The Smoke Show

The first WSOP Circuit tour to be staged at Horseshoe Casino Hammond culminated with Steve "Mr. Smokey" Billirakis being crowned as champion. For winning the main event, the 22-year-old pro from Chicago earned $208,885, an eye-catching gold-and-diamond trophy ring, and a $10,000 buy-in to the 2009 WSOP main event.

Billirakis was only 11 days past his 21st birthday last year when he became the youngest WSOP bracelet winner (in U.S. events) ever by capturing the $5,000 1/2 limit, 1/2 no-limit tournament which paid him $536,287. The key to his success, he said, is that he plays for fun, not concerning himself, as "serious money players" do, with moving up another notch. "These don't mean anything to me," he said, fingering a pile of chips. "The fun players get the money." 

It was a convincing victory for the young pro, who held the chip lead at the end of day one and day two, and scored a wire-to-wire victory at the final table.

Billirakis has played poker for five years. His mother made him get a job after he quit high school as a junior and he worked the night shift for a while at a McDonald's before deciding he'd rather play poker for a living. It was a sound choice because this victory tonight brings his total tournament cashes to past the $1 million.mark.

Billirakis described his play as selective/aggressive, and said he tries to make players "pay for their mistakes." He tried to project a "crazy" image while waiting for a big pot, and his strategy paid off when he took a huge pot holding pocket queens after he was able to get Jason DeWitt to call all in with A-Q. He busted his opponent in that hand and took a commanding lead which he never relinquished   His next project, he said (providing he doesn't retire), is to learn the limit event H.O.R.S.E. because too many players now are too good at no-limit hold'em. Billirakis' other interest is playing Xbox.  

This event drew 165 players who created a total prize pool of $800,250.

The participants had high praise for the way the tournament was run as well as for the structure and blinds which gave plenty of time for play, putting a premium on skill and allowing so many accomplished players to make the final table.

That final table was set on day two after Domenico Caprara, in the big blind with just 9-4, lost his last few chips when he couldn't overcome Billirakis' pocket queens. The remaining nine returned at 2 p.m. the next day playing at level 21with blinds of 8,000-16,000, 2,000 antes and 52:37 left on the clock. With 754,000 chips, Billirakis had the lead. 
Here were the final table chip counts

Seat 1. Thomas Koral - 351,000
Seat 2. George Dietz - 174,000
Seat 3. Gary Leibovitz - 156,000 
Seat 4  Steve Billirakis - 754,000
Seat 5: Sameer Al-Dbhany - 253,000
Seat 6: Ravi Raghavan - 213,000
Seat 7: Jason DeWitt - 651,000
Seat 8: Dustin Woolf - 419,000
Seat 9: Kyle Schertz - 325,000 

On the first hand, George Dietz, lowest-chipped, doubled through Dustin "Neverwin" Woolf when his pocket kings beat Woolf's pocket queens. A half hour into the round, Woolf was left short-chipped when he had pocket 6s and called Gary "Lebo" Leibovitz, who moved in with A-K. The board came J-A-K-Q-9, and Leibovitz doubled through with top two. Right after that, Woolf put in his last chips with 10-9 and was called by Thomas Koral with Q-8. Woolf had the lead when the board showed J-8-K-10. Then a 9 came on the river to give Koral a straight. Woolf, finishing ninth, collected $21,677.

Woolf is a pro from Las Vegas and has been playing for 10 years, learning "from degenerates." He has 16 WSOP cashes and four final tables. His biggest payday was $224,090 when he finished 32nd in the 2005 WSOP main event.

Right after blinds moved to 10,00-20,000 with 2,000 antes, Leibovitz doubled through Billirakis when he was all in with K-Q and hit a king on the river to outrun Billarakis' Ace. Later, Ravi Raghavan also survived when his queens held up against Dietz's A-Q.Then, as the level neared an end, there was another survival, this with a miracle runner-runner. Raghavan was all in again, this time with K-J, in bad shape when a flop of Q-8-K gave Kyle Schertz a set of 8s. Then an ace and 10 arrived to give Raghavan a Broadway straight.

After a break, play resumed with blinds of 12,000-24,000 and 3,000 antes. Billirakis still had the lead, with Jason DeWitt very close behind. A couple of minutes into the level, the two chip leaders tangled. Billirakis raised, DeWitt re-raised and then Billirakis moved in. DeWitt went into the tank and finally called with A-Q. Billirakis turned up pocket queens. The board came 2-5-4-J, leaving DeWitt dead to a paired ace or a trey for a straight. 

