"Cowboy" Roy Dudley has been playing poker since the days when Eisenhower was president. The native Texan started playing poker at the tender age of ten. "I've pretty much been playing poker and gambling ever since," Dudley said proudly, immediately following an impressive comeback victory in the second event at the World Series of Poker Circuit tournament at Harrah's New Orleans.

The 63-year-old man now living in Houston has seen just about everything possible at the poker table. He's played alongside Doyle Brunson, Jack Straus, Amarillo Slim, Johnny Moss and just about every legendary gambler in the South. "They all know me. I used to play with them all," Dudley said. "I used to go to all the big games around Texas."

Given those impressive credentials, it's no surprise that experience may have been the deciding factor in this tournament. Dudley was fortunate to catch key cards on at least three occasions at the final table. But he also is to be commended for surviving on a short stack long enough to catch a few breaks later on. He also played magnificently when the match became heads-up.

The second event of the 2006 Bayou Poker Classic outdrew the first, as 606 participants entered the $500 buy-in no-limit Texas hold'em event. On day one, it took 15 long hours to eliminate 597 players, leaving the final nine to compete on day two at the final table.

Craig Thames started off as the chip leader. He began day two with 225,000 in chips -- nearly double that of everyone else at the table. But this would not be Thames' day. Instead, "Cowboy" Dudley would teach the young crowd a few things about how to play no-limit poker. Players were eliminated as follows:

9th Place - Shawn Kibel, from Cumby, TX was the first player to exit. Just five minutes into the action, Kibel lost to a full house. Kibel, who says he was laid-off of work just a week ago, collected $5,878 in prize money for ninth place.

8th Place - Adam Green made it to the final table in this same event last year. In fact, he has made nearly a dozen final tables over the previous year. Green was determined to win his first major tournament ever, but finished a disappointing eighth when he missed a draw and busted out early at the final table. Green, an antique coin dealer and expert from Washington, DC (he lists his occupation as a "Tibetan Numismatist"), earned $8,817.

7th Place - Down to seven, Andrew Fernandez seemed to be in very good chip position, with well over 100,000. Then, he took a terrible beat and melted away. Fernandez got most of his chips in with the best hand, 10-10 versus "Cowboy" Dudley's A-10. But Dudley got lucky and flopped an ace, which shattered Fernandez's dreams of victory. As it turned out, catching the ace was the turning point in the tournament. Had Dudley not caught a miracle on that hand, he would have been out and Fernandez would have been near the chip lead. Sadly, Fernandez was eliminated just three hands later. This was his first-ever WSOP Circuit final table. Fernandez, from Sanford, FL earned $11,756.

6th Place - Brian Waystack, a local poker player living in nearby Mandeville, arrived as one of the lowest stacks. He managed to move three spots up the money ladder before finally busting out against Manny Minaya's pocket jacks. Sixth-place paid $14,696.

5th Place - An hour passed before the next player buted out. Craig Thames had arrived with the most chips at the start of the day. But he went card dead at the worst possible phase in the tournament. With blinds and escalating, Thames gradually found himself low on chips and had to commit his last few thousand with 10-9. John Powers, the chip leader, had more than enough chips to make an easy call holding K-10, which held up (no pair, king-high played). Thames, from Mississippi, could not catch a river card and ended up going out fifth, good for $17,635.

4th Place - Willie O'Reilly, second in chips at one point, lost a crucial 330,000 pot to Cowboy Dudley (8-8 versus K-10 - a king flopped). That left him hanging on by a thread, which then snapped a few hands later when his flopped top pair (queens) was rivered by an overpair (kings). O'Reilly, who has won several poker tournaments at the Hard Rock Casino near his home in Tampa, FL, finished a bittersweet fourth. He collected $20,574.

3rd Place - By this time, John Powers was dominating play at the table. He had both of his opponents covered by a 3 to 1 margin. Then, everything suddenly changed. Just when it appeared the chip-leader might steamroll his two rivals, Cowboy Dudley went on a tear that left Powers powerless, and Manny Minaya hanging on for dear life. Minaya finally went out when his Q-9 was upset by Dudley's 9-8 when an eight fell on the river. Nevertheless, Minaya had to be happy with the course of events. Consider what had happened 24-hours earlier.

On the previous day, Minaya had been down to just a few hundred in chips. Three hours into the tournament, he had about 300 in his stack and the blinds were up to 100-200. Minaya prepared to get up and leave the table. Forced to post a 200 big blind, Minaya had only 100 left and was disappointed to see his hole cards - 7-2 offsuit - the worst possible hand in hold'em. Amazingly, Minaya caught a deuce on the flop which miraculously held up against two opponents. He managed to win many more chips over the next several hours and ended up at the final table. The deuce ended up being a card worth $23,513.

2nd Place - Down to the final two, "Cowboy" Dudley enjoyed a 530,000 to 380,000 lead over John Powers. By this time, Dudley was in full control of the table and aggressively took chips from Power's dwindling stack. It took only 20 minutes of heads-up play until the final hand of the tournament was dealt.

Powers was down to about 180,000 (outchipped by about 4 to 1). With blinds at 15,000-30,000 he moved all-in with a vulnerable Q-4 hoping to steal the blinds. Dudley beat Powers into the pot with his chips, holding 9-9. The final board showed A-5-4-9-10 giving Dudley trip nines and the victory.

The runner-up admitted afterward that he probably should have played the final hand differently. "I had the chip lead most of the time. When I lost the lead (to Dudley) I got impatient and tried to get those chips back." It turned out to be a fateful decision. Nevertheless, Powers could be quite proud of his accomplishment - defeating 604 other players who entered this tournament. The local man from nearby Metairie, LA collected $44,968 for second place.

Meanwhile, "Cowboy" Dudley accepted the win as just another day's pay. Dudley, who has three grown children and has been a professional gambler most of his life, earned $85,224 in prize money. Although he has won major tournaments in Las Vegas, Reno, and Las Vegas previously -- and had a second-place finish in an Omaha High-Low event at the 1993 World Series of Poker -- this marked Dudley's tournament biggest payday ever.

When asked what he might do with the 85 grand in prize money, the professional gambler said with a big grin, "What do you think I'm going to do with the money?"

-- By Nolan Dalla