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3rd Annual Jack Binion World Poker Open
by Nolan Dalla

In the Spring of 2000, the Gold Strike first joined forces with Binion’s Horseshoe to organize the inaugural Jack Binion World Poker Open. Now in only the third year since its inception, the spectacle has already blossomed into one of poker’s most prestigious tournaments. The World Poker Open is held every year in Tunica, Mississippi—widely known as the gaming capital of the South.

With over $4 million in prize money paid to the winners, the World Poker Open attracts many of the world’s top professional players. The tournament also draws thousands of recreational players—all with big dreams of winning prize money and a chance to shine on national television. This year, the championship final was televised by ESPN (which will show the event later on tape–delay) while a worldwide listening audience tuned-in to a live Internet broadcast.

The tournament included nineteen major events spread out over twenty-one days. Buy-ins for each event ranged from $200 up to $10,000 for the championship final. However, many poker players earned their way into the tournaments by winning a seat in a satellite. Even with prize money in the millions, a poker player could conceivably win his or her way into one of the tournaments for as little as $65 (the cost of a single-table satellite). In addition to the prize money and immortality one receives as a champion, each event winner received a coveted gold and diamond bracelet, especially designed for the World Poker Open. The tournament attracted eight former world poker champions—including Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson (1976, 1977), Berry Johnston (1986), Phil Hellmuth (1989), Jim Bechtel (1993), Huck Seed (1996), Scotty Nguyen (1998), Chris “Jesus” Ferguson (2000), and Carlos Mortenson (2001). The event also drew four former United States Poker Champions—including Ken “Skyhawk” Flaton (1996), Daniel Negreanu (1999), Richard Tatalovich (2000), and Men “the Master” Nguyen (2001). World Poker Open defending champion, John Juanda (2001), was also in attendance. On Day One, Jack Binion himself welcomed a large crowd of players and spectators.

Over the next three weeks, the winners of each event (with hometown and first-place prize money) were as follows:

Event #1: Women’s Limit Hold’em Championship ($200 buy-in) Parm Mehmi (Nashville, TN)—$8,536
Indian-born Parm Mehmi won her first poker tournament. She learned how to play the game only three years ago.

Event #2: Three Draw Low-Ball (Ace to Five) ($500 buy-in) Galen Kester (Lake Commorant, MS)—$34,338
In the first major tournament ever of its kind held anywhere in the world, Mississippi local Galen Kester won his second major tournament. Kester won the pot-limit Omaha event at last year’s World Series of Poker.

Event #3: Pot-Limit Omaha ($500 buy-in) Jeremy Tinsley (Beaumont, TX)—$60,528
Tinsley, a twenty-four-year-old semi-pro hammered his opponents into submission. Tinsley’s chips were literally and figuratively used as weapons of war, blasting his opponents out of pots with a constant stream of pre-flop and post-flop raises.

Event #4: Limit Texas Hold’em ($500 buy-in) Randy “Dream Crusher” Jenson (Fort Collins, CO)—$83,085
In one of the most dramatic tournament final tables in memory, the chip lead changed a staggering thirteen times before the winner was finally determine. Randy Jensen ultimately took control and won his first major.

Event #5: Omaha High/Low Split ($500 buy-in) Geno Lawrenzi (Springfield, MO)—$42,709
Laurenzi, a former rodeo cowboy turned modern day Renaissance man, completely shattered the notion of playing with discipline. He called or raised every single hand during the final two hours of play. With a formidable chip lead most of the way, one-by-one, Lawrenzi bucked his opponents from the final table like a wild bronco in a stampede, collecting $42,709 for the ride.

Event #6: No-Limit Hold’em ($500 buy-in)Jose Rosenkrantz (San Jose, Costa Rica)—$56,527
Rosenkrantz, a retired clothing manufacturer from Central America, stormed back from near elimination to win. Left for dead with only $7400 in chips coming into the final table—and out-chipped by almost 7-1—Rosenkrantz went on a three-hour roll and won his first gold bracelet to go along with two Hall of Fame titles.

Event #7: Seven Card Stud High-Low Split ($500 buy-in) Paul Clements (Prairie Du Chien, WI)—$36,472
Clements, a financial planner from Wisconsin, won in an intense four-hour finale Clements sat down with a slight chip advantage and consistently increased his stack until he had every single $1,000 chip piled up in front of him.

