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Jewels of the Desert

The 40th anniversary WSOP is officially underway and GOM wanders an all-too familiar patch of the Nevada Desert to bring the latest as the first bracelets are handed out.

Even though technically speaking it was the Casino Employee’s Event that got the 40th anniversary of the World Series of Poker officially underway, for the rest of the Hold’em world it was the commemorative $40,000 buy-in no limit event that got proceedings fully up to speed.

The event–a one-off poker tournament added to this year’s schedule to celebrate the ruby anniversary of the WSOP–attracted a spectacular field of poker’s leading exponents, with such luminaries as Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson, Patrik Antonius and Phil Hellmuth all lending their considerable muscle to proceedings.

All of those big names would falter, however, with the aforementioned quartet all busting before the money bubble burst. But while Hellmuth failed to add bracelet #12 to impressive World Series haul, another former Main Event champion, Greg “Fossilman” Raymer enjoyed a rather smoother ride to coast into the cash.

But while for the most part poker’s old guard toiled and tussled without making any significant inroads in the tournament, the internet “wundakid” generation found the event something of a happier hunting ground. Both Brian “sbrugby” Townsend and high stakes online player Brian “tsarrast” Rast dominated the early chip counts, but by the time final nine had been reached it was a blend of old school know-how and youthful aggression left providing the fireworks.

Final Table Chip Count

Seat 1 - Ted Forrest (560,000)
Seat 2 - Noah Schwartz (660,000)
Seat 3 - Alec Torelli (2,340,000)
Seat 4 - Isaac Haxton (5,955,000)
Seat 5 - Greg Raymer (3,345,000)
Seat 6 - Justin Bonomo (1,685,000)
Seat 7 - Lex Veldhuis (3,805,000)
Seat 8 - Dani Stern (1,300,000)
Seat 9 - Vitaly Lunkin (4,565,000)

First blood went the way of the online pros as Noah Schwartz put an end to the title hopes of the short-stacked Ted Forrest. The five-time WSOP bracelet winner got the last of his chips in with Jh-10d but was unable to spike the requisite over-card to outrace Schwartz’s pocket threes, leaving him to hit the rail in 9th place. His conqueror, however, was not to last much longer himself as a few hands later Schwartz ran his Ad-Kh into Raymer’s Ah-As and predictably crashed out in 8th.

It was to be the start of a heater for “Fossilman”, who added the scalp of another online wizard to his collection after Lex Veldhuis made a move with Ad-7d only to find the Team PokerStars Pro waiting with kings. No ace on the board meant that Raymer added another pile of chips to his rapidly-expanding stack and gained further momentum in his early push for the title.

However, as the Greg Raymer show continued, two young guns who just couldn’t get firing were Justin Bonomo and Alec Torelli. The latter spent the majority of the opening stages surfing a frozen wave of cards before finally finding a decent spot to shove his remaining one-million-plus-change into the middle with A-2. Unfortunately for Torelli, Haxton woke up behind with the dominating A-10 and no deuce on the board meant no dice for Torelli as he busted in 6th.

Soon afterwards, Haxton again played the executioner after some crafty play with pocket aces lead Bonomo to push all-in holding jacks on a nine-high flop, with no help on the turn or river condemning the disbelieving Team Bodog pro to a 5th place finish. Haxton then completed a hat-trick of final-table eliminations with the expulsion of Dani Stern in 4th after his As-Kh proved too strong for Stern’s Qh-10c, leaving the young pro in a prime position for the win.

Meanwhile, both momentum and chips had slipped away from Raymer and he eventually buckled in third when his signature hand – pocket fives – ran into the over-pair of Haxton to eliminate him in 3rd for just shy of $775k. As all of this action unfolded, Russian pro Vitaly Lunkin had sat quietly in the background and by virtue of picking up key pots without the need for a showdown and generally staying out of trouble, he found himself shooting for his second bracelet in as many years.

A 2:1 chip deficit was swiftly overturned in the space of seven hands as the Russian whirred into gear and the final blow was landed when Lunkin’s pocket aces managed to hold up against the pair and flush draw combo of Haxton’s 3d-8c on a Qd-10d-8d board. With that, Lunkin claimed the first open-event bracelet of the Series and a $1,891,012 first-place pay-out to ensure that Russian poker is off the mark and on its way to another successful year at the WSOP.

Final Table Payouts:

1st Vitaly Lunkin - $ 1,891,012
2nd Isaac Haxton - $ 1,168,566
3rd Greg Raymer - $ 774,927
4th Dani Stern - $ 548,315
5th Justin Bonomo - $ 413,166
6th Alec Torelli - $ 329,730
7th Lex “RaSZi” Veldhuis - $ 277,940
8th Noah Schwartz - $ 246,834
9th Ted Forrest - $ 230,317

Event # 1: Cohen Conquers Casino Competition

Andrew Cohen became the first official winner of a 2009 World Series bracelet after showcasing his poker credentials against 866 fellow casino employees in the WSOP’s annual curtain-raiser.

Cohen came out on top of the Casino Employees Tournament after hovering at the top of the chip counts for most of Day Two before taking an overwhelming advantage into heads-up play against Paul Peterson.

There Cohen got his hands on the bracelet and a tidy $83,778 first prize after winning a huge coin-flip with 6c-6h against Peterson’s As-Qc as the pair got it all-in pre-flop. With the board providing no help for Peterson, he was sent to the rail as runner-up and collected $51,787 for his efforts.

On winning the opening event of the WSOP’s 40th season, Cohen told reporters: “I told all these guys here it’s not about the money to me – and I’m not even a rich guy, I’m a bartender. You can always get money, but it’s the bracelet that counts.”

Final Table Payouts:

1st Andrew Cohen - $83,778
2nd Paul Peterson - $51,787
3rd Casey Kuhn - $33,923
4th Grant Yasui - $23,483
5th Jun Dulay - $17,127
6th Bobby Rooney - $13,125
7th John McAvoy - $10,545
8th Ferdinand Boleski - $8,886
9th Sammy Porter - $7,782

Event # 3: Luu Does His Thang

Last year’s $1,500 Omaha 8-or-Better Event champion Thang Luu recorded a truly remarkable achievement as he returned to retain his crown in the same event at this year’s Series.

Luu’s history-making performance was made all the more impressive by the fact that his successful defense of the title was recorded against a record-breaking field of 918 runners, meaning that he becomes the first player since Johnny Chan to win back-to-back events in the modern era.

Luu took home his second Omaha 8-or-Better bracelet in as many years along with the $263,165 first prize after his flopped pair of queens managed to hold against the pocket nines of runner-up Ed Smith, who pocketed himself $162,110 for second place.

Despite never possessing the big-stack before the heads-up phase, Luu was able to drive the action at the final table and picked his spots well before powering to a commanding lead when play got down to three-handed. From there on in, it was plain sailing for Luu, who has made the event his home over the past few years.

In addition to his two consecutive titles, incredibly Luu also finished runner-up back in 2007 and his back-to-back-to-back cashes in the event now amount to well over $650,000–all hail the Omaha king.
Final Table Payouts:

1st Thang Luu - $263,165
2nd Ed Smith - $162,110
3rd Ming Reslock - $106,373
4th Robert Price - $73,405
5th Pascal Leyo - $53,293
6th Jordan Rich - $40,612
7th Jim Geary - $32,404
8th Freddy Deeb - $27,029
9th Senovio Ramirez III - $23,520.
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