Severely out-chipped in a heads-up finale, Matt "Cub" Culberson never quit or lost hope. "I'm not gonna give up; it's not over," he told his final opponent, David Kruger. He made good on his promise, quickly doubling up, gradually working his way into the lead, and eventually building it up to about 370,000 chips to 200,000 to Kruger. At that point the two made a deal and Culberson was declared the winner. First place in the eighth event of the WSOP Circuit tour at Horseshoe Council Bluffs, $1,500 no-limit, paid an official $24,879, along with the coveted trophy ring.
"I'm not cocky, I just believe in myself," he explained later. Culberson is a 26-year-old pro with dual residences in Biloxi and New Orleans. He's been playing poker for five years, right after junior college, at first grinding out a living in small no-limit cash games. He now plays mainly tournaments, only hold'em. He had a very good year in 2008, making 14 final tables and winning events in various locales throughout the south and Midwest. His biggest cash was $72,500 for winning a World Poker Open event in Tunica.
Culberson said his playing style varies a lot because he's very adaptable to table conditions. Tonight it was pretty much a come-from-behind victory all the way, because for the first five hours he was down to under 15 big blinds. He finally went on a rush, building his stacks from 19,000 to 100,000 in 15 minutes.
Because of a small field, this tournament was changed to a one-day event. There were five pay-outs, and we worked down to that number at 12:30 a.m. after Becky Makar, with Q-J, flopped a jack to outrun the pocket 6s held by the sixth-place finisher. The final five began play with blinds of 1,500-3,000 with 400 blinds and 33 minutes left at that level. Chip leader with 190,000 was Makar.
Here were the starting chip counts:
Seat 1. Becky Makar 190,000
Seat 2. David Kroger 44,000
Seat 3. Matt Culberson 87,000
Seat 4. Kyle Schroeder 89,000
Seat 5. Troy Ethridge 103,000
It was an interesting line-up. Out of the five players, one had won the Horseshoe Poker Classic a few months ago, Culberson had 14 final tables last year, and another player in his early 20s won $1.3 million from his living room by finishing first in the PokerStars WCOOP championship.
Just as the level ended we had our first all-in and call. Kyle Schroeder moved in with pocket treys and doubled through Kruger, who pushed in with A-K but couldn't improve when the board came 5-10-2-2-10.
Players took a break, returning to blinds of 2,000-4,000 with 500 antes. Makar still had a slight lead. On the first hand, Schroeder, finding himself short-chipped and one away from the big blind, decided to push in without looking. Kruger called with A-10 in the small blind, and Schroeder discovered he was way behind with just 10-7. He didn't come close to helping and finished fifth, which paid $2,765. Schroeder, from Omaha, is 25 and in pharmaceutical sales. He's been playing seven years and he was the one who won the WCOOP championship in 2007.
Not longer after, Makar, holding A-10, bet 27,000 into a flop of 10-4-9 and called when Kruger moved in. He turned up pocket 10s for a set, filled when two queens came, doubled through, and suddenly Makar was seriously short-chipped. Two hands later she pushed in for 22,500 with A-9 and was called by Kruger and Troy Ethridge. When the flop came 4-K-4, Kruger moved in and Ethridge folded. Kruger turned up Ac-4c for trips and Makar, dead to a near-impossible two running 9s, or two running aces for a chop, went out in fourth place, which paid $5,529.
Makar, 66, is a professional from Las Vegas who won the Horseshoe Poker Classic championship here last September that paid $45,000. In that series, she made four final tables in a row, winning another one of the events. Last week she won the Oklahoma State 6-handed championship. Her husband, whom she described as "the greatest in the world," is also a poker player.
Kruger, who started lowest chipped with a mere 44,000, was now the chip leader. The match got two-handed after Ethridge went out on a very bad beat. On a flop of 9-J-6, Kruger, with K-10, bet 40,000 and Ethridge, who had J-9 and flopped two pair, moved in. Kruger called and caught a queen on the river for an inside straight.
Ethridge cashed third for $8,294. He is 45, from Salina, Kansas, has been playing 25 years and works as an AT&T technician.
Heads-up with Culberson, Kruger held about a 5-1 chip advantage. But Culberson began eating away, doubling up quickly when his pocket 9s held up against Kruger's K-2.
He dropped back, but later gained more ground, doubling up again when he held 7-6 and flopped a straight.
Blinds were now 3,000-6,000 with 500 antes. As play went on the two battled back and forth, with Culberson slowly closing the gap and eventually, with the time past 3 a.m., moving into the lead. He then increased it to 470,000 to 350,000 for Kruger after taking down a big pot. He had K-7, flopped a king, and picked off Kruger's bluff.
The two now made their deal and this event was in the books. For second, Kruger was paid an official $13,823. Kruger, 47, is from Slater, Missouri and is self-employed. He's been playing three years and this is his third final table.