WSOPC Tunica sees new structures, three champions

Empire Casino, London

Opening up the 2008 tournament poker season, the World Series of Poker Circuit landed in Tunica, Miss., at the Grand Casino for its 22-event run on Thursday. While three champions have been crowned already, one thing drawing rave reviews is some of the structure changes that have been made to the preliminary events.

Veteran Tournament Director Jimmy Sommerfeld was brought in to run the Tunica Circuit event, and he, Tournament Coordinator and Poker Room Manager Robert McGovern and Assistant General Manager for Harrah's Sherri Pucci have made changes the Tunica stop that should have players making a trek for the Circuit events.

The first change is the addition of the Best All-Around Player of the stop. To create a prize for the competition, $5 will be taken from each player's buy-in in each event to create a prize pool of $100,000 at the minimum.

In addition to the $100,000 that will be up for grabs, the Tunica WSOPC championship event may have a bigger prize pool after its buy-in was boosted to $7,500, up from $5,000 in the past.

The tournaments' structures have changes also that should encourage strategic play. Players will start with $10,000 in chips in each event ($20,000 in the championship event), and the blind structure are slowed down in the middle to late stages to attempt to have skill become more of a part of the action.

"Many players think that just doubling the chips makes a great tournament," Sommerfeld explained. "But when the blinds catch up to the amount of chips in play, there are too many players left and it becomes a shoot-out. To combat this, I added eight levels to the later rounds and lowered antes for six levels."

It's expected that each tournament will last about 20-24 hours total, with about 27 players returning for action on Day 2.

"Two long days of play is what the players asked for," Sommerfeld said.

Event 1

With the changes in place, 781 players came to the felt on Thursday for the first event of the stop, a $300 No-Limit Hold'em tournament. The players built a prize pool of $223,366 with 72 players getting paid and first place taking away $58,500 and the gold WSOPC ring that is awarded to each tournament champion.

Like clockwork, the field was winnowed to 26 to start action Friday afternoon and, approximately five hours later, worked to the final nine to decide the champion.

After approximately 140 hands of play, Kansas City businessman Howard Reid was in the lead with Arkansas construction worker William Graveline battling for the top prize. They got their chips to the center with Reid holding pocket tens to dominate Graveline's A-7os.

Reid virtually locked up the hand when the flop and turn gave him a straight (and four clubs to a flush) to the King and Graveline was left looking for one of the two tens in the deck to give him a better straight. The Ace of clubs hit the river, however, giving Reid the flush and the first poker championship of 2008.

Both Reid and Graveline were first timers on the WSOPC and, with the winnings that they took for this event, might be seen making a run at the Best All Around Player award. They were joined at the final table by the following players:

Howard Reid
Kansas City, Mo.
William Graveline
Batesville, Ark.
Todd Cashion
Lewisburg, Tenn.
Bobby Byram
Osceola, Ark.
James Rapp
Miamiburg, Ohio
6th Randy Rothwell
Dayton, Tenn.
Carroll Dye
Johnson City, Tenn.
John Adrus
Daytona Beach, Fla.
David Rylander
Collierville, Tenn.

Event 2

On Friday, 383 runners came to the line for the $500 No-Limit Hold'em event and a prize pool of $183,840 and played down to the final nine.

The final table on Saturday featured Corey Sanders, who won the same event during the 2007 Tunica WSOPC. Starting out on the short stack at only 130K in chips, Sanders' looked like a long shot to make WSOPC history, though.

Using a highly aggressive style, Sanders pushed all-in on many occasions and gradually began to build his stack while opponents dropped around him. When Sanders was able to eliminate Jerry Barlow in third place, he had only Carlos Cuentas left between him and repeating as the $500 NLHE champion.

After approximately 100 hands of play in the tournament, Sanders was able to pull into the lead when he pushed all-in on Cuentas. The lead would be short lived, however, as a scant four hands later (with both players all-in), Cuentas was able to best the middle pair of Sanders when he caught his gut shot straight draw on the river.

The very next hand, Cuentas administered the death blow when he rivered his open-ended straight draw against Sanders' Ace-high and captured the championship.

Cuentas had to be talked into entering his first-ever live event by two friends and made the trip from Houston to Tunica only the day before the start of the event. He surely was pleased with the $55,302 first-place check and the WSOPC ring he received for his efforts.

The final table played out as such:

Carlos Cuentas
Houston, Texas
Corey Sanders
Nashville, Tenn.
Jerry Barlow
Fair Play, S.C.
Adam Ross
Colorado Springs. Colo.
Gebrehiwet Goitom
Dallas, Texas
Tim Laws
Columbia, Mo.
David Garrison
Robinsville, Miss.
Tony Boles
Cumming, Ga.
Michael Hanelin
Atlanta, Ga.

Event 3

Saturday saw the first of several $700 No-Limit Hold'em events, a buy-in that proved to be quite popular as 277 rounders came to take part in the festivities, building a prize pool of $186,698.

The event played down to the final nine players by the end of action on Saturday night. Two former WSOPC ring bearers were a part of the action but didn't make it to the final table. Two-time ring winner Douglas Carli was unable to make the final table when he was dismissed in 14th place and Adam Lippert, who won his WSOPC ring last October at Caesars Indiana, also came up just short in 12th place.

Even with these strong players out, though, the final table did have some excellent players in the mix.

After starting out the Sunday final table as the short stack, Kerry Rowden battled his way to a heads-up showdown against Matthew Botzer and used pocket Queens on two consecutive hands to take his first WSOPC ring in three tries in Tunica.

Botzer had started the final table with the chip lead and held it all the way to the end when he mucked his hand without showing his cards.

The final-table results were as follows:

Kerry Rowden
Iberia, Mo.
Matthew Botzer
Monett, Mo.
Kyle Strader
Plantation, Fla.
Khalid Dghaim
Atlanta, Ga.
Ross Rehrig
Franklin, Tenn.
Renea Mahaffey
Anderson, S.C.
Grant Phillips
Madison, Miss.
Steven Hipes
St. Louis, Mo.
Michael Ciaravino
Rockledge, Fla.

Over the next few days there are several other events that will play out. Sunday saw the start of the $200 Ladies' No-Limit Hold'em event and tournaments for Seven-Card Stud, Omaha Hi/Lo, Pot-Limit Hold'em and Six-Handed No-Limit Hold'em will play through the rest of this week.

The championship event will start Jan. 19, but until that point there will be a great deal of action as the WSOPC surges into 2008 with its first tournament of the New Year.

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