We've crowned a champion from the World Series of Poker Circuit's Winter Bayou Poker Challenge in New Orleans, Louisiana, after three days of hard-hitting poker action that culminated in a zany six-hour final table from the starlit stage at the theater in Harrah's casino in the heart of The Big Easy.
A field of 160 players bought-in to this event on Monday, each paying $5,000 for a shot at the honor of a Circuit title and the glory of a PokerListings.com interview, and by Wednesday afternoon that number had been whittled to nine finalists. The surviving contingent was led by Bodog pro and two-time WSOP bracelet-winner Josh Arieh, who came into the final table with $510,000 in chips, his dominance threatened only by David Fox's $324,000 stack.
After the Circuit camera crew and "live" broadcast team (using the same interpretation of the word "live" as during the 2007 World Series, which is to say, "not live") got their acts together and the WSOP's Nolan Dalla led the assembled in observing a moment of silence for three-time bracelet winner and all-around good guy Chip Reese, the final-table action got under way at about 2:30 p.m. (CST) on a sunny day in New Orleans.
Immediately (or thereabouts), the going got hairy, as after the first three hands yielded two all-ins and one double-up, the fourth hand of the day saw short stack Lou Esposito, winner of May's Bayou Poker Challenge in this same arena, open-shove from the button for his last $35,000 or so. In so doing he garnered a call from Nic Gellepis, who sent a message early on that he would be playing the role of The Maniac in today's performance by making a loose call for a substantial portion of his stack with T♠ 3♣.
Esposito turned up 7♠ 5♠ and was behind, and after the board played out A♥ J♦ 9♣ 8♠ A♦ the jovial former champ was history, busted in ninth place for a $15,300 score. He would not have to wait long for company at the cashier's table.
On the very next hand, Leonard Pruzansky raised to $18,000 and got a call from Ted "The Bully" McCollum in the hijack before Philip "This Is" Sparta committed his last $57,500 to the middle from the cut-off. Pruzansky got out of the way but McCollom, who played out the final table as though small pocket pairs were gold ingots, called with pocket treys to Sparta's A♥ Q♣. The board came T♥ 8♣ 5♥ 7♥ J♦ and Sparta lost his race, ending up with an eighth-place finish and $22,950 to show for his efforts.
Action slowed down for, oh, three hands before Andy Philachack got all-in with pocket tens to Ted McCollom's pocket aces. It looked like curtains for the man who finished second to one Phil Hellmuth in Event 15 of last year's WSOP, but the T♥ on the river gave Philachack the improbable two-outer and doubled him through Teddy Mac.
The next hand saw another Leonard Pruzansky $18,000 raise and another Ted McCollom call before Bruce MacGregor, who hadn't got the memo about moving all-in on McCollom, moved all-in for his last $85,000. Pruzansky folded out once again but McCollom was willing to tangle, turning up 6♠ 6♦ for apparently the stone nuts against MacGregor's A♠ Q♠. The board came K♠ 7♥ 3♥ 9♣ 9♦ and McCollom won another race to send MacGregor packing in sixth place. Bruce Bruce earned $30,600 to take back to Too $hort and the gang.
That left the field six-handed, and after Nic Gellepis shocked the world by calling off the entirety of his $133,000 stack with 9♥ 6♥ and hitting a miracle heart-flush to suck out and double through Andy Philachack, the field was sufficiently primed for more madcap action. They'd get it soon after in what was clearly the hand of the tournament.
Action folded around to Gellepis, who'd since given back a large portion of his stack to Philachack and committed the rest to the middle with an open-shove from the hijack. Philachack got out of the way and Leonard Pruzansky moved all-in for what would turn out to be exactly the same amount of chips as Gellepis. (The TD didn't announce the amount but we assume it was somewhere around $150,000). Action folded to Josh Arieh, who tanked for a few minutes before eventually deciding to call both all-ins on the strength of his pocket nines.
Arieh would find his call was not the greatest in the world as Gellepis had pocket jacks while Pruzansky was in a bit of trouble with A♠ J♠. The flop was a monster, however, coming T♠ 9♠ 3♦ to give Arieh the set and Pruzansky the flush draw. The turn, however, was even more hellacious, bringing the case nine (9♥) to give Arieh quads and end this thing right here, right now. Pruzansky and Gellepis were eliminated simultaneously, and as both had pushed with identical stacks, the two men chopped fifth- and sixth-place money and walked away with $42,075 apiece.
David Fox would be next to go, re-popping an Andy Philachack raise all-in from the small blind and seeing Philachack make a quick call with big slick to his own 6♦ 6♥. The board would run 7♠ 7♥ 5♦ J♦ A♠ and that was the end of Fox, who'd bust in fourth place and earn $61,200.
What followed was an epic (some might say "boring") bout of raise-folding on the part of each of the final three contestants, with chip leader Arieh taking a back seat in the aggression department until finally he was chip leader no longer.
That title fell to Philachack, who obtained mass quantities of chips when he doubled through McCollom with A♣ Q♠ versus 6♥ 6♣. The flop would bring an ace and McCollom could not recover, seeing his reserves dwindle to only $60,000 in chips while Philachack found himself stacking $1.2 million strong.
A few hands later, McCollom was busto, shoving all-in against Arieh on an A♦ A♣ Q♣ flop with 4♣ 3♣ and seeing Arieh call with A♥ 9♦. The turn ended things early, bringing the Q♥ and a full house for Arieh and eliminating McCollom in third. The pride of Seabrook, Texas took home $76,500 in just his second major tournament cash ever.
That left just Arieh and Philachack, the latter of whom held a 3-1 chip lead going into a heads-up battle that would turn out to last only three hands. In the climactic encounter, Arieh and Philachack saw a flop come T♠ 9♦ 7♠ and got the money in forthwith, Arieh with 9♣ 7♥ for bottom two pair and Philachack holding the cooler of coolers with T♦ 7♣ for a better two pair. The board finished out 2♣ 3♥ and that was the end of Arieh and game, set and match for Philachack.
For the victory, Philachack takes home $247,860, as well as an entry into the 2008 WSOP Main Event, a shiny WSOPC ring and an exclusive interview with PokerListings.com. Arieh earns $130,500 as a consolation prize, although the lack of an interview with the PL will no doubt sting forever (it's not so bad; we interviewed Josh in April). Congratulations to both finalists and to the WSOPC on another successful tournament!