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Dan Smith Removes His Name From Top Of ‘Best Without A Bracelet' List

More Than $54 Million Paid Out Through First 23 Events At New WSOP Venue On Las Vegas Strip

by Erik Fast |  Published: Jul 13, 2022


The 2022 World Series of Poker kicked off on Tuesday, May 31 with the first of 88 live bracelet events and another 13 online events. Through the first two weeks of action, there have already been 21 live bracelet event champions decided and another two on for players inside Nevada and New Jersey. Those events drew more than 39,000 combined entries, with over $54 million in prize money already paid out.

The 53rd annual WSOP is the first to take place on the famed Las Vegas Strip. After being founded at Binion’s Horseshoe downtown, the summer series moved to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in 2005, where it stayed until this year. With Caesars Entertainment’s sale of the Rio, the series now shifts to two properties located right on ‘the 50-yard line’ of the Strip in Paris Las Vegas, and Bally’s, which will soon be rebranded as the Horseshoe. (Horseshoe, of course, being the original home for the WSOP in downtown Las Vegas.)

The new venue serves as an upgrade over the Rio in many ways, with four times the dining options, and significantly more restrooms. The 200,000 sq. ft. of combined space houses close to 600 tables, an increase of almost 33% over last year.

The first big-field weekend no-limit hold’em event, appropriately entitled The Housewarming, drew 20,080 entries. The $500 buy-in event became the fourth-largest live field in WSOP history, trailing only the 2019 Big 50 (28,371 entries), the 2015 Colossus (22,374), and the 2016 Colossus (21,613).

As a result of the huge turnout, $8,433,600 in total prize money was paid out among the top 2,778 finishers. Stockton, California’s Henry Acain emerged from the sea of players with his first bracelet and the top prize of $701,215.

Another field-size record was set in the early days, when 1,067 entries were made in the $1,500 Omaha eight-or-better event, surpassing the previous top turnout of 1,036. Longtime poker pro Amnon Filippi came away with his first bracelet and $252,718 as the eventual champion.

Smith Finally Nabs First WSOP Title

There were several high-profile wins recorded in the first couple of weeks at the series, but arguably the most notable victory belonged to the player who had sat at the top of the dreaded ‘best without a bracelet’ list heading into this year’s series in Dan Smith.

The 33-year-old American poker pro was the highest-earning tournament player on earth without a bracelet to his name. While he had accumulated more than $38.5 million in prior career scores, including over $10 million in series events, the bracelet eluded him over a decade-plus of competition at the WSOP. He finally got the monkey off his back in style, taking down the $25,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em heads-up championship event to secure his long-awaited first bracelet and the top prize of $509,717.

“It was always something I was thinking about, but I wouldn’t say the feeling is relief,” Smith said when asked about how it felt to finally grasp the gold. “I’m happy to win, but I wasn’t overly stressed about it not happening yet.”

“I’ve had great WSOP results. Just because I happened to mostly get third place, if that’s the way my career or life has been unlucky, that’s incredibly fortunate. I think my results have been great without the ‘W,’ but this helps.”

Smith was emotional after winning his sixth heads-up battle in a three-day span, with Jake Daniels, Laszlo Bujtas, Alex Foxen, Jonathan Jaffe, Dario Sammartino, and Christoph Vogelsang as his opponents.

“I’m not typically a very sentimental person,” he said while taking it all in. “I remember before the One Drop final table, everyone was like, ‘how important is it for you to be playing for this bracelet?’ And I [said], ‘I’m focused on the $10 million today.’ [But] today it really was about the bracelet.”

Smith’s poker résumé is one of the best in the game, now with a bracelet win, a World Poker Tour title, numerous high roller victories, and an eighth-place ranking on poker’s all-time money list. Even with all those accolades, one of his proudest achievements is the Double Up Drive charity initiative that he has been operating since 2014.

“I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished in poker, and I think this is an important checkbox on my legacy and as one of the all-timers. I’m even more proud of what the whole poker community and I have come together to do with Double Up Drive. We’ve raised $25 million for good causes. While I love poker and am proud of it, thousands of people that would have died are now alive because of that.”

