WPT Releases 2015 “Ones to Watch”

December 20, 2014

Each year, the World Poker Tour releases their list of players who are the “Ones to Watch” as they head into a new season. With the Season XIII schedule set to get underway, the tour released their 2015 players to watch, and this year’s list features a few interesting players who have been a big part of the community as a whole, but haven’t won that major poker tournament just yet. It’s an interesting list with some strong names, and these will be players to keep your eye out for as we roll through the 2015 schedule. Let’s get right to the list and break down the players more in-depth.

Possibly the most accomplished player on the list is where we’ll start, and this is Justin Zaki. Zaki has won over $1.25 million in career poker tournaments, and he’s also cashed in 12 different World Poker Tour events. His best finish came back in Season IX at the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Showdown, where he finished in third place. On top of that though, he has an impressive 22 World Series of Poker cashes throughout his career. He’s been able to grind out plenty of cashes and plenty of money, but this year he’ll be looking for that big-time score to add to his resume.

Two other players to look at on the list include Garrett Greer and Daniel Strelitz. Both are getting nearly the $1 million mark in career earnings, and both are intriguing players to watch. To this point, Strelitz has brought in $913,388 in his career, while Greer has made $780,596. Greer is in the midst of a nice run at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, so he may already jump off the page before the new year even begins.

Now, checking out the rest of the list you’ll find four more interesting players in Jose Serratos, Candace Collins, Kristy Arnett and Vlad Mezheritsky. Two of these players (Mezheritsky and Serratos) have both made deep runs that resulted in WPT final tables in their careers. Between Serratos, Mezheritsky and Collins, they’ve all made six-figure earnings at the poker tables throughout their careers, but are all still waiting for that one big hit. There’s plenty of reason to believe that all of these players could make a huge splash in 2015.

Now, for Arnett, who was known as one of the video presenters for PokerNews. She has decided to turn her to professional poker though, and has left PokerNews. She’s made just $30,622 in her career to this point, but she still made it onto the list. Maybe someone knows something that we don’t, but it’s definitely too early to judge her career to this point. She’ll be worth keeping an eye on throughout the year to see what she can bring in.

The “Ones to Watch” series has been going since Season IX, and in the first year each of the players who made the list have gone on to great success on the circuit and in the international poker world. Their tournament success is worth bragging about, as it includes players such as Jason Mercier, Matt Affleck, Allen Bari, Joseph Cheong, Maria Ho, Phil Collins, Lauren Kling, Andrew Lichtenberger, Faraz Jaka and William Reynolds. We’ve seen both Cheong and Collins make it to the “November Nine” at the Main Event of the WSOP, while Mercier, Lichtenberger and Jaka all brought in seven-figures worth of career earnings, with Mercier taking home some gold bracelets at the WSOP as well.

Season X featured Ho and Reynolds back on the list, but also say players such as David “Doc” Sands, Dan O’Brien, Ebony Kenney, Matt Marafioti and Dylan Hortin. Each player has had success, and there’s no reason to believe that the “Ones to Watch” list will lie to us in 2015 thanks to the names mentioned over these past few sentences. As for the Season XI list, we saw Shaun Deeb, Brian Hastings, Jason Koon, Dee Dozier, Amanda Musumeci, Xuan Liu, Jason Somerville and Alex Phahurat. Lastly is the Season XII players from last year, which included Jeff Gross, Aaron Massey, Athanasios Polychronopoulos, Danny Suied, Loni Harwood and Christina Lindley.

Jason Mercier Takes Down WPT Alpha8 St. Kitts

December 10, 2014

The event featured some absolutely massive names in the game of poker, all duking it out for the title of the World Poker Tour Alpha8 St. Kitt’s champion, and of course, the big payday that came along with the win. When the final day of action began, it was a player who started with one of the smaller stacks in Jason Mercier, who surged to the top in order to take down the championship. It wasn’t an easy run for Mercier, as he had plenty of competition when it got down to the final nine players this past Sunday. Let’s take a look at the action and how Mercier made his rise to the top.

Now, just because there were nine players left, didn’t mean we were at the final table, or in the cash just yet. We had to get down to eight players before the final table, and three before the money would start getting awarded. To start the day, Olivier Busquet was in first place with 346k in chips, with Bill Perkins (254k) and Daniel Colman (222.5k) the closest players to the leader. After that, we saw a group that included Alec Torelli (170k), Tony Guglietti (127k), Kathy Lehne (116.5k), Mercier (100.5k), Antonio Esfandiari (90.5k) and Talal Shakerchi all looking to use a double up to find their way back into the top of the leader board.