Event #8: Limit Hold’em ($1000 buy-in) Nicky Di Leo (New York , NY)—$77,212
Nicky DiLeo, a professional poker player, seized the chip lead about midway through the final table, which featured an all-star lineup of former world champions. No less than three World Series of Poker bracelet winners sat in at the finale. But it was DiLeo who won the respect of his opponents and his first gold bracelet.

Event #9: Pot Limit Hold’em ($500 buy-in) Tommy Vinas (Houston, TX)—$38,412
Four Texans made it to the final table. Fittingly, the winner was also a Texan—Tommy Vinas, from Houston. Vinas is a professional poker player and pot-limit hold’em specialist.

Event #10: Seven Card Stud ($500 buy-in) Huck Seed (Las Vegas, NV)—$24,444
The 1996 World Poker Champion picked up his first win at the World Poker Open. Seed is widely regarded as one of the world’s best stud players, so this win was no surprise.

Event #11: No-Limit Hold’em ($500 buy-in) “Judge” Leo Boothe (Ferriday, LA)—$83,420
Boothe, a down-home, cowboy boot-wearing judge from Louisiana outfoxed eight of the best no-limit players in the tournament—and won a final settlement of $83,420. At the final table, Booth went from being the judge and jury, to the ultimate executioner.

Event #12: Omaha High-Low Split ($1000 buy-in) Jim Miller (Las Vegas, NV)—$30,264
Miller continued his hot run in Omaha high-low tournaments this year with his fourth major win in as many months. Miller, who when he’s not playing poker on the road is a manager at the Hustler Casino in Los Angeles, topped poker-legend T. J. Cloutier who finished second.

Event #13: Pot Limit Hold’em ($500 buy-in) Jim Karambinas (Park Ridge, IL)—$50,828
The night belonged to Jim Karambinas, a Greek-born poker player who now lives in the Chicago area—who won his first major tournament.

Event #14: Pot-Limit Omaha ($1000 buy-in) Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott (Hull, U. K.)—$123,772
In the longest final table of any event, “DevilFish” Ulliott put on a vintage performance that once again proved why the English are often considered to be the best pot-limit Omaha players in the world. Clocking in at nearly six hours, the end result was a poker marathon—which included several memorable moments.

Event #15: No-limit Hold’em ($1000 buy-in) David Roepke (Troy, TX)—$76,824
Roepke, a cagey tournament veteran from central Texas, topped a strong field of 198 players and rode off into the sunset with $76,824. Roepke arrived at the final table seventh in chips, and repeatedly shifted between being the most aggressive player at the final table, versus the most cautious—deliberately mixing up his play just enough to keep his opponents off-guard most of the night.

Event #16: Limit Hold’em ($1000 buy in) Steve Zolotow (Las Vegas, NV)—$72,944
Las Vegas pro Zolotow overcame a 6-to-1 chip disadvantage midway through the final table and went on to win his first World Poker Open championship. In what proved to be the toughest lineup of any event thus far. Five of the nine finalists were former world champions with a combined ten World Series titles between them), Zolotow remained completely focused and relaxed throughout the five-hour conquest.

Event #17: No-Limit Hold’em ($2000 buy-in) Tony Popejoy (Logansport, IN)—$107,864
In one of the most impressive no-limit hold’em performances on record, the twenty-nine-year-old estate planner from Indiana fearlessly made all the right moves at just the right times—winning a well-deserved $107,864 for first place.

Event #18: Limit Hold’em ($300 buy-in) William McCool (Greenville, MS)—$54,696
McCool, a full-time college student overcame 212 entries including 296 re-buys, to win first place and his first poker tournament. Event #19: No-Limit Hold’em Championship ($10,000 buy-in) Humberto Brenes (San Jose, Costa Rica)—$502,460
Costa Rican Humberto Brenes played brilliantly for four days and earned a well-deserved tournament victory. Brenes arrived at the final table with the chip lead and was put to the test by Las Vegas pro Erik Seidel. But Brenes prevailed in the end, winning a $990,000 pot with a pair of kings to Seidel’s queens.

