GAUTENG, SOUTH AFRICA – What started in 1970 as a gathering of a small fraternity of poker professionals in a smoke-filled card room in downtown Las Vegas has truly lived up to its nomenclature with the kickoff of this year’s World Series of Poker Africa.

The World Series of Poker began its 43-year legacy at Binion’s Horseshoe where it was held until 2004. In 2005, the tournament series was moved to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In that same year, the inception of the Circuit Events took the WSOP to tournament venues across the country. The richest gaming event on the planet then made its way across the Atlantic in 2007 with the first annual World Series of Poker Europe.

And now, the WSOP has reached the African continent.

Indeed, it truly is a World Series of Poker.

This is the second year that the Emerald Casino and Resort, located 45 minutes from OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg, has hosted World Series of Poker Africa. The tournament series was added as part of the WSOP Circuit Events in 2011 and consisted of two official Ring Events. After a successful first run, this year’s series has been expanded to six official Ring Events.

Attendance for the opening event of WSOP Africa, $350 buy-in, No-Limit Hold’em far exceeded tournament organizers’ expectations as 324 players flooded the casino entrances of the Emerald Casino, the most for a live tournament in Africa’s history.   Players traveled hundreds of miles from locales spanning the African continent and around the world to compete in this year’s series.

Every table in the tournament area of the Emerald Casino was filled to capacity as play got underway 5pm local time Tuesday, with a long line of hopefuls at the registration desk looking to take their shot at WSOP glory. WSOP Director Jack Effel addressed the crowd of players and spectators before introducing this year’s host, five-time WSOP champion, Scotty Nguyen. See video of the opening event’s introductions and shuffle up and deal announcement.

Event #1 generated a total prize pool of $92,200, of which 33 players would claim their share.

The winner of WSOP Africa’s opening event was Gregory Ronaldson, a 28-year-old former consultant turned poker pro from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Ronaldson recently made waves at the 2012 Aussie Millions after winning the heads up championship. His prior accomplishments include a win in the 2010 South Africa Poker Open and the 2007 All Africa Poker championship.

Day one play was fast and furious, leaving only 80 survivors bagging and tagging their chips by the time the tournament clock had counted down to the final seconds.

Day two was a stark contrast however, as play tightened up with players looking to make the money. Play slowed enough that a third day was added to the schedule.

Ronaldson was near the bottom of the leader board and down more than 5-1 vs. the chip leader, Mario Michaels when final table play began on day three, however, Ronaldson would not rely on a hefty stack but instead confidence and experience to see his way to victory. 

Name

Hometown

Seat

Chip Count

Joseph Anthony

Johannesburg, ZA

1

188,000

Jaco van Tonder

Pretoria, ZA

2

656,000

Nick Sissou

Pretoria, ZA

3

375,000

Tony Semmens

Johannesburg, ZA

4

306,000

Eugene du Plessis

Stellenbosch, ZA

5

176,000

Mario Michaels

Windhoek, Nambia

6

1,000,000

Nico Kleynhans

Klerksdorp, ZA

7

287,000

Gregory Ronaldson

Johannesburg, ZA

8

173,000

Mark Botha

Benoni, ZA

9

63,000

9th Place

After player introductions were made, final table play began around 12:45 pm local time with blinds and antes at 8,000/16,000/2,000.

Mark Botha managed to survive through the last day and a half to the final table with no more than 10 big blinds. The short stack amongst the final nine, he got it in early on a flip, but ended on the wrong side of the coin. Botha is a 50-year-old painting contractor from Benoni, South Africa, which is located just outside of the city of Johannesburg. Having learned the game only two years ago, Botha has made six final tables in major South African tournaments. The married father of two collected $2,109 for his ninth place finish.

8th Place

After a huge double up through Michaels to take the chip lead, Jaco van Tonder continued his rise to final table dominance after Eugene du Plessis got it all in with    vs. his own   . du Plessis flopped his jack, but with all spades on the board, had quite a few outs to sweat. Unfortunately for du Plessis, he was unable to fade van Tonder’s draw after a fourth spade hit the turn, giving him an early exit from the final table stage. Du Plessis is a 29-year-old former student from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Eighth place paid $2,642.

7th Place

Shortly after eliminating du Plessis, van Tonder claimed responsibility for another final table casualty after

Tony Semmens got his remaining chips in the middle with pocket jacks. van Tonder made the call with    with Michaels coming along as well. After catching two pair, Aces and tens on the turn, van Tonder bet Michaels off of the pot, leaving Semmens desperately needing one of the two remaining jacks in the deck. The river was of no help to Semmens, however, and his tournament run was over.

