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Ike Haxton Crosses Name Off ‘Best Without A Bracelet’ List

The Biggest Stories To Kick Off The 54th Annual World Series Of Poker

by Erik Fast |  Published: Jul 12, 2023


The 2023 World Series of Poker is just getting started as we go to press, but there have already been plenty of exciting storylines as well as record-breaking fields in the first fortnight of action at the Paris and Horseshoe Las Vegas. In fact, with just 23 of the 95 live bracelet events scheduled this year officially in the books, there has already been $58.2 million in prize money paid out.

A total of 40,754 entries have been made in the completed tournaments, with seven players adding to their bracelet collections and 16 first-time winners crowned at the series. Without further ado, here is a look at the big winners from the early weeks of the 54th Annual WSOP.

Haxton Gets The Monkey Off His Back

Coming into the series, Isaac Haxton was the highest-earning tournament player in the world without a bracelet to their name. The 37-year-old poker pro and future Hall of Fame lock had more than $37.7 million in winnings and numerous prestigious titles under his belt, but hadn’t yet managed to hoist the hardware at the summer series.

But after the conclusion of the $25,000 high roller at this year’s series, Haxton can officially cross his name off the top of that dreaded list of the ‘best without a bracelet.’ And he did it in style! The Ivy League grad topped the largest $25,000 buy-in event ever held at the WSOP, beating a record-setting field of 301 entries to bank $1,698,215 in prize money.

“I agree it is a little bit of a monkey off my back, I guess,” admitted Haxton. “I’ve had a funny career in terms of finish distributions. Prior to this year, all my biggest scores were like second- and third-place finishes except for the win in the Super High Roller Bowl. And then this year I’ve got like six wins, all of them in pretty big stuff.”

Haxton has indeed won six titles this year, with 14 final-table finishes overall and nearly $7.5 million in prize money earned across those scores. This latest huge win saw him earn 1,512 Card Player Player of the Year points, enough to overtake Jose ‘Nacho’ Barbero for the outright lead in the 2023 POY race, presented by Global Poker. He also claimed the top spot on the PokerGo Tour leaderboard thanks to the 750 PGT points he accrued with his latest win, putting him in the driver’s seat heading into the second half of the year.

The other seven-figure victories recorded by Haxton in 2023 were a pair of title runs in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $100,000 super high roller events for $1,555,360 and $1,082,230.

He now has more than $39.4 million in lifetime earnings, good for 11th place on poker’s all-time money list. His longtime friend Justin Bonomo, who sits atop the earnings leaderboard with nearly $63.3 million in total cashes, was there to support Haxton down the stretch of his bracelet win.

When asked if he has designs on catching up to Bonomo, Haxton said, “Nah, I don’t think about the all-time money list at all. It just feels good to still be around and to still be able to win top tournaments. I like playing cards and making money.”

This event took three days to play down to a winner. The record turnout resulted in a prize pool of $6,204,000, with the top 46 finishers making the money.

Heavy hitters like World Poker Tour champion Taylor von Kriegenbergh (13th), three-time bracelet winner Kristen Foxen (12th), and two-time bracelet winner Aleksejs Ponakovs (10th) hit the rail in the early going of the final day.

Haxton outlasted plenty of stiff competition in the early final-table action, including two-time bracelet winner Joao Vieira (8th – $155,037), five-time bracelet winner Brian Rast (7th – $202,532), and bracelet winner Frank Funaro (6th – $270,238). WPT end boss Darren Elias ultimately finished third for $725,790, the second-largest score of his career. He now has nearly $12.4 million in career earnings after this podium finish, and remains on the ‘best without a bracelet’ list that Haxton just vacated.

Haxton had a roughly a 5:4 chip lead into heads-up play with Ryan O’Donnell, an online specialist and poker coach. Haxton was able to stretch his lead to nearly 3:1 by the time the final hand arose. O’Donnell limped in on the button with ADiamond Suit 10Heart Suit, and Haxton moved all-in with AClub Suit JSpade Suit. O’Donnell made the call and the board dramatically came down 10Club Suit 3Heart Suit 3Diamond Suit QDiamond Suit JDiamond Suit to give Haxton jacks up on the river for the win.

