Level 24: 15,000-30,000, 5,000 ante
By BJ Nemeth
The WPT Celebrity Invitational is often called the most fun tournament of the year, and it's easy to see why. The field is a mix of actors, singers, VIPs, and professional poker players, and the first night feels more like a giant party than a poker tournament.
This year's field attracted 482 players, and about $95,000 was raised from player rebuys. (The World Poker Tour chipped in the difference to make it an even $100,000.) The money raised is donated to the Chrysalis charity, which provides job placement for the poor and the homeless to help them rebuild their lives.
When the dust settled after two days, there were six players remaining, including two international-ranked female chess masters, Almira Skripchenko and Dinara Khaziyeva. The notable poker pro at the table is Dan Heimiller, who final tabled the WPT Borgata Poker Open back in Season VII, finishing third.
There will be a 10-day break before the final table, which will be held on Wednesday, March 2nd. (This is done so it can be recorded on the WPT stage on back-to-back days with the upcoming WPT LA Poker Classic.) Here are the official seating assignments and chip counts for the six final tablists:
Seat 1. Dinara Khaziyeva - 670,000 (22 BBs)
Seat 2. Damon Schramm - 865,000 (29 BBs)
Seat 3. George Rechnitzer - 660,000 (22 BBs)
Seat 4. Dan Heimiller - 700,000 (23 BBs)
Seat 5. Davidi Kitai - 845,000 (28 BBs)
Seat 6. Almira Skripchenko - 710,000 (24 BBs)
And now, a photographic look back at the first two days of the WPT Celebrity Invitational:
Actress Jennifer Tilly admires some of the other signatures before signing the commemorative table backstage at the 2011 WPT Celebrity Invitational.
Oscar nominee John Hawkes (left) talks with actor Lou Diamond Phillips before heading out on the red carpet. Hawkes has to wait until this Sunday night to find out if he will win the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film "Winter's Bone." Also pictured, former Major League Baseball player Jose Canseco (far right).
Former NFL player and actor Bubba Smith ("Police Academy") signs the commemorative table for the 2011 WPT Celebrity Invitational.
Ten-time Grammy Award-winning singer Chaka Khan pauses for an interview on the red carpet.
While Tiffany Michelle (left) and Maria Ho are professional poker players, they also received a good amount of celebrity from their appearance on the hit TV show, "The Amazing Race."
Walking the red carpet can seem like running a gauntlet, as celebrities give interview after interview to many different news outlets. Here you can see actors Ken Davitian (far left, "Borat") and Lou Diamond Phillips (center left, "La Bamba," "Stand and Deliver," "Young Guns").
Shortly before play begins, reality TV star Trishelle Cannatella takes a self-portrait with her two close friends Joe Sebok (left) and Jeff Madsen. Cannatella final tabled this event a year ago, finishing third.
Actress Camryn Manheim ("The Practice," "Ghost Whisperer") entertains poker pros Carlos Mortensen (left) and Bertrand "Elky" Grospellier (right) between hands.
Poker pro Mark Seif (left) looks on as actor Don Cheadle ("Ocean's Eleven," "Hotel Rwanda," "Iron Man 2") plays a hand on Day 1 of the WPT Celebrity Invitational.
Poker pro Phil Laak (right) takes a photo of his girlfriend, actress Jennifer Tilly, and actress Gina Gershon (left). Tilly and Gershon starred in the 1996 film "Bound" together, while Laak won this event back in Season II.
WPT Anchor Kimberly Lansing interviews actor Corey Feldman ("Goonies," "Stand By Me," "The Lost Boys," "License to Drive") after his elimination from the WPT Celebrity Invitational.
Poker pro Lauren Kling receives a good luck hug from WPT Live Updates reporter Jessica Welman, who also played in the event.
Tournament Director Matt Savage (standing, left) tries to rescue Matt Affleck (seated, center) from WSOP Main Event champion Jonathan Duhamel. As you probably remember, Affleck was painfully eliminated from the WSOP Main Event in 15th place when Duhamel cracked his aces on the river in the biggest pot of the tournament to that point.
At the end of Day 1, it was future Poker Hall of Famer Linda Johnson who had the chip lead.
