Las Vegas Poker Pro Kevin Calenzo Wins WSOP Circuit Main Event Championship at Caesars Palace Las Vegas


Las Vegas, NV (January 30, 2012) – The joke was on Kevin Calenzo.

Just moments after his memorable first World Series of Poker Circuit victory which took place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, a fellow poker player secretly grabbed the newly-won gold ring, while the celebration was happening and no one was watching the final table area.

The other poker player -- playing the role of joker – sneaked towards the shiny new ring.  Next, he removed a WSOP Circuit gold ring from his own finger – that he had won the previous year.  He then switched his ring out with Calenzo’s brand new gold and diamond ring, emblazoned with the beaming Caesars Palace logo on the sides.

Minutes later, when Calenzo was sizing up his new piece of jewelry while posing for photos, he looked down and noticed something odd.  The ring he supposedly won had “Horseshoe Southern Indiana” written on its face.

“Hey -- what in the hell is this?” Calenzo barked out.  “2011 Horseshoe Southern Indiana?  Someone made a mistake!”

By that time, no one could keep a straight face – especially the sly prankster who was over in the corner of the poker room busting out laughing clutching the winner’s top prize in his mitts like it was the heist from a bank robbery.

The final table and tournament room exploded in laughter, to which all Calenzo could do was smile and join in the fun.

That’s the kind of final table that took place at the most WSOP Circuit stop at Caesars.  It was one of the most spirited finales of the entire season, with constant banter, lots of drinking, and constant laughing.  In fact, the fewer the players and the more the prize money increased, the more festive the atmosphere became.  The rail frequently joined in, making the 10 hour battle into the closest thing imaginable to a poker party.  It was a highly-unusual sight (and sadly, extraordinarily rare) given that the finalists were playing for more than half a million dollars in cash. 

Imagine.  Players at a poker table actually enjoying themselves.

But the last laugh of the night belonged to Kevin Calenzo, a Las Vegas poker pro, who ended up pocketing $197,451 in cash.  Cheered on by an enthusiastic crowd of followers that swelled along the rail as the night progressed and Calenzo’s chip stack multiplied, Calenzo played an almost perfect tournament.  He patiently waited for opportune moments and then took advantage of situations where he was the favorite.

However, he did catch a break or two.  No doubt, the critical hand which propelled Calenzo to victory occurred when five-handed when he was all-in holding A-J.  He was up against two other players (and covered) in a three-way pot.  The other hands were K-K and 9-9.  Calenzo manged to catch a jack on the flop and then miraculously caught an ace on the turn – good for two pair.  The crucial hand held up, increasing Calenzo’s chip stack threefold.  That proved to be the turning point of a rousing, well-deserved victory that came hours later.

More about the new champion:  Calenzo is a 28-year-old pro who has been playing full-time since 2003.  He has moved back and forth a few times between Las Vegas and his native New Hartford, NY.  He’s previously cashed in more than 30 major tournaments, and has enjoyed a few victories.  But nothing has come close to the nearly $200,000 score he achieved for this win.  With this victory, Calenzo now has more than $600,000 in live career tournament winnings. 

He also has a WSOP Circuit gold ring, for the first time.  But a word of advice -- Calenzo better check to make sure he’s holding the “right” ring.

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The year marked the seventh consecutive season the World Series of Poker Circuit has visited Caesars Palace Las Vegas.

Aside from Calenzo’s Main Event victory, the other highlights of this tournament series included:

Gary Bolden Wins Two Gold Rings – St. Louis-native Gary Bolden rocketed out of nowhere to win two gold rings at Caesars.  His feat was accomplished by only one other player this season (Michael Rosenbach at Harvey’s Lake Tahoe, who also had two wins).  Bolden won the Pot-Limit Omaha event as well as a No-Limit Hold’em competition.  His accumulation of 100 player points gave him the “Best All-Around Player” title, which earned him a seat into this season’s WSOP Circuit National Championship.

