New Orleans, LA (May 18, 2011) – The 2010-2011 World Series of Poker Circuit season is winding down to a thrilling conclusion.  The season moved one step closer to ending today with the crowing of a new gold ring champion at Harrah’s New Orleans. 

New Orleans has been the final stop during each and every season since the WSOP Circuit began, back in 2005.  There were 15 WSOP Circuit stops this season, the most ever.  Most stops included ten official gold ring events.  A “gold ring event” means the winner is awarded a gold ring, which symbolizes victory.  Furthermore, all players who finished in-the-money in gold ring events were awarded points which apply to a national championship race and leader board.  This is the first season the WSOP Circuit has utilized a ranking system for its players.

Four WSOP Circuit stops were designated as Regional Championships, including Harrah’s New Orleans.  Each of these stops had included one additional gold ring event.  The first three Regional Championships were completed at Horseshoe Hammond (Indiana), Harrah’s Atlantic City, and Harrah’s Rincon (San Diego).  Harrah’s New Orleans is the final Regional Championship, which will take place May 19-22.  The Southern Regional Championship costs $10,000 to enter.

The culmination of this season comes during May 27-29 in Las Vegas, just prior to the start of the WSOP.  The inaugural WSOP Circuit National Championship will take place at Caesars Palace.  The tournament will be nationally-televised on the Versus Network.  Only 100 qualifiers will be eligible to participate.  Eleven of the qualifiers came from events held at Harrah’s New Orleans.
 
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The Main Event Championship was a $1,500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament.  The field consisted of 382 entries, creating a prize pool totaling $550,060.  This was the largest field ever for any Main Event ever held in New Orleans.  The previous high mark was set in 2005, with 259 entries. 

The winner and new champion is Jonathan Poche, from St. Martinsville, LA.  He is a professional poker player.  Poche kept a low profile during most of the tournament, never holding the chip lead until the very end when play became short-handed.  He entered the final table ranked in sixth place.

But Poche won most of the key late pots.  He seemed to get stronger as players were gradually eliminated, demonstrating great proficiency as a short-handed player.  Once play reached heads-up, Poche dominated play and earned a well-deserved victory.

Poche collected $121,017 for first place.  He was presented with the coveted WSOP Circuit gold ring.  The bonus for winning this year’s Main Event was an automatic seat into the WSOP Circuit National Championship.

Poche joins an exclusive list of seven players who have won the WSOP Circuit Main Event Championship at Harrah’s New Orleans.  The list of Big Easy champions includes:

2011 – Jonathan Poche (St. Martinville, LA)
2010 – Fred Berger (Las Vegas, NV)
2009 – Jean “Prince” Gaspard (Evanston, IL)
2008 – Nick Ceci (New Orleans, LA)
2007 – Andy Philachack (Garland, TX)
2006 – Peter Feldman (Las Vegas, NV)
2005 – Walter Chambers (Baton Rouge, LA)


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Play stretched out over three days.  The Main Event’s top 45 finishers collected prize money.  The end of Day One chip leader was Mario Silvestri, from Ft. Worth, TX.  But he was eliminated during Day Two and ended up finishing in 16th place.  Other notable players who cashed included – Allie Prescott (18th), Mstr Lynch (21st), Dwyte Pilgrim (24th), Michael Traylor (34th), and Dan Schmiech (43rd). 

Another notable finish was that of Edward Corrado, from Naples, FL.  The 80-year-old retiree finished in 37th place.  He took fourth place in last year’s Main Event Championship at Harrah’s New Orleans.

A complete list of all in-the-money finishers in EVENT #9 can be found here.

