It was around this time last year that PokerStars announced it had signed up Jason Mercier to Team PokerStars Pro. After winning buckets of cash on the EPT circuit, Mercier had weeks previously bagged his first WSOP bracelet.
Now, PokerStars has introduced another player to the Team PokerStars Pro roster - Ville Wahlbeck, who just missed out on the WSOP Player of the Year title in 2009. Wahlbeck is the first Finnish member of Team Pro and will join the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Vanessa Rousso, Barry Greenstein, Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem, Peter Eastgate, Chris Moneymaker and the current world champion Joe Cada.
Wahlbeck's first Team Pro appearance will be at the PokerStars Baltic Festival in Tallinn, Estonia, which runs from June 16 -19. Last year, he won that particular festival's High Roller event for a first prize of $52,000.
The 34-year-old from Helsinki has been a professional player for six years, but it was last summer when he really came to our attention when he became the first Finnish player to earn a WSOP bracelet. He took down the prestigious $10,000 Mixed Game event for $492,384. In total, he cashed six times during last year's Series - a fantastic achievement that earned him more than a million dollars.
Wahlbeck's other 2009 WSOP cashes included three further final tables. He finished sixth in the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event for $200,000, second in the $10,000 World Championship 2-7 Lowball event for $170,000 and third in the $10,000 World Championship Seven Card Stud event for more than $100,000. Phew.
Given his phenomenal achievements in Vegas, few were surprised when he snagged two trophies at this year's PokerStars Nordic Poker Awards in Copenhagen - 'Best Live Tournament Player' and 'Best Performance'.
Wahlbeck says a lot of his success is down to the ability to excel at several different poker variations. He added: "Each situation and each opponent is different and you have to modify your own game to adapt to each situation.
"PokerStars is the leading name in this field, not only because it is the world's biggest poker site but also for other reasons: PokerStars has always taken good care of its players and has made an effort to ensure that all the players are treated equally and honestly. Due to these things, PokerStars has been the avant-garde of the whole game and it's both trusted and appreciated - a reputation which is well-deserved. I am really proud to be part of Team PokerStars Pro."
Welcome to the Team, Ville!
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One of Wahlbeck's new colleagues, Russian Team PokerStars Pro Alex Kravchenko, came close to winning his second WSOP bracelet yesterday. He made the final table of the $1,500 2-7 Lowball Draw No Limit, but ended up finishing seventh for a $9,568 payday.
Kravchenko was fourth in the 2007 WSOP Main Event, which Jerry Yang won, and also won an Omaha Hi/Lo Split 8 bracelet a few weeks earlier, making him one of the most feared players at yesterday's final.
But he took an early hit when he doubled up short-stacked Todd Bui. Kravchenko raised to 15,000 from early position and it was folded around to Bui in the big blind who announced he was all in. Kravchenko made the call for 46,000 more. Bui drew one, and Kravchenko tossed a 3 face-up to the dealer. Bui was drawing to a 9-5-3-2.
"Ooh, I have a little better draw," he said after seeing Kravchenko's 9-5-4-3. "Oh I made it!" Bui said, turning over a 6. Kravchenko was dead, flipping over a 10.
That left Kravhcenko with a lot of work to do, and soon after he was all-in from the cut-off with his last 35,000. Mike Wattel called from the button. Kravchenko drew one and Wattel stood pat with J-7-6-5-4 to Kravchenko's 9-8-4-3. So a ten, seven, six, five, or deuce would double him up, but instead he drew a 4, pairing his hand. He was out.
Wattel went on to make it to heads-up play, but was beaten by Yan Chen, who secured the bracelet and $92,817.
Meanwhile, Team PokerStars Pro Dario Minieri and Team PokerStars Online player George Lind have made it through to day three of the $10,000 7-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or better. Just 18 remain, and 16 will be paid at least $28,221.
Lind, with 76,000, is the short-stack, while Minieri, who was chip leader at one stage, is a little more comfortable with 139,000, although a long way behind chip leader Frank Kassela with 515,000.
Minieri, known more for his fearlessly aggressive no-limit game, has impressed with his play in other poker variants during the WSOP so far. Certainly not many would have given the Italian much chance in this one.
Team PokerStars Pros Barry Greenstein and Jason Mercier had fallen a little earlier in day two, while Daniel Negreanu had lasted just a couple of hands at the start of the day.
In day 1 of the $1,500 No Limit Six-Max event, Team PokerStars Pro JP Kelly bagged up 92,900, in 15th place out of the 146 survivors (1,663 had entered). Also through, in his first WSOP appearance after arriving from the LAPT event in Lima, Peru is Team PokerStars Pro Andre Akkari from Brazil with 29,000.
We'll keep an eye on those two when the six-max field resumes today, along with day 3 of the $10,000 stud event, day three of the $1,000 No Limit event, and today's new starter, the $5,000 No Limit Hold'em event.
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ElkY makes ToC play-off
Congratulations to Team PokerStars Pro ElkY, who has made it through to a singe-table play-off to win a seat at the WSOP Tournament of Champions. Nine players, who were not eligible for the public voting to fill the final seat, will join the play-off on June 10. Sitting with ElkY will be Tom 'durrrr' Dwan, Andy Bloch, Gus Hanson, actor Don Cheadle, Sorel Mizzi, Michael Mizrachi, Liv Boeree and Paul Wasicka.
The winner will join 26 others fighting it out for the ToC $1 million prize pool. Of those 27, 20 are selected by public voting, five are automatic entries and the remaining two are sponsor exemption entries. ElkY is vying to fill one of those two, with the play-off organised by the WSOP Academy.
The five automatic entries into the tournament are the three previous WSOP ToC winners (Annie Duke, Mike Matusow and Mike Sexton), the reigning WSOP champion, Team PokerStars Pro Joe Cada, and the reigning WSOP Europe champion Barry Shulman.
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Tweets of the Day
@Maridu: The AC at the Rio is nuts, yesterday I actually had wind in my hair while sitting down playing cards! A bit of sore throat today cof-cof
@RealKidPoker: Ok it's official. I'm running awful in these things. Just went broke after two hands.
@BarryGreenstein: Despite what people say, there is plenty of money in stud8. No one is solid
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Thought of the Day
Team PokerStars Pro just got even tougher
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Previous WSOP Diary entries
WSOP Diary: Durrr misses biggest-ever poker payday, pros overjoyed
WSOP Diary: Poker's clean-up operation begins again
WSOP Diary: Manchester United soccer star Darren Fletcher tackles World Series of Poker
WSOP Diary: $10,000 Stud Championsip draws big names
WSOP Diary: Nh, gg, wp Daniel Negreanu, k?
WSOP Diary: Grinding out $1.5million with perfect timing
WSOP Diary: Team Pro Maridu needs Baker, Baker needs dough
WSOP Diary: Viva la revolution in Las Vegas
WSOP Diary: Safari, so good for Noah Boeken
WSOP Diary: Barry Greenstein mixes it up in the $50K
WSOP Diary: Going supersize in Las Vegas