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Empire state of mind

London’s Casino at the Empire witnesses arguably the best World Series Of Poker Europe yet, with some famous names among the bracelet winners and raucous scenes at the Main Event final table

Reporting by: Duncan Wilkie, Gareth Bracken, Chris Lines and Dan Smyth


Crash-survivor Laak claims first ever World Series bracelet

The first event of the 2010 World Series of Poker Europe produced a popular winner as Phil Laak took down the £2,500 Six-Handed No Limit Hold’em tournament to claim his first World Series bracelet.

The affable American – who had only recently recovered from a serious all-terrain vehicle accident – claimed £170,802 for his efforts after defeating Andrew Pantling in heads-up play. The two had battled away for a number of hours following the elimination of serial tournament casher Chris Bjorin in third. Young American David Peters had claimed fourth with surprise package Ilan Rouah securing fifth and old-school London legend Willie Tann finishing sixth having started the final table as the short stack.

Spurred on by a watching crowd that included partner and fellow poker player Jennifer Tilly, Laak fought back from being nearly 2:1 down in chips to eventually assume a narrow advantage. There was still much drama to come however as the lead changed hands on numerous occasions to a mixture of delight and disbelief from an enthralled rail.

The final hand saw Laak move all-in with Kd 5c after Pantling has raised to 33,000 on the button with Ah 9h. The flop came 7h 4h 4c with the Canadian maintaining the lead and picking up a flush draw. It was the turn card that did the damage though as the 5d put Laak in the ascendancy with two pair. A Qc on the river couldn’t rescue Pantling and Laak took the bracelet, which he proudly draped over his Union Jack plaster-casted wrist.


Phil Laak’s bracelet completed an extremely eventful six months following his accident in Oregon and earlier poker endurance world record. He spoke to Gambling after his WSOPE victory:

“It feels great! It was tough playing against a guy who likes to raise every pot because in heads-up that’s an optimal strategy if your opponent likes to play small pots, as I do. I went crazy with K-5 and got rewarded for being stupid!

My poker world record is helping me in poker and in life. Since that endurance session I’ve cashed in three of my last four tournaments and as a human I feel I have more empathy and sympathy and, as poker goes, patience.

For the first 10 days after the accident I was like, “We’re not going to be able to go to London,” but then I had the surgery on my eye and started feeling a little better. I’m glad we came.”

EVENT #2: £5,250 POT-LIMIT OMAHA, 16-18 SEPT

Jeff Lisandro keeps his cool to claim bracelet number five

Italo-Australian poker pro Jeffrey Lisandro triumphed at one of the most heavily stacked final tables in World Series of Poker history as he defeated American Joe Serock heads-up to claim the £5,000 PLO title.

Four-card aficionados from across the globe gathered to contest Event #2 and the glut of talent on display ensured that the final 10 players boasted no fewer than nine WSOP bracelets between them when play commenced.

Among them were double bracelet winners Jeff Madsen and Chris Bjorin plus London legend and 2005 $1,000 NLHE winner Willie Tann, with the latter two of that trio remarkably making WSOPE final table appearances for the second consecutive year.

Completing the stellar list of names was November Niner John Racener, UK pros Karl Mahrenholz and Andrew Miles and rising Brazilian star Felipe ‘Mojave’ Ramos, but one-by-one this elite cast fell to the rail until only Lisandro and Serock remained.

Beginning one-on-one play with a slight chip deficit, fortune soon turned Lisandro’s way when a cold-deck hand saw Serock’s good aces get cracked by his wired kings as the Salerno native flopped a set to hand out the most brutal of final table beats.

It was to prove a fatal blow for Serock as a few hands later the pair had it all-in again with Lisandro’s As 6s Qs 2c leading against his Ks 6h 5h 7s and, despite a sweat on a straightening 9s 8h Jd flop, he failed to improve and Lisandro claimed the title.

EVENT #3: £1,075 NO-LIMIT HOLD’EM, 17-21 SEPT

Scott Shelley shatters JP Kelly’s double bracelet dream

Two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner JP Kelly came within a whisker of successfully defending his £1,000 NLHE title at the World Series of Poker Europe, but his hopes were cruelly dashed by PKR staffer Scott Shelley heads-up.

The Aylesbury-born pro won the same event at the Casino at the Empire last year and for long periods at the final table it looked as though he was about to do the unthinkable and go back-to-back, but Shelley showed real grit to rain on his parade.

With such an unprecedented feat potentially on the cards the heads-up battle attracted plenty of onlookers eager to witness a piece of poker history, but after a back-and-forth encounter it was Shelley who ultimately entered the record books.

The final hand came about in classic coinflip fashion when Kelly shoved over the top of Shelley’s opening bet and the amateur player quickly called. With the cards on their backs Shelley’s pocket threes held the slenderest of leads over Kelly’s Qd Jh.

It was a lead that he didn’t surrender on the flop either as third three put paid to Kelly’s chances of out-drawing his opponent and allowed the amateur to capture an unexpected World Series of Poker bracelet and a winner’s cheque worth £133,857.

In addition to his runner-up prize, the silver lining for Kelly is that the pro will at least have another 18 months to break Phil Ivey’s record as the youngest ever player to have won three bracelets – and on this form, few would bet against him.


Gus Hansen grabs his first bracelet… at long last

The inaugural High Roller Heads-Up event drew an impressive cast of 103 leading lights of poker, including big draws such as Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Huck Seed, Gus Hansen, Howard Lederer and Ram Vaswani.

