Valley Center, CA - For the third consecutive year, the Harrah's Rincon Casino-Resort hosted a stop on the World Series of Poker Circuit. Nestled in a lush mountainous valley 50 miles north of beautiful San Diego, Rincon is located on tribal reservation land. Under the joint management of the Rincon Tribal Council and Harrah's Entertainment, the mammoth casino complex has blossomed into a world-class resort destination, not only for southern Californians -- but for poker players nationwide as well who make the trek to Rincon every winter.
Rincon's first poker event this year surpassed all expectations and broke the existing record for San Diego's largest major poker tournament in history. They filled up the poker room. They jammed the casino with added tables. They filled the grand ballroom to full capacity. A total of 646 players braved a drizzly Sunday afternoon and made a definitive statement that the World Series of Poker is very much alive in San Diego County.
Fittingly, the outcome of the inaugural tournament was just as memorable. Canadian Duane Mills, from Langley, British Columbia earned a hard-fought, but much-deserved, first-time victory. Incredibly, it was the first time Mr. Mills had ever entered a WSOP-related tournament. He had arrived in San Diego to visit friends over the weekend and was talked into coming to Harrah's Rincon and entering his first major American poker tournament. What a great decision that turned out to be for the 36-year-old owner of an Internet company.
Mills Cinderella-like victory quelled what might have been the greatest comeback in WSOP Circuit history. Justin Froyd, a salesman from Arizona, almost pulled off the comeback of the year. He was down to a single chip at one point at the final table, and then managed to survive several all-ins before settling ultimately for the runner-up spot.
The buy-in for Event #1 (no-limit hold'em) was $300. The tournament was played over two days, lasting February 11-12. After a whopping 637 were eliminated on the first day, the nine finalists returned to play on day two. Seating at the final table and chip counts were as follows:
Play on day two began promptly at 4 pm. Unfortunately for Michael "Scott" Arents, he lasted just three hands. On his final hand, the defending main event champion from last year's WSOP Circuit event at Harvey's Lake Tahoe was dealt pocket kings. He moved all-in with his remaining 46,000. Paul Smith called immediately, holding A-K. An ace flopped giving Mr. Smith a higher pair. Mr. Arents was left drawing to a single king to stay alive. The royal savior failed to show up, which meant a quick elimination for Mr. Arents. The 32-year-old professional poker player from Santa Rosa, CA received $3,760 for ninth place.
Danny Hsu was desperately low on chips and moved all-in with an 11,000 raise holding Q-9. He was called by two players. One adversary was Duane Mills, holding A-6. When the flop came with A-A-K, Mr. Mills had flopped trip-aces. He made a bet, which created a heads-up battle with the all-in player. Mr. Hsu failed to improve and was forced to settle for eighth place. The computer consultant from nearby San Diego was left to calculate $5,640 in prize money. That pot put Mr. Mills into the chip lead for the first time.
With seven players remaining, Justin Froyd doubled-up (one of several occasions he would do so). Little did anyone think at the time that pocket sixes holding up versus two overcards would completely alter the order of finish, and throw a monkey wrench into what the odds say should happen to the lowest stack at the table.
Frankie Marino was not so lucky. He arrived on day two with the lowest stack. After watching a fast-action finale in the opening minutes, Mr. Marino moved all-in on what proved to be his final hand with 8-8. Duane Mills made the call holding 9-9 - which meant Mr. Marino's hand was dominated. The lower pair failed to pull the upset, putting Mr. Marino out on the rail in seventh place. His share of the payout amounted to $7,519.
Next, Timothy Frostad began to generate final table momentum when he caught two huge hands, thus eliminating the next two players. Joseph Ochoa played several hands himself, but failed to catch the big double-up opportunity which might have made him a force at the final table. After watching his 100,000 stack dwindle down to half its former size, Mr. Ochoa made his final stand with pocket 10s. Tim Frostad called the all-in raise with A-K. Both overcards connected for Mr. Frostad - good for two pair -- which crushed Mr. Ochoa's chances of victory. Joseph Ochoa had to settle for sixth place, paying $9,399.
