By Cris Belkewitch
For the first time a reunion of the World Series of Poker’s November Nine came to fruition, thanks to the hard work of Bernard Lee and the Foxwoods Resort & Casino.
The historic day that started with a news conference and photo shoot saw 21 players battle it out against the November Nine in a 30-player $15,000 freeroll tournament on Feb. 8.
The morning’s news conference announced the start of a new charity by Lee, who is official spokesman for Foxwoods. The Full House Charity Program will donate a minimum of $20,000 annually to organizations across New England that focus on children. With Cabot Cheese serving as the lead sponsor, Lee will donate $500 for every full house or better he’s dealt in tournaments.
The freeroll kicked off with eventual bubble boy and ESPN announcer Lon McEachern introducing each member of the main event final table and ESPN Inside Deal co-host Lee announcing “shuffle up and deal” before a crowd of a few hundred fans and family members.
Three Niners sat at each of the three tables for the 30-player event as the action streamed live via foxwoodslive.com.
With a number of last-longer and side bets in place, the nine guests of honor weren’t soft-playing anything. After McEachern’s elimination put the remaining players into the money, the final table had a nice mix of pros and locals to make for a very fun and entertaining conclusion. WSOP champ Jonathan Duhamel, Matt Jarvis, Michael “Grinder” Mizrachi and Lee all had a shot at winning, but it was not in the cards for the pros. Ben Hopkins, a 26-year-old carpenter from North Smithfield, R.I., took down Jarvis heads-up to claim the $5,000 prize and a moment he’ll never forget.
What made the event so memorable for the freeroll players was how well the November Niners interacted with everyone.
“It wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it was going to be,” Hopkins said. “It was just like I was playing cards on a Friday night with my buddies.”
Third-place finisher Bill Raynor, a Vietnam War veteran from Harrisville, N.H., echoed those sentiments.
“I think the pros were stellar. It was nice to sit down and play with them; it was entertaining and I learned some things. I think Foxwoods put on a nice show here.”
Chris Iannucci from North Providence, R.I., loved his time at the table as well.
“It was a great experience. The pros were really welcoming.”
With such a positive vibe and everyone having such a great time can we expect to see an event like this take place again?
“We would love to do it annually,” Lee said. “I think it was a great event. It was everything I had hoped for. It was so loud in here and every player got a really warm reception and Lon really added a lot. Today was one of those days that are going to go down in history as a phenomenal event.”
“It was cool, a lot of fun,” said Duhamel, now a PokerStars Team Pro. “Hopefully in the coming years they’re going to do it again; it was a really great experience.”
— For more, including pictures and videos, go to thepokerjourney.net and to learn more about the Full House Charity Program visit bernardleepoker.com.
Final freeroll results
Players: 30 • Prize Pool: $15K
1. Ben Hopkins, N. Smithfield, RI $5K
2. Matthew Jarvis, Canada, $3K
3. William Raynor, Harrisville, NH $2K
4. Tony Palladino, Franklin Lakes, NJ $1K
5. Jonathan Duhamel, Cananda, $1K
6. Bernard Lee, Wayland, MA $1K
7. Michael Mizrachi, Miramar, FL $500
8. Joe Washington, E. Hartford, CT $500
9. Rich Grygiel, Chicopee, MA $500
10. Mark Walsh, Boston, MA $500