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Top 10 Stories of 2013: #7, World Series of Poker Circuit Grinders Dominate

Top 10 Stories of 2013: #7, World Series of Poker Circuit Grinders Dominate 0001

In continuing with the PokerNews Top 10 Stories of the Year, we're back with No. 7 on the list. Our list was compiled through voting by each member of our staff, and we’ll spend the next days counting down what we believe to be the biggest stories of the year. Coming in at this spot this year is the domination of the World Series of Poker Circuit grinders.

The World Series of Poker Circuit came into its own this year. The 2012-2013 season attracted record numbers and concluded with Jonathan Hilton winning the National Championship in New Orleans. Furthermore, the 2013-2014 season is already shaping up to be bigger and better.

That is no doubt due in small part to a handful of circuit grinders that found unparalleled success this year.

The WSOP Circuit’s recipe of offering affordable buy-ins and taking the tour to locales across the country — which offers the average man the chance to play a prestigious tournament — has proven a tremendous success. It’s also established itself as a stepping stone to bigger and better things in the poker world. Take Jonathan Taylor and Bryan Campanello, for example.

Taylor was a three-time WSOP Circuit gold ring winner with 10 cashes for $260,215 before heading out to Las Vegas this summer and the WSOP. He only managed one cash, but it was a big one as he defeated Mid-States Poker Tour star Blake Bohn in heads-up play to win Event #14: $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em for $454,424 and his first gold bracelet.

Likewise, Campanello began playing the WSOP Circuit in January 2013 and within months he won his first gold ring in the WSOP Circuit The Lodge Casino Event #1: $365 No-Limit Hold’em for $21,223. He padded his résumé with plenty of other WSOP Circuit cashes, but the highlight of his budding career came in Event #33: $2,500 Razz at the 2013 WSOP. The young pro managed to outlast 300 other players to win $178,052 and demolish the stigma that razz is an old man’s game. Since then, Campanello returned to his WSOP Circuit roots and even won his second gold ring in the 2013-2014 WSOP Circuit Horseshoe Bossier City Event #9: Pot-Limit Omaha for $9,360.

Taylor and Campanello not only found success, but they also got to share in the success of their friend Loni Harwood, who electrified the poker world with her performance in Vegas. Like her friends, Harwood is a product of the WSOP Circuit. The 23-year-old Staten Island native, who dates fellow circuit grinder Phillip Hui, won her first gold ring in February 2012 at the Palm Beach Kennel Club stop, and added another three months later at Harrah’s New Orleans. All told “Luscious Loni” has 10 WSOP Circuit cashes for $69,599.

Not too bad, but it doesn’t hold a candle to her six cashes for $874,698 at this year's WSOP:

Loni Harwood
Loni Harwood

Event #6: $1,500 Millionaire Maker560th$3,082
Event #18: $1,000 NLHE43rd$6,784
Event #31: $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low6th$39,803
Event #36: $1,500 NLHE Shootout86th$5,556
Event #53: $1,500 NLHE4th$210,456
Event #60: $1,500 NLHE1st$609,017

The performance was one of the most impressive by a woman in WSOP history, and it tied Cyndy Violette’s record from 2005 for most final table appearances by a female in a single series. In addition, her win gave her the record for the largest payday awarded to a woman in a Las Vegas WSOP event, surpassing Allyn Jeffery Shulman’s Seniors Event victory at the 2012 WSOP. She also jumped to the No. 8 spot on the all-time WSOP money list for women, and her total was the most ever by a woman in a single Las Vegas WSOP.

“I think I’ll make a couple of Circuit stops this year,” Harwood told PokerNews when asked if she’ll continue to play the WSOP Circuit. “Not only do I think the Circuit is awesome, but all my friends travel to these tournaments. Being able to travel with them is one of the best parts of traveling the circuit. I’ll also be making a couple of stops that I normally wouldn’t be making. In January, I will probably head to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.”

While the stories of Taylor, Campanello, and Harwood are inspiring, they pale in comparison to the rapid rise of Ryan Riess.

Ryan Riess
Ryan Riess

The 23-year-old from East Lansing, Michigan burst onto the poker scene in October 2012 when he finished runner-up in the WSOP Circuit Hammond Main Event for $239,063. It was his first-ever poker cash, and he was hooked. He proceeded to travel the WSOP Circuit, earn nine more cashes, and brought his winnings up to $266,349, which gave him 145 points on the National Leaderboard and one of 62 at-large seats into the National Championship.

Riess wasn’t successful in that event, but that didn’t stop him from heading out west for his first World Series. His results included a 110th-place finish in Event #6: $1,500 Millionaire Maker for $7,278; 11th in Event #30: $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em for $20,015; and 139th in Event #49: $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em for $3,276, but it wouldn’t be until the $10,000 Main Event where Riess would enter the history books by capturing his first gold bracelet and the $8,361,570 first-place prize.

It took Riess just over a year to go from an unknown college graduate to world champion, and it all started with the WSOP Circuit. Now that Riess has the bankroll and motivation to play in the big leagues (i.e. PCA, Aussie Millions, etc.), his days of traveling the WSOP Circuit have likely come to an end. Even so, his seat at the tables will no doubt be filled by hundreds of players seeking their own “rags to riches” story.

Check out Riess’ Main Event victory interview here:

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the race for the most gold rings of all time, which heated up in 2013 thanks to two men — Alex Masek and Chris Reslock. For years, Mark “Pegasus” Smith held the record with five, but with the WSOP Circuit boasting “12 Rings in 12 Days” at every stop it was only a matter of time before the record fell.

In January, 27-year-old Masek broke the record by capturing his sixth, and then five months later 65-year-old Atlantic City pro Reslock equalled the feat. Amazingly, three days later Reslock won his seventh to set a new record. Not to be outdone, Masek evened things up with his seventh at the Harrah’s Rincon stop back in December. It was an intense race, and with other players winning multiple rings, it seems things are only going to get more interesting in 2014.

PokerNews Top 10 Stories of 2013:

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