Maurice Hawkins, a 28-year-old pro from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, ran off with a very easy win in the fourth event of the WSOP Circuit tour at Harrah's Resort, Atlantic City, $500 no-limit hold'em. He had the chip lead at the end of day one and also at the start of the final table, surrendering it only once, briefly. He then went on a rush as he knocked out the last five players and rolled to a victory that brought him $48,360. This was a very quick tournament, ending not much after 5 p.m. on day two, in contrast to earlier events that went to midnight and 1 a.m.
Hawkins has a degree in biology, but was reluctant to leave his wife and two kids by going off to medical school, and after an $11,800 cash in the main event of the Atlantis Adventure main event tournament in the Caribbean, he decided he could earn enough in poker to support his family.
Hawkins has a couple of other cashes from Bahama events, but his big scores came with two payouts of more than $60,000, two weeks apart, in events at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida. (His other poker highlight was being on TV for five seconds twice at two final tables at Atlantis.) He also has an eighth in a Bellagio Cup $1,000 event.
The Florida professional began playing six years ago, honing his craft playing sit 'n go's at the Hard Rock Casino. This is his 10th Circuit. Tonight he said he just tried to remain calm and get into pots with the best hand. His style was to play "situationally," making the right play at the right time. Some advanced plays, he explained, could be disastrous. For example, early in the tournament he would three-bet the pot pre-flop and six-bet it on the flop, but not do it automatically if the flop contained, let's say, an A and king that didn't fit his hand. He also said he found the final table easy to read, but also acknowledged that in the end, it was luck that mattered in having your hands hold up.
Hawkins, who also enjoys swimming, Xbox and family time, emphasized that he has never played poker on the Internet. He feels that kids who do so tend to get caught up in a false sense of the game.
This event drew 312 players who made up a prize pool of $156,000. Day one ended with 14 players left, and it took only 40 minutes to get down to nine the next day. Finishing 10th was Scott Andrews, who was all in with pocket 10s and lost to Hawkins' A-J suited when the board came K-A-9-J-7. Final-table play began with blinds of 6,000-12,000 and 2,000 antes, 8:40 left on the clock. Leader Hawkins had 580,000 chips.
Here were the starting chip counts:
Seat 1. Gordon Eng 100,000
Seat 2. Maurice Hawkins 580,000
Seat 3. Alicia Spencer 355,000
Seat 4. Ted Ely 195,000
Seat 5. Julio Fernandez 435,000
Seat 6. Ben Lester 375,000
Seat 7. Bill King 229,000
Seat 8. W.D. Horan 112,000
Seat 9. Tom McCann 150,000
Action was quick. Just as the level was ending, Bill "Bingo" King went all in with pocket 10s. Alicia Spencer, the first woman to make the final table here thus far, called with K-J. She caught King by catching a king when the board came 7-2-Q-K-9, and now had the chip lead. For finishing ninth, King earned $3,120. King, 43, is a painter from Silver Springs, Maryland.
Blinds increased to 8,000-16,000 with 2,000 antes, and on the first deal another player departed. Peter Eng went all in after Ben "Big Ben" Lester raised. Eng had Q-10 to Lester's K-9, and the king-high was enough to knock Eng out when the board came J-A-5-8-J .Eighth paid $4,680. Eng is a pro from Cliffside Park, New Jersey who learned poker in college 10 years ago and has played numerous Circuits. In 2007 he bubbled the TV table by finishing seventh in the main event of the Bellagio Cup III main event, collecting $93,000. He has close to $300,000 in total tournament cashes.
Only 15 later minutes we lost a third player. Thomas McCann, holding pocket kings, pushed in and got a call from Ted "Old Muggins" Ely, who held pocket 4s. Ely couldn't play catch-up when the board came 8-A-7-2-10. McCann had him just covered in chips. and Ely took out $6,240 for seventh. Ely, a pro player from Brooklyn, conscientiously filled out his bio sheet with the information that his prior occupation was astronaut, that he learned poker from James Bond yesterday and that he gained entry into this Circuit by robbing an orphanage. A legitimate search on the Internet showed that he has had several prior final tables including a ninth in a $1,000 Circuit event here in 2006.
Still another player left at this level. Julio "Jewels" Fernandez moved in for about 200,000 with pocket 7s and got a quick call from Hawkins, who held pocket jacks. Once again we had a meaningless board, this time 4-K-10-A-2, and Fernandez pocketed $7,800 for sixth as Hawkins regained the chip lead for good. Fernandez, 46, originally from Cuba, now lives in Miami where he is a mortgage broker. He learned poker 25 years ago while in the Navy and estimates he's played 50 Circuits. His best cash was $37,325 for winning a weekly Bellagio event. His other cashes include a sixth in a Circuit event at Tunica. Fernandez is married with three children.
As the level neared an end, W.D. "Willie D." Horan, down to 70,000, doubled through Lester when his lowly pocket deuces blossomed into a full house. Players then took a break, returning to blinds of 10,000-20,000 and 3,000 antes, with Hawkins now holding about 800,000 of the 2.5 million chips on the table.
A few minutes into the new level, Horan risked his last chips by moving in with K-5 and ran into Hawkins' pocket aces. No help on a board of 10-J-2-2-9, and we were down to four. Horan, picking up $9,360 for fifth, is retired from the "Federal Communications Business" (translation: he was a letter carrier). He's played 10 Circuits and got into this one by his "good looks." He has been playing three years, this is his poker highlight and he also enjoys golf.
Not long after, Hawkins took down a third straight player. With the board showing 10-9-A-8, Spencer, with pocket 7s, also had an open-ended straight draw, and moved in for close to 300,000. Holding A-10, Hawkins had been slow-playing after flopping top two, and gladly called. A river 9 didn't help Spencer, and she cashed fourth for $10,920.
Spencer is 26, from Washington D.C., and was a lobbyist for Herbalife diet supplement until a week ago when she became a full-time player. She began playing seven years ago, at college with friends, and this is her second Circuit, She has a sixth in a ladies event at the Canterbury Fall Classic last year, a couple of wins at the Taj Mahal daily tournaments and a fourth at a Bellagio Saturday event. She also enjoys travel, watching sports and hanging out with friends.
Three-handed, Hawkins now had close to 2 million of the 2.5 million total. Very quickly this event got heads-up when Tom McCann found himself all in for his last 110,000 or so chips with Q-10 against Hawkins' K-J. "I have two live cards," he said hopefully. They were two dead cards after the board came 4-5-A-2-6. Finishing third, McCann took home $12,480. McCann is a consultant from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and this finish is his poker highlight.
Heads-up, Hawkins had about 2 million to a half-million for Lester. The first 21 hands were played cautiously as Lester tried to stay alive and Hawkins, while increasing his lead slightly, avoided doubling up his opponent. Then, immediately after blinds went to $15,000-$30,000 with 4,000 antes, the match abruptly ended. Lester moved in with pocket 7s, Hawkins called with A-K and won with a paired ace when the board came 6-2-A-6-2.
Lester, 32, is from Newport News, Virginia, learned poker by just playing 10 years ago, and is married with one child. He earned $24,960 for finishing second.