The fourth of nine events on the 2008 Winter Bayou Poker Challenge schedule completed today.  Mark Katz, a 38-year-old investment advisor from the Houston area earned his first major poker tournament victory ever.  He collected the top cash prize totaling $29,385.  Katz was also awarded with a gold ring, presented to all tournament winners at this year’s Bayou series in New Orleans.

Katz is a highly-successful investment consultant who works for UBS, one of the world’s largest financial service companies.  The tournament win seemed to matter far more than the prize money.  In fact, although Katz was short-stacked at various times, he repeatedly turned down offers to make a deal with his opponents late in the event.

The $550 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament attracted 187 entries, creating a prize pool totaling $90,965.  All the action took place in the special events center at Harrah’s New Orleans. The competition was played over two consecutive days.  The tournament’s top 18 finishers collected prize money.  After 178 players were eliminated on day one, the final table consisting of nine players was played to completion on the second day.  The top nine finishers included:

9th Place – Ernie Shepherd, a 62-year-old night club owner from Lizella, GA.  He busted out about 15 minutes into the finale.  Shepherd had previously cashed as several WSOP Circuit events around the country, including Tunica, Atlantic City, Indiana, San Diego, and New Orleans.  Since 2006, he has earned almost $200,000 playing in poker tournaments.

8th Place – Rodney “Coach” Shows, a 52-year-old coach from Hattiesburg, MS.  During his career, he has worked as a coach, recruiter, and referee in college football, basketball, and baseball.  He has also enjoyed some success at the poker table, with several noteworthy final table appearances. 

7th place – Jack Schanbacher, a 26-year-old professional poker player from Pittsburgh, PA.  In his short time spent in the pro ranks, Schanbacher has now cashed nine times (for $920,000) and has won two major poker tournaments.  Both victories came at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City.  He also took fifth place in the WPT main event at Foxwoods earlier this year. 

6th Place – Robert Samson, a 37-year-old engineer from Plaquemine, LA.  He was busted out of the tournament by a flush.  This was Samson’s first significant cash in a major tournament.  

5th Place – Donald Yaughn, a 58-year-old tournament director from Fort Valley, GA.  Yaughn started off play with a decisive chip lead (221,000 against his closest rival with 145,000), but faded about an hour into the final table.  He ended up busting out with pocket tens, which lost to A-K when two aces came on board.   This cash put Yaughn up over $100,000 in career tournament earnings.   

4th Place – Chester Gwin, a.k.a. “Slim Shadie,” a 51-year-old consultant from Dallas, TX.  Gwin’s finish was arguably the most impressive of anyone, since he started day two as the lowest stack.  Yet he managed to leap five places up the money ladder.  This was his fourth major final table, including a third place finish at the Tunica WSOP Circuit event in 2007.

3rd Place – Mark Wilds, a 43-year-old professional poker player from Biloxi, MS.  This was Wilds’ second final appearance at this tournament series.  He took sixth place in Event #1.  Wilds continued to build his poker bankroll.  He now has 54 cashes in eight years playing poker and nearly $700,000 in career tournament winnings.  

2nd Place – Andrew Kloc, a 28-year old poker pro from Naugatuck, CT.  He has a degree in psychology.  A few years ago, Kloc resigned from his job as a social worker when he began making more money at poker.  He now has more than $300,000 in tournament earnings since his first major cash in February 2005.  He also won the WSOP Circuit Event #10 at Harrah’s New Orleans last May.

1st Place – Mark Katz, a 38-year-old financial advisor from Bellaire, TX.  This was only the second time Katz had made it to the cash window.  His only other in-the-money finish took place in New Orleans in 2007.  For that reason, this win was truly special.

The heads-up match between Katz and Kloc was the most exciting of any finale thus far.  A big crowd gathered to watch the battle of wits.  Kloc maintained his chip advantage during most of the 90-minute duel.  But Katz spiked key cards at the right moments and won critical hands which determined the final outcome.

The final hand of the night came when Kloc was short on chips and moved all-in on an apparent pre-flop bluff attempt with K-8.  Katz called the raise and showed K-10.  Kloc flopped an eight and it appeared he might seize the chip lead back from his adversary.  But a ten on the river (giving Katz a pair of tens) brought cheers from the crowd, Katz to his feet, and was the final fateful moment of what was a very exciting tournament.