Barely old enough to enter the casino, 21 year-old Harvey Castro rammed through a field of 1,026 Main Event entries to claim his first WSOP Circuit Ring and $275,660.
When the day began, Harvey Castro had 2,580,000, good for about 25 big blinds, and a stack that put him in sixth out of the 12 remaining players. Chris Staats started the day with 2,084,000 8th place. Castro and Staats were destined to go heads up for the first 2023-24 WSOP Circuit Ring of the season.
Faith from the soccer field to the poker felt
At just 21 years old, it’s a safe bet that Harvey Castro will be a name to remember on the poker scene for years to come.
“I tried to manage expectations. I just tried to keep a calm, collected head throughout. I tried to take it one hand at a time,” Castro told Poker.org after the win.
Castro started playing poker with his brother when he was eighteen.
“I just really developed a love for it and I’ve been playing ever since,” he said. “I’ve always loved tournaments, but I play a lot of cash.”
Poker isn’t the only competitive sport in Castro’s life. Castro is also a collegiate athlete, playing soccer at SMU.
“I’m from Flower Mound (Texas) and I wanted to stay in the area and, SMU was the soccer school in the area.”
Wearing a “Christ Alone” hoodie, Castro said, “I wore it just because coming in I wanted to remember that no matter how I finish, I was going to be okay, and the most important part of my life wasn’t going to be the money, or the ring, or the banner, it was gonna be my faith.”
How Castro conquered the Main Event
Staats started the day well, eliminating Craig Varnell (12th – $22,649) and Cary Jones (11th $22,649) before the first break of the day. After Jones was eliminated, it was Castro who was at risk with ace-queen off-suit, flipping against Todd Tucker’s pocket 10s. Without the queen of diamonds on the flop, Castro would have finished in 10th and not made the final table.
Instead, Castro doubled up and was again at risk of bubbling the final table with ace-king off-suit against Srinivasa Vadlamudi’s pocket jacks. The K♠️ on the flop gave Castro another double and a top-ten stack.
In fact, it was Castro who broke apart the final two tables when he eliminated Roger Franco in 10th place ($22,649) with pocket 9s against Franco’s pocket 7s to give him 5,800,000 in chips.
The WSOP Circuit Choctaw final table
Todd Tucker barely sneaked into the final table, playing very few hands with a very shallow stack and laddering up at every opportunity. At one point on the final table bubble, Tucker was down to just 500,000 before doubling through Staats. Tucker eventually ran it up to the top of the leaderboard but eventually finished in 4th ($97,797).
With relatively short stacks throughout final table play, everyone had a cup of coffee as chip leader at one point or another, but no one led more often and more aggressively than David “The Dragon” Pham.
When Pham had the fortune of leading the tournament in chips, he pushed hard with his large stack and at times he controlled the table. Unfortunately for Pham, that control didn’t extend to which cards would show up on the board. Castro and Pham battled a lot on Day 3, but no battle was more memorable than the last hand of the night for Pham.
Pham was dealt king-queen off-suit and was put all in by Castro who held pocket 5s. The flop contained a king, and for a moment it looked like three-way action would continue. But the 5♦️ on the turn ruined that for Pham and ultimately sent him out in 3rd place ($130,024).
With 34,000,000 of the 41,000,000 chips in play, it didn’t take long for Castro to eliminate Staats in 2nd place ($174,980) and become the latest WSOP Circuit Ring winner at Choctaw.
What is Castro going to do with the money he just won?
“I got no idea, man” he said. “I gotta soak this up for a second and figure out what my life is going to look like after this, I’m excited. Definitely more poker to come.”
If the Main Event was any indication of Castro’s talents, then all poker players should take notice of that last claim.
Smashed guarantee and long days in Oklahoma
With 1,026 entries into the first Main Event of the 2023/24 WSOP Circuit Season, the million-dollar guarantee was obliterated. The final prize pool totaled $1,552,338. The added entries and a 40,000 starting stack as opposed to the usual 30,000, meant there were a lot of long Day 1s. All but Day 1B played into level 18 which was intended for Day 2. Day 1B played until there were three minutes left on the Level 17 clock.
The Main Event featured a number of notable players. 15-time Circuit Ring winner Maurice Hawkins entered on Days 1A and 1B but was unable to make it to Day 2. Two-time ring-winner Craig Varnell played deep into Day 1B before busting and re-entering on Day 1C and eventually making it to Day 3.
Also among the notables making it into Day 2 was Scotty Nguyen, giving his Day 1B table a time to remember. Nguyen finished in 48th place ($4,688) after playing deep into Day 2. Ring Winner Eric Bunch made it to the final table finishing 8th ($35,254). Other Ring winners making deep runs include Kami Hudson (40th – $5,247), Danny Marx (36th – $5,930), Will Berry (34th – $5,930), Roger Franco (10th – $22,649), and Arthur Morris (5th – $74,466).
The top 9 finishers in the Choctaw Main Event:
1 – Harvey Castro – $275,660
2 – Christopher Staats – $174,980
3 – David Pham – $130,024
4 – Todd Tucker – $97,797
5 – Arthur Morris – $74,466
6 – Gary Bauer – $57,374
7 – Andrew Watson – $44,723
8 – Eric Bunch – $35,254
9 – Srinivasa Vadlamudi – $28,097