Big Fields, Big Prizes: The History of the WPT® Borgata Winter Poker Open Championship

Jan 9, 2017

The World Poker Tour® has a lot to look forward to in 2017, and coming up on January 29 is our first WPT® Main Tour event of the new year, the Season XV WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open $3,500 Championship. This exciting event boasts a whopping $3 million guaranteed prize pool, and it could be you walking away with life-changing money and the prestigious WPT title.

Season XV marks the fifth time the Borgata Winter Poker Open Championship has been a part of the WPT schedule, and each prior season has provided the tour with a huge, can’t-miss event. Leading up to this season, the event has attracted an average field size of more than 1,100 entries and an average prize pool of more than $3.5 million. Talk about juicy!

This season’s $3,500 Championship plans to be no different, with another large field expected and a big $3 million guarantee on the prize pool to back it up.

Let’s take a look at the past history of this event in a year-by-year snapshot.

Season XI: Andy Hwang Tops 1,000-Entry Field in First WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open Championship

Andy Hwang


In the first season that the Borgata Poker Open $3,500 Championship was a part of the WPT schedule, 1,042 entries competed in the event to generate a prize pool north of $3.3 million. Nearly $2 million was to be awarded to the top six finishers at the WPT final table, with a booming $730,053 set aside for the champion.

WPT Rendez-Vous à Paris champion Matt Salsberg was the final table’s headliner, but Andy Hwang had the chip lead to start the action. Salsberg finished in sixth place for $147,671, but the finish helped him secure WPT Player of the Year honors.

After the eliminations of Jeremy Druckman in fifth place, Matt Haugen in fourth place, and Mike Gogliormella in third place, the stage was set for a heads-up battle between Hwang and James Anderson. Entering the final duel, Anderson had the slight chip lead, but the two were separated by less than 10 big blinds.

Despite Anderson having the lead, Hwang quickly took the lead and extended the gap, before finishing the deal on the 23rd hand of heads-up play. On the final hand, it was Anderson who moved all in with the Th8s only to get called by Hwang and the As6s. Hwang flopped a pair of sixes and finished the hand with a spade flush to earn the $730,053 first-place prize and the largest score of his live tournament career.

The top 100 places paid in the event, with notables Anthony Zinno (11th place), Joe Serock (14th place), Jamie Kerstetter (22nd place), Matt Glantz (36th place), and Keven Stammen (54th place) all finishing in the money.

Season XII: Anthony Merulla Wins Largest WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open Championship Ever

Anthony Merulla


The WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open $3,500 Championship attracted a massive field of 1,229 entries, generating a prize pool just shy of $4 million with more than $840,000 to be awarded to the winner.

Topping the largest field in the history of this event was Anthony Merulla, who defeated David Paredes in heads-up play to take the title and etch his name on the prestigious WPT Champions Cup.

Unlike the season before, Merulla was not the chip leader to start the final table. In fact, he was fifth in chips out of the final six players and was almost knocked out in the first few hands.

On the 11th hand of the final table, Merulla was all in with pocket queens in a three-way clash. Jared Jaffee had pocket tens, and Farid Jattin had pocket kings. Merulla held the only diamond in his hand, and, thanks to four diamonds on the board, made a flush to triple up. Jaffee also hit a ten to make trips, which busted Jattin in sixth place.

The wild start continued when, just two hands later, Vladislav Mezheritsky was knocked out in fifth place to Paredes.

If you can believe it, another two hands after Mezheritsky went out, a third player was busted. This time it was Jaffee who was sent home by Merulla in fourth place.

The other Anthony at the final table, Anthony Maio, then busted after a lull in play that lasted until the 76th hand of play. His pocket queens were no good against the flopped flush of Merulla.

Heads-up play was an absolute battle. Paredes started with the lead, but Merulla was able to work his way to the front over the first 50 hands or so. Then on the 171st hand of the final table, Merulla flopped top and bottom pair when Paredes flopped top pair, and that was all she wrote.

The top 120 places were paid in this event, with deep runs from Tyler Patterson (11th place), Eric Wasserson (17th place), Byron Kaverman (21st place), John D’Agostino (30th place), and John Racener (38th place).

Season XIII: Aaron Mermelstein’s Breakout Win

Aaron Mermelstein


Aaron Mermelstein is now a two-time WPT champion, but his first WPT title came when he won the Season XIII WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open $3,500 Championship. Mermelstein topped a field of 989 entries to score the $712,305 first-place prize.

Mermelstein had a tough final table to compete with, and he entered the final six second in chips behind just WPT Champions Club member Shawn Cunix.

Justin Liberto entered the final table second to last in chips, and he would fall first. Then it was Esther Taylor-Brady, who was looking to become the WPT’s first female winner of an open Main Tour event, hitting the rail in fifth place.

Cunix was eliminated in fourth, and Randy Pfeifer followed him out the door in third to set up the heads-up match between Mermelstein and Eugene Todd. Heading into the match, Mermelstein had a big lead of nearly 3-1 in chips.

Todd won the large majority of the pots to begin with and closed the gap to almost even over the first dozen hands, but Mermelstein righted the ship on the 166th hand of the final table to get back to a 2-1 chip lead.

Again, Todd pulled back, even closer than he did the first time, but a bit of a heads-up cooler caused his demise on the 181st hand of play. Both he and Mermelstein flopped top pair on a queen-high flop, but Mermelstein’s ace-queen was far superior to Todd’s queen-eight. Mermelstein’s hand held, and he pocketed more than $700,000 in first-place prize money.

The top 90 spots reached the money in this event, with recognizable faces Zo Karim (87th place) and Shaun Deeb (89th place) just squeaking into the money. Going deeper were Michael Wang (9th place), Kevin Calenzo (11th place), Aaron Steury (17th place), and Aaron Massey (18th place).

Season XIV: Chris Leong Goes All the Way

Chris Leong


After dipping below 1,000 entries in Season XIII, the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open Championship attracted an impressive 1,171 entries in Season XIV. Nearly $3.75 million was in the prize pool and more than $800,000 up for grabs for first place.

The final six players were all guaranteed $166,803 in prize money, and Matthew Wantman fell in sixth place to earn that amount.

WPT Champions Club member Yevgeniy Timoshenko busted in fifth place, and Joe McKeehen hit the rail in fourth place.

Three-handed play was between Chris Leong, Rafael Yaraliyev, who started the final table as a big chip leader, and Liam He, but it didn’t last long. Just one hand after McKeehen was bounced, He went out to Leong.

Yaraliyev entered heads-up play with the lead, about 1.5-1 over Leong, and the two would battle for over 100 hands after the final table had taken just 92 hands to reach the final two players.

Back and forth they went. First it was Leong winning the largest pot of the tournament up until that point on just the second hand of heads-up play to give him the lead. But Yaraliyev would double up two times after that to fight his way back in front. It was then Leong’s turn to double, and that gave him the lead in what was the last time one of them would do so.

On the final hand, the 199th hand of the final table, Leong moved all in with Ac8s. Yaraliyev picked up pocket queens and made the quick call, but an ace on the flop was exactly what Leong needed to score the victory.

The top 110 finishers reached the money in this event in Season XIV, with notable finishes from WPT Champions Club members Amir Babakhani (10th place), Brian Altman (12th place), Seth Davies (16th place), Aaron Mermelstein (19th place), and David Paredes (20th place).

That concludes our historical look at the previous WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open Championship events. The Season XV WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open $3,500 Championship starts on January 29, 2017, and boasts a mammoth $3 million guarantee.

Click here for more information on the Season XV WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open.

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