money jump between ninth and tenth place is not a huge factor which influences play.  However, in the case of the Regional Championship, a guaranteed seat in the WSOP Circuit National Championship was at stake.  Since only the top nine finishers earned seats into the $1 million season-ending contest, ten-handed play lasted longer than expected.  Furthermore, players who made the final nine were guaranteed to appear on television.  This contributed to a tense atmosphere at the end of Day Three and a huge advantage for the larger stacks, able to increase their advantages over the players with smaller stacks.

The final table bubble finisher (10th place) was Kwinsee Tran, from Orange County, CA.  He had been the chip leader coming into Day Three.  Instead, he settled for tenth place and a $19,653 payout.  Tran won his way into this tournament via a mega-satellite.

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This $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament was the final event held at this year’s Harrah’s Rincon series.  The total prize pool amounted to $950,600.  The top 12 finishers collected prize money.  A complete list of all in-the-money finishers for all events held at Harrah’s Rincon can be found at WSOP.COM.

The tournament was played over four consecutive days, from May 27-30.  The first three days were played inside the Bordeaux Ballroom, located on the second floor at Harrah’s Rincon.  The Bordeaux Ballroom is located adjacent to the poker room.  The final table (Day Four) was played inside the more spacious Palladium Ballroom, which normally hosts some of the top acts in music and entertainment.

Tim West, fresh off his victory in the Wynn Classic Main Event just a week earlier, arrived at the final table with a big chip lead.  In fact, he was ahead nearly 2 to 1 in chips over his closest rivals.   The nine finalists and their starting chip counts were as follows:

Seat 1:  Dwyte Pilgrim (Brooklyn, NY) – 408,000 in chips
Seat 2:  Miler Dao (Maricopa, CA) – 99,000 in chips 
Seat 3:  David Peters (Rancho Santa Fe, CA) – 437,000 in chips 
Seat 4:  Ali Eslami (Los Angeles, CA) – 395,000 in chips
Seat 5:  D.J. Blanchard (Las Vegas, NV) – 271,000 in chips 
Seat 6:  Tim West (San Francisco, CA) -- 843,000 in chips
Seat 7:  Dylan Wilkerson (San Francisco, CA) – 89,000 in chips
Seat 8:  Steve Brecher (Reno, NV) – 246,000 in chips
Seat 9:  Dana Kellstrom (Stevenson Ranch, CA) – 147,000 in chips 


Final table action began at 12:30 pm and ended at 10 pm – which officially clocked in at about 9.5 hours.  Players were eliminated in the following order.

Ninth Place:  Miller Dao, from Maricopa, CA was the first player to exit.  Born in Vietnam, Dao now works as a police officer.  He cashed in one of the preliminary events at Harrah’s Rincon as well as tournaments at the Deep Stack Extravaganza, at the Venetian in Las Vegas.  Dao exited when he pushed with a weak ace, which ended up losing to pocket jacks.  Dao collected $24,235 in prize money for ninth place.

Eighth Place:  The eighth-place finisher was Dylan Wilkerson, from San Francisco, CA.  He is a 26-year-old poker pro.  Wilkerson graduated from UC-Berkley.  He arrived at the final table with biggest challenge of anyone, starting with the lowest stack.  Wilkerson lasted about two hours before finally going out on a big hand.  He lost what is often referred to as the classic “race” in No-Limit Hold’em.  Wilkerson was dealt A-K and moved all-in.  He was called instantly by an adversary holding pocket queens.  The ladies held up, and provided an unwelcome escort for Wilkerson to the rail.  He pocketed $30,397 in prize money.