The first elimination of the day, and the one that got everyone into the money, came when Mercier opened the action from betting under the gun. This led to Colman three-betting all-in for just over 90k in chips (he had lost quite a bit to this point on Sunday, obviously), and Mercier debating for a while before making the call. Mercier likely knew that he was behind before the cards turned over, holding A-Q against the A-K of Colman, but Mercier still looked frustrated with his own decision. That frustration immediately turned when a Queen came up on the flop. The board ran out helping neither player anymore, and Mercier had knocked out Colman in ninth place.

With the final table set, the race was on. Shakerchi was the next player to get eliminated, and was sent home by Torelli just four hands into the final table action. It took 20 more hands before the next knockout came, and it was on Hand 27 when Torelli pushed all-in from the cutoff. Busquet found a pocket pair, and made the call turning over pocket sevens out of the big blind. Torelli turned over A-10, and when an Ace came on the flop, he had to be feeling confident. Unfortunately, a seven came on the turn, and a two on the river was all she wrote, knocking Torelli out in seventh.

Three players would make money out of the final six, and Esfandiari, who actually bought in three times, needed to get at least second in order to make any money, would actually double up twice in a row through Busquet and Mercier to make himself a player to watch. After those two hands, Perkins was knocked out in sixth place with his A-J up against the pocket Kings of Busquet. The only woman to ever enter an Alpha8 tournament, Lehne was still fighting, and came up with a few big spots. She forced Mercier out of a pot with an all-in, and then doubled up through Busquet soon after that. Lehne was back in the action, and looking to continue her push.

The 65th hand is when five went to four, and Esfandiari was the next to go. Busquet raised up the action, Lehne moved all-in and Esfandiari was all-in over the top of all that. Busquet moved out of the way, and Esfandiari showed pocket Queens, holding the edge over Lehne’s A-K. The flop came down 4-3-J, leaving Esfandiari in control, but a five on the turn left Lehne with a wheel draw. The wheel came with a two on the river, sending Esfandiari packing and giving Lehne the chip lead.

After Mercier knocked out Busquet with his K-Q against the A-J of Busquet, the three players who would make money were locked in. Lehne was sitting with 826k in chips, more than double the amount that the next closest competitor had, as Guglietti had 326k and Mercier had 348k. We didn’t even get down to heads-up action for 40 hands, and it happened with Guglietti moved all-in, leading to Mercier making the call after thinking for quite a while. He showed K-10, which had a big edge over Guglietti’s K-3, and it held, giving Mercier the chip lead over Lehne.

Mercier showed his tournament skills at this point, and he just slowly grinded away and chipped up over time. Lehne decided to move all-in on Hand 151, with a flop of Q-5-Q showing. Mercier check-called a 75k bet, and a seven came on the turn. Both checked at this point, and when an eight on the river came, Mercier bet out, and Lehne moved all-in. Mercier thought for a minute, and then made the call turning up pocket Aces for a better two pair than Lehne’s 10-8. Mercier was crowned as the champion and awarded $727,500 for first, and Kathy Lehne took home the second place payday of $436,500.

WSOP.com New Jersey Ramping Up Promotions in December

December 5, 2014

The world of online poker has seen a few interesting stories popping up all over the place as of late, and one of these stories relates directly to WSOP.com, and the fact that they are looking to run multiple promotions through the holiday season that will cater to their New Jersey-based players. While many of the new promotions are going to be replicated on the Nevada site, the idea is basically to help push WSOP.com in New Jersey, largely due to the fact that the Nevada site really doesn’t have much in terms of competition currently. With that said, let’s take a look at a few of the interesting promotions that you can find running as a New Jersey-based player on WSOP.com.

The December Sit-N-Go action should be heavy at WSOP.com, as they have brought the Sit-N-Go leaderboard back to give players the chance to duke it out for some serious cash. The best part of this promotion, is that the Sit-N-Go options will be broken down into three different tiers, which will be focused on the different levels of action. So basically, there will be a low limit option for $5 buy-ins and below, a mid limit option for $20 and below and a high limit option for $25 and above. Each of these will have their own respective prize pools, with $1,000 going to the lower stakes, $2,500 to the mid stakes and $4,000 in high stakes being awarded on a weekly basis in prize money. Basically how it will work, is that any player who finishes in the top 50 percent in Sit-N-Go’s will get points on the leaderboard. The leaderboard will feature the top 100 point earners, but only the top 30 are going to win money. The winner of each level will get 23% of the prize pool, and it will continue down to just 1% of the prize pool for the bottom 30 players in the action.

