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WSOP Race for the Bracelets 2008

World Series of Poker Gold

|  Published: Aug 06, 2008


Poker's 39th installment of the World Series of Poker is nearly in the books. With 54 of the 55 bracelet events decided, the Series has, so far, awarded more than $116 million in prize money to the 50,943 players who have taken a shot at a bracelet. The main event, which is still under way as we go to press, will add an additional $64 million to the already staggering prize pool, generated from the 6,844 players who took part in the $10,000 event. In this issue, we bring you results and recaps from events No. 34 through 53.

Layne Flack Wins Event No. 34 (Pot-Limit Omaha With Rebuys)
By Ryan Lucchesi

Buy-in: $1,500
Entrants: 320 (1,350 rebuys)
Prize Pool: $2,407,125
First-Place Prize: $577,725

In 2003, Layne Flack won two gold bracelets at the World Series of Poker. This put his career bracelet total at five, where it stood for five years. Flack's toughest opponent during his five-year journey to another bracelet has been himself; he has battled a series of personal demons that sidetracked his success on the felt. "I got off track pretty good for a while. I spent the last year regrouping and getting my life back together," said Flack.

With this win, Flack reiterated just how far he has come, and in winning bracelet number six, he joined an exclusive group. Only 10 players in the history of the WSOP have six bracelets or more, and now Flack is one of them. To grab his historic sixth bracelet, Flack won the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha with rebuys event at the 2008 WSOP. "For a long time to not be rewarded for turning it around is the hardest part, and now I'm starting to see some of those rewards, so now it feels like I'm doing right," said Flack after the win.

Flack had to overcome the wild first days of the rebuy event (in which he purchased a buy-in 22 times), and he then fought his way through an experienced field down to the final table. Waiting for him in the final group of nine were seasoned professionals Ted Forrest, Tim West, Dario Alioto, and Jacobo Fernandez (who was making his third final-table appearance of the Series). Flack played well for the first half of the table, but when things got down to four-handed, he found another gear and crushed the last of his opposition. "When Ted got short, and I then took Dario out, I felt pretty comfortable. Ted is just a powerhouse, and once he got short … not that I wished bad upon him, by any means … it lightened my load greatly. I respect Ted's game so much, so once he was wounded, I saw the light," said Flack. Along with a sixth bracelet, Flack was awarded $577,725 in prize money, which is, surprisingly, the biggest win of his career.

Michael Rocco Wins Event No. 35 (Seven-Card Stud)
By Julio Rodriguez

Buy-in: $1,500
Entrants: 381
Prize Pool: $520,065
First-Place Prize: $135,753

Former dealer Michael Rocco came to the final table of the $1,500 seven-card stud event as the chip leader, but winning was anything but a foregone conclusion. Down nearly 5-1 in chips when heads up, Rocco battled back to reclaim the chip lead from Al "Sugar Bear" Barbieri and ultimately claim the title.

In one of the most emotional outbursts seen by a professional player during the 2008 World Series of Poker, Rocco cried out with joy after winning his first career bracelet. With friends on the sidelines getting just as teary-eyed, Rocco dedicated his bracelet to his son.

Jesper Hougaard Wins Event No. 36 (No-Limit Hold'em)
By Ryan Lucchesi

Buy-in: $1,500
Entrants: 2,447
Prize Pool: $3,340,155
First-Place Prize: $610,304

Jesper Hougaard proved to the world once again that when an aggressive player from Denmark is at a final table, everyone should take notice. Hougaard was inspired to play more poker when he first saw Gus Hansen dominate on the World Poker Tour a few years ago. Now, the 24-year-old poker professional from Copenhagen owns something that Hansen does not -- a World Series of Poker gold bracelet. Hougaard defeated a huge field of 2,447 in a $1,500 no-limit hold'em event to win $610,304. He dominated play early at the final table, faltered slightly during the first part of heads-up action, and then came back from dinner refocused to slam the door on Cody Slaubaugh.

David Benyamine Wins Event No. 37 (World Championship Omaha Eight-or-Better)
By Andy Liakos

Buy-in: $10,000
Entrants: 235
Prize Pool: $2,209,000
First-Place Prize: $535,678

Widely regarded as one of the game's premier cash-game players, David Benyamine nixed the naysayers when he outlasted a field of 235 entrants and a tough final table to claim his first gold bracelet in the $10,000 Omaha eight-or-better world championship and the $535,678 grand prize.

Benyamine is no stranger to the tournament trail, with millions of dollars in winnings, and now, a World Series of Poker bracelet -- quite an impressive résumé for the man many consider to be the game's newest old-timer.

Considered by many of the top pros to be the world's greatest Omaha eight-or-better player, Benyamine admits that although he never felt the need to prove himself in the tournament arena, the pressure to capture a bracelet was always there. Following in the same tradition of Erick Lindgren's much anticipated win earlier in the Series, Benyamine now has made the short list of top players never to have won a bracelet even shorter.

