There is a lot of buzz surrounding this year’s WSOP National Championship. It’s one of the premier events on the schedule, it’s being filmed for ESPN and it has the potential to have an additional $1,000,000 added to the already juice-free prize pool. While poker fans may know a lot about the event itself, what they may not know is who the players are that will be getting a shot at a giant payday.
Over the course of the past year, 100 players on the WSOP Circuit have already locked up a seat in this event, be it by winning a WSOP Circuit Main Event, winning the Casino Champion title at one of the 17 WSOP Circuit stops, or qualifying for one of the 66 at-large bids based on total number of points earned on the Circuit.
These 100 players will have company though. In fact, up to 100 additional players may join the field of the $1 million freeroll event. The top 100 point earners from the past two years of WSOP events have the ability to buy into the event for $10,000. Those buy-ins will make the seven-figure prize pool even bigger, with a chance that the total amount of prize money could even double.
Casual fans will certainly be excited to see some of the POY qualified players like Phil Hellmuth, Michael Mizrachi and Ben Lamb play for a potential $2,000,000, but the hidden stars in the field will be the WSOPC qualifiers.
Kurt Jewell, Alex Masek and David Clark may not be the household names viewers will know, but they are the newest crop of WSOP stars that have been honing their game on the road. They don’t travel to exotic locations, they don’t stay in the finest hotels and they play far from the spotlight.
They are true grinders; traveling from stop to stop, fighting to rack up points, looking to make have their names mentioned in the same breath some with the game’s greatest. A deep run in the National Championship could make one of these players’ year and propel them into the upper echelon of poker players.
Before these grinders get their moment in the limelight on July 6th, we’re going to give you a little insight into who they are and who you might be seeing at the televised final table on ESPN later this year:
David Clark - At Large Qualifier
Clark spent most of the year atop the WSOPC leader board, traveling to nearly every stop and racking up more points than any other at-large qualifer. Clark had nine cashes this year for over $80,000, including six final tables, one WSOPC gold ring and writes about on his blog.
The Dallas native has quietly and discretely dominated the circuit. His better half and traveling partner, La Sengphet, is the only woman to have three WSOPC gold rings on her resume and she finished in 4th place in last year’s National Championship. It’s hard to call Clark as a dark horse pick with so much success over the past year but his quiet demeanor and steady play is worth highlighting, as it could land him at the final table.
WSOPC Earnings 2011-2012: $82,321
Bossier City $345 HORSE: 8th for $1,075
Bossier City $555 No Limit Hold’em: 10th for $1,860
Harvey’s Lake Tahoe $345 No Limit Hold’em: 1st for $18,208
Harvey’s Lake Tahoe $1,600 Main Event: 6th for $21,234
Bicycle Casino $555 Six-Handed No Limit Hold’em: 6th for $4,155
Choctaw Durant $345 Six-Handed No Limit Hold’em: 39th for $483
Harrah’s Tunica $345 No Limit Hold’em: 4th for $9,194
Harrah’s Rincon $355 No Limit Hold’em w/ Re-Entry: 2nd for $18,659
Harrah’s Philadelphia $345 No Limit Hold’em: 2nd for $7,453
Kurt Jewell - Harrah's Tunica Main Event Champion
Hailing from Kentucky, Jewell is on the cusp of being recognized as one of poker’s bright young guns. He’s brash, he’s confident and he knows how to navigate big fields. He’s one of the most accomplished WSOPC circuit players to qualify for the event and he’s one deep run away from poker stardom.
Jewell’s got two WSOPC Main Event wins – Hammond and Tunica – and two other rings to boot. Jewell dominated his final table in Tunica in the Main Event and won his fourth ring later in the season at Harrah’s St. Louis. Jewell’s a closer when he’s made the money. His four wins in 12 cashes would have him hitting cleanup on any ballclub. His “go big or go home” style of play could frustrate players unfamiliar with him.
