Tunica, MS - The ideal job for most people is to work at something you really love. Ron Brown turned what might be a part-time hobby for some enthusiasts, into a successful full-time business. He is the proud owner of Ron's Model Railroad Shop -- located in Broussard, Louisiana. Mr. Brown's love for trains and model railroads started at a tender young age.
"I got my first look at model trains when I was just five-months old," Mr. Brown remembered fondly. "That was 60 years ago!"
When Mr. Brown was a toddler, he received his first train set as a Christmas gift. Then, as a boy he started building his own railroad sets, trying to recreate real-life scenes he witnessed during his youth. As the years passed, Mr. Brown discovered that other people shared his passion for model trains and the elaborate fantasyland of locomotives, train cars, railroad tracks, and stations. While others around him built lives in other more conventional occupations, Mr. Brown was content to do his own thing -- on his own terms. Then, about two years ago, Mr. Brown had another life-altering experience.
"I was watching ESPN and I saw the World Series of Poker on television," he said. "It was the year after (Chris) Moneymaker win it (in 2003). I had never played much poker before. But after I saw that, I decided to start playing."
Mr. Brown started playing in low-limit poker games at casinos in southern Louisiana. He quickly discovered he shared both passion and talent for the game. Mr. Brown eventually graduated to higher limits and started playing in poker tournaments. He made a number of final tables and won a seat into the 2006 World Series of Poker main event. However, until January 9th, 2007, the name "Ron Brown" had never registered on the poker Richter scale. Then and there, in Tunica, Mississippi -- at the first event of 2007 WSOP which took place inside the Grand Tunica Casino-Resort - the express train to victory rolled through town, with Ron Brown as the engineer in the lead car.
This WSOP Circuit stop marks the fourth time that the world's longest-running and most prestigious poker series has pulled into in Tunica. No other city, outside of Las Vegas has hosted more WSOP-related poker tournaments. The reasons why Tunica is so attractive to poker players are obvious. Tunica is the poker capital of the South and has become a magnet attracting poker players from several states. A glance at the money winners from the first event alone reveals players traveled from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Canada. But the ultimate winner was from a small town in south central Louisiana.
There was nothing to suggest Ron Brown would be the tournament winner. After a grueling day one, during which nearly 700 players were eliminated - nine players arrived at the final table. Play started with two Floridians jousting for the chip lead. Norman Contreras from Clearwater enjoyed a razor-thin chip lead over Ty Wilson from Orlando - 342,000 to 341,000. Not one of the remaining seven finalists had even half as many chips. It seemed this would be a battle of Floridians.
From the start, the action was fast and furious. The first eight hands featured two double-ups, two eliminations, and a chip-lead change. Chris Back was critically short-stacked and survived an all-in on the very first hand of play when his A-9 connected with a nine on board to top Peter Au's pocket fours. In a single hand, Mr. Back was indeed "back in the tournament," doubling up to over 60,000 in chips. Little did he know it at the time, but surviving that critical coin-flip situation enabled Mr. Back to play for the duration of the final table. As it turned out, he made several thousand extra dollars in prize money.
Hand two was just as exciting. Perry Ryan got caught bluffing when he moved all-in holding 10-9 suited. His raise was called instantly by Marvin "Big Dog" Britt, holding pocket aces. Big Dog was salivating at the thought of feasting on Ryan's 50,000 in chips. But his dinner feast turned into a cold plate of Alpo when the board brought a horrifying flop for the pocket aces - 10-10-2, giving Mr. Ryan three 10s. The Big Dog failed to catch an ace, and was left to pout in front of what had been a healthy stack, suddenly reduced to just 75,000.
The third hand also featured some drama, as the first player was eliminated from the final table. Kwong Shing "Peter" Au had previously lost half his stack on hand one. Then, he lost the remainder of his chips when his 7-6 made a pair of sixes, but ended up losing to Eric Abate's A-6. The ace-kicker played and Mr. Au went out sadly in ninth place. The 49-year-old restaurant owner from Canada earned $6,732 in prize money.
Anyone who believed a bust out would slow down the action was mistaken. Hand number four axed the next player when Marvin "Big Dog" Britt moved all-in with A-9 and was called by Ron Brown, holding A-10. Both players made a pair, but the tens were supreme, sending the Big Dog to the pound. It was a "ruff" finish for the 36-year-old day care owner from Plainfield, IL. Eighth place paid $10,098.
