A fast start isn’t everything, but it’s always good to get off to one anyway. That’s true in tournament poker in general and especially at the WSOP, where an early win or final table appearance can mean a freeroll for the rest of the Series. Here’s a look at five players who have gotten their summertime stays in Vegas off on the right foot.
1. Brent Hanks
Over the last six or seven years the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em tourneys at the WSOP have become go-to events for online players looking for a break in the world of live poker. This year the trend continued in the first open event on the schedule with a victory by Brent Hanks.
Hanks, who had more than $2.7 million in online tournament earnings before Black Friday playing on Full Tilt as “Bhanks11” and PokerStars as “usourcek,” had won just a single event at the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza and had cashed for less than $600,000 in live events dating back to 2007. He nearly doubled the latter figure with his $517,725 score in Event #2, and claimed his first major live tournament victory in the process.
Making his fourth career WSOP final table appearance, Hanks outlasted some accomplished opponents at the final table, including former bracelet winners JP Kelly, Vanessa Selbst, and Andrew Badecker. In the heads-up match, he eliminated fellow online pro Jacob “Bazeman11” Bazeley to become the first player to win more than half a million dollars at this WSOP.
2. Leif Force
With a win in Event #3, a $3,000 heads-up No-Limit Hold’em/Pot-Limit Omaha tournament, a familiar face from the recent WSOP past claimed his first gold bracelet.
Ultimate frisbee player Leif Force got a lot of screen time on ESPN back in 2006, when he nearly made the final table of the WSOP Main Event. Though he finished 11th and missed out on a chance at the largest tournament winner’s purse in poker history, he still won more than $1.1 million thanks to the massive prize pool. Last night, six years after that near-miss, Force overcame a tough 317-player field for his first taste of WSOP victory.
During the last two days of this three-day event he demonstrated his mastery of two different forms of heads-up poker, defeating Canadian online pro George Lind, reigning WPT Player of the Year Andy Frankenberger, and Australian player Julian Powell to reach the final. There he outlasted online heads-up specialist Jason “jakoon1985” Koon to win the first open event of this year’s WSOP. Force earned $207,708 for the win, his first six-figure score since taking 2nd at the WPT Southern Poker Championship in January 2011.
3. Jacob Bazeley
Jacob Bazeley’s career record online before Black Friday was an impressive one. The Cincinnati-based pro played serious volume, winning more than $2.7 million without any one score worth more than $103K. He didn’t log nearly as many live tournaments but still managed about $470K in winnings and 8 WSOP cashes, including one in last year’s Main Event. This week he added $322,294 to that total with a runner-up finish in Event #2.
Bazeley brought the chip lead into the final table and though he lost it along the way to Vanessa Selbst and then Andrew Badecker, he was never out of contention. In fact, Bazeley managed to reclaim the lead during the long heads-up match with Brent Hanks before finding himself in a position to win the tournament. Holding pocket nines against Hanks’s A-8 on the next to last hand of the event, Bazeley was in good shape until an ace came on the flop. Crippled, he went out on the next hand — but he still managed to grab the largest live tournament score of his career in the process.
4. Vanessa Selbst
Though it didn’t result in a gold bracelet and wasn’t a particularly big cash by her standards, Vanessa Selbst’s 4th-place finish in Event #2 was noteworthy nonetheless. With her $161,345 prize, she officially crossed the $5 million for career tournament earnings. Still just 27 years old, Selbst now has $5.08 million in career cashes; that makes her just the second woman, after tournament legend Kathy Liebert, to reach that mark.
It was the 12th career WSOP cash for Selbst, and the fourth to come at a final table. It was also the earliest she has ever cashed at the WSOP; her previous best was a 34th-place finish in Event #13 back in 2008. Given all the other success she’s enjoyed in recent years, one has to wonder after such an early final-table appearance whether this might be the year Selbst finally runs over the WSOP for an entire summer.
5. Chris Bjorin
In the annals of WSOP consistency, there are few players like Chris Bjorin. He has been a fixture at the WSOP for more than two decades. With one exception (1993) he has cashed at the Series every year since 1991, and this year the trend has officially continued after an early final table appearance.
By making the final eight of Event #4, $1,500 Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo, the Swedish-born London resident made the 28th final table of his WSOP career. He also earned his 62nd career WSOP cash, moving him ahead of Humberto Brenes into sole possession of 5th place on the all-time list; he ranks behind only Phil Hellmuth, Men Nguyen, Erik Seidel and Chris Ferguson in that category. He also expanded his lead atop the all-time lists in both cashes and money won at the WSOP among players born in Sweden.
Bjorin was holding the chip lead among the final three players in Event #4 at press time. If he were to win it would be the third gold WSOP bracelet of his career.