Valley Center, CA (February 16, 2007) - Heads-up poker is the most challenging, most exciting, most invigorating form of poker to play and watch. Fortunes change with the turn of a single card, or a critical decision made by either player. In essence, both players in heads-up competition are walking on a tightrope. Any mistake is potentially devastating.
Heads-up play is especially interesting for observers when the players clash - both in terms of their style and personality. That is precisely what took place in the final stages of tonight's no-limit hold'em event at Harrah's Rincon, near San Diego. Tony Lee and James Rouse put on a show that was easily the most compelling poker event to watch, both for its merit as a learning tool and as pure entertainment. It was, arguably, the most exciting heads-up match of the season on the World Series of Poker Circuit.
Event #6 at Harrah's Rincon attracted 313 entries. The $300 buy-in no-limit hold'em tournament eliminated 304 players on the first of two days of play. Of that number, finishers 10-36 received prize money. The top nine players returned to the final table on day two. Conrad Monica, Jr. arrived with a comfortable chip lead. But Mr. Lee and Mr. Rouse both remained within striking distance throughout play. Seating and chip counts were as follows:
Play on day two began promptly at 4 pm. The shortest stack was Roberta DeLeon. But she did not stay in that spot for long. On the very first hand of play, Ms. DeLeon doubled up to 21,000 when she made a pair of aces. Chris Stewart was not so fortunate. He was low on chips and moved all-in holding Q-10. But Anthony Lee made two pair and eliminated the first player from the final table. Chris Stewart, an I.T. specialist from Phoenix, connected for $1,822 in prize money for ninth place. Mr. Stewart also made it to a final table here at Harrah's Rincon last year.
Tony Swancy was low on chips and managed to double up with pocket jacks at the expense of (chip leader) Conrad Monica. Roberta DeLeon tried to tempt fate again when she moved all-in on a steal attempt holding J-10. But James Rouse was not fooled and called the large raise from the big blind with A-7. Neither player connected with a pair which meant the ace-high played, and Ms. DeLeon was out of the tournament. The Arizona-based realtor (the second female to make a final table appearance so far this year at Harrah's Rincon) collected $2,732 for eighth place.
James Rouse lost a significant portion of his stack when be tried to blow the chip leader out of a hand. The board showed a possible straight, and Mr. Rouse bet out 15K on the turn. Conrad Monica called. When the river was dealt, the board showed Q-2-4-5-6 with three spades. Mr. Rouse tried to moved Mr. Monica off his hand with a 35K bet. The chip leader made a crying call and showed pocket kings, which was good. Mr. Rouse was left on life support.
However, it was Tony Swancy who went out next. Mr. Swancy moved all-in with A-Q suited. Rick Olmedo called quickly with K-K. In what was certainly one of the most exciting hands played at this year's Rincon series, the flop came Q-J-6, improving Mr. Swancy's chances with a pair of queens. An ace on the turn stunned the crowd, giving Mr. Swancy two-pair -- aces and queens. But then the cruelest of cards fell on the river. A 10 gave Mr. Olmedo a Broadway straight, ripping up Mr., Swancy's two pair and hopes for victory. Tony Swancy, a 55-year-old poker dealer was injected with the pain of a bad beat and settled for seventh place, which paid $3,643.
James Bates had the greatest depth of tournament experience of anyone in the finals. He has cashed 58 times in various tournaments throughout his career. However, he had to settle for sixth place in this event. With about an average chip count, on his final hand of the night he moved all-in with A-Q and was called by Tony Lee, with 7-7. The middle pair held up, and Mr. Bates was eliminated. His payout amounted to $4,554.
With five players remaining, Tony Lee and James Rouse got into several heads-up confrontations - foreshadowing the drama that was to come later. The Lee-Rouse duel went back and forth on three big hands, with each player taking a turn with a big bet, followed by an all-in re-raise by the other player. Each time, the all-in player called the clock on his adversary, creating some added tension to the game. After the smoke cleared, however, neither player lost any significant chips.
T.J. Stubbs lost more than a significant number of chips when he took one of the worst beats of the final table. He moved all-in with 7-7 and was called by Conrad Monica with 3-3. It looked like Mr. Stubbs would double up, but a 3 on the turn knocked the 30-year-old poker dealer out of the tournament. T.J. Stubbs collected $5,464.