Smith came from behind in his final match, which pitted him against the slow-moving, high-stakes crusher Christoph Vogelsang. The German poker pro has nearly $28 million in career earnings to his name, including a $6 million win in the 2017 Super High Roller Bowl. Vogelsang earned $315,029 as the runner-up and now sits in 18th place on the all-time money list.

Schindler Gets His First, Peters, Seiver, Ruben, And Friedman Add To Their Collection

After Smith removed himself from the aforementioned list of bracelet-less stars, Jake Schindler became the highest-earning tournament player without a victory at the series. It took him just a few days to relieve himself of that distinction, though. Schindler came out on top of a field of 101 entries in the $50,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event, earning his first bracelet and $1,328,068 for the win.

This was Schindler’s fourth title of the year, including a $3.2 million payday as the Super High Roller Bowl Europe champion and a runner-up showing in a $25,000 buy-in event a few days earlier at the WSOP. Schindler has made ten final tables so far in 2022, accruing more than $7 million in earnings along the way, increasing his lifetime total to more than $36 million. He now sits in 10th place on poker’s all-time money list.

The win also saw him earn 1,020 Card Player Player of the Year points, enough to move him into second place in the 2022 POY race sponsored by Global Poker. He was also awarded 700 PokerGO Tour points, enough to see him claim the top spot on that leaderboard.

The shine from Schindler’s accomplishments, however, has been dulled by accusations that the 32-year-old poker pro was banned from online poker site GGPoker for cheating. Schindler was among a number of top pros accused of unethical conduct, along with current POY points leader Ali Imsirovic and former all-time money leader Bryn Kenney. After securing the bracelet, Schindler posed for photos but declined to answer questions from the media.

2021 WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown main event winner Brek Schutten finished as the runner-up in this event, earning $820,808. Like Schindler, he had also made the final table in the $25,000 buy-in high roller. He now sits in 20th place in the POY standings.

David Peters placed fifth in that $50,000 event for $326,464. This deep run came less than a week after he secured his fourth career bracelet as the champion of the $100,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em high roller with $25,000 bounties.

Peters put on a dominant performance in the tournament, securing 11 knockouts on his road to the title. That represented nearly a quarter of the 46-entry field. He earned $1,166,810 from the prize pool and another $275,000 in bounty payouts, resulting in a total haul of $1,441,810.

“It feels great, especially the first event of the series, the first event being away from the Rio. It’s such a prestigious tournament with so many great players,” said Peters when asked about starting the summer off with a win. “Getting number four is big. There are not too many people who have four. It’s a very, very nice start to the series.”

Thanks to his two big scores so far at the WSOP, the 35-year-old poker pro now has more than $43 million in career earnings, enough to put him in fourth place on poker’s all-time money list, with just a tiny $21,679 lead on fifth-ranked Stephen Chidwick.

Peters defeated Chance Kornuth heads-up for the title. Kornuth, fresh off a win in the World Poker Tour Choctaw main event, later added another high roller final table at the series to his 2022 campaign, moving into fourth place on the POY leaderboard.

Peters became just the 63rd player in poker history to have won four or more bracelets. The 64th player to achieve that milestone did so the very next day. Scott Seiver defeated a field of 752 entries in the $2,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em freezeout to secure the hardware and the top prize of $320,059.

“I’ve wanted another no-limit bracelet for a long time. The fields are so tough, everyone is so good at hold’em, and they are so large. So while I never thought I was due, it was something I really wanted for a while,” the 37-year-old poker pro said.

Joining Seiver at the stacked final table were the likes of American high-stakes regular Chris Hunichen (8th – $30,478), three-time bracelet winner Nick Schulman (6th – $53,296), Spanish high roller Sergio Aido (5th – $72,233) and two-time bracelet winner Steve Zolotow (4th – $99,483).

“Honestly, it was so much fun,” said Seiver when asked about the other tough players that made it deep with him. “Of course, part of it is a mixed blessing. You play a smaller buy-in tournament like this with, you know, 800 players, and you expect by the end to be a lot more unknown faces. But from around 30 down, it was just killer after killer after killer everywhere.”

This victory saw Seiver increase his lifetime earnings to more than $24.8 million, good for 23rd on the all-time list.

