I wrap up most blogs with the "small blinds" section where I skim over some of the biggest headlines in the world. Think of this entire blog as small blinds on steroids: It's been a very active few weeks in the poker industry.
I've become a huge fan of the WSOP Circuit, and no, it's not because we've started to air all the final tables on ESPN3. I think the organization made some very smart moves over the past few years by finding the right locations, standardizing schedules and, most importantly, making their events re-entry. Prize pools have swelled and it's clear that the value of a WSOP ring is truly increasing.
The other major adjustment the WSOP has made is creating the National Championship. After one year of failure, I do believe it is now a significant event on the poker calendar. It's one of a few events all year where you qualify to get in and at the end of the road, the champion earns a nice shiny WSOP bracelet and a whole lot of money. Oh, and they'll win this bracelet in front of millions of viewers on ESPN.
Last year's National Championship was played out in Las Vegas on the WSOP felt. As thousands made their way down the long convention center hallway to the Amazon or Pavilion Rooms to play in the main event, others competed for a bracelet that hundreds of thousands had attempted to win. It was perfect. I know many players and Caesars staff hate when I say this, but for those some of those qualifiers, it was like playing in the minor leagues all year and finally earning your shot in the majors. The qualifiers had come from around the U.S. and earned their shot in Vegas for a chance to put themselves on the map for good. They weren't alone, either. As introduced last year, the qualifiers were also joined by some of the top 100 players on the WSOP rankings who could buy into the event if they wanted to play. You had the locals playing with the stars and it's a script that writes itself.
Unfortunately in my mind, this year's event stays in the minors. The WSOP decided to move the National Championship to New Orleans and will be held May 22-24. In 2012, 57 players out of the eligible 100 bought in and it was easy because every single one of them was in Las Vegas playing other WSOP events. Now they're asking some of those eligible players to travel to New Orleans to enter. The majority of players on that list are tournament regulars and I'd assume many of them will be in Las Vegas at that time to play in the WPT Championship and High Roller. Then, consider the fact that they'd leave Vegas from the WPT, play in the National Championship and return back to Las Vegas in time for the start of the WSOP. It's a lot to ask.
But maybe the WSOP doesn't want their top 100 to show up. Maybe they want to crown a tour champion from the group of players who put in the effort and traveled around with them all year and couldn't just walk up and buy in. Maybe that's a better story in the end after all.
One player who will definitely be in attendance in New Orleans is Joseph McKeehen who went wire-to-wire at the WSOP Circuit final table in Atlantic City as the chip leader. McKeehen earned $174,147 as he defeated the field of 539.
WPT Bay 101
There's just something about the Bay 101 Shooting Star that makes it one of my favorite stops of the year. Offering bounties on the stars of the game in one of the most popular poker venues in the country always adds another layer of excitement. While other tournaments struggle to keep pace, the Bay 101 main event was the largest Shooting Star in history. The growth to 643 entries could be attributed to a number of factors, with the most substantial being the fact that it became a re-entry event. In a trend consistent with the success of the World Poker Tour, the price point was also reduced from $10,000 to $7,500.
Kai Chang defeated the large field to win the $1.1 million top prize, his first seven-figure score. Chang had cashed on the WPT four previous times (including Bay 101 in 2011), but had never appeared at a televised final table before last week. He returned to action on the final day in fifth place, staring upwards at the first-place stack of Paul Volpe, who held nearly a 100 big blind advantage over Chang. Volpe, who became one of only a few players to own back-to-back WPT final table appearances, finished in third after a second-place performance last week at the LAPC.
After being a dominant force in the online space where he was ranked as the No. 1 player in the world, Volpe has emerged over the past few years as a live tournament monster. His last nine months include a 20th-place finish in the WSOP main event, cashes on the EPT and WPT, plus the aforementioned two WPT final tables. His earnings during that stretch top $1.4 million, and it's clear that he'll be a prime participant in the 2013 player of the year races.
There was also one more player at the final table who turned some heads: Erik Seidel. After a run in 2011 where he pocketed more from high roller winnings than many players will ever take home in their career, Seidel slowed down a bit. The results have begun to pour in once again with his last three scores all being worth at least six figures. Seidel's fourth-place showing in this event, worth $295,590, was his fifth WPT final table.
Here are the results of the final table:
1. Kai Chang ($1,138,350)
2. Joe Nguyen ($666,740)
3. Paul Volpe ($435,610)
4. Erik Seidel ($295,590)
5. Chris Johnson ($208,910)
6. Joe Kuether ($162,240 )
HPT Golden Gates
If you want to hold a huge low-buy-in event, go to Colorado. Seriously. For the second time in four years, the Heartland Poker Tour thrived as a seven-figure prize pool was created at the Golden Gates Casino in Black Hawk. Teresa Hemingway became the third female HPT champion as she defeated the field of 671 to win the latest main event and $226,463. The sales executive from Aurora, Colo., satellited her way into the event for $360 and defeated Jeffrey Yarvhever for the title.
"It's unreal money and it can happen to anyone," said Hemingway to the HPT after her victory. This was her third attempt at an HPT main event.
Perhaps the best part of this successful tournament stop was the fact that due to the storm, airports were closed and getting to the event wasn't even possible for everyone. Although the turnout didn't reach either of last year's fields of 820 (April) and 739 (September), putting up this sort of attendance given the conditions is a huge win for the small-stakes tour.
Here are the results of the final table:
1. Teresa Hemingway ($226,463)
2. Jeffrey Yarvhever ($139,904)
3. Robert Moore ($91,692)
4. Ryan Sweeney ($63,711)
5. Ryan Odonnell ($46,299)
6. Danny Gonzalez ($35,932)
7. Christopher Valdez ($30,195)
8. Gary Germann ($25,163)
9. Travis Northrope ($20,130)
Small blinds: Team PokerStars (Daniel Negreanu, Isaac Haxton and Bertrand Grospellier) defeated Team Full Tilt (Gus Hansen, Tom Dwan, Viktor Blom) in their heads-up challenge that took place at EPT London. The real winners? The Rational Group, which owns both PokerStars and FTP. ... Discussion of online poker bills are getting attention in a number of states with Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York the latest to talk about the topic. ... 647 players at the EPT London main event, down from 691 last season. ... Blake Bohn won the Chicago Poker Classic main event for $288,171. ... Pre-registration is now open for the WSOP.