Bryan Devonshire Defeats Eskimo Clark in Classic Heads-Up Showdown – The most exciting final table took place on a busy Friday night when two poker pros tangled for the $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em championship.  Bryan Devonshire ended up defeating three-time WSOP gold bracelet winner Eskimo Clark in a classic battle.  On the final hand, Devonshire flopped a set of nines versus Clark’s pocket kings.  It marked Devonshire’s second WSOP Circuit victory, after winning the Main Event Championship at Harrah’s Rincon (San Diego), in 2009. 

Two WSOP Circuit Gold Rings in Two Months for Burleson – Jeremy Burleson, from North Carolina won his second WSOP Circuit gold ring in six weeks with a victory in Event #11.  He won his first WSOP Circuit title in early December at Harrah’s Atlantic City.  Burleson became one of only four players to win two gold rings this season.

Two Stacked Final Tables – As was expected, poker events in Las Vegas tend to be populated with more well-known names.  At least two events had star-studded finales, including the Main Event Championship – which included three former WSOP gold bracelet winners (Jeff Madsen, Dutch Boyd, and Sean Getzwiller).  Another tough final table occurred in Event #9 when Eskimo Clark, Scott Clements, and Bryan Devonshire made the final nine.

“What Happens in Vegas……” – There were more than a few surreal moments during the opening weekend of the WSOP Circuit at Caesars Palace.  While hundreds of players packed into the poker room, one of Las Vegas’ most popular nightclubs was hosting its own unique gathering.  A popular porn star guest-hosted a special VIP party at “Pure,” just steps outside the poker room.  With dozens of semi-naked females parading around the entrance to the tournament, let’s just say the opening of this WSOP Circuit stop had its share of jaw-dropping moments.

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The Main Event (officially listed as Event #10) was a four-day $1,500 (+100) No-Limit Hold’em tournament, which attracted 662 entrants.  There were two starting flights held during two separate days.  This was the fourth-largest Main Event of the WSOP Circuit season, so far.

Play began on Friday at noon and concluded very late on Monday night (or more precisely, very early on Tuesday morning).  The total prize pool came to just shy of a million dollars, at $963,210.  The top 72 finishers were paid.  All players who cashed received WSOP Circuit National Championship ranking points – used to potentially qualify for a seat in the season-ending championship, to be played in Las Vegas.

Among those who cashed were Brett Schwertley (21 WSOP Circuit cashes), Gavin Griffin (WSOP gold bracelet winner), Kathy Liebert (WSOP gold bracelet winner), and Daniel Dizenzo (Event #1 gold ring winner).

A full list of all players who cashed in Event #10 can be seen here.

The two starting days resulted in the elimination of much of the field.  There were only 133 survivors who resumed action on Day Two.  After another 12 hours of play, the field was trimmed event further, down to 15 players who returned for Day Three.  The last two tables then played down to the final table, which commenced play on inside the Caesars Palace Poker Room.  The big news early on Day Three was the elimination of Nicholas Wilbur (Charlton, MA).  He began the day as chip leader, but went out in disappointing fashion, ending up in 11th place.   

The finale was broadcast from start to finish over the Internet via the live stream shown at WSOP.com.  The nine finalists and their chips counts were as follows:

SEAT 1:  Dutch Boyd (Las Vegas, NV) – 950,000 in chips 
SEAT 2:  Joe Kuether (Madison, WI) – 1,400,000 in chips
SEAT 3:  Jeff “Lebowski” Fielder (Des Moines, IA) – 905,000 in chips
SEAT 4:  Jeff Madsen (Los Angeles, CA) -- 1,775,000 in chips
SEAT 5:  Sean Getzwiller (Phoenix, AZ) – 860,000 in chips
SEAT 6:  Ian Mack (Garden City, NY) – 2,740,000 in chips
SEAT 7:  James Mordue *Henderson, NV) – 1,100,000 in chips
SEAT 8:  William Criego (Prior Lake, MN) – 900,000 in chips
SEAT 9:  Brandon Riha (Chickamauga, GA) – 1,400,000 in chips
SEAT 10:  Kevin Calenzo (Las Vegas, NV) – 1,285,000 in chips


The final table featured two former multiple WSOP gold bracelet winners – Jeff Madsen and Dutch Boyd.  There was also a single gold bracelet champ – Sean Getzwiller.  However, there were no previous WSOP Circuit gold ring winners, thus guaranteeing a first-time champion.

