Lahcen Imkhaoun discovered tournaments just two years ago at the Hard Rock Casino in Tampa, Florida and fell in love with them. "It's a mind game," he explained. "You try to build your own reputation, and figure out how the others play by the moves they make. I try to make them think I'm tight, but I'm really solid and aggressive. I love the battle of wits. If I have a feeling for a player, I can push him out or force him to make mistakes." Analyzing his final two players, he described one as pretty good and the other probably an Internet player because he was in too many hands.

His analytical strategy must have worked because he won the seventh event of the WSOP Circuit tour at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City, $1,000 no-limit hold'em. Victory was worth $82,880 and a gold-and-diamond trophy ring. Imkhaoun, who plays two or three times a week at Hard Rock (only playing cash games while waiting for a tournament), has a number of wins and final tables there, but this is by far his biggest payday.

Originally from Morocco, Imkhaoun, 44, now lives in Celebration, Florida. However, he owns a pizza restaurant on the boardwalk here that operates from May through September, and lives locally with his brother during that time, sticking around afterwards to try his luck at Atlantic City casinos. He first learned poker in home games three years ago. He has a couple of other cashes at Borgata, once in an eight-way chop, in a $300 tournament, another time when he won a $100 event.

This event drew 259 players and had a $259,000 prize pool. The 16 survivors from day one included Brett Jungblut, a WSOP bracelet winner in Omaha/8, who finished 15th; and David Fox, who has a third in a Circuit main event at Harrah's New Orleans along with a Foxwoods World Poker Final win. Fox ended 11th. We got to the final table after Gary Bodanski was left with a single chip after calling Allan Lubin's 75,000 raise, losing with K-J to K-Q. The chip was anteed on the next hand. Steven Cowley gave him some protection by raising to 40,000 with A-J. No one called, and Cowley flopped an ace to easily beat Bodanski's 8-7. The final table started with blinds of 8,000-16,000 and 2,000 antes, 31 minutes left. Leading with 369,000 chips was Timothy "Highland Fox" Finne.     

Here were the starting chip counts: 

Seat 1. Tobin Dreher                  204,000
Seat 2  Ted Ely                         288,000
Seat 3. Steven Cowley               343,000            
Seat 4. Robert McLaughlin         291,000
Seat 5. Lahcen Imkhaoun          291,000
Seat 6. Lee Childs                     152,000
Seat 7. Allan Lubin                    355,000
Seat 8. Mark Roland                  297,000
Seat 9. Timothy Finne                369,000
All players were left when blinds went to 10,000-20,000 with 3,000 antes, now playing hour rounds. After more than an hour of play, there had not been a single called all-in and only one flop. Finally, Inkhaoun raised for the third straight time, and Mark Roland, perhaps not giving him credit for a hand, moved in for roughly 300,000 with A-Q. Inkhaoun did have a hand: pocket aces. Roland couldn't come close to catching him and took home $5,180 for ninth. Roland, 26, from Atlantic City, was a dealer and is now a pro. He began playing with friends in high school and has entered 10-15 Circuits. He collected $22,277 for winning a U.S. Poker Championship $300 Omaha/8 event, and $18,450 for first in a $1,000 team event at the Aussie Millions
Immediately after, Lubin moved in for about 130,000 from early position with A-4 and then Tobin Dreher, with more chips, also moved in with Ac-10c. "Too many people behind me," Lubin shrugged as he went out in eight place for $7,770 after the board came K-2-6-3-6. Lubin is a retiree from Watchung, New Jersey who began playing three years ago, has entered eight Circuits and has two WPT cashes at Borgata.

Next out was Ted "Ol' Muggins" Ely. All in, his A-9 lost to Cowley's A-J after the board came A-10-7-2-K. Ely, 30, is a short-order cook (?) who said he was once a marine biologist (sure, on a prior bio he claimed to be a former Formula 1 race driver) born in the Swiss Alps (right) and now living at sea level in Brooklyn. (At least that's probably right.) He's entered lots of Circuits and gained entry to this one "by selling Girl Scout cookies." He's made final tables here three years in a row.

After a break, play resumed with 15,000-30,000 blinds and 4,000 antes. Halfway through the level, there was three-way action. First Robert "Jeremy" McLaughlin moved in for 181,000 with Kd-9d. Next, Finne came over the top all in for 377,000 with pocket 5s, and then Dreher went in for 374,000 with pocket queens. The board came 9-6-4-A-8. The queens won, McLaughlin was out in sixth place and Finne was down to 4,000.

McLaughlin  collected $12,950 for sixth. He is 31, from Washington, D.C. and was with the U. S. Capitol Police before turning pro two years ago. He learned poker from Dan Harrington's books. This is his fourth Circuit. His poker highlights are winning the a Borgata $250,000 guarantee event last summer and playing with Phil Hellmuth  

Finne survived against Cowley and Dreher the next hand when his pocket aces turned into a heart flush. But on the next, all in again for 16,000 with Ks-2s, he busted out. He turned a flush draw, but missed and lost to Cowley's Ac-8c. Fifth place paid $15,540. Finne is a tax preparer from Fanwood, New Jersey playing his first Circuit. He learned poker five years ago.

A few hands later, Imkhaoun moved in with A-Q and a short-chipped Childs called with A-3. The board came 10-7-9-A-K, and Childs cashed fourth for $18,130. Childs, 36, from Alexandria, Virginia, was the most credentialed player at the final table. A former software executive, he is now a poker player and coach. He learned poker five years ago from friends and books. Last year he collected $705,229 for seventh at the WSOP main event, $52,240 for winning an Executive Poker Tour.event,.and $69,601 for second place in a Caesars Palace Classic tournament. He also plays in a Monday home game with Rhett Butler (who won $3.2 million in the 2006 WSOP main event) and Menan Saydam, who won yesterday's $500 tournament.

The round ended with Imkhaoun in front with 1.25 million chips, followed by Dreher with 850,000 and Cowley, 490,000. Blinds now were 20,000-40,000 with 5,000 antes..

After taking down a few pots with uncalled bets and raises, Dreher moved in front,.but then Imkhaoun caught up by knocking out the next player. When the board showed 8-3-7-9, Cowley, with 9-7 for two pair, moved in for 320,000. Imkhaoun, holding 6-5, won with a straight, and now he was heads-up with Dreher..

Third paid $23,310. Cowley is a former civil engineer turned pro. He is 35, from Richmond, Virginia, and taught himself poker seven years ago.

The two finalists were roughly even in chips, but then Imkhaoun took a clear lead in a pot that showed 7-5-A-3 on the turn. Dreher bet 155,000. Imkhaoun tried to raise with A-4, but failed to put enough chips in the pot. He still won when the river was checked down.  He wore his opponent down until the final hand when Dreher tried an all-in move with 8-5. Imkhaoun called with A-2, made trip deuces when the flop came 2-2-J, and that ended the evening.

Dreher, 37, cashed second for $45,584. He is a commodities trader from Houston who's been playing six years. This is his second Circuit. He has a 187th-place cash, in the 2006 WSOP main event. He also plays golf.