Friday, June 12, 2009

The BJ Report: A Look Back at the First 19 Events

By BJ Nemeth
Las Vegas, NV

Editor's Note: Greetings from Bonnaroo. While I'm off covering an amazing music festival, thankfully BJ Nemeth and the All Stars are providing coverage of the WSOP. Enjoy!

The WSOP is already two weeks old, and one-third of the 57 bracelet events are complete (plus the non-bracelet Champions Invitational). Before we get to the stats, let's take a quick look at the eight most interesting/surprising stories so far.

1. Phil Ivey Wins His Sixth WSOP Bracelet

I wrote about Phil Ivey's victory in Event #8 ($2,500 No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven Draw) on Tao of Poker last week, and ever since, I've been receiving "corrections" on how much Ivey earned from his side action. Everyone claims to know for certain, yet the numbers are never the same. It sounds like Ivey may have earned a straight $3-4 million just for winning the bracelet, with millions more pending on whether Ivey's fellow prop bettors can tie him by winning their own WSOP bracelets this year.

I took some great photos of Ivey at the final table for my WSOP Photo Blog, and you can see them here.

2. Brock Parker Goes Back-to-Back

Sunday night, Brock Parker (online name: "TSoprano") defeated Daniel Negreanu heads up in Event #14 ($2,500 Six-Handed Limit Hold'em) to win the first WSOP bracelet of his career. The next day, he entered Event #19 ($2,500 Six-Handed No-Limit Hold'em) -- and won that bracelet too. Think he knows how to play short-handed? It was Parker's WSOP-leading fourth cash, giving him a total of $784,527. As you'd expect, Parker also leads the WSOP Player of the Year standings, though the race is far from over.

Parker's two victories extends the WSOP's streak of at least one multiple-bracelet winner per year to ten straight years, dating back to 2000 when Chris "Jesus" Ferguson won two (including the Main Event).

3. Brian Lemke Wins One For Justin Shronk

In the feel-good story of the Series, Brian Lemke, first cousin to the late, great Justin Shronk, overcame an extremely tough field to win Event #15 ($5,000 No-Limit Hold'em). Shronk had been an integral part of the poker media since he was a Card Player intern at the 2006 WSOP, but he died unexpectedly at the age of 27 in April with a severe case of Pancreatitis. I first met Lemke the night of the Shronk Tribute Episode of PokerRoad Radio back in April -- Lemke was there in the Fontana Lounge with us as we recorded. At this WSOP final table, Lemke wore a "Got Shronk?" t-shirt that had a tribute to Justin (written by yours truly) printed on the back.

Photo by Flipchip

If you didn't know Justin Shronk, this is a nice, touching story. But if you knew Shronk, Lemke's victory borders on the unbelievable. I was there, witnessed it with my own eyes, and yet I still find it difficult to grasp.

More details on Lemke's victory, along with some kick-ass photos, can be found in my Photo Blog for WSOP Day 13 here.

4. Thang Luu Defends His Omaha Hi-Lo Title

Nobody has ever defended a major poker title with field sizes larger than 500 players until Thang Luu won the bracelet in $1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo Split for the second year in a row, overcoming fields of 833 and 918 players. Luu was one spot away from a three-peat, finishing second in a similar WSOP event ($2,000 Omaha Hi-Lo Split) in 2007. With 87% of his lifetime winnings coming in those three events, some have suggested that Luu should take the rest of the year off, returning to the WSOP each summer to play a single low-buy-in Omaha Hi-Lo Split event.

5. Steve Sung Wins the "Stimulus Special" $1,000 NL

We all knew that Event #4 ($1,000 No-Limit Hold'em) -- the "Stimulus Event" -- would attract the largest prelim field in WSOP history, with two starting days. But few expected it to sell out at 6,000 entrants before Day 1a even started. (Official number: 6,012 entrants, making it the fourth-largest live tournament field in poker history.)

As hard as it has been for a pro to win the Main Event in recent years, this might have been even more difficult, with fewer starting chips and a faster blind structure that favors the lucky over the skilled. Steve Sung may not be on the same level as his close friends J.C. Tran and Nam Le, but he is still a top, recognizable professional player -- and an extremely nice guy. Sung deserves full credit for dodging the biggest minefield of the 2009 WSOP, and winning a super-large-field donkament for the pros.

I don't want to pimp my Photo Blog too much, but the photos from the final table of the Stimulus Special were pretty damn good. Here's the link.