When cards flew in the air, Ian Mack enjoyed a comfortable chip lead.  However, there were no short stacks at the table – as even the player lowest in chips had about 25 big blinds.

The final session began at 5 pm local time.  Play finished at 3 am making the total duration about ten hours.  The official order of finish was as follows: 

10th Place – Brandon Riha, a 21-year-old poker pro from Chickamauga, GA was the first elimination.  He previously had a win and a second-place showing in tournaments at The Venetian in Las Vegas.  This was his first WSOP-related in-the-money finish.  Tenth place paid $14,853.

9th Place – Nine-handed play lasted for more than three hours.  James Mordue could claim he lasted more than four hours in the finale.  That would normally be worth a higher pay grade.  But the deliberate pace of play at this table gave the 46-year-old poker pro from Henderson, NV only a small bonus.  He earned $18,474 in prize money.  This was one of many cashes for Mordue, who is closing in on $1 million in overall career tournament winnings.

8th Place – Two-time gold bracelet winner and 2006 WSOP “Player of the Year” Jeff Madsen took eighth place.  He collected $23,271 in prize money.  Madsen was eliminated as play moved into the fifth hour.  His live poker tournament career winnings now total about $3.3 million.

7th Place – Joe Kuether, who is 23-years-old and resides in Madison, WI finished in seventh place.  He collected $29,686.  Kuether has three WSOP cashes over the past two years.

6th Place – Dutch Boyd, another two-time gold bracelet winner (with wins in 2006 and 2010), from Las Vegas, ended up as the sixth-place finisher.  Boyd’s appearance in the finale resulted from an incredible stroke of good fortune on the previous night, when he was all-in and spiked a one-outer on the river to rocket up into serious contention.  But Boyd’s magic finally ran out during the seventh hour of play.  He posted his best WSOP Circuit showing in this event, and collected $38,365 in prize money.  Boyd’s WSOP career earnings now total in excess of $1.3 million.
   
5th Place – Jeff “Lebowski” Fielder, who claims to be a 34-year-old former street peddler-turned-astronaut, came in fifth place.  He pocketed $50,231.  Fielder finished 92nd in the 2010 WSOP Main Event Championship.  This was his ninth time to cash in the WSOP Circuit.

4th Place – Fourth place went to Bill Criego, a 68-business owner from Prior Lake, MN.  This was his best WSOP-related showing after a cash on the Circuit last year and another cash at the big event in Las Vegas.  Criego collected an impressive payout totaling $66,644 in prize money.

3rd Place – WSOP gold bracelet winner Sean Getzwiller took third place.  Surprisingly, this was his first WSOP Circuit cash, which was worth $89,617.  Getzwiller has 13 WSOP in-the-money finishes and nearly $900,000 in earnings.  He won a $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em event at the 2011 WSOP.

2nd Place – The runner up was Ian Mack, a 33-year-old emergency room physician from Garden City, NY.  He earned $122,183 in prize money.

When heads-up play began, Calenzo enjoyed about a 5 to 4 chip advantage over Mack -- 7.4 million to 6.1 million.  However, on the second hand of heads-up play, everything changed in Calenzo’s favor.  Both players flopped two pair, but Calenzo’s ranks were higher, which scooped a huge pot.  Mack battled back several times and drew close to even at one point.  But Calenzo could not be stopped.  The final hand came about an hour into the duel.

1st Place – Kevin Calenzo, a 28-year-old poker pro from Las Vegas won his first WSOP-related victory and $197,451 in prize money.

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Calenzo was automatically awarded one of the two pre-paid seats into the one-million dollar guaranteed 2011-2012 WSOP Circuit National Championship -- to be held in Las Vegas at the end of this season. 

The other pre-paid seat was awarded to Gary Bolden, who is from St. Louis, MO.  He accumulated the most overall points as the “Best All-Around Player” for entire Caesars Palace series.  Bolden, who ended up with 100 total points for his two wins, finished far ahead of his closest rivals.

