Valentin Vornicu captured the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event at the Bicycle Casino near Los Angeles in December. He earned $197,110 and his seventh WSOPC ring.
“I’m speechless,” Vornicu said. “This is my first main-event ring. I’ve been chasing the main event. It’s my second ring at the Bike. This is the first casino I’ve won two rings at.”
The event drew 641 players for a prize pool of $961,500. Vornicu is tied with Ari Engel and Chris Reslock for second on the all-time rings list. The only player with more rings is Alex Masek, who won his ninth in Event 7 ($365 NLHE). He outlasted a field of 143 players to earn $12K.
Stuart Pfeifer, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, won his first major tournament and earned his first ring. His prize was $55,110 for outlasting 1K players in Event 3 ($365 NLHE).
Event 4 ($365 NLHE) was a scheduled two-day event, however it finished in one day. When it got to heads-up between Dale Beaudoin and Scott Stewart, they agreed to finish the tournament before heading home for the night.
Beaudoin denied Stewart his fifth ring, which would have moved him into a tie for fourth on the all-time list with four other players. For outlasting a field of 153, Beaudoin took home his second ring and $12,395.
Nadim Shabou, a French businessman living in Arizona, took home his first ring and $17,255 in Event 5 ($580 NLHE), giving Wendy Freedman her second runner-up finish of the series. Freedman earned $10,660.
Phillip Penn added another mixed-game cash to his resum by winning his first ring in Event 6 ($365 Omaha/8). He topped nearly 125 players to take home the ring and $10,400.
Turkish pro Erkut Yilmaz won his first ring in Event 8 ($1,125 NLHE) and $25,915.
“It feels good,” Yilmaz said. “It was a short field, but a win is a win and money is money. I’m happy.” This event attracted 81 players.
Steven Curran grabbed his first ring and $10,810 in Event 9 ($365 turbo). The full-time project manager defeated Massoud Eskandari, who is a tournament regular in the Los Angeles area with more than $1 million in earnings, including a runner-up at the WPT Legends of Poker main event in 2014. Eskandari earned $6,675 for second.
Local realtor Mark Peckham earned the second five-figure score of his career and won his first ring by taking down Event 10 ($365 Monster Stack).
Craig Chait took home his first title and ring with a win in the final tourney of the series, Event 12 ($3,250 NLHE). He bested a field of 38 players to take home $51,300.
LOCALS THRIVE IN VEGAS: The WPT Five Diamond Classic played out at the Bellagio in Las Vegas in December. Lauren Roberts of Manhattan Beach took seventh ($173,552) and Markus Gonsalves of San Diego was 10th ($68,181).
PEPPERMILL CASINO: The second Saturday of the month event (Feb. 13) is a $235K deepstack at noon.
ATLANTIS CASINO: WPT DeepStacks is returning for two events (March 17-27 and Aug. 18-28). The 40 players with the most hours of play through February will be splitting $13K and WPTDS main-event seats ($1,100 value) in the Lucky 13 promotion. In addition, any player who makes 13 bonus hands in 13 weeks will win $13K.
THUNDER VALLEY CASINO RESORT: The Lincoln property recently held its annual World Poker Tour California Swing Kickoff Series with a $400 tournament and $100K guarantee.
It was a one-day tournament and drew 515 players from all over the region to create a $180K prize pool. Once the final table reached seven players, there was a prize-pool chop.
The official winner was Ricky Lay from Galt, Calif., who took home $23K. Second-place went to Chris Primo of Sacramento ($18K), followed by Carl Oliver from Emeryville, Calif., ($16K), Dan McGee from Fair Oaks, Calif., ($15K), Lance Donnell of Reno ($12K), Jay Chao from King City, Calif., ( $11K) and John Bettencourt from Stockton, Calif., ($10K).
The top-10 finishers received a $400 Super Mega seat for a chance at another seat into the $3,500 Rolling Thunder main.
STONES GAMBLING HALL: The Citrus Heights property will host the Big Game tournament on Feb. 7 at 3:30 p.m. during the Super Bowl. The event will have a $125 buy-in with 12K chips and 20-minute levels.
There also will be extra money added with $50 pot-splashers for every touchdown and $25 for every field goal. This event will have an unlimited number of re-entries through the first six levels. Stones also features some amazing promotions such as Rack Attacks, Aces Cracked, Double Points and Royal Flush Wheel Spins.
LUCKY CHANCES: The poker room in Colma hosts a $20K first-place guarantee tournament on the last Sunday every month, which falls on Feb. 28.
The event is a $350 buy-in with 12K chips and 30-minute levels with re-entries allowed for the first four levels. This is a player-favorite event and starts at 9:30 a.m.
The room also has some great daily tournaments throughout the week, all with guaranteed first-place prizes. Lucky Chances has a $100K hold’em jackpot and other jackpots, including Omaha/8 and stud.
BAY 101: In San Jose, a variety of satellites are running for the poker room’s upcoming $7,500 Shooting Star event, which runs March 7-11. There will be daily $275 satellites Feb. 16-26 and $550 satellites Feb. 20, Feb. 27, Feb. 29 and March 1-2. There will be $1,100 satellites March 3-5 and all satellites begin at 9:30 a.m.
MGM GRAND: The poker room introduced a new promotion to start the year. Replacing all previous promos, it’s called Drive for Five. Players receive a card to use at the table while playing and it has five poker hands the player must make to win: two pair, three of a kind, a straight, a flush and a full house. It’s any two pair, any set, etc., not a specific rank. When a player wins a pot with one of those hands, that hand is stamped on the player’s card. When all five hands are stamped, the player receives $100. Only one card from the player’s hand needs play to qualify and the pot must contain $20.
