Dealer Turned Pro L. Brett Thomas Wins $300 No-Limit after Long Heads-Up Match
L. Brett Thomas, a 41-year-old one-time used car manager who later became a poker dealer at the Buffalo Run Casino in Oklahoma, decided to turn pro after earning $50,000 for finishing fourth at the Oklahoma State Championship early this year. Tonight he topped that figure, winning $51,902 by finishing first in event #3 of the WSOP Circuit series at Grand Casino Tunica.
Thomas, who is from Overland Parks, Kansas, claimed victory after a 41-hand heads-up match with Richard "Stoney" Jentoch, a painter from Knoxville, Tenessee. Thomas had been playing draw poker at home over 20 years, and only took up hold'em four years ago.
Here was the final table chip count:
SEAT NAME CHIP COUNT
1 Jim Harris 81,000
2 Larry Tomaszewski 1 18,000
3. Orion Fliessbach 149,000
4 Neil Stone 172,000
5 L. Brett Thomas 111,500
6 David Tanner 139,000
7 Roger Ballard 108,000
8 Michael Ciarauino 35,000
9 Richard Jentoch 49,000
Play commenced with 1,000 antes, blinds of 4,000-8,000 and 22 minutes remaining. In early action, Roger Ballard lost most of his chips in a classic match-up when his A-K lost to Thomas' two queens. This was a key hand for Thomas, who would never go below 160,000 after that.
Soon after, Michael Ciarauino was left with just 9,000 when he moved in for 82,000 with A-K and was run over by Thomas, who had pocket rockets in the big blind. But Ciarauino quickly recovered, quadrupling up on the next hand when he moved in with A-6, got three callers and flopped an ace.
On the next hand, Roger Ballard went out quietly. He was all in from the big blind with K-7 and couldn't catch Thomas' K-Q after a nothing board. Ballard, a retired truck driver, has been playing poker for 40 years, and this is his first final table. He collected $3,595 for finishing ninth.
Starting chip-leader Neil Stone, meanwhile, hadn't been able to do anything and was down to 54,000. He decided to move in with A-8 and was called by Orion Fliessbach, a 21-year-old finance student who held pocket 10s. A board of K-4-4-J-3 didn't change anything, and Stone, who is semi-retired, was fully retired for the night, collecting $5,394 for his eighth-place finish.
The Atlanta, Georgia native learned poker in family home games. His most exciting moment, he wrote in his bio sheet, was "watching Daniel Negreanu rebuy 48 times" at a WSOP event this year.
A few deals later, a hand came down that gave Ciarauino something to talk about. He moved in with As-9s and was called by Jentoch with pocket jacks and Jim "Freight Train" Harris, who was all in with pocket 7s. Two 9s flopped, and Ciarauino, with trips, tripled up. "Don't mess with the short stack," he exulted. "I may write a book on how to play short stacks."
Harris, a resident of West Melbourne, Florida who is self-employed, was a trifle less jubilant as he cashed in seventh for $7,192.
At the next break, the chip leaders were Thomas with about 275,000 and Jentoch with 250,000. Blinds were now 8,000-16,000. Larry "Tomahawk" Tomaszewski then got very lucky. He moved in for 25,000 with the best hand, pocket 6s against Fliessbach's Ks-Js. But a flop of Qc-10s-4s gave the young student an amazing 21 outs, with two overcards and draws to a flush and an open-end straight. None of his cards came, and Harris doubled up.
But Tomaszewski's luck didn't continue. A few hands later, he raised with pocket 10s and faced an all-in re-raise by Jentoch. He was getting a good price for his remaining chips and called, losing to Jentoch's A-K when the board came A-9-4-9-6. The Tomahawk, a 52-year-old auctioneer from Selma, Tenessee, has two prior final tables on the WSOP Circuit. Sixth place was worth $8,989
Fliessbach quickly followed him out. He pushed in all his 70,000 with A-K. "Jacks have held up every time," Thomas said as he called with that hand. They did this time. The board showed Q-10-4-7-9, and Fliessbach exited fifth, worth $10,788. The young student learned poker playing online two years ago.
One hand later, the table got down to three with the departure of David Tanner, who is from Memphis and is a VP in financial services. Down to 30,000, he moved in with K-Q and seemed in good shape when "Stoney" called with K-J, until a river jack ended the night for him. He picked up $14,384 for fourth.
Ciarauino, by far the shortest-chipped, now requested $2,500 each from the other two players "to go away," but they weren't interested. "You're gonna be sorry," he warned them. "Remember I came from the bottom to third."
His warning fell on deaf ears, and they sent him away on the next hand without any extra money. After Ciarauino moved in with Q-J, both Stoney and Thomas called, with an identical A-6. A board of K-7-4-5-8 gave each a straight, and they chopped the pot and Ciarauino as well.
Ciarauino, whose nickname is "Big Dog," is a cash game player whose poker highlight was taking out Phil Hellmuth in a WSOP Omaha event (and living to tell about it). Despite not getting any extra cash, he still won $14,384 for third place. Before turning to poker full time, he owned a construction company.
Heads-up, Thomas had a modest lead, about 500,000 to 450,000. As play got underway, he increased his lead with a number of uncalled raises. On the ninth hand, he lost the lead when he opened for 53,000 and Jentoch moved in for 291,000. Jentoch held A-Q to As-10s, and the bigger kicker held up.
When blinds increased to 10,000-20,000, the chip count was close to back to when they started. Play continued cautiously, with Thomas slowly increasing his lead, until the final hand. With the board showing K-8-3-Q-A, Jentoch, who had aces and threes, bet 70,000, and Thomas, who made aces and queens, check-raised for another 100,000. Two hands later it was all over. Holding 9-8, Thomas bet 45,000 into a flop of A-9-3 and Jentoch moved in for 160,000 with K-3. Thomas called, made two pair when an 8 turned, and that ended the match.
Stoney, who wrote that he learned poker playing tong in prison, wanted to win the event to pay off his mortgage, but the second-place payout of $26,071 will certainly pay it down.
Thomas, who is married and has three children, was playing for the first time at Grand Casino Tunica. He described himself as a tight/aggressive player who plays hard when he has cards, "You can't play suited connectors in this game," he said.