With a prize pool totalling £1,030,000, it was the first non-Main Event WSOPE tournament to exceed the £1 million mark. And – after many years of waiting – it was the popular Dane Hansen who took down the bracelet.

Hansen beat the up-and-coming young American Jim Collopy heads up, after the two of them saw off semi-final challenges from Andrew Feldman and Ram Vaswani respectively.

The luck was also with the Dane as he beat the imposing Phil Ivey in an earlier round too – which will doubtless make his first bracelet win all the sweeter.

Hansen was delighted as he clinched victory. “At the WSOP, there’s so much tradition. It’s been going on since Doyle Brunson was just a little kid. I was around for some of it and have been part of that group. So, to finally come here and win this gold bracelet feels very special.”


Englishman James secures Main Event victory

The Main Event, the showpiece tournament of the WSOPE 2010, drew a pro-heavy field of 346 players to the Casino at the Empire, with many of the biggest names in poker taking their shot at the coveted bracelet.

A number of stars took to the felt on Day 1a, including previous Main Event winners Annette Obrestad and John Juanda. Only 78 of the original 137 were still standing at the end of play, with notable departees including the aforementioned Obrestad as well as hold’em giant Phil Hellmuth. Frenchman Nicolas Levi held the chip lead with 153,850.

Day 1b saw another 209 competitors buy-in, including Phil Ivey, Phil Laak and 2009 Main Event winner Barry Shulman, all of whom made it through the day. Tom Dwan and Devilfish weren’t so lucky and busted out, while Britain’s James Mitchell secured the overnight chip lead with a stack of 178,850.

That all meant that 200 players resumed play on Day 2, a day that saw Swedish online sensation Viktor Blom finish on top with 443,200 chips. The remaining field was one of great quality and Ivey, Laak, Thomas Bichon, Yevgeniy Timoshenko and Barry Greenstein all ended the day in the upper echelons of the leaderboard.

Shulman and Juanda both made their exits, meaning that this year’s tournament would see a new champion named.

By the start of Day 3 the field had been whittled down to 66, and with only the top 36 finishers getting paid this meant that the dreaded bubble was just around the corner. The unfortunately player was Canadian Rudy Blondeau, who lost out after a battle with Brian Powell. American Ronald Lee fared much better, climbing to the summit of the leaderboard with 947k chips. Blom and Ivey were looming ominously in fifth and sixth respectively.

The object of Day 4 was to turn 22 into nine, and that unfortunately meant that Ivey’s surge towards yet another bracelet was to be cut short a couple of hours into the day’s action. An Ivey opening raise was reraised by Lee, causing the eight-time bracelet winner to move all-in. He showed A-10 and Lee A-K, putting Ivey at great risk. A blank flop wasn’t much help but a king on the turn was fatal, and the great man was gone in 19th. Fellow big-hitter Blom exited in 16th as the final nine drew ever closer. American David Peters was in seat 10 when the action became single-tabled and he was to be the unlucky 10th-place finisher.

The fifth and final day saw the remaining players return to the Empire each knowing they were within touching distance of WSOPE Main Event glory. The chip leader was Victory Poker head honcho Dan Fleyshman with 1.9 million, closely followed by Ronald Lee. Completing the line-up, in order of stack size, were Danny Steinberg, Roland de Wolfe, James Bord, Brian Powell, Fabrizio Baldassari, Nicolas Levi and Marc Inizan.

Inizan and Powell were knocked out in the same hand by Lee, finishing ninth and eighth respectively after both shoving unsuccessfully with pocket eights. Fleyshman was next to go, the pocket kings of Lee claiming their third victim in a row. Lee did yet more damage later, knocking out Steinberg in the 118th hand of what was to be a long day’s play. It was no surprise then when the next departee, Nicolas Levi, also exited after a tangle with the American, Lee again winning the pot with pair of Kings, albeit not the pocket variety that had served him so well previously. The biggest name at the final table was Roland de Wolfe but he had to settle for fourth after a short-stacked shove was called and defeated by Baldassari.

That left the Italian in three-way action with Bord and Lee, with Englishman Bord receiving a huge vocal backing from dozens of his fans watching from the rail. They went wild when their man flopped a pair of kings, improved to trips on the river, to send Lee home.

That left Bord and Baldassari in heads-up combat and battle raged until around 1am, when a raucous and expectant rail got the result they had craved. Bord shoved with pocket tens and the Italian called with fives. The 9-9-8 flop kept Bord in the lead and a jack on the turn had the crowd at fever pitch. The dealer revealed an ace on the river and a victorious Bord threw himself into his supporters as the Empire saluted their new champion, the proud owner of a WSOPE bracelet and the £830,401 first prize.


As the reality of his achievement sank in for the victorious James Bord, Gambling grabbed a few words with champion, who was quick to acknowledge all the helped he’d received from his fellow pros in the run-up to the event:

On the final table…

“I feel shattered. I played some hands good and some hands bad. In the end it worked out all right for me. I showed a lot of heart. Getting jacks [against Nicolas Levi] was a key decision, because Nick’s tight; he played about three hands in three days. It was tough – that kind of player shows you queens and kings every time. I thought about it and I realised that he’d had enough of Ronald Lee and had just recklessly put a bet in; maybe slightly too big a bet. Turns out he actually did have a hand; he had A-Q. But I figured he didn’t actually have to have a big hand, so I thought “F*** it, let’s gamble!” I came to win, not to come sixth. I wasn’t going to fold my way out of the tournament. I don’t do that. As for heads up, I’ve played a lot with Fabrizio before online. He had a tell on me. I kind of figured out what it was, so I used it against him a bit.

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