O’Donnell earned $1,049,577 as the runner-up, far and away the largest live cash of his career.

Eveslage Sweeps Dealer’s Choice Events

While Haxton was the marquee first-time champion from the early results, several bracelet-winning veterans also caught the attention of the poker world early on at the series. One such story involves Chad Eveslage, who completed a clean sweep of the dealer’s choice events on the schedule.

The 31-year-old poker pro from Indiana took down the $1,500 buy-in version of the tournament on June 2 for his second career gold bracelet and $131,879. On June 5, Eveslage backed that up with a win in the $10,000 buy-in dealer’s choice championship. The latter victory saw him take home $311,428 and his third career bracelet.

“It feels good. It’s nice to get respect from my peers, because some people will respect you more when you win bracelets, and I take pride in being a well-respected player. So, the broader the respect, the better I guess,” Eveslage told Card Player.

With this double-victory performance, Eveslage became the latest player to go on a bit of a run in dealer’s choice events at the WSOP. Dealer’s choice king Adam Friedman secured back-to-back-to-back victories in the $10,000 event in 2018, 2019, and 2021 (the event was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Jaswinder Lally also went on a bit of a run, taking down the $1,500 buy-in event in 2021 and then finishing as the runner-up in the same event the next year. He made the money again this year, taking 31st.

When asked about whether this phenomenon had something to do with the format, or if it might just be variance, Eveslage commented, “Probably a bit of both. Probably more variance than anything. Tournaments are known for giving you patterns that aren’t really there, you know what I mean? But in the dealer’s choice, if you’re good at all the games, you can have a higher ROI.”

Eveslage’s pair of wins also kept alive a 24-year streak of at least one player earning multiple bracelets during a single WSOP. Chris Ferguson kicked off this run by taking down both a $2,500 seven-card stud event and the WSOP main event in 2000. In 2022, three players achieved the same feat: Dan Zack, Lawrence Brandt, and Espen Jorstad, who won the main event and the tag team tournament.

Eveslage now has more than $7.9 million in recorded tournament earnings over his career. In addition to his three bracelets, he also has two WPT titles. All five of these marquee wins have come in the past two years.

Yoon and Arieh Join The Exclusive Five-Time Bracelet Winner’s Club

The short list of poker players with five or more WSOP bracelets to their name has grown by two so far this series. The first of those was Brian Yoon, who came away with the win in the $10,000 seven card stud championship. Yoon earned $311,433 in prize money and his fifth title at the series.

The 33-year-old poker pro is just the 33rd player in history to have won as many bracelets. Yoon won three no-limit hold’em bracelets during the 2010’s, and took down his first mixed-game title at the series in the 2021 $10,000 deuce-to-seven triple draw lowball championship.

Josh Arieh joined Yoon as the 48th inductee of the five-timer’s club, dragging the last pot in the $10,000 limit hold’em championship, and earning $316,226.

“This is all new to me in the last few years. I crushed in 2019, 2021, 2022, and now 2023. It just shows, get your shit straight, get your life straight, and everything just works out,” the 48-year-old said after closing it out. “I don’t play as good as these guys. I just… I don’t know what it is. You can ask anybody, and they’ll make fun of the hands that I play and things that I do, but I keep getting there, so I’m doing something right.”

This win saw Arieh, the 2004 WSOP main event third-place finisher and 2021 WSOP Player of the Year award winner, increase his career tournament earnings to more than $11.3 million.

Bracelet No. Four Secured By Swaggering Schulman

Nick Schulman weathered a rollercoaster heads-up match to emerge victorious in the $1,500 seven-card stud event. The victory saw the 38-year-old from New York earn $110,800 and the fourth bracelet of his career.

Schulman’s swag was on full display for the viewers at home, wearing some retro, visor-like sunglasses and chomping on an unlit cigar for much of the final table.

“I just decided to throw it back for stud. An homage… you know? Let’s play fast and have some fun,” said Schulman.

The popular poker commentator and high-stakes pro now has more than $15.6 million in lifetime tournament earnings, with his four bracelets and a WPT main event title as his headlining victories.

Baker, Collopy, And Moncek Add To Their Collections

Michael Moncek has three six-figure scores since the start of the 2022 WSOP. The Illinois resident’s most recent win saw him defeat a field of 568 entries in this year’s $5,000 no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha mixed event for his second gold bracelet and a career-high top prize of $534,499.

