Poker Tournaments

Poker Tournaments in January

2006, Jason Kirk  

In a decade of big news in poker, 2005 was one the biggest ever. The World Series of Poker Main Event hosted the biggest field of any poker tournament in history (more than doubling the number of participants from 2004), the World Poker Tour expanded its schedule, and Men "The Master" Nguyen displayed his skill through dominating tournaments large and small all year. There were other great stories as well, such as Gavin Smith's run for the WPT Player of the Year crown, Joe Hachem's come-from-behind victory at the WSOP, and Mike Matusow's triumphs at the WSOP Main Event and the Tournament of Champions.

With so much to live up to, 2006 had to get off to a strong start to keep up the pace. That wasn't too hard to do, thanks to two major $10,000 buy-in tournaments held in Tunica, Mississippi. The traditional venue for January poker in Tunica has always been Gold Strike, home of the World Poker Open. This year's event had competition across town in the form of a new Jack Binion WSOP Circuit tournament at the Grand Casino. The preliminary events of each of these tournaments drew huge numbers of players. The first 20 preliminaries at the Grand WSOPC tournament drew an incredible 6,552 players , while the first 7 at the Gold Strike drew 1,516 players. There were also daily $500+40 tournaments at Gold Strike throughout the WPO, which drew 2,701 players.

Plenty of the big cashers in Tunica were players who have a history of doing well on the shores of the Mississippi. Gregg Merkow, winner of the 2005 WSOPC main event in Tunica, took down a preliminary event at both tournaments - 1st place in a $3,000 no-limit hold'em event at Gold Strike and 1st place at a $500 no-limit hold'em event at the Grand - netting him over $274,000. An "The Boss" Tran cashed in 3 WPO events, one more than he did in 2005. Bryant King of Spokane, WA, finished 2nd at the WSOPC main event to improve upon his 5th place finish at the 2005 WSOPC at Grand Casino. Also reprising past success in Tunica were Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi and Scotty Nguyen. Mizrachi took 2nd place in the WPO main event, improving upon his 5th place finish the year before. Nguyen trumped Mizrachi, improving on last year's 4th place performance by finishing off Mizrachi in a single hand of heads-up play to take 1st place and over $969,000.

Several lesser-known players also had strong showings in Tunica. Doug Carli of Alliance, OH, who cashed for over $380,000 in 2005, made the money in three Tunica events during January. Bau Le of Atlantic City, NJ, made 3 final tables at the WPO, including a 6th place finish in the main event. Raul Paez of Barcelona, Spain, joined Le at the WPO main event final table and also cashed in three other WPO events. Bill Edler of Las Vegas, NV, made three final tables (with one victory) in preliminary events between Grand and Gold Strike and also cashed in the main event of the WSOPC.

The story of the month, however, was the stellar performance turned in by Daniel Negreanu at the WSOPC main event. After leaving the WPO relatively early Negreanu had plenty of time to prepare for the main event at the WSOPC. That time seemed to have paid off well. He spent the first day at some of the toughest tables in the entire field, holding his own against competition that would send some players running for the hills. Negreanu made a charge at the end of the second day to put himself within striking distance of the chip lead, and on the third day finally found a spot where he could pounce. After finishing Day Three in second position, Negreanu was able to grab the lead at the final table and hold onto it the rest of the way. There are few players in the world more dangerous with a big stack than Daniel Negreanu, and it showed - he took out 4 of the other 8 players by himself, turning into a one-man wrecking crew once the championship ring and prize money were within sight. His performance was as impressive as any of his finishes in 2004, leaving one to wonder if 2006 will again be the Year of Negreanu.

January in Tunica featured plenty of action, leading into February's WPT and WSOPC schedules very nicely. With such a good start, it's hard not to look forward to the upcoming tournament schedule.