While there are going to be a ton of Sit-N-Go options running, it’s important to note that heads-up and satellite Sit-N-Go’s will not be counted towards this promotion. The leaderboard contest for this will run over a four week span, and it starts on Sunday, December 7th as the kickoff of the first week.

The WSOP Circuit at Harrah’s Resort is a very straight forward promotion, and each day at 6:00pm from December 14th to December 17th, the WSOP.com site will be holding $30 re-buy and add-on qualifiers. These qualifiers will give you a chance to get into the World Series of Poker Circuit’s Main Event at Harrah’s Resort, and at least one seat ($1,675 prize) will be awarded at each of the satellites.

One promotion that’s already underway, is the 4x challenge. It’s a low stakes promotion that should cater to a wide range of players, and over the course of a week players are going to need to play in four days of cash games to win a small prize. The week of December 3rd to December 9th, players must earn at least two APPs in each of the four days to win a $1 tournament ticket. For the week of December 10th to December 16th, the APP requirement will be doubled up to four, but you are going to be awarded with a tournament ticket that’s worth $5. Players do need to opt-in for this promotion.

Last but not least are two interesting options, the first of which is the December Deepstack Series. This one should draw in a good amount of interest, as players are going to be taking part in some big tournaments. The series will run over a seven day span, starting on Monday, December 15th. Each of the tournaments will have a starting stack of 200 big blinds, and the best part of all is that the buy-in isn’t going to be massive, as they will range anywhere from $10 up to $100. A few of the events are re-buys and have add-ons as well. In total, you’ll see more than $20k in prize money guaranteed throughout the week of tournament action.

Last but not least, is a very straight forward promotion to wrap up the month of December at WSOP.com. The idea is pretty cool, and each day from December 21st through New Year’s Day, the website will be raffling off a minimum of one random prize every day. You’ll find that this includes things like TV’s, cameras, golf clubs, and gourmet food gift packs. How do you qualify for this? Well, you’ll need to earn at least one APP in cash games or tournaments on the day of the drawing, and you’ll automatically be entered into the action.

Jonathan Jaffee Wins WPT Montreal Event

November 27, 2014

A Happy Thanksgiving goes out to everyone, and you can say that Jonathan Jaffee’s holiday has kicked off the right way after the events at the Playground Poker Club in Montreal, Canada came to an end. When all was said and done, the World Poker Tour partypoker.net WPT Montreal event came to a close by crowning Jaffee as the champion. The event got a good following, and also had quite a large number of players buy-in to the action as well. There were three total days of play before we got into the final table, and when we managed to get there, it was Jaffee who was leading the way in terms of his chip stack.

Jaffee started the final table holding 7.495 million in chips, but he had some major competition, specifically from the player right behind him, Ratharam Sivagnanam, who was holding 6.845 million in chips. After those two, there was quite a drop off, as Samuel Chartier was in third place with 2.065 million chips, Guillaume Nolet was in fourth with 2.06 million, and the final two of the final table were rounded out by Mukul Pahuja (1.9 million) and Kevin MacPhee with 1.57 million. Those four obviously had some moves to make if they wanted to contend for the championship, and with that, the action was underway.

It took just 10 plays into the start of the final table for our first elimination. Nolet raised out of the cutoff and Pahuja defended his big blind. The flop came down 5-3-2, leading to a bet of 190k from Nolet, and a check-raise all-in for Pahuja. Decision time was set for Nolet, and as both men had nearly equal stacks, Nolet made the call, showing A-J with quite a few outs. He could take the two over cards, gut shot straight draw or the draw to a heart nut flush. Pahuja on the other side, showed 6-5 for top pair and a gut shot straight draw. The turn was a 10, while the river was an eight, meaning that Nolet was all but out of the action. He was knocked out on the very next hand in sixth place.

Chartier was the next to hit the door, although he did get it all-in with pocket sevens. Unfortunately for him, he ran into the pocket Queens of Sivagnanam, who saw the board run out Ace high, leaving us with just four players left in the action. The knockout for Sivagnanam was a big one, as it gave him the chip lead over Jaffee, sitting with 8.37 million to 7.85 million in chips. Pahuja was in third with 3.71 million and MacPhee was bringing up the rear with 2.005 million chips. There was plenty of action to come though, and things were far from being over.