Bradley Ruben also won his fourth bracelet in the first few days of the 2022 WSOP, coming out on top in the $1,500 dealer’s choice event. Ruben denied defending champion Jaswinder Lally, who made it all the way back to heads-up play after winning this event in 2021, to secure the hardware and the top prize of $126,288.

Ruben came into 2020 with no bracelets but won two online events (2020 Online $1,500 PLO and 2021 Online $600 PLO six-max) and his first live bracelet last year in a $1,500 razz tournament. The 36-year-old overcame a field of 430 entries in this latest event to become the 65th four-time bracelet winner.

Longtime WSOP commentator Norman Chad made a deep run in this event, finishing 13th to earn $5,993.

While Peters, Seiver, and Ruben joined the four-bracelet club, Adam Friedman took it one step further. Friedman emerged victorious in the $10,000 seven-card stud championship event, defeating a field of 96 entries to secure his fifth gold bracelet. The 40-year-old poker pro from Gahanna, Ohio became just the 30th player in poker history to have won five or more bracelets.

Friedman has now won a bracelet at each of the four most recent live WSOP festivals, including his historic back-to-back-to-back victories in the $10,000 dealer’s choice championship in 2018, 2019, and 2021. To him, the game that this win came in might be more important than the number of bracelets it gave him.

“There’ve been a lot of great stud players in the last several years who have been able to win this event: Mike Wattel, Rob Mizrachi, Anthony Zinno last year, and the guy who I consider the best stud high player I’ve ever played with, Johnny ‘World’ Hennigan,” said Friedman. “Just being able to win an event to join a lot of players who I respect in the game, means a lot. Winning the stud high means more to me than necessarily winning my fifth bracelet. If I had to pick a few events to win, just for my own personal satisfaction, this is in my top three or four events.”

“It’s a game I’ve just played thousands and thousands of hours in,” he continued. “Because two-card poker is boring. I got really bored of playing hold’em. I mean, my ROI went down playing stud, but I was actually enjoying playing poker. Seven-card stud is the most complicated limit game that’s ever existed. There are more nuances, in my opinion, than almost any two other games combined. It’s a beautiful game.”

Friedman outlasted a tough final table that featured six other bracelet winners, including 10-time WSOP event winner and living legend of the game Phil Ivey (3rd – $108,233). This was Ivey’s second final-table finish of the series, having placed seventh in the $100,000 bounty event won by Peters for $133,127. With eight total final tables, two titles, and more than $3.3 million in year-to-date earnings, Ivey is now ranked 15th in the 2022 POY race.

Szecsi, Loeser, And Zack Earn More WSOP Gold

The first two online bracelets of the year were both won by a pair of prior WSOP champions. The $5,300 buy-in no-limit hold’em freezeout attracted 218 entries. After a long night of high-stakes online action, Hungary’s Norbert ‘Balkan500’ Szecsi emerged victorious with the title, the $288,850 top prize, and his third career gold bracelet. Szecsi now has more than $4.2 million in recorded scores to his name.

Three-time bracelet winner Phil ‘HeyGuys’ Galfond finished sixth for $52,320 while streaming online, while WPT champion and two-time bracelet winner Tony ‘Panoramic’ Dunst earned $168,950 as the runner-up.

The WSOP Online no-limit hold’em ‘BIG 500’ event drew 1,213 total entries, with German poker pro Manig ‘Ohio77’ Loeser securing $127,153 and his second gold bracelet as the eventual champion. Loeser had won his first bracelet in the second WSOP Online event on the schedule last year, taking down the $600 buy-in Monster Stack for a six-figure payday.

The 33-year-old now has more than $12.1 million in recorded earnings, with notable titles including these two WSOP victories, a Triton Super High Roller event win, and a victory in the 2019 European Poker Tour Monte Carlo main event.

Dan Zack was the final player among the first 23 winners this year to become a multiple bracelet winner. He defeated a field of 196 entries in the $10,000 Omaha eight-or-better championship to secure his second gold bracelet and a career-best $440,757 payday.

