Joey "Joey d" Huey looked like a sure winner in the ninth event of the WSOP Circuit at Harrah's Casino Tunica, $300 no-limit. He came to the final table with the chip lead, knocked out five of the first six players, and had better than a 3-1 chip lead when he got heads up with Ken "Ches" Smith, a 51-year-old dental office manager from Jacksonville, Florida. By contrast, Smith, playing a very conservative game, had never been better than average in chips throughout this tournament, and came to the final table lowest-chipped. But in the last few hands he doubled up twice to take the lead and went on to an improbable victory.

This event drew 363 players who made a prize pool of $105,633. Smith's prize for first place was $26,420 along with a gold-and-diamond trophy ring as he registered his second Circuit win. Smith travels the Circuit trail with a couple of friends, hitting five or six of the casinos staging these events, and two years ago he won a preliminary Circuit event at Council Bluffs. Smith has been playing poker a long time, seriously for about five years. He plays mostly cash games, favoring $2-5 no-limit. He describes his playing strategy as very conservative and steady.

Only eight players made the final table after two, Justin Hollis (10th) and William Davidson (9th) were knocked out at the end of day one.  Leading with 872,000 chips was Huey. 

Here were the starting chip counts:

Seat 1. Charlie Dawson                      558,000          
Seat 2. Andrew Saldael..                    400,000
Seat 3. Jeremy Sanders                       455,000
Seat 4. Vacant
Seat 5. John Humphries                      144,000                      
Seat 6. Andrianto Tan                         290,000          
Seat 7. dmac McCarthy                      780,000
Seat 8. Joey Don Huey                       872,000          
Seat 9. Ken Smith                               136,000 

Play began with blinds of 1,000-2,000 and 300 antes, 29:54 remaining. Just before the level ended, Adrianto "Andre" Tan went all in for 112,000 with K-Q and was called by Huey with A-9. Tan couldn't help when the board came J-A-4-5-9 and finished eighth. Tan, 55, is a restaurant manager from Decatur, Alabama. He's been playing five years and his best achievement before today was winning an event at the Horseshoe in Tunica.

Soon after blinds went to 1,500-3,000 with 400 antes. Huey knocked out a second player. He called with pocket jacks after John "Georgia Cowboy" Humphries moved in with A-Q. The board came 3-6-5-3-5, and the cowboy rode off in seventh place. Humphries is 58 and from Taylorsville, Georgia. He's been playing for half a century and made back-to-back final tables at the Gulf Coast Championships.

Halfway through the level, Huey made his third kill. He had A-Q to an all-in Jeremy "da Truth" Sanders' pocket 6s. The flop came A-3-4, and da truth is that Sanders finished sixth when he failed to catch another 6 or make a runner-runner straight. Sanders, 28, is a 28-year-old poker player from Columbus, Georgia, making his second final table this year, after doing so in the first event of the Southern Poker Classic.

By now, Huey had built a tremendous lead with roughly 2 million of the 3,630,000 chips in play. It didn't take long to lose another player. This time, a very short-stacked Charlie Dawson went all in from the small blind with just Q-5. He was up against Andrew Saldael, with A-K in the big blind. The board came 8-6-3-8-9, and half the eight players were gone in an hour. Dawson, 39, is a real estate investor from Santa Rosa, California, who wrote on his bio sheet that he's been playing poker for just 13 hours. Amazingly, in that short time he's managed to make several other Circuit and WPO final tables.

After a break, play continued with blinds of 1,500-3,000 and 500 antes. After his K-Q lost to Andrew Saldael's A-J, "dmac" McCarthy (yes, that's the name he goes by), was down to 25,000. It went in on the next hand. Then, Saldael also moved in, and Huey called. The cards were turned up: 8-2 for McCarthy, As-9s for Saldael, pocket jacks for Huey. A board of 5-5-10-Q-Q missed everybody and McCarthy, with fewer chips, finished fourth, while Saldael cashed third.  

McCarthy, age "over 40," is from Cincinnati and owns a construction company, Air Pollution Systems. He's been playing 30 years, enters 200 tournaments a year, and estimates he's made 100-150 final tables in that time. He has a third place in the Orleans Open, and has played in the WSOP main event a dozen or more times via satellites. For all that, this is the first time he's made a "day two."

Saldael, originally from Russia, now lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He's 36 and has been playing since age 12.

Heads-up, Huey led with about 2.8 million chips to around 840,000 for Smith. The match lasted 12 hands. Smith failed to double up when he was all in with A-7 to Huey's 7-6 on a flop of J-J-7 after another jack on fourth street gave them the same full house. But starting with the ninth hand he doubled through two times to take the lead. The first time he had Ks-Qs to Huey's pocket deuces, caught two more kings and then made a flush on the end. The next time the flop was 5-6-4. Huey bet 200,000 Smith raised and Huey moved in. After long thought, Smith called with the bigger pair: Q-6 to Huey's A-5, winning when a trey and 8 came.

The contest ended right after blinds went to 3,000-6,000 with 500 antes. All the chips went in on a flop of 6-4-2. Once again Smith had the bigger pair, 9-6 to J-4, and nailed down the pot and the win when a river 6 gave him trips.

Huey, 42, is a farmer from Newport, Arkansas. He began playing three years ago and this is his first final table.