Great Granny's Bird Charm Helps Young Pro Eric Crain
Win Grand Tunica Opener
Tunica, Ms-- Combine World Series action with Southern hospitality, and what do you get? Answer: an over-capacity mob of 834 enthusiastic players turning out for the opening event of the WSOP Circuit series' second stop at Grand Casino Tunica.
To accommodate the crowd, the $300 no-limit tournament started with 11-player tables, and then 141 alternates were seated in the first hour of play. A total of 83 places were paid, and the day before, a record 203 seats were won in single-table satellites.
"Players are also accustomed to coming to Tunica because of the Mid-America Poker Classic that was held here in August for many years," noted Jack Effel, the director of poker operations for Harrah's Entertainment.
The winner, after a back-and-forth battle with runner-up Raymond Owens, was Eric Crain, a 22-year-old pro from Murphysville, Illinois, who credited a little glass bird charm given to him by his great-grandmother for bringing him luck. He won with a "flourish" on the final hand when his 6-2 outdrew Owens' J-8. This
This is the first major cash-out in a land casino for Crain, who said his major accomplishment until now was landing on the bubble. He has been spending most of his poker time online, where he has won a half-million dollars in cash games and another $100,000 in tournaments so far this year.
Play ended on day one with two tables left. The players returned at 2 p.m. the next day, and at 3:30 the final table got underway with blinds of 6,000-12,000, 2,000 antes and hour rounds. Seating order and chip counts were:
SEAT 1 Raymond Owens 182,000
SEAT 2 Gary Huggins 97,000
SEAT 3 Mike Wommack 98,000
SEAT 4 Jared McVay 53,500
SEAT 5 David Clark 89,500
SEAT 6 Joseph Mahan 90,000
SEAT 7 Joseph Rizo 76,000
SEAT 8 Dan Mitnick 79,500
SEAT 9 Eric Crain 430,000
SEAT 10 Mark Silvers 69,000
Crain, who said he had been "steaming" over the tables with 27 players left, enjoyed a dominant lead with 430,000 chips, more than a third of all the ones in play.
It took 15 minutes to lose our first player. Joseph Mahan, a postal employee, was down to 9,000 when he moved in from the cut-off seat with K-6. Craig, with plenty of chips to invest, called with Q-10. He paired his 10 when the board came 9-7-5-10-A, and Mahan settled for a 10th place cash-out of $2,670.
Next out was Savannah, Georgia retiree Mark Silvers. He took a bad beat when his pocket queens were crushed by lowly pocket treys held by Jared McVay, who flopped a set. Silvers collected $4,854 for eighth place.
When blinds went to 8,000-16,000, Craig had dipped to 330,000, still twice average. On the first hand of the new level, David Clark busted. After Craig opened for 50,000, he moved in for another 50,000 holding Ad-9d. Craig had him dominated with A-J. Neither helped, and Clark finished eighth, worth $7,281. Clark, from Douglasville, GA, is president of a company that does industrial dry cleaning, notably for firefighters.
Craig had now climbed to about 570,000, though he quickly dropped 130,00 of it when his K-Q couldn't beat Mike Wommack's pocket 7s.
Dan Mitnick, an Atlanta attorney, was next out. Holding pocket jacks, he called for his last 4,000 in the small blind when McVay moved in with A-10. The board came A-4-2-Q-7, and Mitnick cashed seventh , earning $9,708.
As play progressed, Owens, down to 80,000, went on a rush, first doubling through Wommack when his K-Q made two pair, then repeatedly picking up the blinds and antes with all-in moves. After 16 hands, with blinds now at 10,000-20,000, he had moved into the lead with over 400,000, while Craig was complaining about being card dead..
The gentlemanly nature of these southern players was demonstrated when Owens, all in again, inadvertently had his cards mucked by a dealer, and Wommack said he would allow the cards to be retrieved. It was the second time such a mishap had befallen Owens, seated to the left of the dealer, and he prudently began searching for a card protector.
The table got down to five when Gary Huggins, a truck driver from Pinckeyville, Illinois, moved in with Qd-10d from the cutoff seat. McVay button-called with A-J and caught two more jacks. Sixth place paid $12,135.
McVay, who hails from Muscle Shoals, Alabama and is a swimming pool builder, went out fifth when he moved in under the gun for 108,000 with Kh-9h. He got picked off by Wommack's As-Ks when the board helped neither player. Fifth was worth $14,562.
Then, in subsequent action, Craig regained the lead when he busted Wommack. The ex-dealer, who now sells boat-lifting equipment, raised to 80,000 with pocket 4s and Craig moved him in with K-J. A board of A-7-6-J-Q paired Craig's jack, and Wommack cashed out for $16,989 in fourth place.
Now three-handed, the shortest stack by far belonged to Joseph Rizo, who would go all in repeatedly, and manage to hang on. Craig finally put away the electrical technician by calling with 9-6 after Rizo moved in with pocket 7s. When a 9 flopped, Rizo could only survive by hitting another 7. He couldn't, and the Huntsville, Alabama native took home $19,416 for finishing third.
A rough count now showed Craig with about 900,000 to Owens' 350,000. "It's going to be an all-in battle, now," Owens predicted. They fought it out for about a dozen hands.
Owens picked up some pots with frequent raising and made some headway. "He was raising every single pot and got me frustrated," Craig said later. "I couldn't give him credit for having hands all the time."
Finally, when Owens, a restaurant manager from Little Rock, Arkansas, raised yet again, to 80,000, Craig had had enough and moved in with his meager 6-2. Owens called with J-8. Owens was still in the lead when the board showed 10-5-5-A, but then a river 6 ended the match as Owens went home with $33,495 for his second-place finish.
Craig, who earlier had said he had been obsessing over winning a trophy ring for the past year and a half, now slipped on the eye-catching gold and diamond band. He caressed his great-grandmother's lucky bird, while his grandmother joyfully snapped his picture. The young pro, who had been an aspiring journalist in college before turning to poker a year ago, had been writing for school and local newspapers since he was 15, and was sports editor of his college paper.
He began playing poker in a weekly game at school and confesses to getting regularly beat up until he began to get fairly good at limit hold'em. His favorite game, though, is Omaha high-low, which he likes to play online at $1,000-$2,000 limits.
In casino tournaments, he has a seventh-place finish at the U.S. Poker Championship out of a field of 25, and a fifth on Omaha/8 in Tulsa. At this year's World Series, he came up empty-handed. But, with his $63,105 win tonight, he said he planned to pursue more tournament action in casinos. -by Max Shapiro