If a player has a winning hand that could meet the requirements of more than one qualifying hand, only the best hand possible earns a stamp. In other words, if a player has a hand that makes both a straight and a flush, the player could only get a stamp for the flush.
As part of the promotion, drawings are every hour on the half-hour. One randomly selected player in a cash game wins a cash prize based on how many stamps they have on their card. If they have zero or one stamp, they win $25. If they have two or three stamps, they win $50. If they have a card with at least four stamps, they win $100.
This promo was introduced on a trial basis for January but early reports are it’s quite popular. The room may tweak some of the details going forward, but you can expect a version of this promo to be running for some time.
ARIA: Long-time Binion’s tournament director Paul Campbell has moved to Aria to manage the tournaments and he quickly made his first change.
The Friday and Saturday dailies will have $240 buy-ins. Players start with 20K chips. The levels are 30 minutes for the first 15 levels and then 40 minutes. Late registration and unlimited re-entry are available for the first six levels. The starting time is 11 a.m.
The popular $125 tournament still runs Sunday through Thursday at 1 and nightly at 7. The levels are 30 minutes throughout, the starting stack is 10K and late registration and unlimited re-entry is open through the fourth level.
BINION’S: The downtown room has changed its tournament schedule. Daytime events have moved to 1, including its popular weekend deepstack on Saturdays, which has a $10K guarantee.
The $160 buy-in event starts players with 20K chips and has 30-minute levels. Late and re-entry is open for four levels.
The rest of the week the 1 p.m. has a $100 buy-in for 15K chips and 20-minute levels, late and re-entry open for the first three levels.
The evening tournament moves to 7 with its turbo format of 15-minute levels and a 7K stack for a $70 buy-in. Late and re-entry is open for four levels.
PLANET HOLLYWOOD: The mid-Strip room started the year by announcing it was reducing the maximum rake from $5 to $4 per pot. The $1-$2 game is known for action. The buy-in is $100-$300 and straddles are allowed from any position. The under-the-gun straddle is $5, the button straddle is $10 and players can straddle from any position for $20. Every hour, pots are splashed for between $25 and $250. High-hand bonuses are $75 for quads, $150 for straight flushes and $500 for royals. A free buffet is offered for three hours of live play.
Ryan Laplante of Minnesota took first place in the December PHamous Poker Series weekend $565 main event, earning $46K. Maziar Keshavarzi of Texas grabbed $24K for second and Corey Hochman of Arizona took home $21K for third. The prize pool was $200K as 349 players entered.
The next PHamous Poker Series Weekend was scheduled for Jan. 28-30 with a $600 main event with starting days running Jan. 28-31, so if you get this in time, check it out.
LUXOR: The south-Strip room has been running a series of $100 “Preferred Players” periodically. They are $100 buy-ins with 30-minute levels and 10K stacks. In addition to the prize pool, various house-funded prizes are awarded, including gift cards, free tournament entries, free shows and food comps. The next one is Feb. 6 at 2 p.m.
BALLY’S: The World Series of Poker Circuit comes to Bally’s on Feb. 25-March 7. The series kicks off with a $250K guarantee, $365 event with six starting flights, two a day starting on Feb. 25. A $250 seniors event is March 3. The $1,675 main event has a $1 million guarantee and two starting flights beginning March 4.
VENETIAN: Deep Stack Extravaganza I runs through March 2. New for this series will be two “Double Stack” events that start players with 24K chips. The $400 buy-in event has 40-minute levels, a $100K guarantee and two starting flights beginning Feb. 11. The $300 buy-in is a one-day event with 30-minute levels and a $15K guarantee on Feb. 29.
A $250 PLO event runs Feb. 8 and a $250 Omaha/8 tournament is Feb. 22. Nightly events at 7 offer $200 and $300 buy-ins. All the tournaments and most of the satellites have guaranteed prize pools. More than $2.9M is guaranteed for the series.
The $1,600 main event has three starting flights beginning Feb. 18 and features a $750K guarantee.
GREEN VALLEY: The fourth annual Charity Poker Tournament for Kids will be Feb. 27, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Green Valley. The top prize is an entry to the this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event.
BELLAGIO: The Five Diamond WPT Classic had 639 entrants for the $10,400 buy-in event for a prize pool of $6,198,000. Kevin Eyster ($1,587,000), William Jennings ($929K) and Benjamin Yu ($607K) took the top three prizes. — Check out Rob Solomon’s blog at robvegaspoker.blogspot.com.
Meet Jimmy Della Valle
A comedian, actor and former poker pro, Jimmy Della Valle lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Vanessa, and his cat, Marvin. He has headlined more than 5,000 comedy shows in all 50 states as well as internationally. He just finished a sitcom script on poker in which he’ll star. He plans to shoot the pilot this year.
Growing up in New York in a blue-collar Italian-Irish family, his father taught him how to play poker. “I actually could sit down at 5 years old with my saved-up allowance and gamble the money against my family and win most of the time.” He worked in the gaming industry at Mohegan Sun, Turning Stone, Hollywood Park and also ran a casino event company in Los Angeles. “I love poker because you’re playing the people, not the casino or dealer.”
He played the first year of the World Poker Tour when it was at Foxwoods. “I was getting married, my fiancée told me to choose her or the cards. I was the chipleader in the New England Poker Classic at Foxwoods and it was going to play for three more days, which would have delayed our honeymoon. I chose her and that was the end of my big poker dreams.” — Kittie Aleman