Seventh Place:  Dwyte Pilgrim’s seventh place finish was both a surprise and a disappointment.  The two-time WSOP Circuit gold ring winner hoped to win another event here at Harrah’s Rincon (he won San Diego’s Main Event in 2009).  Instead, he went out relatively early, considering his starting stack size.  Not much went right for Pilgrim at the final table.  He took a few early blows and was forced to nurse one of the shorter stacks during his time in the spotlight.  Pilgrim finally went out when he had A-3 suited.  He flopped an ace (top pair) and picked up a flush draw on the turn.  That’s when all of Pilgrim’s chips went into the pot.  However, Ali Eslami had K-7 and had flopped two pair.  His hand held up and eliminated the Brooklyn-based touring poker pro.  Pilgrim added $38,808 to his career tournament winnings, which is now close to $2 million. 

Sixth Place:  Dana Kellstrom, from Stevenson Ranch, CA was the sixth-place finisher.  He took a rough beat on what turned out to be his final hand.  Kellstrom was dealt A-5 and had a straight on the turn when the board showed 4-4-3-2.  Unfortunately, Ali Eslami had 6-5, good for a higher straight.  Kellstrom had to accept $50,455 for his middle-of-the-pack finish.  He is a 47-year-old poker player and entrepreneur.  Kellstrom entered eight events at last year’s WSOP in Las Vegas, and cashed in three of them.

Fifth Place:  The fifth-place finisher was David Peters, from Rancho Santa Fe, CA.  He is a 50-year-old attorney.  Peters has a few small tournament wins.  This was his biggest cash in a WSOP-related tournament.  Peters was eliminated when he was low on chips and moved all-in holding A-4.  He got a call from a player with A-8, and was dominated.  An eight on the flop essentially ended Peters’ hopes of victory.  He settled for $66,834 in prize money.

Fourth Place:  Steve Brecher, from Reno, NV finished in fourth place.  He is a 65-year-old computer software programmer and marketer who is a graduate of Stanford University.  Brecher now plays regularly on the poker tournament circuit.  He won a World Poker Tour Championship a few years ago.  Brecher is also an accomplished aviator, who flies regularly.  Brecher ran low on chips later and pushed all in with top pair when his K-8 matched a king on the flop.  Unfortunately, he had kicker problems and another player also had a pair of kings, along with a queen kicker.  That put Brecher out of the tournament with his best WSOP-related showing, to date.  Brecher collected $90,223.    

Third Place:  D.J. Blanchard finished in third place.  He is originally from Augusta, GA and now resides in Las Vegas, NV.  Blanchard is a 22-year-old professional poker player.  He is one semester away from graduating from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.  Blanchard hung around for awhile against the bigger stacks, but busted out during the seventh hour of play.  Blanchard was eliminated when his A-J suited lost a race to Tim West’s pocket fives.  The small pair held up, giving West much-needed chips for the duel that was to come.  Meanwhile, Blanchard exited with $124,204 in prize money.

Heads-up play began with Eslami holding close to a 3 to 2 chip advantage over West.  The duo battled for about an hour, with Eslami gradually applying more pressure with the bigger stack.  He chipped away at West and appeared to be the aggressor during most of the duel.
 
The final hand of the tournament was dealt out as follows:

Eslami –    
West –    
Flop –      
Turn –  
River –  

All the chips went in before the flop.  West was hoping to win a race against Eslami, or better still – he hoped his opponent might call holding a weaker ace.  Instead, he encountered a nightmare scenario.  Indeed, Eslami had the goods – pocket aces.  The rockets held up and eliminated West from the tournament. 

Second Place:  The runner up was Tim West, from San Francisco, CA.  He is a 35-year-old professional poker player.  West was coming off a huge victory in the Wynn Classic (Las Vegas) Main Event Championship, which took place about a week prior to the start of this tournament.  He hoped for a repeat victory, but fell just short.  West’s consolation prize amounted to a very respectable $174,443.  This means West has won nearly half-a-million dollars playing tournament poker over the last eight days. 

First Place:  Ali Eslami won the first-ever Western Regional Championship on the WSOP Circuit.  He is known as a cash-game specialist.  However, Eslami has also performed quite well in tournaments.  He has 11 cashes at the WSOP in Las Vegas.  In fact, he now has 21 major cashes and more than $600,000 in tournament earnings over the past six years.

