From Pool Hustler to Poker Shark

Torrential mountain rains could not dampen the enthusiasm of hundreds of poker players who flooded into the Harrah’s Rincon Casino and Resort for a full weekend of heavy poker action.  The World Series of Poker Circuit continued today as the third of 14 “gold ring” tournament events was completed.  The No-Limit Hold’em tournament with a $500 entry fee attracted 215 entries, which generated $104,275 in prize money.  The top 18 players collected payouts.  All of the action took place over a two-day period inside Rincon Pavilion Showroom.

The winner was mystery man, “Albert” from San Diego, CA.  “I go by ‘Albert,” the crusty poker champion insisted, immediately following his first-ever poker tournament victory.  “Just put ‘Albert’ in the report.  All my friends know me by that.”     

“Albert,” we later learned is a former pool hustler, originally from Ohio.  “I used to hustle pool games back around Toledo and Detroit back in the 1950s,” Albert said.  “I’ve been hustling since I was only 13 years old!”

After 206 players were eliminated on the first day of competition, the nine survivors took seats at the final table – with eventual winner Albert starting off in fourth place.  Orlando Osorio arrived with a marginal chip lead over his two closest rivals, Christopher Black and Natalio Pereira.  The remaining players all with shorter stacks were at a disadvantage.  But no player was severely low on chips, which provided a victory opportunity for everyone.  The top nine finishers were: 

9th Place – Ray Blodgett was eliminated about 15 minutes into play.  Down to about 60,000 in chips, he moved all-in with pocket nines.  The player to his immediate left was Cary Katz.  He re-raised all-in with pocket tens.  Blodgett knew he was in trouble and failed to improve his hand.  The retiree from Riverside, CA collected a poker pension of $3,128 for ninth place.

8th Place – The eight finalists battled for an hour before the next bust out.  That moment came when Jason Schwartz got involved in a four-way pot.  Schwartz was dealt A-9 and flopped an ace, presumably the best hand at the time.  But Christopher Black ended up making a club flush on the turn and dragged both the main and side pots.  Schwartz was left to ponder what might have been had he been able to quadruple up and was forced to settle for eighth-place.  The general contractor from Montana, who plays mostly in cash games, nailed down $4,171 in prize money.    

7th Place – Next, Cary Katz took a tough beat when he was all-in with top pair (9-6) on a board showing 6-5-3.  Orlando Osorio had his opponent well-covered, but needed improvement and got precisely that when a five rolled form the deck on the turn, making Osorio trip-fives.  Katz was down to just two outs, but missed which meant the CEO from Poway, CA was discharged as the seventh-place finisher.  Katz clawed into the prize pool for $5,214.

6th Place – A few hands later, David Edquist got involved in the classic Hold’em “coin flip” situation holding the slightly better side of the prop with pocket queens against Christopher Black’s A-K.  But an ace flopped for Black which managed to eliminate the tax consultant from San Diego.  As the sixth-place finisher, the accountant added $6,257 to his poker bankroll just in time for next month’s tax filing deadline.

5th Place – Black took his first major hit of the tournament when he lost a big pot to John Finnigan, a.k.a. “All-In Finn.”  The hand was arguably the most dramatic of the final table as Black was dealt pocket jacks and flopped trips.  But “All-In Finn,” true to his name, had his tournament life on the line with K-Q and watched with delight as the flop showed J-10-9.  Black needed the board to pair.  But two blanks fell on the turn and river, giving Finn the big pot.  With five players still alive, it was anyone’s to win.

All-In Finn’s good fortune continued.  He seized the chip lead when he won another big hand, with pocket nines against Orlando Osorio’s pocket fives.  That gave Finn about a 3 to 2 chip lead over his closest rival.  On the other end of the spectrum was Natalio Pereiro, who took a tough beat and went out in fifth place.  Pereiro was all-in with A-J, and flopped a jack which was top pair.  But a king came on the river, giving opponent “Albert” a higher pair of kings with his K-J.  Pereiro, an attorney from Tustin, CA negotiated a settlement worth $7,299 for his time.  A skilled gamesman as a chess and backgammon player, he previously won tournaments at other casinos, including Pechanga and the Bicycle Club.

4th Place – Christopher’s Black miserable last hour at the final table came to a disappointing conclusion when he made a spade flush, which lost to a higher flush.  Black and “Finn” both flopped flush draws on the hand.  The key card for both players came on the river, knocking Black out in fourth place.  Considering his early domination in the finale, Black was dissatisfied with the outcome.  But the teacher from San Diego got high marks and a payout worth $8,759.  Two years ago, Black made it to the final table of a WSOP event in Las Vegas.  He stated that he plans to spend some of his winnings on a honeymoon after he gets married this summer.

3rd Place – The early chip leader had been Orlando Osorio.  But his momentum faded in the later stages of the tournament and he was short on chips.  At first glance, it appeared that Osorio might rebound and get back into contention when he moved all-win, got an instant call, and tabled pocket kings.  But on the other side of the table sat bully “All-In Finn,” smiling confidently with good reason.  He showed pocket aces in what turned out to be a nightmare for Osorio.  The aces held up, disconnecting the telecommunications specialist from San Diego.  Osorio received $10,428.

2nd Place – Only Albert remained as “All-In Finn’s” final obstacle to victory.  The finalists battled for nearly an hour, during which Finn chipped away at his adversary’s stack, one hand at a time.  It was a painstaking process.  There were no stand-out hands, just a ceaseless barrage of well-time decisions which allowed Finn to outmuscle Albert with his bigger stack.

But everything came to a screeching halt when Albert put a horrible beat on Finn and instantly took over the chip lead.  The hand changed everything.  Just one card away from victory, Finn held J-10 for a pair of jacks against Albert’s king-high (with no pair).  But a king tumbled down on the river, derailing Finn’s from the prize.

Shaken by the beat, and suddenly down by a 6 to 1 margin, Finn decided to move all-in with K-4, hoping to seal the antes.  But Albert made the call with A-6.  The final board showed A-Q-2-4-A, giving Albert trip aces and his much anticipated, long-awaited tournament victory.  Meanwhile, John “All-In Finn” Finnigan, a small business owner from Portland, OR, finished as the runner up.  The former comedian, who once opened up for comedy legend Sam Kinison and wrote jokes for Jay Leno, collected $16,684 for a fine performance.

1st Place – The tournament winner “Albert” is a former Marine.  He spent many years traveling, many of them spent in pool halls in the Midwest and later in cardrooms in southern California.  He later owned a used car lot and now lives in El Cajon, CA.  Albert was visibly moved following his victory.  He revealed that he finished second six times in previous poker tournaments, each and every time just missing achieving the top prize.  After receiving $26,066 in prize money, as he was being photographed for his champion portrait, Albert confided, “I’ve been waiting for this picture a long time.”  Trouble is -- the world still doesn’t know his last name.  Just call him “Albert.”

With three events now completed at Harrah’s Rincon, the tournament has now attracted 1,714 total entries and has awarded nearly $400,000 in total prize money.  Still to come are 10 more gold ring events and four daily double tournaments which begin at 4 pm.  The WSOP Circuit at Harrah’s Rincon continues through April 1st.1