Final table play took place on the main stage inside the tournament room at Harrah’s New Orleans.  The blinds started at 15,000-30,000 with a 4,000 ante.  When cards went into the air, the ten finalists and their chip counts were as follows:

Seat One:  Lance Craig (Grapevine, TX) -- 694,000 in chips
Seat Two:  Josh Evans (Dallas, TX) – 1,159,000 in chips
Seat Three:  Matthew Waxman (Parkland, FL) – 460,000 in chips
Seat Four:  Bobby Toye (New Orleans, LA) – 882,000 in chips
Seat Five:  Jonathan Poche (St. Martinsville, LA) – 656,000 in chips
Seat Six:  Jacob Bazeley (Cincinnati, OH) -- 983,000 in chips
Seat Seven:  Todd Wood (Bucktown, LA) -- 1,619,000 in chips
Seat Eight:  Billie Payne (Mansfield, TX) -- 307,000 in chips
Seat Nine:  Scott Zakheim (Davie, FL) -- 491,000 in chips
Seat Ten:  Jim McBride (Slidell, LA) -- 395,000 in chips


Final table play began at 2 pm on a Wednesday afternoon.  Play concluded at 8 pm – making the total duration of play about six hours.  Players were eliminated in the following order:

Tenth Place – Lance Craig experienced a nightmare at the final table.  After about an hour of play, he became the first player to be eliminated when he shoved all-in with pocket queens.  To his horror, chip leader Todd Wood snap called and showed pocket aces.  Craig could not believe what he was seeing, not only facing the dreaded overpair, but also suffering the misfortune against a bigger stack.  Craig failed to improve and had to settle for $92,63 in prize money. 

Lance Craig, from Grapevine, TX is a 42-year-old self-described “man of leisure.”  He once worked as a software engineer.  Craig has participated in five previous WSOP Circuit events.  He took 17th in the Main Event Championship held two months ago at Harrah’s St. Louis.  He also final tabled various tournaments in the past held at the Winstar Casino, in Oklahoma.

Ninth Place – Jim McBride was the senior player among the final ten.  He is a 63-year-old retiree from Slidell, LA.  He has played in many prior WSOP Circuit tournaments, cashing four times with two previous final table appearances.  He took fourth place at the 2009 Winter Bayou Poker Challenge Main Event held at Harrah’s New Orleans. 

McBride lost a race on what turned out to be his final hand.  He took pocket eights up against A-Q.  A queen flopped and an ace fell on the river, which busted McBride.  He received $11,441 in prize money.

Eighth Place – Matthew Waxman was never able to generate much momentum on the final day.  He ended up in eighth place.  Waxman was down to his last 150,000 in chips and shoved with K-Q offsuit.  He made the wrong time to make a move as his opponent called and revealed pocket kings.  The dominant hand held up, putting Waxman out of the event. 

Matthew Waxman is a 26-year-old professional poker player from Parkland, FL.  He is originally from Princeton, NJ.  He has many previous tournament accolades, including winning the WSOP Circuit Main Event Championship at Harrah’s Atlantic City earlier this season.  Waxman has accumulated more than $700,000 in live tournament earnings in his career.  He added another $14,324 to that figure for his performance in this tournament.

Seventh Place – Billy Payne went out about two hours into the finale.  He shoved holding pocket eights and ran into pocket aces.  Payne felt plenty of pain as the five board cards failed to bring a desperately-needed eight.  He had to settle for $18,185. 

Billie Payne is a 34-year-old plumber from Mansfield, TX.  This marks only his second time to play in a WSOP Circuit tournament.  He has two previous cashes elsewhere – including an in-the-money finish at the Choctaw Circuit stop in January as well as a cash at the WSOP in Las Vegas last year

Sixth Place – Jake Bazeley started play ranked third in chips but ran out of momentum about midway through the final and finished in sixth place.  Bazeley’s final hand consisted of A-6 suited, which ran into pocket aces.  Predictably, the bigger hand held up, leaving Bazeley with a payout totaling $23,416.

Jacob Bazeley is a 28-year-old professional poker player from Cincinnati, OH.  He has played in nearly a dozen WSOP Circuit tournaments in the past.  This marks his fifth time to cash, which means he’s made the money about half the time he has entered.  Bazeley won first place in an event at the Indiana State Poker Championships in 2009.  He has also cashed four times at the WSOP in Las Vegas.