Moncek now has more than $1.4 million in lifetime tournament earnings, with nearly $1.2 million of that coming in WSOP events.

The ‘Big Queso’ was the next player to add to an existing bracelet collection. Jim Collopy came out on top of a field of 1,143 entries in the $1,500 Omaha eight-or-better event, earning $262,542 and his third career WSOP title.

This victory came nearly a decade after his first bracelet back at the 2013 WSOP Asia Pacific festival in a $1,650 AUD pot-limit Omaha tournament. The former online pro’s second bracelet was won in the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. event in 2021. Collopy now has more than $5.3 million in lifetime tournament earnings.

David ‘ODB’ Baker was down to just two big bets at one point during the final day of the $1,500 razz event, but the longtime pro managed to mount a big comeback to earn his third career gold bracelet.

The 50-year-old Katy, Texas native took home $152,991, bringing his lifetime tournament earnings to nearly $7.1 million. Baker also has a WPT main event title to his name, having won the 2019 WPT L.A. Poker Classic for a seven-figure score.

Baker is on a roll so far in 2023. He has now made 10 final tables, with this razz victory being his first title of the year. The 840 POY points he earned for topping a record-setting field of 556 entries was enough to see him move into 22nd place on the POY leaderboard.

Vuilleumier, Khun, And Sturm Nab High-Stakes Wins

Alexandre Vuilleumier took home the first open bracelet event of the series when he navigated a tough field of 207 entries in the $25,000 six-max high roller to earn his maiden WSOP title and the top prize of $1,215,864. This was the Swiss player’s first-ever seven-figure score, and it increased his career earnings to more than $2.1 million.

Vuilleumier has now made two final tables in 2023 and has come away with the title both times. His earlier win saw him top an 87-entry field in a $10,150 six-max event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for $237,700.

Top POY contender Ren Lin was among several notable players who joined Vuilleumier at the final table. Lin ultimately finished fifth for $259,220. This was his 14th final-table finish of the year, with two titles won and more than $2.7 million in earnings. As a result, he sits in fourth place in the overall standings.

Chanracy Khun topped a star-studded field of 64 entries in the $25,000 heads-up championship event, defeating three-time bracelet winner and longtime high-stakes heads-up specialist Doug Polk in the final round to earn $507,020 and his first bracelet. Polk banked $313,362 as the runner-up to cross the $10 million in career earnings mark.

Kuhn, a WPT champion who had nearly $1.2 million in prior tournament earnings, won six consecutive matches for the gold, defeating Marko Grujic, Alexandre Vuilleumier, Gabor Szabo, Landon Tice, and Sean Winter.

Winter earned $192,513 as a semi-finalist. This was his sixth POY-qualified score of the year, with $2,322,019 in POY earnings and 3,028 points. He now sits in 16th place in the POY standings.

Leon Sturm won his bracelet in one of the highest buy-in tournaments of the summer, outlasting a field of 124 in the $50,000 high roller. The 22-year-old German earned $1,546,024 as the last player standing, by far the largest live score on his nascent résumé.

Sturm reportedly won his way into the event via a $5,000 buy-in satellite. He overcame a stacked final table, outlasting all-time money leader Justin Bonomo (6th), WPT champion Seth Davies (5th), reigning WSOP $250,000 high roller winner Alex Foxen (4th), and bracelet winner Jan Arends (3rd). Businessman and frequent high-stakes player Bill Klein finished as the runner-up, settling for $955,513.

Mystery Millions Creates Three Seven-Figure Winners

Tyler Brown topped the largest-ever field in a WSOP event with a buy-in of $1,000 or higher, outlasting 18,188 entries in the Mystery Millions. While that fact is plenty dramatic in its own right, the Illinois resident’s victory was made all the more impressive thanks to the huge hero call he made moments before earning his first gold bracelet and the top prize of $1 million.

Brown was heads-up against Guang Chen, who had him covered by just five big blinds. Brown raised on the button with AClub Suit 5Spade Suit. Chen called with KClub Suit 9Heart Suit from the big blind and the two saw a flop of 3Spade Suit 3Heart Suit 2Diamond Suit. Chen checked and Brown made a continuation bet with his overcards and a gutshot straight draw. Chen quickly check-raised, making it four times the size of Brown’s initial bet. Brown called and the QSpade Suit rolled off on the turn.