Eslami’s excursion to Harrah’s Rincon came entirely by accident.  Initially, he had no intention of playing in this event, since there were excellent opportunities to play in cash games near his home.  However, Eslami spoke with Dr. Jerry Buss, owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers just prior to the start of the tournament.  Dr. Buss, a regular poker player at Harrah’s Rincon who has participated in numerous WSOP Circuit events over the years, talked his friend Eslami into making the two-hour drive from his home and entering the tournament.
 
"Jerry told me, 'Ali -- you can win this," Eslami recalled later.  "I know Jerry makes champions -- whatever he touches, he wins.  He would never say that to me, unless he really believed it.  So, I came here to Rincon and played in this because of Jerry, and now here I am with a victory."
 
That wasn't Eslami's only inspiration.
 
In a post-tournament interview, Eslami cited Chad Brown, who is currently fighting a very different kind of battle apart from the poker table.  Eslami noted that his close friend Brown has recently undergone medical treatment, including a major operation, for cancer.  Eslami became quite emotional when the attention shifted to Brown.
 
"I really want to dedicate this victory to Dr. Buss for having enough confidence in me to motivate me to come here and play," Eslami stated.  "But I want to add that Chad Brown is really on my mind right now.  He is very much on the minds of everyone in the poker community.  I want Chad to know we are all rooting for him.  We all care for him.  Winning a poker tournament is great.  I love what happened here.  But when I think of what Chad is going through -- he's the real champion."
 
Note:  Follow Ali Eslami on Twitter at:  @indigoae
 
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Eslami’s victory caps an exciting 19-day run of poker events in San Diego.  Here’s the list of all winners from this year’s Harrah’s Rincon series:

Event 1 – Alexandru Masek defeated 391 players and won $22,794 ($345 NLHE)
Event 2 – “Choctaw” Kruger defeated 149 players and won $17,505 ($555 NLHE)
Event 3 – Matthew Ardo 74 players and won $5,186 ($345 OMHL)
Event 4 – Michael Ippolito defeated 81 players and won $4,584 ($345 HORSE)
Event 5 – Kevin Hanson defeated 331 players and won $19,852 ($345 NLHE)
Event 6 – Mstr Lunch defeated 180 players and won $20,897 ($555 NLHE)
Event 7 – Matthew Weber defeated 273 players and won $16,711 ($345 NLHE)
Event 8 – Alex Maturi defeated 89 players and won $10,790 ($555 NLHE-6)
Event 9 – Mstr Lynch defeated 97 players and won $25,236 ($1080 NLHE)
Event 10 – Seneca Easley defeated 188 players and won $70,384 (NLHE)


Eleven players from the Harrah’s Rincon series qualified for automatic seats into the $1 million 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit National Championship, to be held at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, in May.  Qualifiers included Seneca Easley (Ft. Worth, TX), the $1,500 buy-in Main Event winner.  Mstr Lynch (Lewisville, TX) was the winner in the best-all around player race.  He accumulated the most overall points (100) in the preliminary ten gold ring tournaments.  Moreover, the nine players who made the final table of the Regional Championship automatically qualified.

The National Championship has a $1 million prize pool.  In addition, the winner receives a WSOP gold bracelet.  This is the first time in history a WSOP gold bracelet has directly been tied in to the WSOP Circuit.

Players may still try and qualify to the chance to play in the National Championship.  There are four ways to qualify for the 100 open seats.  The first way is to win any of the WSOP Circuit $1,500 buy-in Main Event Championships.  The second way is to win the best all-around player point-race at any WSOP Circuit stop.  The third way is to make to the final table (nine seats) at any Regional Championship.  The fourth way is to accumulate enough points on a national leaderboard during the course of the 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit season.

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 current 2010-2011 season includes a total of 15 WSOP Circuit stops.  The four upcoming WSOP Circuit stops are in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and New Orleans.