Hammond, IN – Almost everyone understands that poker is a game of skill.  But luck also plays a big role, especially in the short run.  On any poker hand, just about anything is possible.  

The old saying about it being better to be “lucky” than “good” was never more true than in the latest World Series of Poker Circuit tournament, which was recently completed at the Horseshoe Casino near Chicago.

Consider the final thrilling hand.  Down to the last two players, the chip stacks were very close to even.  John Nguyen, a 26-year-old poker pro from Fairview Heights, IL was dealt    .  His opponent Benn Koepfler was dealt    .  Normally, those two weak hands are not what one would expect to ignite a monstrous clash on what turned out to be the final hand of the tournament.  But that’s precisely what happened.

Nguyen made a small pre-flop raise hoping to steal a round of blinds and antes (8,000-16,000).  But Koepfler called.  The flop came      .  Nguyen (holding nothing) bet out 60,000, which he later described as a “feeler bet.”  Koepfler called instantly with middle pair.  The turn was the  .  Nguyen picked up an outside straight draw.  Trouble was, Koepfler made two pair.  This time, Nguyen checked.  Koepfler made a large bet, which was nearly twice the size of the pot.  Nguyen thought about his decision carefully and decided to move all-on what amounted to nothing but a semi-bluff.  He still had eight outs to win if he was called, but Nguyen was certainly hoping that his rival would fold.

That didn’t happen.

Koepfler called instantly and tabled his two pair.  Nguyen was in big trouble.

“I had five-high (when all the money went in),” Nguyen said later, still not quite believing what had happened.  “

Incredibly, the   fell on the river which gave Nguyen his straight.  Koepfler was furious and let his feelings be known with a colorful expletive.  Meanwhile, all Nugyen could do was shake his head and rake in the biggest pot of the tournament.

“He definitely outplayed me on the final hand,” Nguyen admitted afterward.  “Somehow, I hit the miracle deuce for the straight.  That was all luck and no skill.”
Nguyen explained his decision in a post-tournament interview:
When the 6 came on the turn, it was the perfect card for me.  That gave me an open-ender (as opposed to an inside-straight draw or worse, a low pair).  At the same time, he did not know where I was at.  I figured, it’s actually more scary if I would check raise on the turn, as opposed to leading out with a bet.  I checked and he bet out 275,000.  At that point, he bet so much that I thought he might be on middle pair or top pair at most.  If I go all-in, I am thinking he might fold top pair.  Of course he had two pair, which I did not expect.
Indeed, Nguyen knew he was extremely lucky to win.  But what was most interesting about the biggest hand of the tournament was the thought process behind his unorthodox decision to check-raise all-in on the turn..
Nguyen added:
I think if (Koepfler) had made a smaller bet, I would have just called on the turn.  Just because, it was such a large bet.  If he made a 100,000 bet I would probably just call the turn and then see the river.  The bet really threw me off.  That’s why I went all-in.

As it turned out, Nguyen made a bold play and got lucky.  But it usually takes a bit of luck to win, and Nguyen got his break at the perfect time.

This was the third event of 11 which are scheduled at this year’s WSOP Circuit at the Horseshoe Casino, near Chicago.  The $1,100 buy-in No-Limit Texas Hold’em tournament attracted 169 players, which generated a prize pool amounting to $160,640.  This tournament took place a day after two huge weekend events, including a record-breaking opener which drew an all-time high, 1,611 players -- making it the largest poker tournament ever in WSOP Circuit history.  

