Through the first four events of the WSOP Circuit tour at Harrah's Casino Tunica, almost no pros had made the final table (unusual to find so many poker players with jobs). Then, in event five, $300 no-limit hold'em, two poker players ended up battling for the first-place prize of $65,840 and the traditional trophy ring. Earlier, Ethan Foulkes had been on a roll and seemed unbeatable as he knocked out the first five players to gather in half the 9 million chips in play. Then he began losing pot after pot as Nic Vita took the lead, held it when he got heads-up with Foulkes, and went on to victory.
Day one of this event produced a major traffic jam. The 61 tables in the casino's showroom venue and another 18 in the poker room provide room for 790 players. But a whole lot more than that were eager to play. Alternates were taken for three hours, with entries finally cut off at 905, with a prize pool of $263,355. Meanwhile, there weren't tables to accommodate all the players for the 4 p.m. Seniors event. Starting time was delayed an hour -- the maximum permitted under Mississippi gaming laws -- so the Seniors took an hour's nap, and then alternates were taken until all 276 of them were seated.
Foulkes, 26, is a former professional pool player from Tunica who turned to poker two years ago and now spends more time at poker than pool. Until now he's only played about three live tournaments, with just one small cash at the Mid-America Poker Classic. He arrived at the final table second in chips but found himself card-dead, and was shot-stacked with four players left until he started catching cards. He describes his play as tight/aggressive and says he likes to pick his spots before committing. He also said he prefers pot-limit Omaha over hold'em because he feels more bad players like the game. "You get so many more hands in Omaha, that players tend to get involved in more pots than they should," he explained. "But hold'em now has better players"
The final table started with blinds of 3,000-6,000 and 500 antes and 18:40 on the clock. Dan "The Wolf" Little had more than a little in chips and was well in front with 2.7 million.
Here were the starting chip counts:
Seat 1. John Ellis 570,000
Seat 2. Jonathan Shiohira 830,000
Seat 3. Michael Jordan 590,000
Seat 4. Ethan Foulkes 700,000
Seat 5. Tim Beck 1,045,000
Seat 6. Michael Wingo 630,000
Seat 7. Russell Harriman 515,000
Seat 8. Nic Vita 1,225,000
Seat 9 .Dan Little 2,700,000
With over 9 million chips on the table, and blinds still so low, there seemed plenty of time for play, but two players were to go out in the brief time left in the opening level. On the second hand, Foulkes moved in under the gun with A-K and got a call from Michael "Wingnut" Wingo, holding K-J. A board of A-Q-4-3-4 left Wingo in ninth place. Wingo, 35, is a deputy sheriff from Marion, Arkansas. He's been playing five years, and this marks his third, and largest, Circuit cash here.
Two minutes before the level ended, we lost another player. This time is was John "Mike" Ellis, a 68-year-old retiree from Birmingham, Alabama. He was all in with pocket deuces against Foulkes' pocket 10s. The board missed both players, and Ellis went out in eighth place as Foulkes, claiming his second victim, climbed past the 2 million mark.
Ellis has been playing 30 years and now is teaching his daughter how to play.
Blinds went to 4,000-8,000, and 10 minutes later an enormous pot came down. First, Russell "Dangerous" Harriman, down to 210,000 after losing a big pot, moved in with pocket 8s. Little called. Then, Foulkes re-raised to 800,000. After some thought, Little called. The flop came 9-5-6. Foulkes bet 400,000, and again Little called. The turn brought a queen, a great card for Foulkes, who held Q-10, a disastrous card for Little, who had Q-7. Foulkes moved in for 950,000 and again Little called. The river ace meant nothing, and Foulkes' paired queen and bigger kicker won everything as he knocked out his third straight player and now had about 4,500,00 chips, half those in play.
Harriman is 49 and is a quality engineer from Clarkston, Michigan. He's played six years and has a fifth in the third event here last year.
With blinds now at 6,000-12,000 and 1,000 antes, another big pot.developed. This time, Little moved in for 700,000, Michael Jordan called, and after Foulkes moved in, Jordan called for the additional 300,000. The flop came 9-A-4, pairing aces for both Little (Ah-3h) and Jordan (A-K0, but also giving Foulkes a set of 9s. After a 4 and J came, Little went out in sixth place, Jordan in fifth. Little, playing his first Circuit event, is 40 and an engineer from Belleville, IL. He's the father of two with a third on the way, Jordan is a 43-year-old real estate and mortgage broker from Tampa, Florida. He's played five years and finished 6th at the Imperial Palace Pigskin Championship.
As play went on, Foulkes cooled down, repeatedly being beaten or outdrawn and each time doubling up all of his opponents. As the level neared an end, he was down to about 3.6 million. Soon after, he was finally not involved in a pot. This time it was Jonathan "J-bak" Shiohira, all in with K-Q, against Vita's A-7. The board came 2-7-5-10-5, Shiohira was out in fourth place while Vita, who had come to the final table in second place, was now the leader with about 4.5 million. Shiohira, a native of Bangkok, Thailand, is 27 and now lives in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where he is self-employed. He started playing four years ago and has one prior final table and three cashes.
Blinds now went to 8,000-16,000 with 2,000 antes. It quickly got down to two after Tim Beck was all in with Qd-10d against Vita's pocket 6s. Vita held the lead until the river, when he clinched things by making a set. Beck, from Springfield, Illinois, was a pizza delivery man before he turned pro five years ago. This is his first Circuit cash.
Heads-up, Vita had about 5.6 million chips to 3.4 million for Foulkes. Play continued for eight hands. Foulkes, now down to 1.3 million. decided to move in with 5s-4s. Vita called with Ac-Qc. A flop of 5c-2c-Kd gave Foulkes a pair and Vita a flush draw. Vita missed the flush, but an ace on fourth street was enough to take the pot and the win.
Foulkes, a Las Vegas pro who's been playing six years, was making his second final table in this series after finishing fifth in an earlier $300 event.