Semmens is a 40-year-old entrepreneur from Johannesburg, South Africa. He has had moderate success in local poker tournaments in his hometown, but dreams to win big at the WSOP in Las Vegas. 7th place paid $3,360.

6th Place

van Tonder continued to wreak havoc on his final tablemates, with Nick Sissou this time the focus of his wrath. Sissou got all his chips in the middle with pocket eights and van Tonder obliged, tabling   . Sissou looked as if he would double up despite van Tonder flopping a pair of fives, but the river was a merciless one; a third five fell on fifth street to give van Tonder trips and send a disappointed Sissou to the rail in sixth.

Sissou is a 40-year-old self-employed married father of four from Pretoria, South Africa. He has enjoyed moderate poker success here in his home country, having made two All-Africa final tables and taking down a number of other local tournaments. He says he loves poker or any activity for that matter that brings good friends together and allows the opportunity to make new friends along the way. He pocketed $4,335 for sixth.

5th Place

Nico Kleynhans was the fifth place finisher in this event. Short-stacked, he ran his    into Ronaldson’s   ] and stayed behind through the river.  Fifth place paid $5,686

4th Place

The final table chip leader, Michaels was perhaps the odds on favorite to win WSOP Africa Event #1, however after a monster hand in which he relinquished most of his stack to Jaco van Tonder, the 41-year-old production manager and married father of two from Windhoek, Namibia was unable to regain his footing and saw a disappointing exit from the final table stage. Michaels states that his poker ambition is to play in the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas. His $7,582 payday in Event #1 here at WSOP Africa will put him that much closer to his dream.

3rd Place

While van Tonder was busy eliminating opponents left and right and acquiring their remaining chips, Ronaldson quietly built up his stack playing positional poker, taking down blinds and moving opponents off of hands post flop. And despite his long headcount, van Tonder was much less aggressive with his stack, only playing premium hands and being quick to lay down a hand when pressure was applied. Ronaldson seemed to pick up on this and despite van Tonder’s elimination of yet another opponent, Joseph Anthony in 3rd place ($10,255), was at less than a 2-1 deficit vs. van Tonder when it got down to heads up.

That was where Ronaldson turned up the heat. In less than half an hour, Ronaldson had turned the tide against his final opponent, and after a few more hands, had him against the ropes. Even after allowing van Tonder to double up, Ronaldson, the 2012 Aussie Millions Heads-up champion proved to be an unstoppable force mano a mano. The final hand saw van Tonder move all-in with    vs. Ronaldson’s pocket eights, which held true through the river.

Despite falling short of the win, van Tonder could not be any more proud of his runner-up finish. With a poker resume consisting of an in-the-money finish on a cruise ship three years ago, his second place showing here in Event #1 is a phenomenal feat. van Tonder is a self-employed married father of three from Pretoria, South Africa. He collected $14,123 for second.

“This feels great,” said Ronaldson after the win. He says that despite coming to the final table with the second smallest chip stack that he felt confident in his ability and used aggression to take small pots despite finding few good spots.

Ronaldson credits a number of notable South African poker players such as Jared Solomon, Ray Rahme and Warren Zackey for helping make poker in South Africa what it is today. He says that he travels yearly to the United States and understands that the long travel time is discouraging to potential visitors to his home country, but that the trip is well worth the wait.

“Forget the poker, South Africa is a beautiful country with so much to do, especially Cape Town. I guarantee that a visit here would be unforgettable.”

Still to come are 5 events. See the complete WSOP Africa schedule and previous results here. WSOP Africa runs through February 27th. You can find the complete 2010/2011 WSOP CIRCUIT SCHEDULE here.

Media Contacts:

Marli Wolmarans

Emerald Casino and Resort

+27 16 982 8063

marliw@emeraldcasino.co.za

 

Alan Fowler

WSOP/Caesars Interactive Entertainment

afowler@caesars.com

 

About the WSOP

The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is the largest, richest and most prestigious gaming event in the world awarding millions of dollars in prize money and the prestigious gold bracelet, globally recognized as the sport's top prize. Featuring a comprehensive slate of tournaments in every major poker variation, the WSOP is poker's longest running tournament in the world, dating back to 1970. In 2010, the event attracted 72,966 entrants from 117 different countries to the Rio in Las Vegas and awarded over $187 million in prize money. In addition, the WSOP has formed groundbreaking alliances in broadcasting, digital media and corporate sponsorships, while successfully expanding the brand internationally with the advent in 2007 of the World Series of Poker Europe.  The WSOP Circuit Tour is entering its seventh season in 2010-11, and will feature 12 stops throughout the U.S., plus for the first ever, a stop in South Africa. For more information on the World Series of Poker, please visit www.WSOP.com.