What began as a dream in Cirque du Soliel founder Guy Laliberte's imagination nearly two years ago came to fruition once again, this time at the 2013 World Series of Poker under the bright lights of the ESPN Main Stage.
The One Drop High-Rollers No-Limit Hold'em event cost a bundle to enter – $111,111 in fact -- the odd buy-in amount intentionally designed to draw attention to the “oneness” of the One Drop cause. In just two short years, One Drop has blossomed into the largest charity poker event in the world, raising millions of dollars in addition to awareness for clean water in developing countries.
Yet for all the goodness that comes out of this competition, the tournament is every bit as intense as any gold bracelet event at the WSOP – and perhaps even more so. This year's One Drop High-Rollers tourney attracted a stellar lineup of 166 poker professionals, as well as a mix of deep-pocketed business leaders, investors, and highly-successful people from other walks of life who fancied testing their skills against the world's top poker players.
Anthony Gregg won the One Drop High Rollers tournament, collecting $4,830,619 in prize money to go along with this first gold bracelet.
Among the many things that makes Gregg fascinating is his high-roller lifestyle. He plays in many of the biggest cash games in the world, not only in Las Vegas, but Macau – which has became a magnet for nosebleed stakes poker action. Gregg arrived to play in this tournament off a high stakes session in Macau. As high as the action is in Asia, little could compare to the drama and ultimate satisfaction of winning a gold bracelet on this stage with all the fanfare that's come to be associated with One Drop.
Gregg also has some interesting friends. Among them is reigning World Champion Greg Merson. Remarkably, theirs is a friendship which transcends poker and profit. Merson, who was roommates with Gregg for a time, credits Anthony with helping him turn his life around. Gregg also reportedly backed Merson during last year's WSOP when he enjoyed such a huge breakthrough year.
“He said he was going to win this tournament since February,” said Greg Merson, as he watched his pal's victory celebration from the rail. “After bubbling the high roller over in Macau, I knew that would make him even more confident and driven to win here coming into One Drop.”
Gregg's road to victory wasn't smooth by any measure. With 13 players remaining entering Day Three, Gregg was dead last in chips. However, that did not subdue his confidence.
“I have a text message from him,” Merson continued. “After he went to 3 million (in chips) he texted me that he was going to win it, and he did.”
If 2012 belonged to Greg Merson, it appears 2013 may belong to another Gregg, this time with the first name Anthony. Consider that he's won more money than any other player so far at this year's series. Immediately after conducting a few interviews and a short photo shoot, the fresh new gold bracelet winner dived into the $25,000 buy-in Six-Handed No-Limit Hold'em tourney, being played just steps away. It seems that the quest for gold bracelet number two has already begun.
Gregg is a 26-year-old professional poker player from Columbia, MD. However, he spends much of his time traveling and playing in Las Vegas. With this victory, he now has almost $8.6 million in overall live tournament winnings.
When play on Day Four commenced with just four players, much attention focused on Antonio Esfandiari, the defending champion, who at one point appeared destined to repeat a remarkable feat by becoming One Drop's two-time champion. He held the chip lead during part of Day Three, but ultimately went out at the hands of Chris Klodnicki when play reached four-handed on Day Four.
Klodnicki ended up finishing in second place, no shame considering the consolation prize amounted to $2,985,495. While Klodnicki's day as a gold bracelet winner seems long overdue (he's now finished second three times at the WSOP), he played a remarkable tournament.
“It feels amazing. I couldn't ask for a better tournament to win the bracelet in,” Gregg said moment after his victory. “I love that the One Drop charity can sponsor the tournament. It can help a bunch of people since it's for charity. I'm going to donate a bit of my winnings to One Drop. I hope they continue to sponsor this tournament year in and year out.”
Gregg has yet another distinction resulting from this victory. He became the 724th member of the Caesars “Millionaire Maker” club. Earlier this week, Caesars Entertainment announced the 719th and 720th “Millionaire Maker” winners. With three more names added to the list from this tournament (Esfandiari and Klodnicki were already included), Gregg becomes the 723rd Caesars Millionaire along with third place finisher William Perkins and fifth place finisher Richard Fullerton.