One of only 10 officially designated world championship events on the schedule, this $10,000 Omaha eight-or-better tournament boasted the largest Omaha-specific prize pool in tournament poker history. With six of the nine finalists being former World Series of Poker champions, interestingly enough, the top three spots went to the only players never to have won a bracelet. According to Benyamine, the deck and he himself are always his toughest opponents in a poker game, but not that night, as he readily admitted, "The deck was just giving me too many cards. There was nothing that they could have possibly done."

As soon as play got down to four-handed, Benyamine quickly changed gears in dramatic fashion, becoming overly aggressive and equally as intimidating as he eliminated all three of his remaining opponents as if it were a heads-up, round-robin, winner-take-all tournament.

Davidi Kitai Wins Event No. 38 (Pot-Limit Hold'em)
By Julio Rodriguez

Buy-in: $2,000
Entrants: 605
Prize Pool: $1,101,100
First-Place Prize: $244,583

After a lightning-quick play-down that saw heads-up play begin just three hours into final-table play, it took nearly four more hours to determine the eventual champion, poker pro Davidi Kitai.

Kitai bested professional player Chris Bell in a back-and-forth heads-up match that saw the lead change nearly eight times. Other notable players to make the final table included Jan Von Halle, bracelet winners Lee Watkinson and Robert Cheung, and Full Tilt pro Ben Roberts.

David Woo Wins Event No. 39 (No-Limit Hold'em)
By Ryan Lucchesi

Buy-in: $1,500
Entrants: 2,720
Prize Pool: $3,712,800
First-Place Prize: $631,550

David Woo, from Atlanta, Georgia, came to the final table of the fifth $1,500 no-limit hold'em event calm, cool, and collected. He had fought through a field of 2,720 players to make the final table, and he entered the final day as the most experienced player remaining. The poker professional of five years held just over 1 million in chips to start, and he quickly built on that to take the chip lead. He knocked out two players in one hand when the action was still six-handed, and then he shifted things toward the endgame to walk away from the final table with his first bracelet and $631,550 in prize money.

John Phan Wins Event No. 40 (Limit Deuce-to-Seven Triple-Draw Lowball)
By Julio Rodriguez

Buy-in: $2,500
Entrants: 238
Prize Pool: 547,400
First-Place Prize: $151,911

Despite being one of the smaller events at the World Series of Poker, the deuce-to-seven triple-draw lowball tournament has always attracted a stellar group of professionals. Coming off his first WSOP bracelet win just a week earlier, no one expected John Phan to pull off a repeat performance, and he almost didn't. Phan had to overcome a major chip deficit when three-handed, as well as a verbal sparring match with Gioi Luong, to become the only double bracelet winner in 2008.

Noted poker author and three-time bracelet winner David Sklansky was looking for his first title in nearly 25 years, but couldn't improve on his critically low chip stack. He was followed closely by bracelet winners Ben Ponzio and Robert Mizrachi. As the short stack when three-handed, Phan got into more than one altercation with Luong, as tensions were high and accusations of angle-shooting were thrown around. Phan was able to double up and ultimately eliminate Luong with a miracle two-card draw to a 7 low, and then take on Shun Uchida for the win. After making the second nuts against Uchida's 8 low, Phan had done the unthinkable and won his second bracelet of the Series, which was quite an accomplishment for a man who had finished runner-up three times before.

Frank Gary Wins Event No. 41 (Mixed Hold'em)
By Scott McDaniel

Buy-in : $1,500
Entrants: 731
Prize Pool: $997,815
First-Place Prize: $219,562

Frank Gary's final-table run can be summed up in a word -- patience.

From the beginning, it seemed like Nick Binger would find little resistance on his way to winning his first bracelet. But Gary was simply biding his time, and after Binger was eliminated in third place, it was Gary who rose to the forefront to beat Jonathan Tamayo in dramatic fashion heads up. After rivering a full house against Tamayo's flopped nut straight, Gary went on to claim the title.

Dan Lacourse Wins Event No. 42 (Seniors No-Limit Hold'em World Championship)
By Cris Pannullo

Buy-in: $1,000
Entrants: 2,218
Prize Pool: $2,018,380
First-Place Prize: $368,832

Before entering the $1,000 seniors no-limit hold'em world championship at the 2008 World Series of Poker, Dan Lacourse had a mere $1,208 in career tournament winnings. This lack of experience proved not to be a factor, though, as the retired firefighter from Toledo, Ohio, navigated through a record-setting field of 2,218 players to claim $368,832 and a coveted gold bracelet. Lacourse began his final-table run slowly, sitting back and waiting patiently before springing to life during the final hour of play. He single-handedly eliminated his final four adversaries, dismissing Dale Eberle in less than 10 minutes of heads-up play.

