Around the WSOP: From the Park Dept. to Poker Champ

11 June 2008

It's not that Jason Young didn't have to work hard for his victory in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em Shootout that finally came to a climatic finish in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Heck, you could even call what he went through downright draining if you consider the 29-hour tournament will go down as one of the longest two-day events in WSOP history.

It's just that this was a totally different kind of blood, sweat and tears the 26-year-old from Suffern, N.Y. is accustomed to suffering through.

As of just recently, Young was working for the Parks and Recreation Department in his hometown of Suffern, N.Y., making $35,000 a year. But after six years of working on various community projects and setting up after-school programs, he decided he wanted to pursue playing poker for a living. It has turned out to be a smart career move. With the victory, Young cashed in for $329,872.

event17winner

Jason Young has good reason to smile. He just won 10 times his previous annual salary in two days at the WSOP. (photo by IMPDI for the 2008 WSOP)

"I just made ten years of my former salary in just two days," said an ecstatic Young after claiming his first WSOP bracelet in dramatic fashion over Mike Schwartz, a 58-year-old Russian-born business executive. "I always wanted a job where I didn't have to work very hard. I mean, I want to work, but I wanted to (enjoy other things). So, I found poker."

Young learned the game from his grandmother and after seeing a Hold'em tournament on TV a few years ago he began visiting Atlantic City poker rooms with his father, treated it as a hobby and something he and his dad could do together.

It's safe to assume that Young and his old man never experienced a final table in Atlantic City that was as pulsating as what transpired at the Rio in this event. Early on in heads-up action, Young won a huge pot to take what appeared to be an insurmountable 40-to-1 chip lead, holding 98.6 percent of the chips in play. But the cagey Schwartz nearly pulled off the greatest comeback in WSOP history.

Holding just 140,000 chips, he was the big blind at 120,000, but managed to win a number of hands over the next hour, cutting the chip deficit down to a 7 to 3 margin. On what ended up being the final hand, Schwartz was all in with 4-4 against Young's A-J. A win in the hand would have given Schwartz the chip lead, but an ace on the turn sealed the victory for a relieved Young.

The third-place finisher was John Strzemp III, who was making his first appearance at a WSOP final table. His father (John Strzemp II) finished second in the 1997 WSOP Main Event to the late Stu Ungar. Several other notable players cashed in the event, including two-time gold bracelet winner Thor Hansen, who cashed for the 41st time in his WSOP career. Hansen currently ranks 11th on the all-time list.

Yankees and Russians rise to the top

It has been a very good opening week for those who hail from New York City and Russia.

For the first time in history, Russians made it to the final table in five straight WSOP events (Event #14 – Alexander Kostritsyn; Event #15 – Svetlana Gromenkova; Event #16 – Ralph Perry; Event #17 – Sergey Rybachenko and Mike Schwartz).

In addition, all three winners from Tuesday's final tables were New Yorkers, if you include Gromenkova, who was born in Moscow, immigrated to the United States about six years ago and now lives in New York City. This is the first time in WSOP history that three winners in a single day all came from the same hometown.

The other New Yorker other than Gromenkova and Young that will be bringing a bracelet back to the Big Apple is Andrew Brown, a 26-year-old pro who was a student at New York University prior to taking up poker for a living. Brown took home $225,632 after upsetting five-time WSOP gold bracelet winner Ted Forrest in heads up play of the $2,000 Omaha High-Low Split event.

Also in this event, Scott Clements became the first player at this year's WSOP to make two final table appearances. The two-time WSOP gold bracelet winner finished sixth and has now made four final tables in two years. Other former gold bracelet winners who cashed included Max Pescatori, David Chiu, Tommy Hufnagle, Dr. Max Stern, Brent Carter, Ralph Perry, Josh Arieh, Hilbert Shirey, James Richburg and Pat Poels. Sports broadcaster Mike Patrick entered, but did not cash.

I wear my sunglasses at night

Gromenkova, who collected $224,702 for winning her first-career gold bracelet in the $1,000 >No-Limit Hold'em Ladies World Championship, is the friend of Las Vegas-based professional Anthony Rivera, who won the Half Omaha/Half Stud championship last week. Rivera gave Gromenkova his sunglasses to wear at the table. Gromenkova later claimed that the lucky sunglasses were hers and that Rivera had "borrowed" them during his final table victory.

No matter who the proud owner of the sunglasses is there is no disputing that these lucky pair of shades could be considered one of the cash leaders of the WSOP thus far, winning about half a million dollars in the past week.

Several former Ladies World Champions entered this event, including Barbara Enright, Susie Isaacs, Mary Jones and defending champ Sally Ann Boyer. However, none of these former winners cashed.

In fact, through 17 events, no defending champion has managed to cash in his or her respective event.

The stars are aligned

In yesterday's update we pointed out that there were several high-profile players still alive in the $5,000 No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven Lowball with Rebuys event and that an impressive final table was most certainly in the works.

Well, when action gets back underway for the seven-man finale on Wednesday it will mark the most prolific final table of this year's WSOP. It's the kind of roster that would have WSOP organizers dancing in the streets if duplicated for this year's much-ballyhooed Main Event.

The seven players fighting for the $537,857 first-place prize ¬- Erick Lindgren , Barry Greenstein, Mike Matusow, Jeffrey Lisandro, David Benyamine, Tony "G" Guoga, Tom Schneider – have combined for 112 WSOP cashes and eight bracelets. That's an average of 16 cashes and more than one bracelet per player.

Lindgren, who has also won nearly $1.5 million at the WSOP and WSOP Circuit, finally won his coveted first-career bracelet last week and is now in a prime position to pick up No. 2. He is the chip leader with 1,104,000, well ahead of second-place Greenstein (541,000) and third-place Matusow (520,000).


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