Massoud "Sammy" Nikjouian, a familiar face on the tournament trail, must like playing at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City. He's entered only two WSOP Circuit tour events in his life, both of them here. In his first try last year he finished second in a $500 no-limit hold'em event, and tonight he registered his biggest payday ever as he captured event five of the Circuit tour, $300 no-limit hold'em. First place brought him $56,364 and the coveted diamond-and-gold trophy ring. His biggest prior cash was $40,680 for winning the U.S. Poker Championship in 2005.

Nikjouian, who is 46 and self-employed, came to this country in 1987 from Iran, where he started playing poker as a kid. He now lives in Woodbridge, Virginia.  

Nikjouian said he was in good shape throughout the tournament. He came to the final table average in chips, played a bit carefully in early action, then felt he could play more aggressively when the table got down to five players. The turning point for him came when there were six players left. Holding pocket kings against pocket aces, he flopped a set, busted a player and moved into a rough tie for the chip lead.

Day two found 29 players returning, Exactly two hours later we reached the final nine when Jeffrey "Nut Flush" Colpitts, holding 5-4, made a runner-runner straight after the board came J-6-Q-3-2. His victim was Donald Stevens, who held A-7. Final-table play began with blinds of 8,000-16,000 and 2,000 antes, 13:13 remaining. Way in front with 1,098,000 chips was Christian Lusardi.


Here were the starting chip counts:

Seat 1  Nicholas Gibaldi         125,000

Seat 2  Steve Lipkins              162,000

Seat 3. Christopher Lyon        48,000

Seat 4. Kenny Moyer              168,000

Seat 5. Carlos Delafuente       335,000

Seat 6. Massoud Nikjouian     369,000

Seat 7. Jeffrey Colpitts           620,000

Seat 8. Aaron Teel                  423,000

Seat 9. Christian Lusardi        1,098,000

Action came fast with three all-ins and two bust-outs in the first  four hands. On the first deal, Nicholas "Nickyballs" Gibaldi, second-lowest starter with 125,000, went all in from the big blind with A-4 and was called by Lusardi with K-9. A king flopped and that ended the evening for Gibaldi, who exited ninth with $4,026. Gibaldi, 27, is a pro from Brooklyn who's been playing five years. Before that he was a quality assurance analyst. This is his fourth Circuit.  

Two hands later the shortest starter, Christopher Lyon, arriving with only48,000, decided to go for it holding just 9-6. He was in bad shape against Nikjouian's A-4, and pretty much dead when Nikjouian flopped two pair. For eighth, Lyon took out $6,039. Lyon, from Brick, New Jersey, taught himself poker four years ago.

Steve Lipkins (whose wife Linda finished 39th in this event), was the next all-in, but he stayed alive when his pocket 4s held up against Kenny Moyer's A-J.

Blinds moved to 10,000-20,000 with 3,000 antes, and five minutes later another player went to the cashier. Two away from the big blind, Moyer raised 40,000 all in with 9-7. Nikjouian went after him with A-J. The ace-high won after the board came 2-K-3-K-2. Moyer, cashing seventh for $8,057, is a 37-year-old business intelligence architect from Lansdale, Pennsylvania who has been playing for four years. This is his third Circui. He also likes hockey and golf.  

The next player went out on a brutal beat. Aaron Teel, holding pocket aces, pushed in. Nikjouian called with pocket kings, flopped a set, and broke his third straight player as he moved past the million-chip mark, moving into a very close tie with Lusardi. Teel is a 31-year-old skydiving instructor also from Lansdale. He enjoys rock-climbing along with sky-diving, two endeavors almost as perilous as poker. He began playing three years ago and this is his second Circuit.

Colpitts at one point said he'd like to get good publicity by being credited for making a "great laydown" each time he folded. Obliging him, announcer Thomas McDonough proceeded to proclaim that "Jeff made a great laydown" whenever he folded to a raise.

A bit later, Colpitts failed to make another notable laydown when Carlos "Lolida" Delafuente moved in for about 250,000. But it turned out to be the right move. He had A-9, Delafuente had Q-J, and after the board came 10-5-A-7-4, we had lost five players in under an hour. Delafuente, 38, is from Plainview, New York and is self-employed. He learned to play with friends five years ago, and this is his fifth tournament cash.

As play went on, Lipkins was walking on water. After his first early all-in , he moved in four more times. The first three times, nobody called. The fourth time Nikjourian called with A-5 but couldn't beat Lipkins' pocket queens. Still, Lipkins remained much the shortest of the four players.

Players returned from break to blinds of 15,000-30,000 and 4,000 antes. Lipkins had another uncalled all-in, and then the miracle ended. On his seventh move, he held A-Q. Lusardi called with K-J and filled when the board came K-K-8-A-8. For fourth, Lipkins took home $14,091, just a bit more than his wife's $604 finish..Lipkin, 60 is a retired merchandising manager from New York now living in Boca Raton, Florida. Three-handed, everybody had plenty of chips. A rough count showed Nikjouian leading with about 1,320,000, followed by Lusardi with 1,060,000 and Colpitts, 970,000.

Fifteen minutes into the round, Lusardi bet 50,000 into a flop of 9-8-9, Colpitts moved in holding Q-10 for a gut-shot straight draw. Niktourian called and turned up 9-7 for trips. A three turned and a river queen was too little too late to save Colpitts, who cashed third for $16,104. Colpitts, 32, originally from Canada, now resides in New York City.

He is a retired investment banker/travel writer who's been playing four years. He learned to play from Phil Gordon ("always do the oposite"). His poker highlight was doubling through Phil Hellmuth at this year's WSOP main event. He also enjoys film, theater, dining out and skiing.

Nikjourian now had a sizeable lead, and the heads-up match ended in an eye-blink. Nikjourian opened for 200,000 and Lusardi called. The flop came K-J-6. Nikjourian bet 200,000 again and Lusardi, with J-7, moved in. Nikjourian called and turned up pocket queens. The turn brought a 10, the river an ace, and the queens ended the match as Lusardi, settling for second, took home $29,189. Lusardi, 37, from Fayetteville, North Carolina, is self-employed. His mama taught him poker 25 years ago, this is his first Circuit and poker highlight.