Mr. Frostad's good fortune continued. Andrew Gillette was cut from the final table when his pocket nines were shaven away by Mr. Frostad's K-J. A jack flopped and the nines went from big favorite to big underdog. Two more cards were dealt and the higher pair held up. Mr. Gillette, a sales representative from Hawthorne, CA, earned $11,279 for fifth place.
Paul Smith played well enough to last nearly three full hours. But he finally went out when desperately low on chips he raised in a steal-attempt, got called, and failed to make a pair. Mr. Smith, an attorney from Poway, CA lost his case to move higher up the money ladder. His final settlement amounted to $13,159.
The next hour was by far the most exciting segment of the tournament. Justin Froyd had doubled-up earlier at the final table (with pocket sixes), but went card dead for 90 minutes. He was down to just 5,000 in chips at one point (in comparison to the chip leader with nearly 400,000). Just when it seemed Mr. Froyd was about to go bust, he survived several all-in situations. In four orbits, he managed to increase his stack up to 35,000. Then, lightning struck. Several times, in fact. It was a thunderstorm with Mr. Froyd casting the bolts.
First, Mr. Froyd took K-J up against K-8 and won with the bettor hand. A few minutes later, Mr. Froyd pulled-off a shocking upset holding Q-10 versus Duane Mills' A-10. Mr. Froyd caught a miracle queen and not only survived, but exceeded 100,000 in chips for the first time. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Froyd doubled through again when his pocket queens held up against Tim Frostad's A-9.
Mr. Froyd's multiple double-ups forced the two bigger stacks to play more cautiously. Faced with what was now a third big stack at the table, Mr. Frostad and Mr. Mills could no longer recklessly call with any two cards, hoping to eliminate the lower- stacked player. Nevertheless, Mr. Froyd's astounding comeback and exceptional run of cards continued. On what was the biggest hand of the tournament at the time, after the flop he moved all-in on a straight-flush draw, versus Mills' top pair. Again, Mr. Froyd was all-in and needed help from the deck. In a sequence of events that stunned the crowd, he made a straight on the turn and then added insult to injury with a straight-flush on the river (queen-high straight flush in clubs). The other two players were left shaking their heads in disbelief. In the course of an hour, Mr. Froyd had rocketed from just 5,000 to over 300,000 in chips.
Playing stopped and talks began. After a deal was made by the triumvirate, Tim Frostad went out on a bad beat. He moved all-in with A-Q and was called by Duane Mills, holding A-J. Mr. Mills stood up prepared to exit in third place. But nothing was predictable at this final table and a jack on the flop left everyone in a state of shock. Mr. Mills himself was dumbstruck by the lucky catch. Meanwhile, Mr. Frostad had other thoughts on his mind and was forced to exit as the third-place finisher – one of two Canadians in the top three. His official payout came to $15,039.
That left Duane Mills to face what seemed to be the unbeatable Justin Froyd. But by this time, Mr. Froyd had used up what magic powers remained and he ultimately settled for second place (the finalists agreed to a deal, so the hands that were subsequently played were inconsequential).
Runner-up Justin Froyd collected $27,258 as an official payout. His comeback in this tournament is one of the great stories of the 2006-07 WSOP Circuit season and is something unlikely to be matched for a long time. Mr. Froyd is the owner of an online website which markets and sells poker apparel (t-shirts, caps, etc.). The site is called "R.A.G.S," which stands for "Rounder Acquiring Great Stacks." The site can be found at http://www.pokerrags.com.
The winner was Duane Mills. He started the final table second in the chip count and ended up winning his first major poker tournament. "This was the first time I have ever played at the World Series," Mills stated afterward. "To come here and win, that's really special." His official payout amounted to $52,636. He was also presented with a WSOP gold ring, awarded to each tournament winner. Mills was cheered on by a few friends and said he would celebrate the unlikeliest of victories with a bottle of Dom Perignon. "Or two" – he confided.
by Nolan Dalla
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