Great final tables share a common quality: The outcome is impossible to predict. Like any good movie, a final table must have fine performances, multiple storylines, and human drama. If the last final table of the 2005-06 World Series of Poker Circuit season were to somehow be made into a movie, it would certainly be a cross between "The Big Easy" and "Hard Times."
Those two hit movies, filmed in and around New Orleans, tell two completely different stories. "The Big Easy" echoes the genteel nature and common bonds between the citizens of New Orleans. "Hard Times" is quite different. It is the story of a bare-knuckled street brawler who fights to survive. At this final table, just when poker pro Gavin Smith thought victory might come easy, Peter Feldman created some very hard times for his last opponent. Indeed, Feldman must have ridden in on "A Streetcar Named Desire." For, it was pure desire that earned him this victory.
Fittingly, the second annual Bayou Poker Challenge began with a tribute to the City of New Orleans.
"I'm not sure this has ever been done by anyone in poker before," announced Jack Effel, Tournament Director for the World Series of Poker Circuit moments before the start of the championship final table. "I want to take this moment to dedicate the $10,000 main event to the wonderful people of the City of New Orleans, who have been such wonderful hosts. You are the real champions!"
Gavin Smith, a native of Guelph, Ontario (Canada) who now lives in Las Vegas, arrived with beaming confidence and a domineering chip lead. He came to the final table with more than one-third of the total chips in play, and nearly a 3 to 1 advantage over his closest rival -- Peter Feldman. Appropriately, Smith and Feldman would end up as the two finalists and would stage a slugfest that ended at well past 2 am. Starting chip counts were as follows:
SEAT 1: Allie Prescott 163,500
SEAT 2: David Babin 86,900
SEAT 3: Matt Russell 34,200
SEAT 4: Peter Feldman 223,400
SEAT 5: George Abdallah 148,900
SEAT 6: Ben Gordon 170,600
SEAT 7: Brian Townsend 102,000
SEAT 8: Gavin Smith 645,800
SEAT 9: Kenny Brown 17,600
SEAT 10: Dana Diephouse 109,400
Players were eliminated as follows:
10th Place - Despite two desperately short stacks, an hour passed before the first elimination. Brian Townsend moved all-in on a semi-bluff straight draw with A-10 after a K-Q-Q flop. Matt Russell called quickly with A-K and took the pot with a pair of kings (and queens) when two blanks fell on the turn and river. For Townsend, a 24-year-old graduate student from Santa Barbara, CA, this was his best showing ever in a poker tournament. He has only been playing for about two years. Townsend's share of the prize money came to $22,610.
9th Place - A short time later, David Babin was low on chips and moved all-in with A-7 suited. Dana Diephouse, holding A-K, was thrilled to call. The flop came A-K-9, which left Babin as a huge underdog. Diephouse's two-pair held up and Babin went out. David Babin, a 28-year-old local poker player from Norco, LA won his way into this event through a satellite at Harrah's New Orleans, costing just $200. "I knew I had to catch a few hands..I knew I had to gamble," Babin said afterward. "I did, and I lost." Nevertheless, Babib did take $32,300 for ninth-place.
8th Place - Ben Gordon's intent was to stay around the 200,000 mark and then go heads up later against Gavin Smith for all the chips. Gordon got half of his wish as he did end up all-in against the chip leader. He got all his money in against Smith as a slight favorite. Gordon (7-7) called Smith's all-in raise (A-K) and was ahead after the flop came with blanks - Q-6-5. Then, Smith spiked an ace on the turn and Gordon was gone in a flash. With that hand, Smith increased his dominance over the final table. He had better than a 4 to 1 lead over the other players. "I'm a lawyer, not a poker player," the 42-year-old attorney from Pensacola said afterward. "I was just glad to make it through 170 players and make it to the final table. I started off with the best hand but didn't get what I needed. I still have to be very happy with how it turned out." Gordon's final settlement came to $48,450.