6. Negreanu & Lindgren vs. Greenstein & Lisandro

Aside from Ivey's huge bets on himself, the most interesting prop bets may revolve around WSOP Player of the Year points. One of the high-profile bets is between Daniel Negreanu/Erick Lindgren and Barry Greenstein/Jeffrey Lisandro. Whichever of those two teams accumulates the most POY points will win the bet. Lisandro and Greenstein have two cashes each, while Negreanu has four and Lindgren has three. Negreanu also has two final tables to Lisandro's one, but Lisandro is the only one with a bracelet. The current team standings:
Negreanu/Lindgren: 175 points
Greenstein/Lisandro: 155 points
Keep in mind that both groups trail my newly-formed team of Brock Parker and myself -- combined, we have 210 points.

While this bet only directly affects these four players, it does provide a running storyline throughout the entire Series for fans and the media to follow. As I mentioned before, I've never seen these players so excited to reach the money before (and add to their POY points total).

7. Two Bad Beats for ESPN

ESPN scheduled only four events to be televised this year: two bracelet events (the Main Event and $40,000 No-Limit Hold'em) and two special events (the Champions Invitational and the Ante Up For Africa charity event). The oh-so-promising Champions Invitational turned into a ratings dud, with a final three of Dan Harrington, Robert Varkonyi, and Tom McEvoy. (And the best player of those three -- Harrington -- busted in third place.) The day before, the $40,000 No-Limit Hold'em was won by a relatively unknown Russian player in a fanny pack that doesn't speak English (Vitaly Lunkin). Don't be surprised if ESPN producers sacrifice a live chicken or virgins or something before the Main Event.

8. O! Say Does That Star-Spangled Banner Yet Wave...

This was supposed to be the Year of the Euro, with the UIGEA and the bad economy suppressing poker in the U.S. while it continues to grow in Europe. But someone forgot to tell the players. Through the first 19 events, only two Europeans (Vitaly Lunkin from Russia and Ville Wahlbeck from Finland) and one other non-American (Jeffrey Lisandro from Australia) have won bracelets. Nearly 85% of the events have been won by Americans, meaning the 2:20 pm bracelet ceremonies have featured recurring renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner." (Like the Olympics, the winner's national anthem is played during the ceremony.)

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STATS FROM THE 2009 WSOP (Through Event #19)

Multiple Bracelets: Brock Parker (2)

Players w/Multiple Final Tables:
Brock Parker - 1st, 1st
Ville Wahlbeck - 1st, 3rd
Daniel Negreanu - 2nd, 4th
John Monnette - 2nd, 5th
Jim Geary - 3rd, 7th

Most Cashes:
Darryll Fish, 4
Daniel Negreanu, 4
Brock Parker, 4
Fabrice Soulier, 4
19 Players Tied, 3

Most Money Earned:
1. Vitaly Lunkin - $1,907,661
2. Isaac Haxton - $1,171,871
3. Brock Parker - $784,527
4. Greg Raymer - $774,927
5. Steve Sung - $771,338
6. Brian Lemke - $692,658
7. Ville Wahlbeck - $676,921
8. Travis Johnson - $666,853
9. Anthony Harb - $571,472
10. Dani Stern - $548,315

Women at Open Final Tables:
Ming "Joy" Reslock (Event #3, $1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo Split)
Lika Gerasimova (Event #15, $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em)

WSOP Player of the Year Points:
1. Brock Parker - 210 pts
2. Ville Wahlbeck - 180 pts
3. Daniel Negreanu - 155 pts
Tie-4. Jeffrey Lisandro - 130 pts
Tie-4. John Monnette - 130 pts
6. Jason Mercier - 125 pts
7. Phil Ivey - 120 pts
Tie-8. Daniel Alaei - 110 pts
Tie-8. Vitaly Lunkin - 110 pts
Tie-10. Rami Boukai - 105 pts
Tie-10. Anthony Harb - 105 pts

Full Tilt Pros Who Won Bracelets: Vitaly Lunkin, Phil Ivey (2)

Players w/ Poker Road Patches Who Won Bracelets: Steve Sung, Phil Ivey, Brian Lemke (3)
I couldn't resist including those last two categories. But it's surprising that through the first 15 events, one-fifth of the bracelet winners were wearing Poker Road patches.

You can find stats in most of these categories updated daily at the WSOP's official site.

Finally, one more pitch for my WSOP Photo Blog at Poker Road. It takes a long time to shoot, sort, process, upload, and caption the best possible photos to tell the story of each day of the World Series. But it only takes about five minutes to check them out each day, and it's much more enjoyable than reading the standard text recaps you can find at most sites. Here's the link to the main page with one image from each day; click the photos to see the rest from that day.

BJ Nemeth is originally from Atlanta, GA. He's the lead tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour. He's also a key contributor over at Poker Road. Check out his WSOP photos.

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