MEET GOLD BRACELET WINNER – ANTHONY GREGG
Name: Anthony Gregg
Current Residence: Columbia, MD (USA)
Marital Status: Single
Occupation: Professional Poker Player
WSOP Cashes (including this event): 6
First WSOP Cash (year): 2009
WSOP Final Table Appearances: 2
WSOP Wins (with this victory): 1
WSOP Career Earnings: $4,978,600
INTERVIEW WITH THE CHAMPION
WSOP: How does it feel to win your first WSOP gold bracelet?
Gregg: I feel on top of the world right now. It's so much of a relief to get that victory and my first bracelet.
WSOP: Can you talk about your preparation coming into the One Drop?
Gregg: I've been trying to stay focused and confident. I had a very good feeling coming into this tournament.
WSOP: Can you talk more about that sense of inner confidence?
Gregg: Ever since I saw this tournament announced on the WSOP schedule, I thought to myself, "I'm going to win it." For me, it's all about the visualization, but it doesn't even seem real that I won even though I expected to.
WSOP: Was this a tough final table in comparison to others you've played?
Gregg: I didn't have to make that many tough decisions. Part of it I was short, and, every time I needed to move all in, it worked out. I was also on Antonio's left, so that made things a lot easier.
WSOP: What does winning this tournament mean for you and your poker career?
Gregg: More high roller buy-ins, I guess.
WSOP: Why did you sign up to play in the other tournament, without this one having ended yet?
Gregg: I figured if I busted out of this, I could jump into the $25 K. That was my Plan B. I just like playing No-Limit, you know.
WSOP: Is this high roller event sort of like playing high stakes cash games?
Gregg: Definitely, the first few days are more like cash games than tournaments. Starting off 500 big blinds deep, most tournament players have no experience at that whatsoever. But yesterday and today were much more tournament-esque.
WSOP: What was your low point in this tournament?
Gregg: I was down to like 20 blinds at the end of the day, but I had a lot of practice playing short. I just got back from Macau and I played in the (big event there). That tournament was super turbo and the whole Day Two I was short here and it got where I had to keep in my head to stay focused and stay positive. You have to play your best because your rush could be right around the corner. And I got that rush.
WSOP: What's this tournament like, since it has a mix of top pros and deep-pocketed business people?
Gregg: You need to be very careful about how to pick your spots. You should not go out of your way to gun for the tougher players at the table, because there are going to be businessmen who are making mistakes. So you want to leave yourself in the tournament as long as possible to be able to take advantage of those mistakes when they happen.
WSOP: Do you have any thoughts about the added charity component of One Drop?
Gregg: I love that the One Drop charity can sponsor the tournament. It can help a bunch of people since it's for charity. I'm going to donate a bit of my winnings to One Drop. I hope they continue to sponsor this tournament year in and year out.
WSOP: Any last thoughts about this experience?
Gregg: It feels amazing. I couldn't ask for a better tournament to win the bracelet in.
Here are some other quick facts about this year's One Drop High Rollers Championship:
This tournament is special for reasons way beyond prize money and poker glory. In fact, $3,333 for each buy-in was designated for OneDrop, a non-profit organization established by Cirque du Soleil founder and CEO Guy Laliberte. The drop from the buy-ins going to charity already amounts to $553,278, with more funds expected to be donated by those who cash.
Among the 166 participants who entered were a mix of poker professionals as well as amateurs largely known for their accomplishments in business, entertainment, high finance, and other successful ventures. Approximately one-quarter of the field was comprised of non-pros.
Players came from 15 different nations. The countries represented included – Bulgaria, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, and the USA.
No one captured more attention than the reigning One Drop champion, Antonio Esfandiari, who came into this redux event with an equal sense of determination as last year when he won the largest poker prize of all time, $18,346,673. The two-time gold bracelet winner finished in fourth place.
Of all the daily winners in the WSOP.com promotion giveaway at this year's World Series of Poker, the crown jewel was a free buy-in into the One Drop High Rollers event. The tournament entry, valued at a whopping $111,111, was awarded to poker pro Owais Ahmed. He won the random drawing which was held on Tuesday, and took his seat among 160-plus others. Ahmed busted out of the event midway through Day 2
This was the second-highest buy-in tournament in WSOP history. Only last year's Big One for One Drop ($1 million) was higher.
Prior to this year's One Drop, three participants traveled to Honduras to see the charitable contributions put to good use. Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak and Jeff Gross visited Honduras. A video clip of that experience is available on WSOP.com.