Mike Somma, trying his hand at short stories and screenplays, has yet to cash in by selling anything. But tonight he settled for a $48,980 poker cash when he finished first in the fifth event of the Harrah's WSOP Circuit tour at Harrah's Atlantic City, $500 no-limit hold'em. And he did it the hard way by overcoming a better than 3-1 deficit when he got heads-up with David "Gruzin" Natliashvili.  

Twice he got Natliashvili to lay down his hand in big pots when he raised all in, later revealing that he had flopped sets. His strategy was in contrast to that of Natliashvili, who had earlier built much of his own stacks by flopping sets and milking his opponent with smaller bets.

Somma is 25, from Middle Village, New York, has been playing poker four years and also likes craps and blackjack. Single ("I'd rather be sold into slavery," he wrote on his bio sheet) he plays only tournaments because it offers more chances for moves, and only the buy-in is at risk. He helps his father, who owns a drug store and is in real estate, when he isn't writing or playing poker. Until now his biggest cashes were for 10th place at the Mirage Poker Showdown and 36th in a Borgata/WPT event. 

Day one ended with 11 players left.   Starting the final table, Natliashvili led with 430,000 chips. Blinds were 3,000-6,000, 500 antes, and 49:18 left.

Seats and chip counts

SEAT 1 John Whitemarsh  317,000 
SEAT 2 Gary Crow              29,500
SEAT 3 Matt Edwards          40,000 
SEAT 4 Chad Moore             67,500
SEAT 5 James English       255,000
SEAT 6 Mike Somma            46,800
SEAT 7 Mike Beasley         206,000
SEAT 8 David Natliashvili   430,000
SEAT 9 Richard Rodrigo    159,000

In early action, two short-chipped players doubled up, Chad Moore when his ace-high flush beat Natliashvili's king flush; and Somma, pairing a queen to outrun John "Ty1984" Whitemarsh's pocket 7s. Matt Edwards wasn't as lucky. He moved in for 24,000 with As-3s, losing when Whitemarsh, calling with 10-9, made two pair. 

Edwards, 40, is a real estate investor from Charlotte, North Carolina. He's only been playing for a year, learning in local games. He picked up $3,160 for ninth.

Gary Crow was the second real estate investor at the table. An unlucky trade, apparently, because he was the second one out. After doubling through once, Crow moved in for 25,000 with As-4s and got three callers. A flop of A-8-3 gave Whitemarsh a set of 8s. He moved in after Mike Beasley bet 35,000. Beasley folded and Crow was drawing dead when a 9 turned.  Crow is from Flowery Branch, Georgia and is on the board of directors of the Peach State Bank and Trust. He's played poker 35 years. He's had several other Circuit and WPT cashes, including a final table at  New Orleans. Eighth place paid  $4,740.

At the next level, 4,000-8,000 with 1,000 blinds, Whitemarsh led with 360,000, closely followed by Natliashvili with about 340,000. Whitemarsh increased his lead by 100,000 when he re-raised Beasley pre-flop and moved in on a flop of Jh-5h-3h, forcing Beasley, playing very deliberately, to fold.

On hand 27, Richard "Cheech" Rodrigo re-raised to 32,000 with A-4 and Natliashvili called with A-J. Natliashvili checked when a flop of A-J-5 gave him two pair, allowing Rodrigo to move in. The two pair held up, and Natlia leeched Cheech's chips. Rodrigo, 24, is from Toms River, New Jersey and is self-employed in online sales. He learned poker watching Phil Ivey online and studying the math of the game.

If Beasley never sees Natliashvili again, it will be too soon. Before the final table, he ran into Natliashvili's quad 9s and a flopped set, and at the final table, Natliashvili punished him with two more flopped sets. The final time, Beasley had J-8 and seemed to have a good hand when the flop came J-10-6. But Natliashvili had a set of 6s. He avoided pushing in, checking the flop and betting a modest 24,000 on the turn and 36,000 on the river, but it was enough to leave a visibly upset Beasley down to the cloth. "He's a good guy and a good player," Natliashvili said later, "and I feel sorry for him." (Then give him his chips back.)

"Why bother looking?" Beasley said on the next hand, throwing in his last 9,000. He was nearly dead with a Q-5 to Whitemarsh's pocket queens and no miracle saved him. Beasley is a 43-year-old pathologist from Hollywood, Florida who began playing poker at the local barbershop at age 12. His poker highlight was knocking out Scotty Nguyen, Men the Master, Tuan Le, Mark Seif and Hasan Habib on day one at Tunica...only to finish 41st himself on his "worst bad beat ever." He got $10,350 for sixth.

Next to depart in fifth place was James English. He had K-10, Mike Somma put him all in with A-Q, and he busted out when the board didn't help anyone.    English is a retired New York City real estate broker now living in Tamarac, Florida. He's been playing less than two years, learning by watching. He must have watched carefully, because he  already has a win in a $2,500 no-limit event at Borgata last year that paid $215,000. Fifth place tonight paid a little less, but he still accepted the $12,420.

On the 50th deal, blinds went to 6,000-12,000 with 2,000 antes. Natliashvili  now led with a touch over 600,000.  Ten hands into the new level, Moore looked at pocket 8s and moved in for 43,000. Somma called with A-9 and overtook him on a flop of Q-10-A. Moore is 39, lives in Frankfort, Indiana and has been playing for 22 years. This is his fourth try at a Circuit event, and he got $11,060 for fourth place.

As play continued, Whitemarsh doubled up when he caught an 8 to his Q-8 to get past Somma's A-10. Otherwise, there wasn't much significant action until the dinner break. The players returned with blinds of 10,000-20,000 and 3,000 antes. Natliashvili still led with over 700,000.

The race tightened on a triple draw-out. Somma moved in for 214,000 with Qc-Jh and Natliashvili called with Ks-9s. Somma took the lead on a flop of Ac-Qs-5s. Then Natliashvili was in front when a Kc turned. But the river brought a Jc, giving Whitemarsh a winnng two pair.  

Suddenly, there was high drama. The board showed 7s-6c-3c-9s-4s, and Whitemarsh was all in. Natliashvili triumphantly showed Qs-5s for a flush, then groaned when Whitemarsh turned up what he thought was a higher flush of Ks-8s. A moment later he began crying out, "I got you! I got you!" when he realized he had misread Whitemarsh's hand, which was really Js-8s.

Whitemarsh (the Ty1984 is his online moniker) cashed third for $12,640. He's 42, from Wayne, Indiana, mostly plays online, and has had back-to-back tourney wins at Bay 101 and Lucky Chances.

Heads-up, Natliashvili had 1,093,000 chips to 486,000 for Somma. As the level was winding down, Somma got close to even when he raised all in with the board showing A-9-9-J, and Natliashvili folded and showed A-3.

When blinds moved to 15,000-30,000 with 3,000 antes, Natliashvili now had about 900,000 to Somma's 650,000. Ten minutes later, Somma again went all in, raising Natliashvili's bet of 60,000 on the turn. "Every time you hit the turn," Natliashvili complained. Down to about 340,000, Natliashvili called Somma's all-in re-raise pre-flop with Kh-4h. Somma turned up pocket 10s, and was the winner when the board came A-8-7-5-4. Natliashvili, 41, is a transportation supervisor from Brooklyn, New York who has been playing two years. He got $25,280 for second.

-- Max Shapiro

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