Here’s the final list of champions from all the Caesars Palace gold ring events played at this WSOP Circuit stop:

Event #1 – Dan DiZenzo defeated 482 players ($350 NLHE) and won $30,151
Event #2 – Aaron Klausman defeated 887 players ($350 NLHE) and won $50,329
Event #3 – Gregory Hartwick defeated 207 players ($560 NLHE) and won $26,106
Event #4 – Gary Bolden defeated 120 players ($350 PLO) and won $26,106
Event #5 – Jeff Dobrin defeated 203 players ($350 ANTE-NLHE) and won $15,357
Event #6 – Dale Beaudoin defeated 349 players ($350 6-NLHE) and won $25,391
Event #7 – Blake Kelso defeated 187 players ($560 NLHE) and won $23,583
Event #8 – Gary Bolden defeated 424 players ($350 NLHE) and won $27,144
Event #9 – Bryan Devonshire defeated 228 players ($1,080 NLHE) and won $55,291
Event #10 – Kevin Calenzo defeated 662 players ($1,600 NLHE) and won $197,451
Event #11 – Jeremy Burleson defeated 282 players ($350 NLHE) and won $19,697
Event #12 – Alemu Makonen defeated 236 players ($350 TNLHE) and $17,168

   
Coming next, the WSOP Circuit is off to Tunica, Mississippi.  There’s another exciting set of tournaments ready to begin at Harrah’s Tunica, which is hosting its “12 gold rings in 12 days” series from February 2-13, 2012.

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MORE ABOUT THE WSOP CIRCUIT AT CAESARS PALACE

This marked the seventh consecutive year that Caesars Palace Las Vegas hosted the widely-popular World Series of Poker Circuit, which is currently in the midst of its most successful season.  Attendance is currently running about 20 percent ahead of last year (which set a record).

Caesars Palace is already home to many of the game’s most popular and exciting poker events – including the Caesars Classic, NBC Heads- Up Poker Championship, and last year’s inaugural WSOP Circuit National Championship.  However, between the dates of January 19-30, the primary focus will be on 12 gold ring tournaments with the $1,600 buy-in Main Event coming January 27-30.

“Caesars Palace has always carried with it a special aura -- whether we’re talking about gambling, entertainment, or poker,” said Andy Rich, Director of Poker Operations for Caesars Palace.  “We’ve always been the ‘where it’s at” in Las Vegas.  Over the next 12 days, we’re rolling out the red carpet for thousands of poker players who are expected enter our events and play for a gold ring.  As the saying goes, ‘you can’t get a hit if you don’t stand up to the plate and take swing.” 

This marks the first time ever that the WSOP Circuit has come to Las Vegas so early in the season.  In previous years, WSOP Circuit events have taken place in April.  However, with so many exciting activities happening in Las Vegas early in the year, more players than ever before will have the opportunity to participate in a WSOP Circuit event, many for the first time.

Caesars Palace boasts one of the most luxurious poker rooms in the game.  The multi-million dollar facility located adjacent to the world-famous sportsbook and Pure nightclub has a special tournament room, which is adorned with the portraits of many of poker’s most legendary players.   

This is the ninth WSOP Circuit stop of the season, following previous tournaments held in several other locations throughout the U.S.  The 2011-2012 season includes a total of 18 WSOP Circuit stops.

All tournament players become eligible to compete in the WSOP Circuit National Championship, which takes place at season’s end.  The top 100 players who qualify based on a points system will compete in a nationally-televised championship, which is expected to be played in late May.  Two guaranteed seats will be awarded at Caesars Palace and will go to the “Best All-Around Player” and the Main Event champion.

In previous year’s, some very notable names have won gold rings at Caesars Palace and added to their legacy as the best players in the game.  Previous WSOP Circuit Main Event Champions crowned at Caesars Palace include:

2006 – John Spadavecchia
2007 – Cory Carroll
2008 – Allen Cunningham
2009 – Justin Bonomo
2010 – Andrew Lichtenberger
2011 – Christopher Johnson
2012 - Kevin Calenzo