Justin Truesdell, a 27-year-old pro from Fort Thomas, Kentucky, had planned to fly in here to play the 4 p.m. H.O.R.S.E tournament last Wednesday, but was thwarted when his flight was canceled due to a blizzard. He was about to scrub his trip, but decided to come in anyway, arriving just in time for the 12th event of the WSOP Circuit tour at Harrah's Casino Tunica, $1,000 no-limit. It was a good decision, because he ended up winning and earning an official (an earlier deal had been made) $77,836 plus a trophy ring.

Truesdell was an economics major in college, worked in sales for a couple of years after graduation, and then turned pro. His prior payouts include a third in a $300 no-limit Circuit event at Caesars Indiana, two cashes at the European Poker Tour in Italy and London, and two more in WSOP main events. In this event he built up a big stack early with 70,000 chips when blind were still just 100-200, and was close to the lead most of the way through.

Truesdell, who plays only tournaments, says he tends to get more aggressive as he gets bored. He likes to talk a lot at the table, and earlier had struck up a friendship with Chris "Doctor Love" Love, who ended up as his final opponent, when the two "got into it" in a hand. Truesdell also expressed his thanks for the support and encouragement of his mom and dad, who enjoy following his poker exploits.  

Numbers continued strong at this series, with 321 entrants and a $311,370 prize pool for this event. The final nine began play with blinds of 10,000-20,000 and 3,000 antes, 8:39 remaining. With 849,000 chips, Philip "Spartacus" Sparta led the field.  

Here were the starting chip counts:

Seat 1. Brian Fernbacher          358,000
Seat 2. Jim Pieczynski              184,000
Seat 3. Philip Sparta                849,000
Seat 4. Giovanni Marcacci       279,000          
Seat 5. Justin Truesdell            593,000                      
Seat 6. Chris Love                  207,000          
Seat 7. Leon Morford             446,000
Seat 8. Biggs Powell               201,000          
Seat 9. Donald Crabtree         204,000

First to go was Brian Fernbacher. He moved in with K-J, in bad shape when Truesdell called from the button with A-K. Truesdell finished him with a river ace and Fernbacher cashed ninth. Fernbacher, 31, is from Conway, Arkansas and is in retail management. He's played five years, and this is his first "real poker tournament."

Blinds were now 15,000-30,000 with 4,000 antes. Biggs Powell cashed eighth. He put his last chips in with pocket 4s, was called by Love, holding pocket queens, and couldn't improve when the board came K-9-3-5-J. Powell is 37, lives in Memphis and has played seven years.

Pocket queens again finished off the next player. Giovanni Marcacci was in the small blind with As-3s and pushed in. Truesdell called with the ladies, filling and winning when the board came 4-4-J-4-10. Marcacci, exiting seventh, is a pro originally from Toronto, Canada, now living in Canfield, Ohio. He's 36 and has been playing 20 years, His cashes include a third in the main event here and a seventh in the Circuit championship in Indiana, both last year. In 2006 he had another main event cash here, finishing 13th.

Players returned from break to blinds of 20,000-40,000. Co-leaders now, with roughly 700,000 each, were Sparta and Leon "Sailor Moe" Morford. Another player went out immediately. It was Donald "Skygenie" Crabtree, holding A-J in the small blind against Truesdell's pocket 9s. Nobody hit when the board showed 4-4-10-2-Q, and Crabtree bowed out sixth. He is 48, from Mount Juliet, Tennessee, is self-employed and has played three years.

As play went on, Love bet 150,000 into a flop of Qc-9c-4c, another 100,000 when a 7d turned, then moved in when a fourth club hit the river, obviously representing a big flush. After long thought, Morford folded a medium club, and Love showed the Ac. Love now had the lead with over a million chips.

Midway through the level, Jim Pieczynski went all in with .pocket 10s and was called by Morford with A-J. Morford made a full house on fourth street when the board came J-2-A-A, and we were down to four. Pieczynski, 46, is from Thousand Oaks, California and is the group president of Commercial Finance Co. He's played five years, and his biggest cash was $25,700 for winning a $2,500 super-satellite at the Five Star World Poker Classic in Vegas.

Soon after, Love was dealt pocket aces and decided to slow-play them. His strategy paid off because Sparta, holding Kh-10h, had a disastrous flop: of K-3-6. He moved all in for 135,000 on his paired king, and was drawing dead when the turn gave Love a set of aces. Sparta 25, is a pro from Fairfax, Virginia, before that a student, who's played three years. He has $600,000 in career winnings, his biggest being $76,795 for winning a $500 no-limit Circuit event at Harrah's New Orleans.

We were now down to three as blinds went up again, to 30,000-60,000. In immediate action, Morford and Truesdell tangled. The flop came 2-J-4. Morford, holding As-3s, tried an all-in move. Truesdell, holding 6h-4h, had flopped middle pair and called. A deuce and jack came, and Truesdell's paired 4 was enough as Morford went out in third place. Morford, 67, is a retired engineer from Rockford, Illinois. In 2007 he took home $233,000 for winning the Heartland Poker Tour championship. He also has a sixth in that event and a win at the Canterbury Park Fall Poker Classic.

Heads-up, Truesdell now enjoyed a big lead, 2.3 million to 900,000 for Love. The match-up  went just two hands. Truesdell moved in with Qs-Jd and Love called with the better hand, As-7d. It was no longer the better hand when a flop of Qd-7c-6h paired Truesdell's queen. An 8 and 4 brought no help to Love, and Truesdell had his first Circuit ring. Love, finishing second, is 43 and an independent contractor from Charleston, South Carolina who has played four years.