WSOPC Earnings 2011-2012: $212,253
Harrah’s Tunica $1,600 Main Event: 1st for $192,984
Harrah’s St Louis $355 No Limit Hold’em: 1st for $19,269
Bryan Devonshire – At Large Qualifier
Warmly referred to as just “Devo” in the poker community, Bryan Devonshire has over $1 million in WSOP earnings, two WSOPC gold rings (including a Main Event in Rincon) and nearly made 2011’s November Nine.
Devonshire is a “pro’s pro” with years of experience in big buy-in televised events, so he likely won’t be intimidated by the WSOP POY entrants. He routinely plays in the biggest tournaments and his infectious smile has the mainstream appeal ESPN’s cameras will be looking for.
WSOPC 2011-2012 Earnings: $64,862
Caesars Palace Las Vegas $1,080 No Limit Hold’em: 1st for $55,291
Harrah’s Rincon $355 No Limit Hold’em: 11th for $1,062
Harrah’s Rincon $355 No Limit Hold’em: 3rd for $5,570
Harrah’s Philadelphia $555 No Limit Hold’em: 8th for $2,044
Harrah’s Philadelphia $345 Turbo No Limit Hold’em: 11th for $895
Alex Masek - At Large Qualifer
Masek is one of three players that boast four WSOPC gold rings (Kyle Cartwright & Jewell), just one off the record of five held by Mark “Pegasus” Smith. Masek is a St. Louis native that attended law school in San Diego. Masek has put together almost $150,000 in WSOP cashes alone over the past year, all the while putting off taking the bar. Masek has focused himself on playing poker professionally, putting off a career as a lawyer for the foreseeable future.
Masek finished runner-up to the legendary Freddy Deeb at the inaugural WSOPC stop at The Bicycle Casino is Los Angeles. Masek was in sight of the title, but lost a coin flip for the title. Masek spoke highly of Deeb, saying, “Freddy certainly out played me in some spots, opening my eyes to some adjustments I had to make in my own game to improve.”
WSOPC 2011-2012 Earnings: $147,528
Harveys Lake Tahoe $345 No Limit Hold’em: 1st for $15,236
Harrah’s Atlantic City $555 No Limit Hold’em: 22nd for $1,415
Harrah’s Atlantic City $345 Turbo No Limit Hold’em: 28th for $554
Bicycle Casino $555 Six-Handed No Limit Hold’em: 10th for $1,625
Bicycle Casino $1,600 Main Event: 2nd for $106,185
Harrah’s Rincon $565 No Limit Hold’em: 10th for $1,439
Harrah’s Rincon $355 No Limit Hold’em: 5th for $3,999
Harrah’s Rincon $1,600 Main Event: 19th for $4,855
Horseshoe Council Bluffs $1,600 Main Event: 30th for $2,861
Harrah’s St Louis $355 Six-Handed No Limit Hold’em: 15th for $1,338
Harrah’s St Louis $1,620 Main Event: 20th for $8,021
Tuan Phan – Harrah's Atlantic City Main Event Champion
Tuan Phan put a punctuation mark on his holiday season when he won the WSOPC Harrah’s Atlantic City Main Event in fearless fashion back in December. A true recreational player, Phan works as a paralegal in Virginia and played the tournament on a whim.His reckless playing style saw him send seven of the other eight players to the rail at the final table. He was the talk of the tournament during the later stages play; he filled his flushes, found his runner-runner straights and also got value out of made hands.
Six months later he found himself at the center of attention again at the Harrah’s Chester Main Event. Late in day 2 players were scrambling to find any information they could on Phan as his maniacal play drew a lot of attention. Ultimately, Phan made the final table, bowed out in 8th place and has just the right kind of luck and image that could see him through to the National Championship Final Table.
WSOPC 2011-2012 Earnings: $200,885
Harrah’s Atlantic City $1,600 Main Event: 1st for $188,190
Harrah’s Philadelphia $1,600 Main Event: 8th for $12,695