Justin Wallace, 29, is from Paducah, Kentucky and works as a buyer for his family-business home decor store. He figures he's won over $100,000 in five years of tournament play, and tonight picked up $45,934 (plus a $5,150 seat into this tournament's main event) by winning the opener of the WSOP Circuit at Harrahs Southern Indiana, $300 no-limit hold'em. But he has no thoughts of turning pro. "If I did, I'd be broke," he confesses, His previous biggest cash was about $20,000 for a win at Harrahs Metropolis in Illinois.

In this event, the first in the 2008-2009 Circuit tour, he took down first place by rapidly moving up with aggressive play in the final stages and had built a nearly 4-1 chip advantage when he got heads-up with pro player Pat Peercy. Wallace, whose favorite game is H.O.R.S.E "because it's a lot of fun and it's the game I've cashed most consistently in," says he has no particular style of play. "I do what the table lets me, and try to mix up my game." He said he was able to figure out the final table pretty well, and ranked Tina Kendall, one of two women to make it there, as the most aggressive player. Wallace, who learned poker from books, is married and enjoys lake- and snow-boarding. 

Horseshoe Southern Indiana (former Caesars Indiana), the largest riverboat in North America, has been renamed and retooled, recently completing a $50 million renovation to give it a richer, upscale look with dark woods and black, maroon and gold colors and chandeliers throughout the four-level docked gaming vessel. It now has 2,000 slots and more than 100 table games. The poker room, ranked number one in the Midwest, had a $1 million upgrade, and new features include a glass-enclosed high-limit section.

First-day play in this event ended at the 17th level with 11 players remaining. They returned at 4 p.m. the next day with Peercy well in the lead with 703,000 of the 3,372,000 chips in play. 

We got to nine after a very big hand. Three players were all in. Kendall had A-K, Tim Cushman had A-9, and Brandon "Chubs" Bourne had pocket queens. An ace flopped, Cushman went out in 10th place, Bourne was left with 3,000 and Kendall zoomed up to 867,000, just behind Peercy, who still led with 928,000.  Final table action now started with blinds of 10,000-20,000, 3,000 antes and 32 minutes left on the clock 

Here were the starting chip counts:

Seat 1. Austin McCormick - 350,000
Seat 2. Tina Kendall - 867,000
Seat 3. Charlie Dawson - 237,000
Seat 4. Darleen Johnson - 146,000
Seat 5. Frank Berrettoni - 200,000
Seat 6. Pat Peercy - 928,000
Seat 7. Justin Wallace - 459,000
Seat 8. Bobby Byram - 243,000
Seat 9. Brandon Bourne - 3,000

Not surprisingly, Bourne was first out. He managed to double through once, but finally busted on a bad beat. He moved in with pocket kings and had two callers. The board came Q-J-4, and he still had the lead. But then a 7 turned and another hit the river, giving Peercy, in the big blind with 7-2, winning trips. Ninth place paid $3,168. Bourne, 31, is from Sparta, Kentucky, and works in a steel mill. He's married with two children, has been playing 13 years and enjoys softball. This is his 10th Circuit, he's self-taught, and his poker highlight was finishing third in this event last year.

The next player departed after blinds went up to 15,000-30,000 with 4,000 antes. Bobby Byram moved in with A-K from early position and was called by Kendall who held pocket queens. The lady's ladies prevailed when the board came 9-7-5-9-8, She now had the chip lead while Byram took home $4,752 for eighth place. Byram, 39, is a restaurant franchisee from Osceola, Arkansas. He's been playing five years, this is his seventh Circuit, and his biggest poker achievement was finishing fourth in the first Circuit event at Tunica in January. Byram, married with two children, is a big sports fan. He learned poker from books.  

Not long after, Darleen Johnson, low-chipped, was all in with A-9 against Wallace. He was in the big blind with a lowly 3-2, but pulled out a full house when the board came A-2-2-8-3. She earned $6,336 for seventh. Johnson is 61, from Cincinnati, and owns a sports complex. Married with two children, she's been playing five years and this is her fourth Circuit cash out of 10 or 15 tries, and first final table. She learned poker from watching games in Vegtas and also enjoys bowling.  

Frank Berrettoni finished sixth when he held Jc-7c, flopped a flush draw, but failed to complete, losing to Charlie Dawson's A-Q after an ace hit the river. Berrettoni, 35, is from South Chicago Heights, Illinois, where he owns a liquor store. He learned poker from his father and has been playing all his life. This is his 30th Circuit, and his cashes include a 3rd at the Heartland Poker Tour, a fifth at a Tunica Circuit, and a win at the Majestic Star Casino. Berrettoni, who also enjoys pool and sports, was paid $7,920 for sixth.

One hand later we were down to four. This time, Wallace raised to 85,000 with A-Q, and Dawson moved in with pocket 10s. Wallace flopped two pair when the board came A-Q-7, and Dawson couldn't catch up. He went home with $9,504 for fifth. Dawson, 39, is a real estate investor from Owensboro, Kentucky. He's been playing competitively for five years, and his best cash was $90,929 for second in a World Poker Open $1,000 event. A devoted family man, he spends as much time as he can with his wife and two-year-old son..

Three of the finalists, Wallace, Peercy and Kendall, each had around a million chips each, while Austin "QuietWinner" McCormick trailed with around 400,000. He dropped down and lost his remaining chips after blinds became 20,000-40,000 with 5,000 antes. He was all in with the better hand, 10-7 to Peercy's 9s-7s, until a board of 9-4-4-5-3 gave Peercy the winning pair.

McCormick, 21, from Kansas City, Missouri, was a student until turning pro. Self-taught, he's been playing five years and this is his first Circuit attempt. He also likes golf and the outdoors. Fourth place was worth $11,087.  

Play continued with Peercy now in front with about 1.5 million. But now Wallace began to move up. One hand in particular brought him a lot of chips. Kendall raised, Wallace re-raised (with pocket 9s, he later said), and his two opponents folded. By the time blinds went to 30,000-60,000 with 5,000 antes, he had 1.65 million while Kendall and Peercy each had a million or so.

Probably the deciding play of the night came when the board showed 8d-6c-2d-5d. Kendall, holding 6-5, pushed in with her two pair, and Wallace, with Qd-6d, called with his flush to bust Kendall and take a huge lead.

Kendall, 41, is married, from Alexis, North Carolina, and is a project manager for a telecommunications company. She learned poker growing up and watching TV. This is her first Circuit. Kendall, who plays in Texas poker leagues, won a bracelet in the Austin Players Association, and made the top 10 in all three leagues in Austin. Third place paid $12,672.

Heads-up, Wallace had roughly 2,700,000 to Peercy's 700,000. Peercy managed to climb past the million mark, but couldn't do much more. On the final hand, Wallace raised with A-4, and Peercy decided to move in with 10-9. Wallace called and made a winning wheel when the board came 7-5-2-3-9.

Peercy, 37, was a car salesman before turning pro.. He's entered numerous Circuits and has played poker "foreve,r," learning from his family. His biggest payday was $40,032 for winning a $300 no-limit event at the Bicycle Casino's Legends of Poker this year. Married, he also likes to hunt and fish. For finishing second he took home $24,234.