The World Series of Poker has established a tradition of hosting a special tournament, specifically designed for casino employees. The annual casino employees event has marked the "official" beginning of the world’s biggest and most prestigious poker tournament — as dealers, floorpersons, pit employees, bartenders, executives, and personnel from virtually all areas of the gaming business gather at the Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas to determine who is most deserving as the casino industry’s top poker player.
This year, the casino employees "world championship" went to Carl "Coach" Nessel, a 57-year-old former firefighter from Thousand Oaks, California. The Coach plays poker regularly and works assorted tournaments part-time — including this year’s WSOP, where he is employed as a chip runner.
The Coach survived a grueling poker marathon, which lasted an exhausting 15 hours and 45 minutes. He won his final hand of the night with a pair of Queens against the runner up, Cory Pockat, a poker dealer from Colorado. The Coach’s ride to victory did not come easy.
A record 279 players started the tournament. It took 11 hours to play down to the final table, comprised of a well-rounded mix of casino employees. Five of the nine finalists were from California.
Joe Addesso, originally from San Diego, who works as a table games supervisor in Las Vegas, was the first player to exit in 9th place. He received $2,520.
A short time later, William Roffe was severely short-stacked and exited in 8th place. Roffe, a dealer who was playing in only his second hold’em tournament ever, had to be proud of his performance. He collected $3,780.
Stephen Calhoun, a dealer from Bradenton, Florida, went out next in 7th place — good for $5,040 in prize money.
An hour into the final table, Roger Jenkins, a casino shift manager from Union City, California, was the shortest stack. He didn’t survive and took 6th place, which generated a payday of $6,300.
Mark Richman was bounced off the final table in 5th place, when his hand lost to Cory Pockat’s straight. Richman came in second in chips, but could not sustain the momentum he built mid-way through the tournament. Richman, who has won smaller tournaments here in Las Vegas, was awarded $7,560.
Bill Bruce, a poker floorperson, from Menifee, California, who was playing in his first-ever live tournament, had $8,882 reasons to be extremely proud of his fourth-place effort.
Leon Wheeler, a Las Vegas poker dealer who finished 2nd in this event last year, added a 3rd place finish to his remarkable two-year performance in this event. Based on recent history, Wheeler, who took home $11,350, seems destined to win this tourney at some point in the future.
The two finalists — Coach and Pockat — merrily shook hands as heads-up play commenced, just as the clock struck 3 am. The Coach had a slight chip lead, with about $80,000 to Pockat’s $60,000. The Coach won the first five pots, and took a sledgehammer to Pockat’s diminishing stack size.
Down to his last $30,000, the final hand of the night was dealt at 3:38 a.m. in front of a surprisingly large though sleepy crowd: Pockat was dealt Q-9, while Coach took J-J (pocket jacks), which proved good enough to win it all.
"I’m totally speechless," Coach said, as he stared at the coveted gold bracelet, awarded to each winner at the World Series. "To get to any final table, let alone the World Series, is an accomplishment that goes beyond anything else in poker.
"I’ve been coming here since 1976," he continued. "It’s been a dream and a fantasy that I never thought would come true, but here I am."