The first event of the year may be called the WSOP National Championship, but this bracelet tournament had a decidedly international flare thanks to Germany's Dominik Nitsche, who bested a field of 126 to win his second career gold bracelet and a $352,800 payday.
At 23 years-old, Nitsche isn't only the owner of multiple bracelets, he is also the first winner of the National Championship to come from the pool of players who are eligible to buy into the event for $10,000 based on their results over the past two years of WSOP play. In the three years the option has been available, it was the Circuit qualifiers who took home the title. That changed this year, as the top three finishers were all bracelet winners.
Nitsche battled three-handed with two-time bracelet winner Athanasios Polychronopoulos and reigning Poker Players Champion Matthew Ashton as all three battled for a win that would add a bracelet to their already-existing collection. The tough caliber of competition at the final table is something Nitsche said makes the win even sweeter.
"It's always nice to win a tournament, especially in a tough field like here. Athanasios is an amazing player and we played heads-up for quite some time. Beating him feels extra sweet because he is such a good player, even though we're friends," Nitsche explained following his win. "It's always extra sweet if you beat someone who's really strong."
Nitsche also had nice things to say about the Circuit qualifiers in the field, even though the group of grinders sometimes gets perceived as easier competition since most aren't poker professionals. "I expected the best Circuit players would qualify," Nitsche said. "There were quite a lot of strong players, unfortunately...It wasn't easy."
While many of the POY qualifiers opted not to play this year, Nitsche elected to head over to the States from Europe a little early, planning to vacation in New York City if he busted the tournament early. Now, he is heading to the Big Apple to celebrate for a few days before heading west to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker.
Nitsche is considered to be part of a clique of immensely talented German poker pros who have absolutely been dominating the European High Roller poker scene the past couple of years. When asked if it might be Germany's turn to shine during the summer like Canada did last year, Nitsche was quick to smile and clarify that this was not going to be "The Year of Germany."
"It's not exactly The Year of Germany, because we just win everything anyways. It's not a weird thing...we just own poker in general," he said with a laugh. He did predict that the country would walk away with three bracelets this year, guessing his friend (who was on the rail in Atlantic City) Manig Loeser would pick up his second bracelet and that a third player was sure to come out of the woodwork. Given the high number of German pros signing up for the $1 Million Big One for One Drop, that third win might be a big one for the country producing some of the best poker talent in the world.
In the four year history of the National Championship, no European had ever final tabled the event, let alone won it, but Ashton and Nietsche both made it to the final nine, breaking that streak. Other notables at the final table included November Niner Ylon Schwartz, who bubbled the TV final table in seventh place, Circuit regular and two-time ring winner Andrew Robinson, who took sixth place, and Chris Bibb, the last Circuit qualifier standing, who exited in fourth place.
The field was comprised of 26 players who bought in for $10,000, 94 players from the Circuit, two players who won live events at the host property of Bally's Atlantic City, and, for the first time, four players from WSOP.com. One online poker qualifier might be the breakout star of the final table once the event airs on ESPN later this year. Tracy Doss, a pizza parlor owner and part-time poker player, won a seat via WSOP.com in Nevada, flew out to New Jersey, and turned his free seat into a seat at the final table. Despite no WSOP cashses prior to the event, Doss was able to contend with the likes of WSOP Main Event Champ Greg Merson, numerous bracelet winners, and the best and brightest of the Circuit to take fifth place and take home an $86,461 payday.
This year's National Championship was a year of firsts. We had our first online qualifier make a final table, our first international champion, our first POY qualifier take home the title, and the first bracelet ever awarded in New Jersey, right on the boardwalk itself outside in the heart of Atlantic City. It has been a memorable Memorial Day weekend for the WSOP, but the action isn't stopping yet. The start of the summer is just three days away in Las Vegas.
Here are the final table results from the WSOP National Championship:
1st: Dominic Nitsche - $352,800
2nd: Athanasios Polychronopoulos - $218,056
3rd: Matthew Ashton - $157,399
4th: Christopher Bibb - $115,655
5th: Tracy Doss - $86,461
6th: Andrew Robinson - $65,734
7th: Ylon Schwartz - $50,816
8th: Jeffrey Gunnip - $39,917
9th: Sean Lippel - $31,865