Hand number five was perhaps the most decisive moment of the entire tournament and featured what has to be considered one of the most courageous calls by any poker player in recent memory. Ron Brown was dealt a hand heads-up against Norman Contreras, with Contreras up about 2 to 1 in chips as the action started. After the flop came 8-4-2 with two clubs, Contreras bet 45,000, which was called by Mr. Brown. A four came on the turn, as two clubs still remained. Mr. Brown checked. Mr. Contreras bet out 50,000 and Mr. Brown called. It's important to reveal Mr. Brown's hand here - he had Q-8 with no clubs in his hand. Hence, he had top pair and to that point was making what seemed to be an obligatory call.
Poker tournaments are not won with cards. They are, more often than not, won with raw courage - and Mr. Brown revealed it when he made what was a most difficult and extraordinary call. When the river card came - the nine of clubs - both an over card and a third club, Mr. Brown could not have had nearly much confidence in his hand. Mr. Brown checked. Mr. Contreras paused, then calmly bet out 100,000 - enough chips to put Mr. Brown out of the tournament if he called and lost. It was not a hand where Mr. Brown necessarily needed to call, as he certainly had enough chips remaining to play and be competitive.
But Mr. Brown thought long and hard and finally announced "call" - with a tone of confidence in his voice that he had indeed made the right decision. What a decision that turned out to be. Mr. Contreras tabled an ace-high - what amounted to a bluff - and Mr. Brown with second pair, a weak kicker, and now club, scooped a monster-sized 350,000 pot and seized the chip lead. It was a call that was as brilliant as it was courageous.
After the early fireworks, the final table played to a slower pace. It took a half hour before the next elimination. That moment came when Perry Ryan went out holding pocket tens, which were hammered by Ron Brown's pocket kings. Mr. Brown didn't need any help from the deck, but a king on the flop essentially sealed Mr. Ryan's fate - a seventh-place finish. The retiree from Holly, Michigan who has enjoyed success in several poker tournaments in the Detroit area, added $13,464 to his pension.
Ty Wilson had not played many hands up to that point. The early co-chip leader found himself sitting in an unfavorable seat - to the immediate right of the aggressive big stack belonging to Ron Brown. But Mr. Wilson was able to dictate play for nearly an hour and won several modest-sized pots which amounted to over 100,000 in chips. As players took their first break, Mr. Wilson had the chip lead, with Mr. Brown calmly resting in second place.
Gary Link was not able to generate much momentum during his stay at the final table. He consistently held onto a healthy stack of chips. But he went card dead towards the later stages of the tournament and busted out when his K-Q was dominated by Eric Abate's A-Q. Neither player made a pair, so Mr. Abate's ace-high played. Mr. Link, who works in finance, added $16,830 to his investment portfolio.
On the 45th hand of the finale, Norman Contreras got back some chips from his nemesis, Mr. Brown. That created a stalemate which lasted for an hour. But later, Mr. Contreras dream of winning his first major poker event were crushed when he lost a 250,000 pot to Eric Abate, who won the key pot with a wheel (ace-to-five straight). Down to about 1000,000 left, Mr. Contreras was dealt A-J and all-in against (you guessed it) Ron Brown, holding pocket queens. Small cards on the board failed to help Mr. Contreras, who ended up as the fifth-place finisher. His prize money amounted to $20,195.
Any suspense that might have come later was dashed when Ron Brown took most of Ty Wilson's remaining chips with a full-house. Holding two normally unplayable cards, 5-2 off suit, the ugly duckling blossomed into a beautiful swan when the flop came 5-2-2. Wham! A full house! Mr. Wilson completed a spade flush, but was drawing dead most of the way. Mr. Brown took 200,000 out of Wilson's stack and the tournament was all but over. The remaining players decided to make a deal, which distributed prize money in the following "official" order:
Fourth place went to Ty Wilson. He is the 38-year-old owner of an entertainment company. Mr. Wilson has provided music for several celebrities, including Gloria Estefan, Sheryl Crow, Chubby Checker, Horace Grant, and others. He is married with three children.
Third place went to Chris Back. Recall that Mr. Back won the first hand of the final table in a coin-flip situation (two over cards versus a pocket pair). The 23-year-old student from Canada also finished a very impressive 123rd in the main event at the 2006 WSOP (over 8700 players entered).
The runner up was Eric V. Abate. He is a 44-year-old realtor from St. Paul, MN. Mr. Abate is no stranger to cashing at major poker tournaments. He has cashed at events in Las Vegas, and elsewhere - including the WSOP.
But the day, the night, and the first event on the 2007 WSOP calendar belonged to Ron Brown. His official winnings as the champion amounted to $94,245. This marked the first major poker tournament Mr. Brown has ever won. In addition to owning his own business, Mr. Brown is married and has three children.
"It's great," he said afterward. "I really do not know how to describe the experience. It's just a great feeling."
by Nolan Dalla
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Tournament Director - Janis Sexton
Grand Tunica Poker Room Manager - Karen Kaegin