7th Place - Allie Prescott also hoped to get head-up against Smith, but ended up instead drawing to a big disadvantage - with A-9 versus Peter Feldman's A-Q. Neither player made a pair, and the A-Q played. Prescott ended up as the seventh-place finisher, worth $64,600 in prize money. Prescott, from Memphis is a 24-year-old real estate investor. Prescott is also a graduate of Tulane University. Much earlier in the tournament, Prescott made a side wager with Smith that he would win the tournament. Smith insisted he would win. Smith accepted the bet and was pleased to see his friend bounced from the table. Following elimination, when asked if he was cheering for Smith, Prescott said, "No comment." Reportedly, Smith's victory would cost Prescott a six-figure side wager. Such is the high-wire act of tournament poker. (Note: A side wager is a bet made between two players, often on which one will finish higher in the tournament.)
6th Place - Gavin Smith took a large pot off of George Abdallah and rocketed up over 1,000,000 in chips for the first time. Dana Diephouse was not so fortunate. Low on chips, Diephouse moved all-in with 8-7 and was called by Matt Russell after the flop came 9-8-4. Both players had a pair, but the nines bested the eights. Diephouse failed to improve which meant a sixth-place finish. "I never made a hand," Diephouse said afterward. "Every time I raised (hoping to steal), I got re-raised and couldn't defend myself." Diephouse added that he called in sick at work in order to play in the tournament during the last few days. "Life goes on..I must go back to work tomorrow," he said. "When I leave here, win or lose I'm still the same person." Dana Diephouse, a casino dealer at the Bell of Baton Rouge who won his way into this tournament via a one-table satellite, earned $80,750 in prize money.
5th Place - Down to five, Smith took his first major hit at the final table when his A-J was steamrolled by Peter Feldman's K-K. The kings won a 500,000 pot and Gavin was down to a 3 to 2 chip advantage. Feldman's situation improved when he won another 50,000 and eliminated a player. Kenny Brown arrived on day four as the shortest stack, with just 17,600. "I figured I was expected to go out first," Brown later admitted. "I never had average or better chips in this tournament, so I have to be very satisfied." Indeed, Brown moved five spots up the money ladder beyond expectation. His 7-7 lost to Feldman's K-J when a jack flopped. Kenny Brown, from Gulf Shores, AL earned a well-deserved prize of $96,900.
4th Place - That pot put Feldman up to about 600,000 against Smith's 800,000, with the other two players at less than 200,000. Then, Smith took another blow, this time against Matt Russell. Smith lost 120,000 on the hand and was perilously close to losing the chip lead for the first time. But great champions find a way to get back up after taking a fall. With blinds at 4,000-8,000 Smith was dealt A-Q in the big blind. George Abdallah, who had been relatively quiet most of the day was low on chips and moved all in from the small blind with A-2. Smith called and Abdallah was totally dominated. Smith made two pair and Abdallah hit the rail as the fourth-place finisher. Abdallah, from Houston, said he learned to play poker from former WSOP finalist Sammy Farha, who is also Lebanese and lives in Houston. During breaks, Addallah telephoned his mentor Farha seeking advice, along with another well-known Houston player, John Bonetti. Unfortunately, the good advice did not translate into chip accumulation. Abdallah's cash prize amounted to $129,200.
Down to three-handed play, the chip counts stood as follows:
Gavin Smith 756,000
Peter Feldman 696,000
Matt Russell 250,000
3rd Place - Another hour passed before the next elimination. Then, another Houstonian went out when Matt Russell moved all-in with A-10 and was called by Gavin Smith with A-K. Russell's ace was outkicked and he failed to improve, thus becoming the third-place finisher. Nevertheless, Russell made the greatest leap up of anyone at the final table. He began the day desperately low on chips with just 34,200. Russell outlasted all but the final two players and collected $161,500. "This was the first WSOP tournament I have ever played," he said in a post-tournament interview. I started with just 34,000. Now, I won ($161,500). I wish I'd won, but I'm very happy."
When heads-up play began, Gavin Smith enjoyed a decent chip lead over Peter Feldman - 1,019,000 to 682,000. As has become customary at WSOP events, once play becomes two-handed, the cash was brought out and placed onto the table. In New Orleans, the first-place cash was placed into the mouth of a stuffed alligator, appropriately named "Mardi." With big-mouthed Mardi (and over half a million in cash) providing an obvious distraction, the Smith-Feldman duel began. It would last four grueling hours.
Anyone thinking Smith might run wire-to-wire and win easily would instead be in for poker's equivalent of a fist fight. The chip lead changed back and forth multiple times and each player got lucky and drew out on at least one key hand.
