It took 191 hands and seven hours of grueling play, but a determined Sung "Sam" Joo, an electrician and high-stakes side-game player, finally wore down his final opponent, full-time player and real estate investor Will "The Thrill" Failla. Victory in event three of Harrah's WSOP Circuit tour at Harrah's Atlantic City, $500 no-limit hold'em, paid $44,480.
Actually, the three finalists (including Thomas O'Connor) made a deal to lock up $25,000 each and play for the remaining money and ring, even though, tournament rules compel everyone to sign for the official amount of their finish.
Joo, 38, a resident of Toms River, New Jersey, was born in Korea, came to the U.S. at an early age, and works for his father's electrical company, though now he spends most of his time playing poker. He's been playing 20 years, prefers $20-$40 and sometimes $40-$80 limit hold'em, and his prior best tournament cash-out was a $15,000 chop at Borgata. A fairly solid player, he says he likes to mix up his play. Tonight he was usually all in with the best hand, though he said he got lucky twice in two big hands.
Actually, the highlight of this event might have been a hand so spectacular that it looked like it was straight out of some hokey poker movie. More on that later.
This tournament provides generous starting chips and a graduated structure giving participants plenty of play. As a result, none of the events thus far have gotten to the final table on Day One. Yesterday ended with 18 players left, and they returned on Day two with O'Connor in front holding 186,000 chips. Two hours later we started the final table when O'Connor, with pocket kings, knocked out Robin Sills, who held K-J and missed her inside straight draw. O'Connor, with 315,000, was now in second chip position behind the 327,000 held by William Demaree, a retired editor of Fortune magazine.
Here were the seats and chip counts:
SEAT 1 Anthony Hill 151,000
SEAT 2 Thomas O'Connor 315,000
SEAT 3 Rogelio Figer 197,000
SEAT 4 William Stradley, Sr. 70,000
SEAT 5 Allan Demaree 327,000
SEAT 6 Dean Schultz 174,000
SEAT 7 Will Failla 83,000
SEAT 8 Steve Bouzikas 38,000
SEAT 9 Sung "Sam" Joo 91,000
The final table started off much tighter than the prior two, with the first dozen deals bringing only one flop. On that hand, Joo, with pocket aces, was all in for 60,000 on the flop and doubled through when Demaree missed his draw to a straight flush.
Rogelio "Roger" Figer, a naval retiree, now a day-trader, busted on hand 23. He re-raised with A-10, and Anthony Hill put him all in with pocket kings. All rags came, Hill had his opponent's 153,000 covered, and Figer, from Clinton, MD, took home $2,970 for ninth.
Blinds now went to 6,000-12,000 with 2,000 antes. Two hands later a second player went broke. William Stradley Sr., a 34-year-old police officer from Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, was all in with As-Qs against Demaree's A-K. The board of 9-8-8-A-3 changed nothing, and Stradley cashed out eighth for $4,445
And now for that unbelievable hand. It came down on the 20th deal. O'Connor moved in with pocket kings and Hill called with pocket queens. Three 4s flopped, giving O'Connor the bigger full house. But then Hill hit a miracle queen on the river, giving him queens full. Got it? Wait, there's more. The river brought a fourth 4, and O'Connor's king kicker made him a winner, stunning the players and spectators. Joo pulled out his cell phone camera to record the hand for posterity. Suddenly O'Connor was the big chip leader with about 705,000, while Hill had under 30,000.
Hill kept his chips for only two more hands. He was in the big blind when Joo raised all in. Hill had only 9c-6d, but with 12,000 of his remaining 19,000 already posted, he didn't have much choice but to call. Joo turned up 10h-10s. A flop of Ac-10c-5c gave Joo a set and Hill a flush draw. He couldn't catch a club and ended up seventh, picking up $5,940. Hill, 27, is a pro from Syracuse, New York, playing poker eight years. His poker highlight was finishing 170th in the 2005 WSOP championship event.
Born in Greece, Steve Bouzikas, 49 and self-employed, lives in Philadelphia. He came to the final table short-chipped with 38,000. Down to 4,000, he doubled through once, but busted on the next hand. He moved in with A-6, was called by O'Connor with A-Q, and was drawing dead with a board of Q-5-3-5. Sixth place paid $7,425. Bouzikas has played poker for 30 years, and "only good hands."
At the next break, O'Connor was down to about 540,000, still enough for the lead. Dean Schultz was next out. He moved in for his last 45,000 with J-10, and Demaree took his chips when Schultz couldn't catch his Q-10. Schultz is 46, from Monroe Falls, Ohio, and divides his time between poker and real estate. He's been playing for 30 years, and his best cash-outs were $302,475 for winning a $2,500 no-limit event at the Borgata Poker Open, and $81,625 for fifth in the $10,000 U.S. Poker Championship event, both in 2004. Tonight he got $8,910 for fifth.
On hand 61, Demaree moved into a slight lead when O'Connor opened for 68,000 and mucked when Demaree moved in. But the lead didn't last long. A few hands later, Demaree bet 60,000 into a board of 6-5-4-9, then folded when O'Connor moved in and showed just a queen-high. Demaree later tried a bluff of his own. With a board of Ah-Kh-7s-3h-Jh, he bet 45,000 with nothing and was picked off by Joo, who had a straight, but didn't dare raise with four hearts showing.
With blinds at 10,000-20,000, O'Conner led again with 449,000. As play went on, Demaree, playing very carefully, laying down hands when anybody moved in, gradually lost chips. On hand 121 he finally made a stand, moving in on the button for 77,000 with K-4. Joo called with A-10 and left him in fourth place, worth $10,395, when the board came Q-3-2-6-3. The retired editor, 69 and a grandfather of six, has been playing poker 50 years and got one Circuit ring when he chopped a $500 event at Grand Tunica.
After the $25,000 deal, Joo began picking up pots with all-in moves, and by the time blinds went to 15,000-30,000 with 3,000 antes, he had close to a million chips. Failla finished third on the 137th hand when O'Connor moved in for 160,000. Failla, easily the most demonstrative player at the table, called with A-Q and whooped when O'Connor showed K-Q. The board was 10-7-6-8-2, and O'Connor got $13,365 officially, $25,000 for real. O'Connor, 21, gave his occupation as "not working." He is from Rockaway Beach, New York, and has played four years.
Heads-up, Joo had 918,000 to 569,000 for Failla. Failla soon pulled about even when he won a big pot holding 10-3 and made two pair.
In all, the match-up lasted some 54 hands, with each player folding whenever their opponent moved in. But Joo, the more aggressive, gradually increased his lead. On hand 191, with blinds now 20,000-40,000, there was finally a showdown. Failla moved in for his last 170,000 with A-2, only to see that Joo had A-8. The board came K-5-3-7-8, and Joo had his victory and gold ring. Failla officially got $24,464 for second. He's 38, from Smithtown, New York and has been playing five years. His best prior finish was 16th at Borgata.