Martin Klaser Wins Event No. 43 (Pot-Limit Omaha Eight-or-Better)
By Julio Rodriguez

Buy-in: $1,500
Entrants: 720
Prize Pool: $982,800
First-Place Prize: $216,249

As Martin Klaser donned his new bracelet, it became clear that Germany was having a great World Series of Poker. The popularity of the game there has increased dramatically over the past year, thanks in part to the new young guns traveling the tournament circuit and making a name for their home country. Klaser, a 21-year-old student, became the third German bracelet winner of the Series, joining fellow countrymen Jens Voertmann and Sebastian Ruthenberg.

Klaser was joined at the final table by one of his idols, Erik Seidel. Seidel could muster only a fourth-place finish, but it was enough to further solidify his stranglehold atop the leader board of the Card Player Player of the Year race.

Max Greenwood Wins Event No. 44 (No-Limit Hold'em With Rebuys)
By Julio Rodriguez

Buy-in: $1,000 with rebuys
Entrants: 879 with 2,508 rebuys
Prize Pool: $3,240,174
First-Place Prize: $693,392

The $1,000 no-limit hold'em rebuy event is rapidly becoming one of the most respected events at the World Series of Poker. It started in 2004 and was so successful that the Rio has held two of these events each year ever since.

With perhaps the loudest cheering section of the Series, 23-year-old Max Greenwood from Toronto, Canada, came out on top in event No. 44. Greenwood was down to the felt and in need of a miracle two-outer on the river, and when it came, he parlayed his new life into his first WSOP bracelet.

Greenwood eliminated Danish player Rene Mouritsen in second place, making Mouritsen a runner-up for the third time in the last two years -- an extremely disappointing accomplishment, but a profitable one, nonetheless. Other notables to make the final table included Alex Bolotin and Scott "SCTrojans" Freeman.

Joe Commisso Wins Event No. 46 (Six-Handed No-Limit Hold'em)
By Julio Rodriguez

Buy-in: $5,000
Entrants : 805
Prize Pool: $3,783,500
First-Place Prize: $911,855

The final table of event No. 46, six-handed no-limit hold'em, looked like it was going to be a speedy affair, after three players were eliminated in the first 28 hands. But once heads-up play began, it became apparent that with nearly a $350,000 differential in prize money, the players would be in for a long night of heads-up play. It was so long, in fact, that the 209 heads-up hands it took to determine a champion became the new record for the 2008 World Series of Poker. When all was said and done, Joe Commisso finally had bested Richard Lyndaker on their 13th all in of heads-up play.

The match has sparked a bit of controversy in the online community in recent weeks, as supporters from both players' camps have been accused of insulting and berating the other player's abilities. Lyndaker had taken most of the heat for surviving nearly 10 all ins with the worst hand, clearly frustrating Commisso and his buddies, who thought the bracelet was all but won several times. When Lyndaker finally succumbed, the look on Commisso's face was one of relief more than happiness after adorning the bracelet.

Ryan Hughes Wins Event No. 47 (Seven-Card Stud Eight-or-Better)
By Andy Liakos

Buy-in: $1,500
Entrants : 544
Prize Pool: $742,560
First-Place Prize: $183,368

Ryan Hughes picked up his second career World Series of Poker bracelet in event No. 47, just one year after winning his first bracelet in the very same game (stud eight-or-better).

The heads-up match consisted of two former stud eight-or-better champions vying for not only their second gold bracelet and $183,368, but for a new World Series record as the first player to win two stud eight-or-better titles. A self-proclaimed heads-up specialist, Hughes began heads-up play with a 4-1 chip lead over runner-up Ronald Long, and said he was confident the entire time.

Alexandre Gomes Wins Event No. 48 (No-Limit Hold'em)
By Andy Liakos

Buy-in: $2,000
Entrants: 2,317
Prize Pool: $4,216,940
First-Place Prize: $770,540

A 25-year-old attorney from South America, Alexandre Gomes, walked into the Rio as a complete unknown and left three days later as a world champion of poker and a hero in his hometown of Curitiba, Brazil.

Making his way through a 2,317-player field and a formidable final table, Gomes took home his first gold bracelet and $770,540. When Gomes finally had defeated runner-up Marco Johnson, he and his entourage celebrated his victory with cries of laughter and tears of joy. They swarmed the final table, embracing their champion and waving their flag as a humble but worthy Gomes brought Brazil its first bracelet.

J.C. Tran Wins Event No. 49 (No-Limit Hold'em)
By Ryan Cadrette

Buy-in: $1,500
Entrants: 2,718
Prize Pool: $3,710,070
First-Place Prize: $631,170

Poker's increased popularity has given rise to a proliferation of low buy-in events with monstrously large fields. This year, 25 of the 55 events at the World Series of Poker had buy-ins of $1,500 or less.