Next up was a spot when Jaffee made a button raise, but MacPhee went for the steal and pushed his stack all-in from the big blind. Unfortunately, the steal was a bad decision, as Jaffee showed A-Q of clubs. MacPhee wasn’t far behind, though, as he had K-10 off suit. The flop wasn’t a great one for him, though, as it came down A-Q-8, but did leave him with a straight draw. Another Ace came on the turn, meaning that it was the end of the road for MacPhee, and it also gave Jaffee the lead in chips.

Pahuja, who had fought all along the way was unable to keep up at this point, and on Hand 54 he was sent home when he five-bet his stack all-in with A-Q against Jaffee. Jaffee was holding pocket Kings though, and when a King came out to give Jaffee a set, that was a wrap. Pahuja was sent out in third place, with a payday of $201,920.

With that knockout, Jaffee was holding nearly a three-to-one lead over Sivagnanam (16 million to 5.935 million), but there was still plenty of action on the way. It took a total of 54 hands to get to heads up, but the two played their heads-up match for 81 hands alone. After going back and forth and trading the lead, the tournament came to an end on Hand 135.

The final hand saw Sivagnanam limp, and then Jaffee put out a 1.4 million chip bet. Sivagnanam thought about the decision before pushing all-in, leading to a snap call from Jaffee. Jaffee was happy with the spot, as he had A-K against the 10-8 of Sivagnanam, and when the board came down 6-4-3-J-Q, it meant that Jaffee had taken down the WPT Montreal Championship, and brought home a payday of $463,432. For second place, Ratharam Sivagnanam earned $313,318.

Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City Closing in December

November 21, 2014

Well, for the world of live poker and live gambling, things are getting more and more interesting when it comes to New Jersey, and specifically Atlantic City. One of the most popular places to go gambling not only in the United States, but really in the world, has seen a bit of a downswing in terms of their traffic recently, which has led to some changes being made. One of those changes? The decision for Trump Entertainment Resorts to file a revised reorganization plan in bankruptcy court, and for the Board of Directors to approve the closure of the Trump Taj Mahal on December 12th of this year. This is not the first, obviously, as we’ve seen four other casinos close up their business to this point in 2014. The trend is continuing, and it’s not a good sign for the area.

While this isn’t groundbreaking news by any means, as it was actually expected to happen, there were still the hopes being held out that the Taj Mahal would be able to turn it around and not close up shop. Apparently, there were talks that in early September, the casino had broken some of their loan covenants, which meant that they had to set up a restructured deal in order to pay creditors. This is when things really started to turn, as they would have to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy if they didn’t do this. Now, the story and plot thickened from here, and things got incredibly interesting.

Carl Icahn, who is the billionaire investor that holds the bulk of the debt for Trump Entertainment, has said that he would be willing to put additional money into the casino. The deal that he was looking to make included him putting in an additional $100 million to keep things up and running, but New Jersey and Atlantic City would need to give him up to $175 million in tax relief. Obviously, it is very unlikely that this happens, which means that the closing is set for December 12th, and the bankruptcy hearing is set to be held six days after that.

Icahn did get some good news for himself, as he was looking to cancel the existing collective bargaining agreement with the casino’s main union, which was granted. This meant that there would be savings by ending the pension plan contributions and also a reduction to the health benefits. The problem still stood that Icahn would need tax breaks, and if that had worked out, then there was an outside chance that he could have possibly turned the $286 million in debt into 100 percent equity in the company.

While this is bad news for the gambling world as a whole, it’s even worse for Atlantic City and the job market there. Obviously with four other casinos closing, there have been jobs being lost all over the place. If/when the Taj Mahal does close, then another 3,000 employees are going to be without their jobs. The grand total for the five casinos that have closed up shop would then sit somewhere around 11,000 employees who have lost their jobs. The downswing that we’ve seen in Atlantic City has been largely due to casinos that were opening up in states around them, resulting in traffic declining at a rapid rate.

For example, you can find games and casinos offered in states such as Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, meaning that the visitors to Atlantic City don’t have nearly any reason to make the travels from their homes, when there are much closer casinos to where they reside.

You’ll find that to start 2014 there were around 12 casinos, but the number will be nearly cut in half by the time that we kickoff 2015. As for the other casinos that were shut down, this includes the Atlantic Club, which was nearly purchased by PokerStars, but ended up having to close up shop. The Showboat shut down on August 31st, and two days after that was Revel going under. September 16th was when the Taj Mahal’s sister casino closed up shop, as the Trump Plaza went under. Then, finally, is the Taj Mahal which is less than a month away from closing up shop. Out of the full list of casinos, Revel was sold in October, and the good news for gamblers in Atlantic City is that they are planning to reopen at some point in the future, but no specific dates or plans have been set in stone.

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