Big-time poker returns to Northern Nevada

May 2, 2005 3:29 AM

The fourth stop on the 2005 World Series of Poker Circuit began with the largest number of entries for any major poker tournament ever held in Northern Nevada.

An elbow-to-elbow 542 players entered the $200 buy-in no-limit hold’em event, hosted by Harveys Lake Tahoe Casino and Resort. Considering poker’s long rich history in Reno and Lake Tahoe, which dates back nearly three decades when the Super Bowl of Poker was held in the region, the turnout at Lake Tahoe was impressive.

"We are thrilled to bring the World Series of Poker to Northern Nevada," said Ken Lambert, WSOP Director of Tournament Operations. "The players in this area have supported poker for a very long time and we are excited to see they have responded with such strong numbers on the first day of the world’s biggest and most prestigious series of tournaments."

The large turnout for the first tournament appears to be just the beginning. With two full weeks of poker still to go, Lake Tahoe will be at the center of the poker universe through May 11.

Each of the 12 tournament events begins promptly at noon (except for Ladies event, held on Saturday, May 7 starting at 11 am). Tournament final tables will be played the next day.

The WSOP Circuit tournament at Lake Tahoe continues through May 11, when the final table of the championship event will be played and televised. The final table will be filmed for broadcast by ESPN.

Given poker’s long history and dedicated following at Lake Tahoe and nearby Reno, it’s no surprise that Lake Tahoe Circuit Event No. 1 attracted the largest field in Northern Nevada history.

Play on day one lasted 12 hours. In the end, 497 players left the cardroom with a bad beat story, while places 10 through 45 received prize money ranging from $315 up to $1,155.

The nine finalists returned for day two, with Tony Prestigiacomo from nearby Genoa holding a decisive 2-1 chip lead over his closest rival.

On Thursday, the final table was played in front of a packed standing-room only gallery adjacent to the Hard Rock Café on the second floor at Harveys Lake Tahoe. Players were eliminated as follows:

5th place — After eliminating two players, it was John Buchanan’s turn to experience the bitter sting of defeat. Buchanan, a professional Internet poker player who lives in Las Vegas, tried to make a move at the wrong time and missed making a straight. Ron Collins, with a pair, busted Buchanan. Fifth place paid $6,310.

4th place — Ron Collins made an impressive leap up in the money standings. Lowest in chips coming into the finale, Collins jumped up five places and finally went out in fourth. On his final hand, he was dealt A-Q and moved all-in versus Jody Thompson’s 10-10. The board failed to connect for Collins, and the construction engineer from Oakley, CA was finally demolished. Collins earned $7,360 in prize money.

3rd place — Despite a nice payday, the final result had to be disappointing for Jody Thompson. He seized the chip lead away from Tony Prestigiacomo about midway through the finale and appeared to be in good position to earn his first major tournament victory. But disaster struck in the final 15 minutes of play, and Thompson’s stack was machine-gunned down to the felt. His final hand of the night was particularly brutal. Thompson (with A-9) called an ”˜all in’ raise by Prestigiacomo (with Q-J). Thompson loved the situation. The smile was suddenly wiped from Thompson face with the flop came 10-9-4. Thompson had flopped a pair, but Prestigiacomo still had plenty of outs with two overcards and a straight draw. Then, disaster struck. An ugly eight fell on the river, completing the dreaded straight and crushing Thompson’s hopes of doubling-up into a big chip lead. Thompson, an actor from Lithonia, CA exited the poker stage in third place, with $8,410.

The heads-up duel between Tony Prestigiacomo and Steven Lunn began with the early chip-leader holding a 3-1 chip advantage — 404,000 to 139,000. By this time, Lunn had become an obvious crowd favorite, due largely to his underdog status.

Consider this: When play was five-handed, Lunn took a heartbreaking beat and believed he was knocked out of the tournament. He began to walk away from the table in disappointment, but when both stacks were counted down, it was discovered that Lunn still had two-chips remaining (a paltry 2,000). Then, the unexpected happened and lightning struck Lunn. Over the next 90 minutes, he won six all-ins and split two critical pots when he was at a clear disadvantage — thus ending up as the only obstacle to Prestigiacomo’s determination to win his first World Series of Poker event.

The final duel last for about 20 minutes. With blinds escalating, any pair was strong enough to commit a full stack. Fittingly, on the final hand of the tournament, both players were dealt pocket pairs — Prestigiacomo’s 6-6 versus Lunn’s 4-4. As the crowd rose to its feet, everyone wondered, would Lunn be able to do the impossible one more time?

The flop answered the uncertainty very quickly. The flop showed Q-Q-6, giving Prestigiacomo a full house. That blow essentially left Lunn drawing dead and put an exclamation point to an event filled with several exciting moments, at least one inspiring comeback, and a convincing victory for the tournament winner.

This was Steven Lunn’s second time to be a bridesmaid. He took second place at Harrah’s Rincon (2005 WSOPC) in Event No. 1. A retiree from Arroyo Grande, Lunn received $16,940 as the runner up.

"This was a tremendous privilege, honor, and experience to win this event," said Prestigiacomo, who collected $31,563 and a gold ring for the victory. "I can say at this point, that more important than the prize money was the joy of competing and going heads up — and ultimately winning."