Tunica, MS - Some things are meant to happen. No power in the universe can hold back destiny. Call it what you want - skill, luck, willpower, chance, divine intervention, or whatever - natural law suggests that once an object begins its locomotion, that object continues to move onward. Progress is perpetual. For example, don't stand in front of a roaring freight train. If you do, the result will get ugly and there will be quite a mess to clean up after it's all over.
Anyone who tried to impede the direction of a 56-year-old former ironworker named Dennis Perry in the 2007 poker championship at the Grand Tunica Casino-Resort might as well have been standing in the middle of the railroad tracks, wearing a blindfold. The burly-bearded Kentuckian steamrolled over just about everyone in his path, en route to his first major poker tournament victory. After years of in-the-money finishes, final table appearances mixed with bust-outs, and ultimate disappointments for never having quite crossed the finish line, Mr. Perry set a personal milestone and finally broke through by winning the Tunica main event championship. He pocketed a whopping $563,402 for first place.
This was the fourth occasion that the world's most prestigious poker tournament series has made a stop in the poker capital of the South. The 377 entries represented the largest field assembled yet for a championship event in the three-year history of the World Series of Poker Circuit. The buy-in for the no-limit main event was $5,000. The tournament was played over three days, lasting January 15-17. Several well-known poker professionals and former WSOP gold bracelet winners were among the 368 players who busted out during the first two days, leaving a very talented lineup to return for Day Three.
Seating at the final table and chip counts were as follows:
SEAT 1: Andi "the Eliminator" Chang
SEAT 2: Michael "the Grinder" Mizrachi
SEAT 3: Elvin Simpson
SEAT 4: Dennis "Ironman" Perry
SEAT 5: Gioi Luong
SEAT 6: Matt Dean
SEAT 7: Larry Vance
SEAT 8: Peter Martin
SEAT 9: Lance Allred
Play began promptly at 1 pm. The final table lasted six hours, about what one would expect given the blind structure and levels. Unfortunately for Elvin Simpson, he lasted only 12 hands in the limelight. Mr. Simpson took a terrible beat from The Grinder when he moved all-in in 9-9 and was called by The Grinder - holding 4-4. Just when it looked like Mr. Simpson might leap up into serious contention, a four crashed down to the felt on the river, giving The Grinder three 4s. It was an ugly way to exit for Mr. Simpson who was making his first WSOP-related final table appearance. The 26-year-old poker pro from Illinois was paid $36,349 for ninth place.
Andi "the Eliminator" Chang was the chip leader at the conclusion of the first day. He coasted all the way to the final table on most of those chips, then seemed to hit a stonewall at the worst possible time. The 22-year-old aspiring pro from Florida went out when he moved all-in with 6-6. The Grinder called with A-Q. An ace on the turn (good for a pair of aces) dashed Mr. Chang's dreams of victory. Eighth place paid $54,524. For a moment, The Grinder had the chip lead. It wouldn't last.
It's hard to say if "seven" is a lucky number for Matt Dean. He's accustomed to seventh-place finishes. He was 7th in the WSOP main event in 2004 (the year Greg Raymer won) - winning $753,000 in prize money. He finished seventh again this time, being eliminated when Lance Allred's Q-Q vacuumed up Mr. Dean's last 75,000 in chips. He managed to make a pair of tens on the last hand, but that fell short of Mr. Allred's higher pair of ladies. Matt Dean, a 27-year-old poker professional from the Houston area, fell short of winning his first major tournament victory. His consolation prize amounted to $72,698.
The next significant hand stunned the audience and was arguably the most important episode in the entire tournament. Mr. Perry up opened with a standard raise. The Grinder re-raised. Mr. Perry moved all-in. The Grinder, somewhat reluctantly, called. When the cards were tabled, The Grinder's worst nightmare had been realized as he showed A-K and was left staring blankly at Mr. Perry's A-A. Drawing slim, The Grinder turned to dust when he failed to connect. He exited in sixth place - an obvious disappointment to the popular tournament pro who has won over $6 million in poker during his five years in the game. Those looking, and perhaps expecting The Grinder to win his first WSOP-related event (after so much success elsewhere) departed in frustration. Sixth-place paid a less-than-satisfying $90,873.