Fifth Place – Scott Zakheim survived quite a while nursing a short stack.  He was low on chips late on Day Two and still managed to make it not only to the final table, but all the way to fifth place.  Zakheim might he gone even higher were it not for losing a race holding A-K against pocket queens.  That critical hand cost Zakheim his stack and he went out with $30,595 in prize money. 

Scott Zakheim is a 52-year-old attorney from Davie, FL.  He is originally from New York.  Zakheim has participated in four previous WSOP Circuit events.  His most notable poker accomplishments include cashing in last year’s WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas, another cash at the Circuit Championship Main Event at Caesars Palace Las Vegas in 2008, and 16 overall in-the-money tournament finishes totaling more than $200,000 in prize money.

One of the biggest hands of the tournament took place when play was four-handed.  Bobby Toye won a huge pot against Josh Evans and seized a commanding chip lead.  Toye was all-in pre-flop holding pocket kings, which bested Evans’ A-Q.  That hand all but ended Evan’s shot of winning.

Fourth Place – Todd Wood came into the finale as the chip leader.  He ended up as the third-place finisher.  Wood ran low on chips and shoved with K-7 suited on his final hand.  He ran into K-Q.  Both players rivered a king for top pair, but Wood’s weak kicker cost him his last chips.  Woods’ share of the prize money came to $40,573.

Todd Wood is a 42-year-old lexicographer, which means he evaluates and edits dictionaries.  Wood was born in New Orleans.  This is only the second WSOP Circuit tournament Wood has entered.  In his only previous appearance, he finished in second place in a $500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em event at Harrah’s New Orleans, held two years ago.  Wood now has a second and a fourth-place finish in his two Circuit events, which is a remarkable accomplishment.

Third Place – Josh Evans lost most of his chips on the big hand against Toye.  He managed to double up one time and moved back into contention.  But the rising blinds eventually made it necessary for Evans to gamble.  On his final hand, Evans shoved with 9-8.  He got a call by Jonathan Poche who tabled an ace.  An ace on the flop crushed Evans, who ended up finishing in third place.  The payout was $56,644.

Josh Evans is a 26-year-old poker pro from Dallas.  He has played in numerous WSOP Circuit events in the past.  This is his seventh Circuit cash this season.  His best previous showing was third place – sho now he has two such finishes.  Evans has many tournament accolades, including making the money in the 2007 WSOP Main Event Championship – which paid more than $100,000 for 76th place.

Second Place – Bobby Toye had a good shot to win, but went apparently went card dead at the worst possible time, when he was heads-up against a very aggressive opponent.  However, Toye played remarkably well in this tournament.  He earned his biggest cash ever in this event.  Toye’s consolation prize for second place amounted to $74,783.

Bobby Toye is 24-years-old and resides in New Orleans.  Remarkably, Toye won the very first three poker tournaments in which he cashed -- earning victories at the Imperial Palace Classic in Biloxi, the World Poker Open, and the WSOP Circuit Seven-Card Stud Championship held at Harrah’s New Orleans in 2008, which earned him a gold ring.  In fact, Toye was one of only two players at the final table who had previously won a WSOP Circuit gold ring.

When heads-up play began, the two finalists were close to even in chips.  Poche became super aggressive at this point, betting no matter what the situation, and ended up taking down pot after pot.  Most of the hands were not shown.

The final hand came when Poche had a big chip lead.  Toye was forced to try to do something to stop Poche’s ceaseless aggression.  But he threw the gauntlet down at a bad time.  When Poche declared he was all-in, Poche woke up with a strong hand – pocket eights.  The final hand of the tournament played out as follows:

Toye:      
Poche:     
Flop:       
Turn:   
River:   

Toye was all-in pre-flop and was drawing slim.  He essentially needed to catch a jack in order to stay alive.  He did not get the jack and had to settle for second place.  Jonathan Poche was declared the winner.

