Around the WSOP: Benyamine adds to an already impressive resume

23 June 2008

Not that David Benyamine's career needed any validation, but the 35-year-old Frenchman's victory in the $10,000 Omaha High-Low Split World Championship helped make what was already an impressive resume even more daunting.

While Benyamine has long been known as one of the world's best high-stakes cash game players, he has carried the label as one of the greatest players never to win a WSOP bracelet. That is until he prevailed against a tough field and broke through on Saturday to earn the coveted "world champion" title and bring home $535,678 in the process. The overall prize pool of $2,209,000 was the largest in Omaha High-Low Split history.

david_benyamine

David Benyamine's already impressive resume just got even better after the Frenchman won his first bracelet by prevailing in the $10,000 Omaha High-Low Split event. (photo by IMPDI for the 2008 WSOP)

"Winning is always important to me," he said when asked about the importance of becoming a gold bracelet winner. "But I never thought I had anything to prove."

Benyamine was the chip leader heading into a final table that consisted of six players with WSOP bracelets already in their jewelry box (Mike Matusow, Ram Vaswani, David Chiu, Tony Ma, Berry Johnston, Toto Leonidas). The final three at the table – Benyamine, Greg Jamison and Jason Gray – all had never won one. The star-studded finale lasted 10 hours, but the heads up match between Benyamine and Jamison was over in about 75 minutes.

Jamison, who won the Omaha Split championship in the Tunica Grand Series in 2006, also made it to the final table and finished sixth at the $1,500 Omaha High-Low Split event last week and last year he was fifth in the World Championship, giving him three final table appearances in the last four WSOP Omaha tournaments.

Benyamine, who like his girlfriend Erica Schoenberg is a Full Tilt pro, was one of the top-ranked French tennis players in the world before a back injury ended his career. He moved on to billiard where he became one of the top players in France, before concentrating on his professional career in poker. His biggest win, prior to this weekend, came in 2003 when he won the Grand Prix de Paris, a victory that earned him $411,000 as he outlasted a final table that included Erick Lindgren and Daniel Negreanu.

Year of the 'First-Timers'

While the 2008 WSOP has been dubbed the Year of the Pro as professional players have won 30 of the first 38 events, this could also be called the "Year of the First Time Bracelet Winners."

Incredibly, the first 17 events were won by players who had never won a WSOP bracelet before this year. Overall, 33 of the first 38 winners are "first timers." The list includes: Nenad Medic, Grant Hinkle, David Singer, Erick Lindgren, Michael Banducci, Thang Luu, Matt Keikoan, Anthony Rivera, Ralph Porter, Farzad Rouhani, Phillip Tom, Jimmy Shultz, Duncan Bell, Eric Brooks, Svetlana Gromenkova, Andrew Brown, Jason Young , Vanessa Selbst, Scott Seiver, Jens Voertmann, Blair Hinkle, Kenny Tran, Vitaly Lunkin, Philip Galfond, John (Razor) Phan, Rob Hollink, Dario Minieri, Luis Velador, Michael Rocco, Jesper Hougaard, Benyamine and Davidi Kitai.

Matusow, Negreanu, Max Pescatori, Barry Greenstein and Layne Flack represent the only player to win bracelets this year who have earned one before this year.

Former table tennis star prevails

Of those first-time winners, Jesper Hougaard may be the one with the most intriguing background. The 24-year-old from Denmark, who was victorious over the weekend in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em championship, became a professional poker player after playing for and eventually coaching the Danish National Table Tennis team.

He credits his experience as a table tennis player for his ability to quickly refocus. "You have to regroup," he said. "That is something we do (in table tennis). You have to always get ready for the next match."

Hougaard's father was an official with N.A.T.O. and was stationed in London as Jesper was growing up. During his heads up match against Cody Slaubaugh, Hougaard, who had dominated play during most of the final day, called his father and brother in Denmark. When play resumed he put on his headphones and listened the Survivor song "Eye of the Tiger," which was made famous from the Rocky III movie soundtrack. The musical motivation worked because 15 minutes later, Hougaard was being crowned champion and hauling home $610,304, much to the delight of his raucous cheering section.

With Hougaard's win, Denmark becomes the seventh nation to produce a gold bracelet winner at this year's WSOP. This list now includes Canada, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Italy, Russia, and the United States. Hougaard also became only the second WSOP gold bracelet winner in history from Denmark. The other is Jan Sorensen, who has two wins to his name.

Fernandez, Benyamine in position for Player of the Year Through 38 events, Jacobo Fernandez and Benyamine have separated themselves from the pack in the race for the Milwaukee's Best Light "Player of the Year" award. Fernandez is in first with 222 points, closely followed by Benyamine, who has 220. Greenstein is in third with 190, with Lindgren in fourth (185). Negreanu, who is trying to become the first player to win the award twice, is in fifth with 170.

The Fossilman is lurking

Three tournaments stopped play before coming to a conclusion on Sunday and with many of the big name pros resting for the beginning of the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament on Wednesday, some lesser known names are in contention in all three events.

One former Main Event champ is in the hunt for a second bracelet, however, Greg "The Fossilman" Raymer, who won the 2004 Main Event, is in fourth place with 30 players remaining in the $2,500 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball event.


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