That hand rocketed Mr. Perry up to nearly 1,500,000 in chips. Holding a commanding chip lead, Mr. Perry then lost a few pots, which evened out the chips somewhat amongst the other four. Gioi Luong and Larry Vance were the beneficiaries. Peter Martin, however, was not able to establish any traction in the finale. He wavered between the low stack and 400,000 in he chip count. During his three hours at the table he failed to win a key hand that might have propelled him towards victory. Mr. Martin took a bad beat on his final hand when he lost to a straight on the river, caught by Lance Allred. Despite being eliminated, Mr. Martin would certainly take pride in his performance here in Tunica. He played in three tournaments, cashed in all three, and made two final tables. He cashed for $109,047 in this event and was the uncrowned "Best All-Around" poker player at this year's series in Tunica.
An interesting hand developed when it seemed Gioi Luong would go out, only to be saved by a split pot. Mr. Luong was all-in as a big dog (holding A-7 to Dennis Perry's A-10). The board brought both players an ace (good for top pair) and several picture cards, which erased Mr. Luong's kicker problem. That hand allowed Mr. Luong to leap one more spot up the money ladder and earned him an extra $18,000 in prize money.
The unfortunate substitute for Mr. Luong walking final table gang plank was Larry Vance, a retiree from southern California who has several cashes on his tournament resume. Mr. Vance took a tough beat when he had the best hand on the turn and was all-in versus Dennis Perry. Big-stacked Mr. Perry was on a straight draw and managed to catch his card, which knocked Mr. Vance from the tournament. Larry Vance's share of the prize money amounted to $127,222.
That left three players. Mr. Perry showed absolutely no signs of slowing down. In fact, as play became increasingly short-handed the perpetual poker freight train was moving faster and was on a downward slope. The man on a mission was just about slam the door shut on all hope for his rivals and show why this day was his day and this was his tournament to win.
Consider the 156th hand played at the final table. Lance Allred decided to make a move at the pot holding K-J. Dennis Perry had his opponent covered easily and decided to call holding K-8. As the favorite, Mr. Allred was delighted with the situation. But proving that nothing could stop the Ironman, an eight fell on the turn (good for a pair of 8s) and destroyed Mr. Allred's golden opportunity to double up. Lance Allred, who is the reigning California State Poker Champion, pocketed $145,396 for third place.
When heads-up play started between Mr. Perry and Mr. Luong, the Ironman held a comfortable 6 to 1 chip lead. Although Luong managed to double up once, the Ironman's chip lead was never seriously threatened. It only took a dozen hands for the final table to unfold. Mr. Luong was all-in with 6-6 and Mr. Perry had K-K. Luong failed to catch a six or improve and a fitting final chapter was written in the tournament textbook authored by Dennis Perry.
The runner up was Gioi Luong, from southern California. To his credit, Mr. Luong has an astonishing 84 cashes in major tournaments since 2003, which makes him one of the game's most prolific in-the-money finishers. His win rate was not hurt either by his payout in this event, which amounted to $290,792.
The champion Dennis Perry admitted that he made some bizarre calls and judgments in the tournament. Throughout, he made several big calls with marginal hands, and then caught a few gifts that were dealt out by the poker Gods. Perhaps it was payback time for coming up short so many times in the past. Mr. Perry's victory was certainly aided by a couple of big hands – pocket aces versus The Grinder and pocket kings when heads-up – which created action when he did get those powerhouse hands. In short, he laid the perfect trap.
"When I made it to the final table of the event at the Rio (WSOP Circuit championship in 2005) and finished seventh, it was because I came to the final table so short-stacked," Mr. Perry said afterward. "I never had a chance to win. So, I told myself that if I get close to the final table in another one of these, I am going to gamble so I can get some chips. That paid off for me…..it was my time."
"Everyone expected The Grinder to get down to playing heads-up, and maybe me too since I was the chip leader coming in to today," Mr. Perry said. "So when I got (A-A versus The Grinder's A-K) I got into the perfect spot. I really could not have asked for a better situation than that."
Fellow poker players everywhere -- be forewarned. Dennis Perry is willing to gamble. And that makes him very dangerous to play against in a tournament, particularly in the later stages. When it's his day, and when it's his time – forget it. The Ironman is a lead-pipe lock to win.
by Nolan Dalla
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Tournament Director – Janis Sexton
Grand Tunica Poker Room Manager – Karen Kaegin