Event #5: Omaha High-Low World Championship
Location: Rio, Las Vegas
Buy-in: $1,500
Number of Entries: 699
Total Prize Money: $964,620

How many recreational poker players could walk up to their spouses and say with a straight face, "I'm going to quit my job to play poker for a living"?

Pat Poels did.

About a year ago, Poels, a 37-year-old father of three from Mesa, AZ, received the approval and encouragement of his wife to leave a secure, good-paying job in order to pursue a dream. "She actually wanted me to become a pro poker player," Poels explained of the situation, as a confused poker audience scratched their collective heads and wondered if they were hearing voices. That faith paid off when Pat Poels crushed a record-field of 699 players in the $1,500 buy-in Omaha High-Low world championship and won a whopping $270,100 in prize money.

No one -- sans Mrs. Poels who sat in the front row cheering on her husband -- could have predicted that Poels would end up with his first gold bracelet. Consider what happened on Day One, when there were still about 200 players remaining and blinds were at 100-200. Poels lost a big pot and was down to just 300 in chips -- barely enough to see a few more hands. Amazingly, Poels was just about to get up from his table and leave when he was all-in with an ace, and spiked an ace on the river -- good for top pair. Those 700 in chips might not have seemed significant at the time. But a day and a half later, they would transform a previously-unknown middle-limit pro from the Phoenix area into the latest WSOP champion. In essence, hitting that ace netted Poels over a quarter-million dollars in prize money.

There were other obstacles, as well. The final table was comprised of four former gold bracelet winners (and two players with two wins each -- Nguyen and Lukas). Furthermore, "Minneapolis Jim" Meehan was making his third straight final table appearance in this event (2003, 2004, and now 2005), a most impressive accomplishment considering the large fields and high level of competition. Players were eliminated as follows:

10th Place: Pascal Perrault, $10,610
Perrault's stay at the final table was mercifully short. He arrived with barely enough chips to cover a round of blinds and was the first player to exit.
9th Place: Minh Nguyen, $19,290
Nguyen, the winner of two gold bracelets, was the next player to hit the rail. Like Perrault, Nguyen arrived desperately short-stacked and was scooped on his final hand of the night.
8th Place: Boris Shats, $29,940
Russian-born Shats was eliminated next. The 23-year-old sales manager has been playing poker for only a year.
7th Place: Darrell Dicken, $38,585
Dicken went out next. The 27-year-old poker pro from Iowa has made it to three final tables this year at tournaments elsewhere. Unfortunately, not much went right for Dicken towards the end of this event. Dicken arrived with the chip lead but could do no better than a 7th-place showing.
6th Place: "Minneapolis Jim" Meehan, $48,230
The third time was not a charm for Meehan. The former attorney, who is now retired and mostly plays high-limit poker and tournaments for a living, was making his third consecutive final table appearance in this event. But Meehan couldn't establish any momentum in the closing stages. Just when it looked as if Meehan might make a move, he lost a big pot and was gradually blinded down to the lowest stack. He was eliminated by Jeff Duvall.
5th Place: Dan Heimiller, $57,785
Heimiller was one of four former gold bracelet winners sitting at the final table. This was his 11th career final table appearance.
4th Place: Bahram Kranfar, $67,525
Pat Poels took the chip lead and shifted into high gear. He became the most aggressive player at the final table, and the modification of strategy served him well. While opponents tended to play more timidly, Poels constantly applied pressure and won more than his fair share of pots. The same could not be said for Kranfar. The Iranian-born retiree went out next, leaving Poels with a 3-to-1 chip lead.
3rd Place: Jeff Duvall, $77,170
Duvall, a London-based professional poker player, has previously made it to a final table at the WSOP. At age 56, Duvall now says that poker has become a "young man's sport." But by the looks of this final table, the older generation was doing just fine (eight of the 10 finalists were 40 years of age or older - which some might say is typical of Omaha events).
Runner up: John Lukas, $139,870
1st Place: Pat Poels, $270,100
The heads-up duel was a clash of backgrounds and styles. John Lukas was a two-time gold bracelet winner facing Pat Poels, a player who was making his first WSOP final table appearance. But Poels came into the battle with at least one crucial advantage. He had more chips - 600,000 to about 450,000. Limits were 15,000-30,000, which meant the duel was certain to continue for a while. Lukas made a small move and drew close to even in chips with Poels. Then, after about an hour of heads-up play, Poels scooped five consecutive pots.

No player, not even the best player in the world, could survive the onslaught of a card rush, which is exactly what happened. Poels made two-pair twice, a flush, a straight and won one pot with an uncalled bet, which ended the tournament at 3:35 am in front of a nearly empty room of yawning, blurry-eyed spectators. Given that play on Day One took 14 hours, and play on Day Two took another 15 hours, Poels' victory was not so much a raw exhibition of poker success, but perhaps more fittingly, an exercise in the art of stamina and survival.

View final results.

Tournament reporting by Nolan Dalla / worldseriesofpoker.com