Every poker tournament has at least a few odd moments, and the 2002 World Poker Open was no exception:

Best “Rags to Riches” Story
Randy Jenson, from Colorado, refers to himself as “the Dream Crusher,” since he so often shatters the dreams and ambitions of his opponents. But consider Jenson’s personal ups and downs within a five-day period. First, Jenson won $83,000 in Event #4. That same night, he lost back all the money in a big cash game. Not the least bit depressed over the loss, Jenson returned the next day and made yet another final table. On the very first hand at the final table, he went “all-in”—and lost. He collected $3,000 for ninth place and bought into a satellite. He won. Next, Jenson played another tournament, and made the final table again (his third in five days)! He finished fourth—good for $12,000. Next, Jenson took the prize money to a cash game and later was seen leaving with over $100,000. No report on how much of that money made it back to Colorado.

Best Decision
Frank McCool got up early on the morning of January 21. He decided to skip classes that day. McCool, who is a full-time college student, had something else in mind. He entered the $300 buy-in Limit Hold’em event. That turned out to be a very profitable decision. McCool now has $54,696 in extra tuition money for his win.

Worst Elvis Impersonation
Moments after winning the pot-limit Omaha event, David “Devilfish” Ulliott treated the crowd to a special bonus—an Elvis impersonation. The beaming Brit grabbed the microphone and began crowing “Don’t Be Cruel” for the audience. It goes to show you, you never know what you might see at a poker tournament. Afterward, Tournament Coordinator Jack McClelland announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, Devilfish has left the building­—with $123,000 in prize money.”

Most Impressive Performance
There is no way to describe what happened in the two and a half hour battle of nerves of what was certainly the World Poker Open’s most exciting final table other than to say—Tony Popejoy destroyed his opponents. He even managed to slay poker’s greatest living legend—Doyle Brunson. Many of Popejoy’s table decisions were so brilliant, that observers were shaking their heads in disbelief. It was as if Popejoy used a textbook to win his first no-limit hold’em tournament. Well, he did actually. In one of the key hands of the tournament, Popejoy was dealt A-J on the button. He raised $6,000. Brunson, with 8-8 in the small blind, re-raised $20,000 more. After contemplating his action more than two full minutes, Popejoy fearlessly shoved his entire stack into the pot­—another $32,000. Brunson called. The flop brought Popejoy a beautiful jack, an ugly sight for Brunson’s eyes. The final board, K-J-5-4-3, allowed Popejoy to seized the chip lead. He would go on to win.“Super/System was the first poker book I ever read,” Popejoy said after his victory. “Now, to be sitting here playing against the man who wrote that book—and winning—is really amazing.”

Most Interesting Table Conversation
The night before the main event, Bob Stupak plopped down and bought into a side game with a million dollars in cash. He sat comfortably behind several racks of $5,000 chips. The following day in the main event, Stupak took a seat beside casino mogul Lyle Berman. How fitting that two of the most influential casino executives of the last twenty years would find themselves together at the same table in the championship.

Most Sentimental Moment
When asked by a large gathering of reporters and television crew what he intends to do with the gold and diamond bracelet specially designed for the event—2002 World Poker Open champion Humberto Brenes announced he would give the prize to his youngest daughter. It was truly a special moment for Brenes, who was overcome with emotion. He explained, “The money comes and goes, but this gold bracelet and this memory will last forever.”

The 2002 World Poker Open was the most professionally run, most player-friendly poker event I have ever attended. Congratulations to Ken Lambert, Jr. (Horseshoe Poker Room Manager), Ronald “Pepper” Munsey (Gold Strike Poker Room Manager), Jimmy Sommerfeld (Satellite Coordinator), and Bill Hicks (Gold Strike Comptroller) for their outstanding performance. The staff of these fine resorts also deserves to be recognized. Special thanks also goes to Tournament Director Jim Albrecht, and Tournament Coordinator Jack McClelland. It goes without saying that any poker tournament run by the team of Albrecht and McClelland is certain to provide the highest standards of professionalism.

Next year, the World Poker Open promises to be even bigger and better. Scheduled for January 2003, the tournament is likely to attract a record number of poker players, so reservations should be made now. The Gold Strike and Horseshoe casinos both offer affordable hotel rates (as low as $25 a night), excellent food and services (players eat free at a special buffet), and easy connections to the nearest airport in Memphis (about forty-five minutes away). Next winter, Tunica will once again be the epicenter of the poker world.

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