Zack had to survive a marathon heads-up battle with Dustin Dirksen that lasted more than seven hours. Zack held a 40:1 lead at one point, only to be trailing less than an hour later. He eventually righted the ship and closed out the win to capture his second win. His first came in the 2019 $2,500 mixed triple draw event. Dirksen had to settle for his third runner-up finish at the series.

The First-Time Winners

There were 16 first-time bracelet winners to start the series. While we already discussed Acain and Filippi’s breakout wins in record fields, here is the scoop on the other 14 newly-minted champions.

Ohio poker dealer Katie Kopp wrote her name in the history books by becoming the first WSOP champion decided at the new home of the series. She topped a field of 832 entries in the customary kickoff event of the summer, the $500 buy-in Casino Employees no-limit hold’em tournament, to secure the hardware and the top prize of $65,168.

The poker dealer had finished third in the 2018 running of this event for $26,250. Four years later, she was able to get back to the final table and seal the deal.

Rising star Chad Eveslage followed up his 2021 WPT Venetian win by securing his first bracelet this summer. Eveslage overcame a huge turnout of 251 entries in the $25,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em eight-max event to secure the hardware and a career-best payday of $1,415,610. More than $4 million of his $5.6 million in career earnings have been earned since the start of 2021.

Josh Arieh finished third for $616,047, giving him a good start to his WSOP POY title defense. Chris Brewer placed fourth for $616,047. This was Brewer’s 14th final table of the year, with three titles won and more than $2.2 million in year-to-date POY earnings accrued along the way. He now sits in seventh place in the POY standings.

2019 WSOP main event third-place finisher Alex Livingston won his first bracelet as the champion of the $1,500 stud event. He outlasted a field of 329 entries to grab the hardware and the top prize of $103,282.

Incredibly, Livingston lost his bracelet just minutes after it was presented to him, but the Canadian poker pro was able to eventually recover the missing jewelry after posting about it on social media. This was his first win and fifth final table of the year. He now sits in 17th place in the POY rankings.

Longtime tournament grinder Raj Vohra, perhaps best known for his online success as ‘BadcardsAA,’ secured his first bracelet as the champion of the $600 no-limit hold’em deepstack event. He outlasted a huge field of 5,715 entries to take home $335,286.

After three straight years of Adam Friedman coming out on top, a new champion was crowned in the $10,000 dealer’s choice event in 2022. Ben Diebold defeated a field of 123 entries to earn his first bracelet and $299,488.

The 28-year-old poker pro from Charleston, South Carolina had to contend with a stacked final table that included Randy Ohel (6th – $55,329), bracelet winner Naoya Kihara (5th – $73,453), five-time bracelet winner Brian Rast (3rd – $134,370), and two-time bracelet winner Mike Gorodinsky (2nd – $185,095),

Michael Moncek came into this summer with six figures in tournament earnings and three WSOP Circuit rings to his name. One thing the Chicago, Illinois resident did not have, though, was any experience at all playing limit hold’em. Despite that fact, he managed to outlast a field of 522 entries to win the $1,500 buy-in limit hold’em event for his first bracelet and $145,856.

Leo Soma became the 28th player from France to win a bracelet at the WSOP. He beat out a field of 2,393 entries to win the $1,500 six-max no-limit hold’em event for his first bracelet and the top prize of $456,889. 2009 WSOP main event champion and four-time bracelet winner Joe Cada finished seventh for $61,098.

Austria’s Stefan Lehner took down the $3,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event for his first bracelet and $558,616. Alex Foxen placed fifth from a field of 1,240 to secure his 13th final-table finish of 2022, with two titles and more than $1.7 million in POY earnings accrued along the way. He now sits in ninth place in the POY standings as a result.

60-year-old Chinese businessman Tong Li beat out a field of 264 entries in the $25,000 pot-limit Omaha high roller, earning his first piece of WSOP hardware and $1,467,739 for the win. Josh Arieh secured his second podium finish of the series in that event, bringing his earnings for the series to more than $1.2 million.

Other first-time bracelet winners include $2,500 mixed triple draw lowball champion Dominick Sarle ($164,243), $1,000 no-limit hold’em freezeout winner Bryan Schultz ($330,057), and $1,500 triple draw lowball champion Denis Nesterenko ($108,250). ♠