On June 28, J.C. Tran rose to the top of 2,718 players to win event No. 49 ($1,500 no-limit hold'em). With his first bracelet win, Tran finally sealed the deal, proving his skills to anyone left doubting him after his victories at the World Poker Challenge, the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker, and the Five-Diamond World Poker Classic.

Tran came to the final table with the second-largest stack, trailing chip leader Rasmus Nielsen by a deficit of 2-1. Nielsen went on to eliminate three of the final nine players, and by the beginning of heads-up play, he had increased his lead over Tran to 3-1, and showed no sign of slowing down his aggressive play.

Of all the qualities that make Tran a standout player, it was his tenacity that proved to be his most valuable asset in taking down his active opponent. The table dynamics switched during heads-up play to allow for a significant amount of post-flop play, and Tran took the chip lead within the first two hours of heads-up play. It was only a short time later that Tran made the winning call against Nielsen's all-in move, showing down a better kicker to take down the pot, his first bracelet, the $631,170 first-place prize, and the recognition he has deserved all along.

Marty Smyth Wins Event No. 50 (World Championship Pot-Limit Omaha)
By Sharad Mattu

Buy-in: $10,000
Entrants: 381
Prize Pool: $3,581,400
First-Place Prize: $859,549

The final table of the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha world championship event had the atmosphere of a World Cup soccer match, and Marty Smyth of Ireland gave his boisterous cheering section reason to celebrate well into the morning. Smyth won his first World Series of Poker bracelet and $859,549 in prize money. For a while, it looked as though winning the event was becoming a Mizrachi family tradition. Robert Mizrachi won it last year, and his brother Michael was the chip leader for much of the final table. But he doubled up Smyth twice and then was knocked out in third place by Peter Jetten. In the tournament's final hand, Smyth and Jetten flopped king-high straights, but Smyth had a flush draw. With Smyth's supporters chanting "Freeroll" and "Club," and Jetten's supporters chanting "Brick," a club came on the river. "I didn't even realize I had clubs," Smyth later said. "That's the God's honest truth."

James Schaaf Wins Event No. 51 (H.O.R.S.E.)
By Alex Porter

Buy-in: $1,500
Entrants: 803
Prize Pool: $1,096,095
First-Place Prize: $256,412

James Schaaf may be a relatively fresh face on the tournament poker scene, but his first-place finish in World Series of Poker event No. 51 is bound to give him some street credit. After a poorly timed bluff left him with his last 200 in chips on day one, Schaaf was able to navigate his way to the final table by maintaining focus and aggression. He faced fierce competition from several notable pros, including Phil Hellmuth (third place), hoping to break his own record by capturing his 12th WSOP bracelet. Schaaf overcame a 2-to-1 chip disadvantage during heads-up play, ultimately defeating Tam "Tommy" Hang and taking home his first WSOP bracelet and $256,412 in prize money.

David Daneshgar Wins Event No. 52 (No-Limit Hold'em)
By Cris Pannullo

Buy-in: $1,500
Entrants: 2,693
Prize Pool: $3,675,945
First-Place Prize: $625,443

David Daneshgar came to the final table of event No. 52 ($1,500 no-limit hold'em) with all of the tools needed to win: superb poker instincts, final-table experience, and 50 big blinds to work with. But one hour into the tournament, everything changed. Daneshgar ran his pocket kings into the pocket aces of Dan Heimiller, and suddenly he found himself eighth out of eight players. Showing great mental toughness, the 27-year-old Californian clawed back into contention. Solid aggressive play and a series of excellent reads enabled Daneshgar to carve through his adversaries all the way to heads-up play. When his pocket tens held up against Scott Sitron's A-8, Daneshgar claimed his first World Series of Poker bracelet and $625,443.

Matt Graham Wins Event No. 53 (Limit Hold'em Shootout)
By Scott McDaniel

Buy-in: $1,500
Entrants: 823
Prize Pool: $1,123,395
First-Place Prize: $278,180

It took nearly 17 hours to cut the final day's field down from 72 players to one. Nonetheless, there were plenty of sleepy-eyed railbirds there to see Matt Graham win his first World Series of Poker bracelet after besting Jean-Robert Bellande heads up.
Graham, known as "mattg1983" online, hails from New Orleans, Louisiana. The $278,180 first-place prize is the 24-year-old rising star's biggest cash to date. With it, he now has nearly $600,000 in live-tournament winnings, and has made thousands more playing online.

Bellande earned the second-place prize of $173,564 for his efforts. The chatty Bellande first burst into homes around the country when he made a ESPN-televised final table at a 2005 WSOP Circuit event, and just last year, he was a contestant on the CBS reality series Survivor: China. He now has almost $1 million in tournament winnings.