Multiple WPT champion Antonio Esfandiari sits down with WPT Anchor Kimberly Lansing for an extended interview before play begins on Day 2. In addition to winning his second WPT title back in December, Esfandiari final tabled this event in Season II, a few days after winning his first WPT title in the WPT LA Poker Classic.
While Day 1 feels more like a cocktail party than a poker tournament, Day 2 becomes much more serious. Chipleader Linda Johnson (foreground, left) checks her phone after folding while poker pros David Baker (center) and Barry Greenstein (right) wait for the action to reach them.
Highly-ranked international chess player Almira Skripchenko (left) watches as actor Rich Sommer ("Mad Men," "The Devil Wears Prada") eliminates a player late on Day 2. Sommer was one of the last celebrities standing in this event.
Royal Flush Girl Melanie Iglesias interviews actor Michael Bower (center, "Salute Your Shorts") and reigning WPT Celebrity Invitational champion Leron Washington (right). Washington won his seat into last year's Invitational by playing on ClubWPT.com, and both he and Bower regularly play on the site.
Poker pro Eric Cloutier watches as highly-ranked international chess player Dinara Khaziyeva pulls in a huge pot late in the tournament. That's right, there are two highly-ranked female chess masters in this field.
Poker Pro Phil Laak finished Day 1 second in chips behind Linda Johnson, but had a prior engagement and couldn't return for Day 2. According to the rules, his stack is put out on the table and blinded off in his absence, and his 115,300 lasted long enough to finish in 24th place. Laak won this event back in Season II, but not without playing Day 2.
Future Poker Hall of Famer Linda Johnson carried her Day 1 momentum fairly deep into Day 2 before she ran into trouble. Johnson played a huge pot where she flopped top set, but Davidi Kitai's top pair caught a runner-runner diamond flush to win the pot. Johnson eventually finished in 13th place.
Actor Ashton Holmes ("A History of Violence," "The Pacific") was the last celebrity standing, finishing in ninth place.
With seven players remaining and only six seats at the televised WPT final table, a crowd gathers around as poker pro Dan Heimiller (seated, center left) plays a pot against Davidi Kitai (seated, center right).
WPT Anchor Kimberly Lansing interviews double-bubble boy Tom Christopher after his elimination in seventh place. Normally, that is just the final table bubble, but for this event, it also represents the money bubble. Lansing told Christopher that she understands his pain, because she bubbled this event in 8th place back in Season VI.
Both Almira Skripchenko (left) and Dinara Khaziyeva are internationally-ranked chess masters, and they've both made it to the final table of the WPT Celebrity Invitational. They know each other from chess, but neither realized the other was playing this event until Day 2, when Skripchenko found herself at the same table as Khaziyeva's fiance.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
To consolidate the costs of constructing the WPT set, this final table will begin at 4:00 pm PT on Wednesday, March 2, so it can be recorded on back-to-back days with the WPT LA Poker Classic final table. When they return to action, you can be sure that WPT Live Updates will be there to provide you with complete live hand-for-hand coverage.
In the meantime, the $10,000 buy-in WPT LA Poker Classic begins this Friday, February 25th. Return to WPT.com for continuing live coverage, including hand updates, chip counts, video interviews with Kimberly Lansing, and the Jess & BJ Show.
Level 24: 15,000-30,000, 5,000 ante
On the first hand back from break, Tom Christopher raises to 90,000 from under the gun and it folds around to Davidi Kitai in the small blind. Kitai announces he is all-in and Christopher calls.
Kitai has Christopher covered and shows JJ, while Christopher folds 33. The board runs out A1028A and Christopher is eliminated in 7th place, bubbline both the money and the televised final table.
With his elimination, players start bagging up their chips. They will have more than a few days to formulate their final table game plan, as this event will not play out to completion until March 2nd.
Level 22: 10,000-20,000, 3,000 ante
Hand #25 - Damon Schramm (center, left) raises from early position to 50,000, and Tom Christopher (standing, left) calls from the big blind. The flop comes K97, Christopher checks, and Schramm moves all in for 340,000. Christopher stands up to study the board, and after a minute or so he tells the table, "Another 30 seconds." A few seconds later, Christopher folds, and Damon Schramm takes the pot.