Mr. Rain Reigns in Iowa
A hand of 7-3 offsuit might not be the best one in no-limit hold'em, but it did the job for Jeff "MrRain" Banghart as he won the opening event of the Circuit tour at Horseshoe Council Bluffs, $300 no limit. Banghart, whose nickname derives from his ownership of a lawn sprinkler business, started the final table with the chip lead, and held it throughout until three players were left. At that point, a short-stacked Nate Davis moved in with K-J. Deciding that Davis could have any two cards, Banghart called and won by making a set of treys.

Heads-up, he now held 1.17 million chips to 837,000 for Drazen Ilich, and the two quickly agreed to a chip-count deal. Banghart has often played against Ilich in $5-$10 no-limit cash games here and very much respects his play. "I think he's one of the five best players in the room," he remarked. "We're both aggressive, and I didn't want any part of him, and he didn't want any part of me, so we made the deal." Even before the tournament started, Banghart added, he felt  they would end up one-two.

For his win, Banghart collected an official $30,127 and earned his first diamond-and-gold trophy ring. He is 47, from Bennington, Nebraska, and has been playing since age 12. His biggest cash was $238,000 for 44th in the 2007 WSOP main event. That same year he collected $55,000 for finishing fourth in the Circuit $5,000 main event here.

Banghart divides his time between tournaments and cash games. While he is aggressive, he explained, he is selective-aggressive, not hyper. He found the final table to be an "all-in fest," so he had to wait for his spots.

The 14 days of tournaments here from Feb. 12-25 will be packed with a full menu of offerings. There are a dozen noon no-limit ring events, plus six additional 4 p.m. tourneys that include a ladies championship, Omaha hi-lo, H.O.R.S.E., limit hold'em, and six-handed events. Then there will be another 12 second-chance events at 6 p.m. and two mega-satellites daily at 3 and 7 p.m. In all, 53 contests from which to choose. Structures and starting chips will allow for lots of playing room. Chips for the noon preliminary events will range from 6,000 for the $300 buy-ins to 15,000 for the $1,500 tournament and 20,000 for the championship event.

   This opening event drew 334 players and the prize pool was $37,194. The nine finalists returned on day two with Banghart leading the field with 361,000 chips.

Here were the starting chip counts: 

Seat 1. Chris Johnson 
Seat 2. Drazen Ilich                246,000
Seat 3. Colin Perry                  274,000
Seat 4. Jeff Banghart              361,000          
Seat 5. Mario Hudson             212,000                                  
Seat 6. Elizabeth Moreland     203,000          
Seat 7. Mark Johnson              98,000
Seat 8. Ben Flores                   154,000          
Seat 9. Nate Davis                  234,000

Second-day play started at level 16 with blinds of 8,000-16,000 and 2,000 antes, 15:54 left. Rounds for the final table were now one hour. On the first deal we lost one player. Chip-leader Banghart raised with A-9 and lowest-chipped Mark Johnson called with Qd-10d. The flop brought Q-A-5, Johnson moved in and his paired queen lost to Banghart's paired ace after two small cards came. Johnson, cashing $1,944 for ninth, is a masonry contractor from Lehigh, Iowa. He's been playing 25 years, and this is his first shot at a major tournament.

Blinds were now 10,000-20,000. History repeated. On the first deal of this level, the second Johnson departed. This time it was Chris Johnson, who moved in with A-10. He flopped an ace, but it wasn't of much use because Colin Perry held the other two bullets, and Johnson finished eighth, worth $2,916. He is 34 and from Minneapolis, a former electrician who is now a poker pro. He has some prior wins in small events, but this is also his first big tournament.

Ben "Bendai Quan" Flores had been playing aggressively, moving in repeatedly without calls. Finally, when he re-raised all in with pocket 4s, he found himself called, covered and dominated by Ilich, who turned up pocket 7s. Ilich then put Flores away by flopping a set. Flores, 22, collecting $3,888 for seventh, is from Vancouver, Washington and works in warehouse shipping/receiving. He's played five years, and, just like the two players who exited before him, this is his first big event.

Elizabeth "Liz" Moreland, the only lady at the table, was next out. After Drazen Ilich opened with a raise, Moreland moved in with pocket queens, only to see Ilich turn up aces. A board of 3-2-5-K-7 didn't affect anything, and Moreland took home $4,860 for sixth. Moreland, 46, is from Madison, WI where she is employed as an affordable housing consultant/trainer. She's been playing four years, is married with two boys (her husband also plays poker) and (surprise) she likes big stacks of chips.

Blinds increased to 15,000-30,000 with 4,000 antes. Soon after, Banghart opened for 85,000 and got a call from Mario Hudson. The flop came 8-10-Q, and Banghart, holding pocket kings, fired out 100,000. After long thought, Hudson, holding Jd-7d for an inside straight draw, called with his last chips. An 8d turned to give him a flush draw, but was blown away when an offsuit king gave Banghart a set. Hudson is a 34-year-old pro from St. Paul, Minnesota.  Before that he was a barber. He's played since age 15, and his best finish was $31,674 for second in a Heartland Poker Tour event in Michigan last year.

Two more players now went out in rapid fashion. Next to go was Colin Perry. He pushed in with K-9, and Ilich called with Q-J. Ilich took the lead when the flop came 10-J-3, and Perry couldn't play catch-up when a 4 and 10 came. Perry earned $6,804 for fourth. He is 22, from Omaha, and has been playing for three years.

Soon after that, the deciding hand came down when Banghart called with 7-3 after Davis pushed in with K-J. A flop of 3-9-10 gave Banghart a pair, and another trey on the river clinched it for him. Davis, collecting $7,776 for third, is 38, from Smithville, Missouri and is employed in medical field sales. He's played 20 years and has two kids. He has had three prior Circuit cashes, two of them at Council Bluffs

Banghart and Ilich now quickly agreed on a chip-count division, and this event was  over. Ilich, 29, is a poker player originally from Bosnia now living in Lincoln, Nebraska. He's played eight years is mostly a cash-game player, and has a third in last year's Horseshoe Poker Classic. For second, he earned an official $15,551.