The first turning point came just a few hands into heads-up play: Smith lost the chip lead for the first time at the final table when he made a tough call holding 4-4. Smith had raised pre-flop, and Feldman moved all-in for 385,000 more with K-K. Smith thought long and hard and finally called. That proved to be a huge mistake, and was perhaps Smith's ultimate undoing. The pocket kings held up, and in a single hand Feldman had reversed the chip advantage in his favor:
Peter Feldman 1,252,000
Gavin Smith 450,000
But great poker players are always tested. Smith braced himself for a fight and drew back to even with his opponent just five hands later. Smith was dealt 9-5 versus Feldman's 9-2. On the turn, the board showed Q-9-5-2. Smith's two-pair led and after a big raise and an immediate call, he was all-in against Feldman. Smith won the hand and it was anyone's match to win.
Peter Feldman 909,000
Gavin Smith 793,000
Three hands and a few small pots won by Smith later, both players were dead-even in chips. Players traded chips back and forth for the next hour. Then, Feldman gradually picked chips from Smith's stack and got back to a 2 to 1 chip lead. At one point, Smith got very lucky when he moved all-in with A-4 and was called instantly by Feldman, holding A-Q. Smith flopped a four good for a pair and survived to play another few hours.
With such an eccentric character like Smith present, the final table was sure to have its share of funny moments. After playing heads-up for what seemed like an eternity, Smith joking proposed to run a 100-yard dash for the top prize. The portly Feldman seemed genuinely interested. Then, Smith backed down, saying, "Never mind. It will be faster for us to just play it out" -- figuring that it might actually take longer for the hard-partying Canadian to run 100-yards with his opponent.
Then, the key hand of the tournament struck like a lightening bolt. Smith had regained the chip lead. After nearly four hours and 100 hands of heads-up play, Feldman was dealt 6-6 and moved all-in. Smith looked down and saw K-K. Thinking this was finally the moment, he called instantly. Smith was on the verge of his first WSOP tournament victory. Then, disaster struck. The flop came with a six, puncturing Smith's hopes for celebration. To add insult to injury, another six rained down on the river, pummeling Smith's prayer for a miracle catch.
Outchipped by a 7 to 1 margin, the end result seemed to be a foregone conclusion. But astoundingly, Smith managed to make yet another comeback and came within reach of the chip lead. Just when it seemed play might continue long into the night, exactly 12 hours into the final table, the final hand was dealt:
Smith - K-Q
Feldman - A-J
Smith re-raised all-in pre-flop and Feldman called. The final board of the tournament showed A-10-2-K-A, giving Feldman (A-J) trip aces.
2nd Place - Gavin Smith played an extraordinary tournament. Early on, many observers in the crowd predicted he might run over the final table and win easily. But Smith knew better. Afterwards, Smith praised Feldman for his playing: "I thought he played fantastic," Smith said. "He was patient and played heads-up very well."
Smith was also visibly upset with the second-place finish. "I'm never satisfied with second," he said. "I'm disappointed..I am proud that I never gave up. On that hand with the (pocket) kings (against 4-4) I was ahead and was 4.5 to 1 as the favorite. I was that close to winning the tournament. But it didn't work out."
Gavin Smith earned $293,930 as the runner up.
1st Place - Peter Feldman is a 28-year-old poker player from Michigan. He recently left a stable position with his family's business to take poker more seriously. "It turned out to be a pretty good decision, so far," Feldman jokingly said afterward. He also praised Gavin Smith for his fine performance. "Heads-up, it was a real battle. Gavin is such a great player. I got lucky on that one hand and won it."
Feldman's victory included $532,950 in prize money. He also won the prestigious gold and diamond ring presented to all WSOP Circuit winners. Feldman also won a seat into the 2006 Tournament of Champions, which will take place in Las Vegas next month. First prize will be $1 million.
As ESPN closed down the set, and weary spectators departed the stage inside the Harrah's New Orleans showroom, everyone knew they had witnessed a classic confrontation between two players at the top of their game - each of whom probably deserved to win. On this night, Feldman and Smith both showed that poker is a "hard" way to make an "easy" living.
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Report by - Nolan Dalla