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Sunday, July 4, 2010
A busy, star-studded day at the WSOP

Saturday was an incredibly busy day at the WSOP. While the buzz is all about the soon-to-start main event, we had the final table of one of our biggest events, a player looking to win his third bracelet of the world series, a virtual clinching of the Player of the Year race, Tom Dwan taking one more serious shot at winning his myriad bets, Phil Hellmuth looking for the dozen, celebrities playing poker for the greater good, poker's biggest stars all waiting around to see whether they'd be concluding the Tournament of Champions and Phil Gordon finally winning at the WSOP. Not too shabby for a prelude. Here's how it all shook out:

"djk123" makes good on his promise

Dan "djk123" Kelly, may look like he's too young to get served alcohol in Canada, but he did a lot on Saturday to prove right the pundits who were calling for him to be the most successful male rookie of the 2010 class, piloting his start of day chip lead to victory in Event 52, $25,000 six-handed no-limit hold 'em. Kelly's first bracelet came with a prize of $1,315,518, which should help pay for his senior year at Villanova.

Kelly's been a known entity in online circles for years. By 19, he was playing Daniel Negreanu heads-up in HORSE and since then he's scored a plethora of six-figure wins in online tournament play. Fellow final table finisher Jason Somerville described him prior to the final table as "One of the greatest tournament players in history," a sentiment that seems to be shared by many in the online community. Oh, and he's not limited to hold 'em, either.

Dan Kelly
Not only did Dan Kelly win $1.3 million and a bracelet, he also locked up an endorsement deal with DoylesRoom.

Kelly started the day with a strong chip lead and wielded it expertly. He made quick work of taking out Eugene Katchalov in sixth ($194,559) and Mikael Thuritz in fifth ($272,084) before Shawn Buchanan removed Somerville and Frank Kassela in fourth ($386,125) and third ($556,053), respectively. Heads-up play started with the stacks close to even and Kelly had Buchanan covered when he called Buchanan's J-J all-in with A-10 offsuit. When Kelly spiked the ace on the river, he'd won his first bracelet.

After the conclusion of the penultimate day of play, Kelly told me that while winning a bracelet would be "pretty cool," he couldn't attach a stronger sentiment because he's ultimately looking to win more than one in what's destined to be a long poker career. After the win, he admitted that the feat was a little more satisfying than expected.

"I don't have a number or anything," Kelly answered when asked what it would take to satisfy his obvious hunger for poker success. "I plan on playing for a long time. I just want to win as many as possible. I'm not going to say I'm not going to be satisfied if I don't win everything. I'm satisfied right now. I just still want to win more."

In addition to the prize money, Kelly can now take his place on the Brunson 10. During the WSOP, DoylesRoom allowed four players to compete for the next spot on the site's roster. While the competition was truly about most points earned throughout the WSOP, a caveat was in place saying that if any of the competing players wins a bracelet, they'll be on the team immediately.

Kelly's toughest run at the final table came after the veteran Kassela showed A-10 on an ace-high board after getting Kelly to fold A-J. For the next 20 minutes, the steam pouring from Kelly's ears was evident.

"Yeah, I went on steam a little bit," Kelly admitted afterward with a smile. "I was a little tilted. Not to the point where I was playing badly, but I was a little frustrated. The break came at a good time."

For Kassela, it was the start of a run that brought him virtually even in chips with Kelly and Buchanan in his quest to win a third bracelet. The quest was cut off at the head when he called Buchanan's all-in on the turn with two pair to Buchanan's open-ended straight draw only to see the straight hit on the river. Unless John Juanda makes a miraculous run in the main event, Player of the Year will be Kassela's consolation prize.

For Buchanan, one of the more respected and beloved members of the live professional community, the near miss was bittersweet, with the draw against Kassela and the loss to Kelly with the superior starting hand essentially canceling one another out. Buchanan's finish puts him over $3.3 million in lifetime tournament winnings and with this his eighth cash, he still has an outside shot at breaking the record of 10 cashes in one WSOP with the main event and WSOP Europe to come.

Phil Gordon wins Ante Up For Africa

Phil Gordon
Ante Up For Africa champion Phil Gordon only wanted a bracelet this summer. Instead, he earned … a watch. Gordon also donated all his prize money to charity.

Despite a busy schedule working his own Bad Beat on Cancer charity, ESPN's Poker Edge Podcast host Phil Gordon took some time out a day before celebrating his 40th birthday to share the love. Gordon was amongst the stars from inside and outside of the poker world who entered Ante Up For Africa's WSOP event and walked away the winner after final tabling a year ago. Gordon won $129,086 for his efforts, then immediately donated that sum to the charity.

"I always wanted to win an event at the World Series of Poker," Gordon said after his win. "Of course, it had to be a non-gold bracelet event."

Amongst those joining Gordon at the tables were organizers Don Cheadle and Annie Duke, Matt Damon, David Allan Grier, Evander Holyfield, Shannon Elizabeth, Brad Garrett and Jerome "The Bus" Bettis along with a number of poker's biggest stars.

"Its a great cause to come and raise money for," Bettis said. "I love poker, so its a great event to be involved with. I'm not the best at reading players and that kind of thing. I get the basic concepts and understand basic strategy, but I'm not great."

Despite the hesitance regarding his skill, Bettis managed to finish in sixth place, trailing only runner-up Shannon Elizabeth amongst the celebrities.

While the $275,000 the tournament raised for the victims of humanitarian crises in Africa has to be seen as a success, the tournament did suffer a major drop-off both in celebrity participation and overall enrollment. In 2009, bolstered by the realities an ESPN broadcast brings, the tournament attracted 138 players. This year, with no television incentive and the continually felt effects of the world economy, the tournament had just 84 players.

The $10,000 Tease and TOC

At the start of Saturday's play, the remaining field of 33 in Event 55, $10,000 pot-limit Omaha world championship, offered a lot of promise for the newsies in the room. Tom Dwan was the massive chip leader heading into play with those bets you've probably heard a little too much about on the line, and Phil Hellmuth was still alive, looking to add to his record 11 WSOP bracelets and win his first in a non-hold 'em event.

By the end of Saturday's play, the remaining field of nine in that same event had lost some of its luster. Dwan went out in 17th, Hellmuth lost the war of attrition with his constantly shrinking stack when he went out in 15th and Jason Mercier ended the night's play by going out on the final table bubble. The final table, highlighted by chip leaders Ludovic Lacay and Daniel Alaei, will play out on Sunday.

With Phil Hellmuth playing late into Saturday night, the continuation of the Tournament of Champions was again postponed, with the originally planned Saturday 7 p.m. start pushed back to Sunday at 11 a.m. Most of these guys haven't woken up that early since high school, but they'll get it done for the chance to win a half a million dollars for first place.