A short time later, Rick Olmedo busted out. He was desperately low on chips and was forced to play a sub-par hand which failed to make a pair. James Rouse ended up taking Mr. Olmedo's remaining chips. Mr. Olmedo's cut of the prize pool for fourth place came to $6,376.
Tony Lee went card dead during the middle stages of play at the final table. But he did manage to double up when play became three-handed with A-K versus Conrad Monica's pocket 9s, which put him back in the race. Things would soon get much worse for Mr. Monica. A short time later, when he moved all-in with two pair on the turn of his final hand, his tournament life was on the line. Mr. Monica was dealt 5-3 and flopped two pair. Mr. Rouse had top pair with a nine to match the nine on the board. Mr. Rouse called the all-in bet by his adversary. Then, the nightmare card was dealt. A third nine on the river allowed Mr. Rouse to scoop the large pot and put Mr. Monica out on the rail. Conrad Monica, a casino employee who had been the chip leader most of the way, went out a disappointing third - netting $7,287.
It was fitting that the last two players would be the bitter rivals who had battled heads-up much of the way. When play commenced, Tony Lee enjoyed a 250,000 to 231,000 chip lead over James Rouse. That didn't last long. After about 20 minutes of play, Mr. Rouse had seized a 3 to 2 chip advantage.
The most significant hand of the tournament took place when Mr. Lee moved all-in pre-flop with A-4. Mr. Rouse was dealt A-J and called. Just when it looked like Mr. Rouse was about to win holding the dominant hand, a devastating flop brought horror to the face of Rouse. The board showed 2-3-5, which meant Mr. Lee's A-4 completed a straight. The monster flop held up and suddenly Mr. Lee appeared on the horizon of his first major tournament victory.
Incredibly, Mr. Rouse battled back with great determination. Over the next half hour, he regained the chip lead with several small pots won, which added up to a significant stack size. Then, in one fell swoop, everything came crashing down again. Mr. Lee was dealt 4-4 to Mr. Rouse's Q-10. After the flop came K-10-9, Mr. Lee tried to blast his opponent out of the pot with an all-in bet. Mr. Rouse wasn't the least bit intimidated. He called holding second pair (10s). Mr. Rouse was thrilled to be in such a dominant position, but again – the cruel twist of fate wrecked Mr. Rouse chances for victory. A stunning four on the turn gave Mr. Lee trip-4s, which scooped the largest pot of the night. They weren't done yet.
Down to just 30,000 in chips, it appeared that Mr. Lee would end the tournament in a cakewalk. But this duel was a rare poker treat, both for the players and the growing crowd of spectators which began to stream into the Rincon Ballroom to see the excitement. Mr. Rouse managed to win two all-in hands and doubled up to over 100,000 in chips.
Then, the final hand of the tournament came out of nowhere. It was appropriate that the last hand was filled with drama. Mr. Lee made a pre-flop raise holding J-10 suited. Mr. Rouse had A-8 suited and moved all-in. Mr. Lee paused, and then called with some reluctance. His hand a dog, Mr. Lee was on the verge of surrendering the chip lead, yet gain. The flop came 8-3-2, which improved Mr. Lee's advantage, with a pair of 8s. A king on the turn didn't change things and made it seem the heads-up duel would continue. Then, it all ended. Suddenly. Sadly. Shockingly. Wham! A ten was peeled from the deck, giving Mr. Lee a higher pair (10s), which ended a fabulously exciting final table.
The runner up was James Rouse, a 36-year-old salesman from Oceanside, CA. He certainly played well enough to win this event. However, a few beats resulted in a second place finish, worth $14,573 in prize money.
The winner was Tony Lee, who received $28,236 in cash and the coveted gold WSOP Circuit ring. Mr. Lee has won several small daily tournaments around the San Diego area. However, this was his first major tournament victory. Decked out in a cowboy hat and mirrored Rayban shades, Mr. Lee certainly gave the final table some drama, both with his style and personality. It was, quite simply, one of the most exciting final tables of the year.
by Nolan Dalla
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Tournament Director – Janis Sexton
Harrah's Rincon Poker Room Manager – Mike Adams