Valentin Vornicu and Maurice Hawkins continued to battle atop the all-time ring leaderboard in New Orleans

May 22, 2018 (New Orleans, LA) - The 2017-2018 World Series of Poker finished on a strong note at Harrah’s New Orleans. Circuit history was made early on and there were a few players with milestone victories.

Valentin Vornicu stole the spotlight early on with a win in the opening event. He won the $365 no-limit hold’em re-entry event after besting a massive 1,340-entry field to earn $64,205 and his record-setting 11th Circuit ring. It broke a tie atop the all-time ring leaderboard with Maurice Hawkins.

The San Diego-based pro didn’t let up, however. He won the very next event he entered. Less than 30 hours after winning his 11th ring, he took down his 12th in the first $365 no-limit hold’em single-day event. He picked up another $24,084 for defeating 349 entries. That only extended his lead on the all-time ring leaderboard and gave him a two-ring lead over Hawkins.

It was fortunate for Vornicu that he won his 12th because Hawkins showed up to New Orleans and put on a performance of his own. Hawkins cashed four time over the course of the 12-day series and won his 11th ring in the $2,200 no-limit hold’em high roller event, defeating 128 entries and winning $71,680. Hawkins’ 11th Circuit victory also moved him over the $2 million mark in WSOP earnings alone.

The battle for the top spot between two of the most accomplished players in Circuit history overshadowed some accomplishments that would have highlighted some other series.

Both Abraham Araya and Jerry Monroe won their third rings in New Orleans. Araya won his on the same day that Vornicu won his 12th and couldn’t even steal the headlines for just a day. Araya broke a six-year drought since he won his first two rings in rapid succession in 2012.

He bested a field of 208 entries and won $27,043 in the $580 no-limit hold’em. The win proved to himself that he improved from when he won his first ring. According to Araya in his interview after the win, he thought that this was the first time he really outplayed a field en route to a win. He used the money he won with his first two titles to start a family business, which afforded him more free time to work on his game. Araya had a solid series in Louisiana, cashing three times and making two final tables.

Unlike Araya, Vornicu and Hawkins, Monroe isn’t a pro. The 41-year-old real estate investor doesn’t have as much time to play tournaments, but with a limited schedule, Monroe proved he could compete with the best. He won the main event to earn his third ring and second Circuit main event title. He defeated 677 entries, won $208,184 and one of the last seats into the Global Casino Championship.

Monroe was short stacked for most of the final table and held on long enough to get heads-up with Darren Martin. He started out with a big chip disadvantage, but won eight hands in a row, including a couple sizable pots, to take the chip lead away from Martin and eventually earn the win.

Sandeep Vasudevan joined Monroe as another recreational player who added another ring to his resume. Vasudevan learned poker when he immigrated to America from India and took a job at Bank of America. His co-workers were playing the game and he was drawn to it. After winning his first ring in no-limit hold’em in 2013, he took down one in pot-limit Omaha in New Orleans. He won the $365 pot-limit Omaha for $12,314.

The other six winners all earned their first ring. It was a mix of pros, who finally caught their break, and recreational players who were passionate about the game.

Brennan Benglis filled his poker dream with a ring in the $365 no-limit hold’em six-max event. Benglis was in poker for 13 years as both a player and a dealer looking for his break. With his $25,206 score in New Orleans, he fulfilled a promise to his late grandmother that he would win a tournament for her.

Raymond Curran, a pro from Mississippi, earned his first ring in the monster stack event and Mike Horchoff finished the series off with a win in the double stack no-limit hold’em. They were both pros, but their journey to the winner circle was completely different.

Curran didn’t have a recorded tournament cash before last December. He was a professional poker player for several years before that but played strictly cash games. His friends convinced him to take his shot at tournament poker, and he did, with remarkable success. He won $43,479 for his win.

Horchoff, on the other hand, had some success early in his career before coming to his own realization that his game needed work. After a few years of running numbers and studying the game, he won his first title and hopes to have another one this summer at the Rio.

Terry Melancon, Don Dove and A.J. Allee round out the ring winners. They were three recreational players that all took home ring number one. They all won a $365 no-limit hold’em single day event. Melancon earned $21,927, Dove won $17,551 and Allee took home $18,965.