A Ring for Each Hand

Mike Ratcliff, a small business owner who rebuilds ATM machines, made a $37,024 withdrawal by taking down the third event of the WSOP Circuit tour at Harrah's Casino Tunica, $300 no-limit. Ratcliff, who also won a $300 Circuit at Horseshoe Southern Indiana last year, thus became the second player in a row here to win a second trophy ring. Ratcliff also won the Denny Crum Poker Open last year, and has two other final tables at Circuit events and two more at both Caesars Palace Mega Stack and the Venetian Deep Stack.

Ratcliff is 53 and from Martinsville, Indiana. Accompanied by his good-luck donkey charm, he said he was up and down throughout this event, his strategy being to try to play position, raising in good spots but folding when someone came over the top. This strategy served him well at the final table. On the fourth hand, he laid down pocket jacks after Robert Hankins came over the top with a 400,000 raise. He had put Hankins on a flush draw and didn't want to risk a call against Hankins, who had been on a rush. It turned out that Hankins had a set of treys and a call would have busted Ratcliff. He was now down to 150,000, but that was enough to eventually win.

The key play of the night came with three players left when Hankins was eliminated after slow-playing pocket aces, allowing Ratcliff to make a flush. Ratcliff also observed that there were a number of first-time, somewhat nervous players at the final table, and he stayed out of their way when they bet out of position.

This event drew 509 players, generating a $148,119 prize pool. The 10 finalists from day one began play the next day with blinds of 15,000-30,000 and 4,000 antes, a full 40 minutes on the clock. Hankins, whose nickname is "Skinny," had by far the fattest chip count: 1,443,000. 

Here were the starting chip counts:

Seat 1. Kevin Miles                 720,000          
Seat 2. Eric Cochraen             322,000
Seat 3. Robert Hankins           1,443,000
Seat 4. Bob Powell                 390,000
Seat 5. Mike Ratcliff              408,000
Seat 6. Jody Mitchell              482,000
Seat 7. Edward Hougham      500,009
Seat 8. Wiliam Ellis                 298,000
Seat 9 .Roy Rhodes                269,000
Seat 10.Kenny Gortney          236,000

There was early action in a three-way pot. First, Hankins opened for 50,000 with pocket 10s. Next, Bob Powell moved in with A-K. Then, Roy "Roy Boy" Rhodes, the shortest stack, called with pocket aces, and Hankins.also called. The board came 2-3-7-2-4. Rhodes took the main pot and tripled up, while Hankins took the side pot and Powell exited 10th.  Powell, 48, is a business owner from St. Louis who's played three years. He has a final table at last year's Circuit here along with three wins in Vegas at Caesars Palace and the Mirage daily events.

Next to go was Eric Cochran. He had K-9 against Edward Hougham's A-Q. The flop paired Cochran's king, but the turn paired Hougham's ace, and Cochran, who is from Chattanooga, Tennessee, took the Chattanooga Choo-Choo home in ninth place. Cochran, 37 is a chemical plant production coordinator who was taught poker by his 7-year-old stepson.

The players went on break with Hankins still leading with almost exactly the same chip count he started with. Blinds now were 20,000-40,000 with 5,000 antes. A few minutes into the new level, William "Sweetea" Ellis went all in for 100,000 with pocket kings and got a call from Ratcliff with Ah-5h. Ellis was still okay when the flop came 9s-7h-3c, but then two running hearts gave Ratcliff a flush, and Ellis went out eighth. Ellis, 66, has been playing for over a half-century and has 13 grandchildren, 12 greats and two great-greats. (Eighth-place money of $2,962 will come in handy for birthday cards.) His poker highlight was beating "Doc" Stokes at the final table of a South Carolina open event.

As play progressed, a short-chipped Jody "The Champ" Mitchell found himself all in from the big blind, holding 6-5 and drawing to an open-ender on a flop of J-7-8. He couldn't improve when a 6 and deuce came, losing to Kevin Miles' K-J and exiting seventh. Mitchell, 47, is from Wenatchee, Washington, has been playing five years, and this is his best achievement.

Immediately after, Hougham finished sixth. He opened for 150,000 with pocket 8s, and Hankins put him in holding pocket aces. A flop of 6-7-10 gave Hougham four more outs to a gut-shot straight draw, but he couldn't catch anything. Hougham is a 69-year-old retiree from Princeville, Illinois, and started playing just two years ago.

Next out, in fifth place, was Kenny Gortney, a 31-year-old shipping worker from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He moved in with A-6, got called by Ratcliff with A-J, was virtually dead on a flop of 9-Q-J, and departed after a king and 9 were dealt. This is his Gortney's fifth year playing poker and his fourth Circuit final table.

Just before the level ended, Roy Rhodes went all in with Qh-4h and was challenged by Ratcliff, in the big blind with 9s-3s. They both paired on a flop of 9-10-Q. Then a river trey gave Ratcliff two pair to leave Rhodes in fourth place. Rhodes, 58, is from Iuka, Mississippi and employed as a millwright. This is his poker highlight.

The players went on break with Ratcliff now in the lead with around 2.5 million to about 1.9 million for Hankins and 600,000 for Miles. Action continued with blinds of 30,000-60,000 and 500 antes. Miles quickly doubled up when his K-Q beat Hankins' A-K after a queen flopped. A few hands later, Hankins looked down at pocket aces and decided to slow-play them, making minimal raises pre-flop and on the flop. Then, with the board showing Js-8d-2s-Ks, he decided to move in. His strategy and timing couldn't have been more disastrous, because Ratcliff, calling the small raises with only 6s-5s, now had his flush and Hankins, drawing dead, went out third. Hankins, 28, is from Smyrna, Tennessee and has been playing three years.

Heads-up, Ratcliff had about 3.6 million to 1.4 million for Miles. The match only lasted two hands. On that deal, Ratcliff raised 200,000 with pocket treys, and Miles, holding A-7, pushed all in. Miles looked pretty good when the board showed K-9-9-A. Then a two-outer trey on the river filled Ratcliff and gave him his second ring.

Miles, 34, is from Thomasville, North Carolina, and for his occupation he listed "lay off." He's played three years and his prior best cash was 10th in a 6-handed event at Horseshoe Southern Indiana.