The $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em Seniors Championship is frequently one of the larger events at the World Series of Poker. The tournament, which requires entrants to be at least 50 years of age, drew an average of over 5,400 entries the past five times it was held. That benchmark was left in the dust in 2022, as a record turnout of 7,188 entries built a massive $6,397,320 prize pool which was paid out among the top 1,099 finishers. In the end, there could be only one champion. That player was 58-year-old Colorado resident Eric Smidinger.
For the win, Smidinger earned his first WSOP gold bracelet and the top prize of $694,909.
“This is a dream. I love it. This morning, coming in, I knew I had just as good of a chance as anybody. I’m excited,” Smidinger told WSOP reporters after the win. “It’s going to be cool to go back to Blackhawk, I live in Colorado and play there regularly, including tournaments. It’ll be nice to sport the bracelet.”
This event played out over the course of six days, with two starting flights and four more days of action. The bubble burst back on day 2, but several more days were needed to find the champion. Plenty of notables made deep runs in this event, including two-time bracelet winner Barry Shulman (229th – $4,112), six-time bracelet winner Jeffrey Lisandro (116th – $5,421), 2012 Seniors Champion Allyn Shulman (105th – $5,421), bracelet winner Carol Fuchs (45th – $14,897), and bracelet winner Ken Aldridge (33rd – $22,133).
The final day began with just five players remaining and Ben Sarnoff in the lead. Smidinger sat in second chip position, with bracelet winner and recently announce Poker Hall of Fame finalist Kathy Liebert not far behind.
Liebert slipped down the leaderboard early, thanks in part to her trips eights with a queen kicker losing to the same trips with a king kicker for Sarnoff. SHe fell even further from there. She was eventually all-in for her just under six big blinds. Liebert had picked up a monster in pocket kings, but unfortunately for her, Sarnoff had been dealt pocket aces. The larger pocket pair held up and Libert was eliminated in fifth place, earning $186,541. With $6,695,568 in career cashes, Liebert remains the second-highest earning female tournament player in poker history.
Biagio Morciano was the next to fall. His A-J lost a preflop race against the pocket eights of Smidinger to narrow the field to just three contenders. Morciano earned $244,664 for his fourth-place showing, by far the largest score on his tournament resume.
Charles Mitchell’s run in this event came to an end when his A-K was outrun by the A-J of Sarnoff. Mitchell had gotten all-in preflop and was called by both Sarnoff and Smidinger, who checked down a jack-high runout. Mitchell was awarded $323,057 as the third-place finisher.
With that, Sarnoff took nearly a 4:1 chip lead into heads-up play with Smidinger. That lead was steadily chipped away in the early going. Just over an hour into the final battle for the bracelet, Smidinger overtook the lead. The two then traded small advantages a bit before Smidinger took down a healthy pot with two pair to pull away a bit. The decisive blow came not long after that, when Smidinger picked off a big bluff from Sarnoff to take more than a 6:1 lead.
In the final hand of the tournament, Smidinger min-raised from the button with 88. Sarnoff three-bet shoved for just shy of 14 big blinds with AK. Smidinger called and the board ran out Q647J to secure the pot and the title for Smidinger. Sarnoff was awarded $429,420 as the runner-up.
Here is a look at the payouts and rankings points awarded at the final table:
Winner photo credit: WSOP / Katerina Lukina.
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