Billirakis then dropped a toke in the dealer's shirt pocket for good luck, and the dealer showed his appreciation by putting out a 10. Billirakis had DeWitt just covered by about 10,000 chips, and now had a monster lead with about 1.7 of the 3.3 million chips in play as DeWitt exited eighth for $25,618.

DeWitt, 25, is a poker player from Granger, Indiana who learned the game five years ago playing with friends. His poker highlights are a second in a Heartland Poker Tour and a sixth in a $2,000 no-limit shoot-out event/ He has four WSOP cashes in all. He also likes other gambling activities in Vegas.

On the next hand, Koral moved in with A-K and Raghavan called all in with pocket jacks. Koral moved in front on a flop of A-4-6, Raghavan couldn't find another jack, and finished seventh, which paid $31,530. Raghavan, 22, is a student from Champaign, Illinois who has been playing for three years.

A few hands later, on a flop of A-K-Q, Sameer "Sam"Al-Dbhany moved in holding K-8 and was totally dominated when Schertz turned over A-K. Dead to two running 8s or a runner-runner straight for a chop, Al-Dbhany failed  to beat the daunting odds and finished sixth, settling for $39,413.  

Al-Dbhany, 38, is a medical technician from Frankfort, Kentucky. He's been playing three years,, learning from TV. His poker highlight was winning the Midwest Regional Poker Championship in 2007 which paid $137,000. He also has a few WSOP Circuit final tables.

Right after that, Dietz tried an all-in move with 6-5 and was picked off by Schertz, who called with pocket 9s and made a set on the river for good measure. After knocking out two players in a row and then picking up another small pot, Schertz was now second in chips..

Dietz, meanwhile, cashed $49,266 for fifth. Dietz, 32, is from Oak Park, Illinois, and listed his occupation as "retired." He's been playing 14 years and has a cash in a $1,500 no-limit event at the WSOP this year.

Blinds increased to 15,000-30,000 with 4,000 antes. An approximate chip count showed Billirakis still leading with about 1.5 million chips, followed by Schertz, 900,000; Koral, 730,000; and Leibovitz still hanging on (thanks to an earlier pocket aces) with 240,000. Leibovitz then got some breathing room, doubling through with pocket 9s against Schertz's pocket 5s, and then got really well doubling up again and moving into second place a couple of hands later calling with A-Q and winning after Koral moved in with Ks-Qs.

Leibovitz then got low again when the board showed J-2-8-K and he moved in on a semi-bluff holding 10-9 for an open-end straight draw. After much indecision, Koral called with Ad-8d, winning when another king hit the river.

Players returned from dinner break to blinds of 20,000-40,000 with 5,000 antes. Billirakis, supported by a noisy cheering section of friends, was still in front with 1.625 million, followed by Koral, 785,000; Leibovitz, 470,000, and Schertz, 420,000.  There were a batch of raises and all-ins with no calls. Finally, after Schertz moved in with Ad-7s, Koral looked him up holding 9h-9s. Schertz couldn't help enough when the board came 5-7-3-8-J and went out fourth, which paid $$63,060. Schertz is 22 and from Metamora, Illinois. He's played for four years and placed seventh in the Omaha/8 event here a few days ago.

Immediately after, Leibovitz moved in for 335,000 with pocket 6s and Billirakis called with Kh-Jh. The flop came Q-2-6 giving Leibovitz a set. Unfortunately for him, they were all hearts, giving Bllirakis a flush. Leibovitz couldn't catch his fourth six when a 3c and Ah merely improved Billirakis' hand to a nut flush, and Leibovitz, managing to hang on all the way to third place, was rewarded with $80,796. Leibovitz, "Lebo" 43, is from Chicago and listed his occupation as a "slum landlord."    Heads-up, Billirakis led with 2.1 million chips to 1.2 million for Koral.

They played 18 hands fairly cautiously until the final one came down. After Koral, now low on chips, raised with 9d-9h. Billirakis pushed in with Ad-8s. The flop came Jd-4d-8d. Koral still led, but now Billirakis had a flush draw. He hit it when a Qd turned. Now Koral needed.a 10d to escape with a straight flush, but this wasn't a poker movie, and a 9s on the river merely gave him a meaningless set.

For second, Koral took home $126,120. Koral, 25, is from Chicago and was a student before turning pro. He began playing in small home gaves with friends five years ago and has a half dozen WSOP and several WPT cashes. Koral, 25, from Chicago, was a student before turning pro. He's been playing five years, starting in small home games. He has six WSOP and three WPT cashes  Afterwards, he said he was disappointed, because it was "all about the ring," but couldn't complain about his pay-out. He complimented Billirakis as a great player, and ranked him his toughest opponent at the final table.