First Place – The new champion is Jonathan Poche, from St. Martinsville, LA.  He is a 29-year-old professional poker player.  Prior to playing poker for a living, he worked as an oil field engineer.  Poche has only participated in two WSOP Circuit events in the past and has made it all the way to the final table for the first time.  He made the most of this opportunity and won a commanding victory. 

Immediately following his victory, Poche posed with “Mardi” the alligator.  Mardi, named in honor of the Mardi Gras parade, has become a Harrah’s New Orleans tradition.  Every year, the Main Event champion has posed with the big-jawed beast, stuffed with wads of $100 bills.  Despite the unsavory company of being framed with the reptile, Poche didn’t seem to mind one bit being photographed with “Mardi,” since the gawking gator was carrying the winner’s share of the loot.

With the Main Event now completed, New Orleans has crowned ten WSOP Circuit gold ring champions this year.  The list of winners includes:

Event #1:  John Christian (Baton Rouge, LA) defeated 473 players and won $28,288 in $355 NLHE 
Event #2:  John Holley (Destin, FL) defeated 96 players and won $8,380 in $355 MIX POT-LIMIT 
Event #3:  Danny Doucet (Lafayette, LA) defeated 312 players and won $21,116 in $355 NLHE
Event #4:  Brian Walsingham (Atlanta, GA) defeated 423 players and won $26,801 in $355 NLHE
Event #5:  Zhen Cai (Daytona Beach, FL) defeated 293 players and won $33,753 in $355 NLHE
Event #6:  Walter B. Wright (Las Vegas, NV) defeated 101 players and won $14,544 in $565 PLO
Event #7:  Tom Franklin (Gulfport, MS) defeated 646 players and won $38,139 in $355 NLHE
Event #8:  Brian Walsingham (Atlanta, GA) defeated 356 players and won $78,604 in 1085 NLHE
Event #9:  Jonathan Poche (St. Martinsville, LA) defeated 382 players and won $121,017 in MAIN EVENT
Event #10:  Stephen Puleio (New Orleans, LA) defeated 355 players and won $23,515 in $355 NLHE

The Best All-Around Champion for the Harrah’s New Orleans series has officially been determined.  The winner is Brian Walsingham.  He won two gold rings and accumulated 100 points in the race for best player.  By virtue of his outstanding performance, Walsingham qualified for a seat in the National Championship.

The inaugural WSOP Circuit Southern Regional Championship comes next.  The $10,000 buy-in tournament will be taped for broadcast on national television.  This is the first time since 2006 television cameras have filmed a poker event in New Orleans.  The final of four regional tournaments promises to be an exciting end to the great 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit season.

A FULL SCHEDULE of completed events at Harrah’s New Orleans can be found here.
  
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A Short History of the WSOP Circuit at Harrah’s New Orleans

The first major poker tournament held at Harrah’s New Orleans was called the “Cajun Poker Classic,” which took place in early 2004.  The three-day tournament attracted 536 players and inspired the casino to host more poker events in the future.  Later that  year, the first Bayou Poker Challenge was held, which consisted of six tournaments. 

Next, Harrah’s New Orleans became a charter member of the World Series of Poker Circuits, which officially started play in 2005.  Since then, New Orleans has hosted the final stop on the circuit each year, which takes place in mid-May just prior to the start of the WSOP at the Rio in Las Vegas.  The first two WSOP Circuit championships held at Harrah’s New Orleans were televised by ESPN and were among the most exciting tournaments broadcast at the time.  They still occasionally appear in re-runs to this day.

WSOP Circuit events in New Orleans proved to be so successful that a second tournament series was created, starting in 2007.  This became known as the “Bayou Poker Challenge” (a.k.a. the Winter Bayou Poker Challenge), which has since become a December attraction.  This tournament series is categorized as a World Series of Poker Satellite, since its Main Event winner earns an entry valued at $10,000 seat (plus expense money) into the WSOP championship, held the following year.