"I'm friendly, like to talk to other players and love to have a great time playing," is how Justin Sellers describes himself. It's an apt description of the 26-year-old professional player from Bismarck, North Dakota, and tonight he really had a "great time" playing as he arrived at the final table second in chips, quickly took a huge lead and then coasted to an easy victory in just 2-1/2 hours.
He took home $57,513 for winning the fifth event of the Harrah's WSOP Circuit Tour at Horseshoe Casino Council Bluffs, $1,000 no-limit hold'em. It was his biggest win ever. His biggest accomplishment before that was coming in first, third and fourth out of six events at Canterbury Park Casino, winning a best all-around.
The affable Sellers had been in camera sales in his uncle's store, and then car sales (which he didn't like) before beginning to play poker full time two years ago. Tonight he built his stacks before coming to the final table by winning a lot of big pots. His style of play, he said, is to be fairly aggressive without being confrontational. If he raises and an opponent comes over the top, he's inclined to muck, he explained. He said his final opponent, 22-year-old Reed Hensel, was a tough player but didn't turn out to be as aggressive as he first feared.
Play at the final commenced with 800-1,600 blinds, 300 antes and 8:07 left. Bart Ness, with 105,700, and Sellers, with 91,400, were well ahead of the rest of the pack.
Seats and chip counts
SEAT 1 Justin Sellers 91,400
SEAT 2 Curtis Connors 36,400
SEAT 3 Mitchell Schock 32,900
SEAT 4 Abraham Watkins 29,000
SEAT 5 Rodney Horton 52,000
SEAT 6 Reed Hensel 71,800
SEAT 7 Bart Ness 105,700
SEAT 8 Ernest Lessard 19,700
SEAT 9 Steven Federspiel 20,400
This was the liveliest table so far, with players laughing and chattering away as if it were a small-limit home game instead of a $1,000 tournament. The first round ended with only two flops and one all-in that wasn't challenged, but action quickly picked up when blinds went to 1,000-2,000 and 300 antes. On the second hand at the new level, Ness, a rancher from Kennebec, South Dakota, got most of his chips lassoed. He moved in for 94,000 and was left with 12,000 when Sellers shot down his A-J with two bullets to take a massive chip lead. The Kennebec cowboy soon recovered somewhat by doubling up against Steven Federspiel.
First out, on the 12th hand, was Curtis Connors, a 21-year-old landscape contractor from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He moved in for 20,000 with A-9 and got knocked out by Mitchell Schock's pocket jacks. Connors has been playing for three years, and winning $3,550 today was his high mark in poker.
Two hands later, Federspiel, 35, a banker from North Liberty, Louisiana., cashed out eighth for $5,325. Down to 14,000, he pushed in with Q-9. He was dominated by Sellers' Q-J and couldn't help. Federspiel, whose hobby is buying and remodeling homes, has been playing 15 years and his highlight was finishing 226th out of a field of 2,800 in a $1,000 WSOP no-limit event.
On the 25th hand, Rodney Horton opened for 8,000, and Ness moved in for another 2,500. Hess had pocket 10s to Ac-Qc for Horton. "You're not going to knock me out so early, are you?" the Cowboy pleaded, whereupon Horton showed him mercy by making aces full. The Kennebec Cowboy, who is 46, rode off into the sunset with $7,110 for seventh place.
Two hands later, Sellers bet 1,000 into a board of K-J-6-7, then and folded and showed pocket queens after Schock raised for 11,000 more. "Good laydown," Schock told him. "For me, not him," he added.
Soon after, the most dramatic hand of this or any prior tournament came down. In three-way action, Abraham Watkins moved in for 24,000. Ernest Lessard called all in for 14,000, and then Sellers joined the party. Watkins had Kc-10c, Sellers had A-Q, and Lessard had the best hand with pocket 7s.
The flop came Jd-10d-6s, giving Watkins the lead with a paired 10. But then a Kd on fourth street gave Sellers a Broadway straight. A river 7 gave made a set for Lessard, but it was too little too late. Two players were knocked out, and Sellers now owned about 215,000 of the 459,000 chips in play. Lessard, with fewer chips, finished sixth, which was worth $8,876. He is 55, lives in Danbury, Wisconsin and is retired. He has been playing poker for 40 years, and this is his third try at a Circuit event.
Watkins, from Des Moines, IA, is 30, has a law degree, but has never practiced. He spent several years making a living playing poker in Europe before returning to the U.S. He learned the game playing $10-$20 hold'em. In 2005 he won a best all-around with a first and a third at the Grand American Poker Classic at the Grand Casino Tunica. Fifth place tonight was worth $10,651.
Stakes moved upon the next hand with blinds of 1,500-3,000 and 400 antes.
Schock, from Bismarck, North Dakota, owns, operates and is the tournament director of the Dakota Poker Tour. The liveliest and most talkative player at the table, he was dubbed "The Monkey" by announcer Charlie Ciresi. He was eliminated on the 45th hand on a bad beat. He put all his 70,000 chips in from the button holding Ah-Kh and was called by Hensel, who had Ac-5c. The flop came A-8-2, and then a 5 turned to give Hensel two pair.
Schock, 36, has been playing poker since he was about eight. By far his biggest accomplishment in poker was finishing 29th at the WSOP main event in 2005, which was worth $329,865. His win tonight for fourth, $14,201, was a big less, but he took it anyway.
It was only 6 p.m., two hours into the final table, when this event got heads-up. Rodney Horton held Jh-7h, and the board came 9-3-2 with two hearts, he bet all his 105,000 on a semi-bluff. Sellers called with pocket 10, and when a 7c-4c failed to complete his flush, Horton finished third, which brought him $17,751.
Horton, from Wichita, Kansas, is 33 and employed as a deputy chief information officer. He's been playing poker seriously for four years. His other hobbies include traveling, motorcycles and exotic vehicles.
Only 47 hands had gone by. Heads-up, Sellers led with 270,000 chips to 190,000 for Hensel, who is a student. Had Hensel pulled it out, it would have given us four winners out of five events who were aged either 21 or 22, but it was not to be.
After a couple of hands, blinds moved up to 1,500-3,000 with 400 antes. Just 12 hands later, it was all over. Hensel still had 138,000 left when Sellers opened for a modest 8,000. Hensel raised 20,000 holding As-Js, and Sellers moved in. Hensel made the call, and Sellers turned over Ac-Qd, a 66.5 percent favorite. The board came 10s-3s-3h-6h-8h, and Hensel, finishing second, took home $30,177.
Hensel, who is a college junior, learned poker from Phil Gordon instruction and has been playing for three year. Bowling is his other hobby. His payoff for the runner-up slot tonight was $30,177. —Max Shapiro
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