Chen moved all-in for Brown’s remaining 19 big blinds and after some thought, Brown called all-in with just ace high. He was ahead but still had to fade six outs on the river. The QHeart Suit completed the board, though, keeping Brown’s hand best and essentially giving him the title.

Brown was not the only player to leave this event with a seven-figure payday, however. $300 from each $1,000 buy-in was set aside for a mystery bounty prize pool, which could only be accessed by players that made day 2 and then secured a knockout. Each bounty slip they earned for busting a player on day 2 would give them one pull at a bounty, with available prizes ranging from $1,000 up to $1 million.

The huge turnout this year resulted in two million-dollar bounties, which were eventually pulled by Shant Marashlian and Patrick Liang. Klint Teveraei took home the lone $500,000 bounty, while two-time bracelet winner Eric Baldwin drew the $250,000 payout.

Other Exciting First-Time Winners

The very first player to grasp the gold this summer was Peter Thai, who survived the third-largest field ever in the $500 casino employees event. The table games dealer from Parkwest Casino 580 in Livermore, California outlasted 1,015 entries for $75,535.

Ohio resident Ronnie Day was the last champ standing in the Tournament of Champions, which featured a $1 million prize pool posted by the WSOP. Day earned his first bracelet and $200,000 in prize money, having qualified for this tournament just a few weeks before it began in a $400 buy-in ‘Monster Stack’ event at the WSOP Circuit stop at Caesars Southern Indiana.

Ukraine’s Vadim Shlez defeated a field of 527 entries for $146,835 as the winner of the $1,500 limit hold’em event. This was Shlez’s second-largest tournament score behind the $533,210 he secured for taking down the 2011 Borgata Winter Open championship event.

The winner of the $600 no-limit hold’em deepstack event was Kenneth O’Donnell. He navigated his way through a 6,085-entry field to earn his first bracelet and the top prize worth $351,098.

Jeremy Eyer overcame a field of 735 entries in the $5,000 no-limit hold’em eight-max freezeout event, earning his first bracelet and $649,550 for the win. This was the Mississippi resident’s first title and fifth final-table finish of the year, with more than $927,000 in POY earnings accrued across those events. As a result, Eyer has climbed into 13th place in the POY standings.

Joseph Altomonte topped a record field in the $600 pot-limit Omaha deepstack event. The 3,200-entry turnout made this the largest PLO event in WSOP history (by entries). The New Jersey resident scored the largest cash of his career worth $217,102.

Brazil’s Rafael Reis came out on top of 2,454 entries to win the $1,500 no-limit six-max event. Reis earned $465,501 and became the 19th player from his home country with a WSOP title. This was Reis’ largest live tournament score yet, topping the $288,101 he earned as the third-place finisher in the 2021 Monster Stack event. He now has nearly $2 million in lifetime tournament earnings.

Valentino Konakchiev was the lone survivor from 1,139 players that entered the $2,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em freezeout event. The 31-year-old Bulgarian took home $435,924, the largest live poker payday yet for Konakchiev, which surpassed the $107,638 he earned as the eighth-place finisher in the 2022 EPT Prague main event.

The first-ever WSOP badugi bracelet was captured by Michael Rodrigues. The Portuguese player outlasted an impressive turnout of 516 entries in the inaugural running of this $1,500 event, earning $144,678 and his first piece of WSOP hardware. While this was the first stand-alone badugi event at the WSOP, it was not the first time that the unique lowball variant has been spread at the series as it has been part of the dealer’s choice events held in recent years.

When registration officially closed in the $1,000 pot-limit Omaha eight-max event there had been 2,017 entries made, creating a $1,795,130 prize pool. When all was said and done, Canada’s Stephen Nahm walked away with the largest chunk of that money. The Vancouver resident cashed out for $267,991 as the champion.

*Winner photos courtesy of WSOP – Rachel Kay Miller, Omar Sader, and Danny Maxwell, as well as PokerGO – Miguel Cortes, Enrique Malfavon, and Antonio Abrego.