Mark Williams, a nine-year army vet who was a sergeant in special forces intelligence, decided to change occupations and turned pro a year ago. Tonight, Williams, who is strictly a tournament specialist, scored by far his biggest win as he marched to victory in the fifth event of the WSOP Circuit tour at Caesars Indiana, $500 no-limit hold'em. It was by far his biggest cash-out. He said he still might return to the army some day, but for now the $49,819 he won should pay his bills for a while. Williams is 27 and from Michigan. He's only been playing poker for two years, learning the game online.
Williams describes his play as "tight aggressive." He said he prefers tournaments because the size of the stacks and other informational factors allow him to pace himself and make better math decisions than in live games. On day one of this event, he gradually improved his chip position until, with five tables left, he went on a rush, turning 30,000 into 100,000 as he knocked out five players in about 10 minutes. He came to the final table as the chip leader, lost it, and then, in a big turnaround hand, took it back from runner-up Keith Ritchie.
The final table started at level 13 with blinds of 2,000-4,000 and 500 antes, with 30 minutes left on the clock. The chip distribution was vastly disproportionate. Williams had 163,500, Mielzynski had 156,500, two players were roughly average, and the remaining five were all in the 20,000 and under range.
Here are the seat positions and chip counts:
SEAT 1 Brettt Thomas 18,500
SEAT 2 Rich Baker 16,000
SEAT 3 Keith Ritchie 27,500
SEAT 4 Jay Minor 52,500
SEAT 5 Michael Mielzynski 156,500
SEAT 6 Ryan Ramsdell 22,500
SEAT 7 Dale Poynter 41,000
SEAT 8 Glenn Cissell 25,000
SEAT 9 Mark Williams 163,500
Action was immediate and fast. Players were going all in on virtually every hand as four of them went broke in the first 11 deals, with most of the field gone in 28 minutes.
Rich Baker was the shortest stack with 16,000. On the first deal, he was one away from the big blind and decided to push in with a decent holding of Kc-10c. Jay Minor, with pocket queens, had a better hand and called. The board had all junk cards, 9-3-2-4-5, and Baker cashed out in ninth place for $2,551. Baker, 57, is general manager of an industrial distribution company and lives in Louisville. Self-taught, he's been playing poker for 40 years.
Six hands later, Doyle Poynter looked at A-Q, put in all his 23,500 chips, and ran into Minor's major hand of A-A. Another nothing board of 10-7-5-7-5 couldn't rescue him, and Poynter was our eighth-place finisher, collecting $3,827. Poynter is 46, from Waynesboro, Virginia and the owner/president of an import-export business, though he says he'd love to sell it and play professionally. Any takers?
One more hand, one more fatality. This time Ryan "Two-Shot"Ramsdell went all in for 18,000 with K-5 and got an unwelcome call from Williams, who had pocket jacks. The board came Q-7-3-7-3 and we were down to six players in eight hands. Ramsdell, from Kansas City, is 40 and in real estate. He learned poker online and has played for four years. His other hobby is collecting antiques.
The massacre continued. Three hands later it was Mielzynski who had the jacks. Under the gun, he declared all in, and got called by Glenn Cissell, who had A-7. A jack turned to give Mielzynski a set, and Cissell finished sixth, earning $6,378. Cissell hails from Bardstown, Kentucky. He's been playing poker for 35 of his 54 years, and his other hobbies are fishing and hunting.
Keith Ritchie was the next player to go all in and be called, but finally we had a survivor. Ritchie had J-10, a small dog to Mielzynski's pocket treys. He escaped with a straight on the river when the board came K-8-4-9-Q.
Hand 15 saw yet another player eliminated. Brett Thomas pushed in with A-6 and was in deep trouble when Mielzynski saw him with A-Q. A board of 9-7-7-5-3 changed nothing, and now only four were left. Thomas, making his second final table, cashed out for $7,653 for fifth. He is a poker dealer turned pro from Kansas who won a $300 Circuit event in Tunica last month.
With blinds now at 3,000-6,000 with 500 antes, Williams still was in front, having increased his chip count to about 210,000. As play continued, Ritchie survived again, this time tripling up in three-way action. He moved in for 18,000 with pocket aces, which held up against an A-J and K-Q.
On hand 39, this tournament got down to three players on a toss-up hand. Ritchie went all in for about 90,000 with Ah-Kh. Minor, with pocket 8s, called for about 80,000. A flopped king put Ritchie in the lead. Minor couldn't catch his needed 8, and cashed out for $8,920 in fourth place. Minor is 28 and from Indianapolis. He's played poker for 14 years. He had a sixth place finish at a Circuit event here last year, and cashed in two of three events at the WSOP in Vegas this year.
As the level neared an end, Ritchie, making a great comeback, picked up a couple of pots and moved into a slight lead. Mielzynski, meanwhile, had a close call. He was all in with A-5 against Williams' A-9, but he got away with a chop when two pair hit the board and the ace played for each man..
With blinds now at 4,000-8,000 with 1,000 antes, a rough count showed that Ritchie had abou 250,000 to 230,000 for Williams, while Mielzynski was down to about 60,000. Six hands into the new level, the comeback kid knocked out Mielzynski and moved into the lead. On a board of 8-7-5-9, Mielzynski, holding pocket kings, went all in for 87,000. He was drawing dead, because Ritchie, with 10-6, already had a 10-high straight. Mielzynski, who describes himself as a big Chicago sports fan, is from Chicago (where else?) and is employed as an actuary.
Ritchie now had about 340,000 of the 530,000 or so chips in play, but the turnaround came on the very next deal, hand 55. Williams, with A-Q, moved in for 166,000 and Ritchie called with K-Q. The board came A-Q-10-6-10, and Thomas' top two put him in front.
A few hands later, Ritchie folded in a big pot when Williams moved in on the turn, and was now down to 70,000.
Five hands later, it was over. Williams pushed in with Q-J, and Ritchie put in his last chips with K-Q. Ritchie still was a big favorite after a flop of A-5-3, but then a river jack ended the evening.
Ritchie, 48, is a computer specialist from Georgetown, KY and earned $22,450 for second place. He learned poker playing with friends, and his game highlight was once playing at the same table with "Devilfish" and Josh Ariah at a World Poker Tour event. —Max Shapiro
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World Series of Poker Commissioner – Jeffrey Pollack
Director of Poker Operations for Harrah's Entertainment – Jack Effel
Caesars Indiana Poker Room Manager – Jimmy Allen