Final table play began with a wide-open shot for anyone to win.  Mick Carlson and Keith Crowder were the chip leaders.  But the wide distribution of chip stacks gave all players a chance for victory.  The final ten players were as follows:

SEAT 1:  Keith Crowder (Philadelphia, PA) – 420,000
SEAT 2:  Benn Koepfler (Toledo, OH) – 211,000
SEAT 3:  Matthew Allen Leecy (Ottawa, KS) – 282,000
SEAT 4:  Matthew Chlopek (Schaumburg, IL) – 185,000
SEAT 5:  Tony Valiente (Miami, FL) – 164,000
SEAT 6:  John Nguyen (Fairview Heights, IL) – 340,000
SEAT 7:  Steve Ziegelbauer (Sheboygan, WI) – 325,000
SEAT 8:  Mick Carlson (Mishawaka, IN) – 435,000
SEAT 9:  Michael Hulme (Chickasha, OK) – 140,000
SEAT 10:  Joe Freeman (Bartlett, IL) – 97,000  

The final table began at 3 pm on a Monday afternoon.  Play concluded at 7 pm.  Players were officially paid and finished as follows:

9th Place – Keith Crowder, a poker pro from Philadelphia, PA was the first final table player to be eliminated.

8th Place – Matthew Allen Leecy, a 22-year-old former college student from Ottawa, KS was the eighth-place finisher.

7th Place – Michael Hulme, a 52-year-old pharmacist from Chicasha, OK finished in seventh place.

6th Place – Matthew Chlopek, a professional poker player from Chicago’s western suburbs who specializes in cash games, ended up finishing in sixth place.

5th Place – Fifth place went to Tony Valiente, a 31-year-old part-time poker player who also works in sales for a marine supply company.  Valiente, who lives in Miami, FL earned just over $10,000.

4th Place – Michael Carlson, a 23-year-old poker pro from Mishawaka, IN finished in fourth place, which paid $14,141.

3rd Place – Third place went to Steve Ziegelbauer, from Sheboygan, WI.  He is a 47-year-old project engineer who was formally a professional race car driver.  Zeigelbauer received nearly $20,000 in prize money.

2nd Place – Benn Koepfler, a sales manager from Toledo, OH was the runner up.  He took a horrible beat on the final hand of the tournament and just as easily could have been the winner as the ultimate victor.  Koepfler had to settle for a very respectable payout totaling $26,804 for second place.

1st Place – John Nguyen, a 26-year-old poker pro from Fairview Heights, IL earned his first major tournament victory.  First place paid $43,372 plus the Gold Ring.  Nguyen also won paid seats into the $1,600 buy-in Main Event and the $10,000 buy-in Regional Championship, coming up next week at the Horseshoe Casino.

Nguyen earned his degree in finance from the University of Illinois-Chicago four years ago.  He has been playing seriously since he was a freshman in college.  In fact, Nguyen made extra spending money playing in low-stakes poker games with his friends.  He later played poker online quite seriously, where he did very well.  Nguyen has been playing poker full time since graduating.

Nguyen cashed three times at this year’s WSOP in Las Vegas, including an impressive 17th-place finish in the Razz championship.  He also final tabled an event at the Horseshoe series last year, finishing ninth.  This marked his first major live tournament victory.

“I finished three times in the money at the WSOP this past year,” Nguyen said.  “But it was bittersweet.  I was glad to make it into the money, but I also wanted to go higher.  I was not able to quite get over the hump.  But I think this win gets me over the hump in some ways.”

With this win, Nguyen now joins Brett Schwertley and Chad Graves, who won events #1 and #2 respectively, as the early leaders in the points race to determine qualifiers for the WSOP Circuit National Championship.  There will be 11 players from this Chicago series who will advance to the $1 million freeroll national championship, to be played at season’s end in Las Vegas.  

This is the third consecutive year that Horseshoe Hammond has hosted a WSOP Circuit stop.  All tournament events take place inside the special events arena called “The Venue.”  Horseshoe Hammond is conveniently located just a short distance from the Illinois-Indiana border, just 20 minutes away from Downtown Chicago.  

This is the third WSOP Circuit stop of the 2010-2011 season.  To view the schedule of events and poker games taking place at Horseshoe Hammond from October 15-28, please visit the Horseshoe Hammond Schedule Page.  To see the complete WSOP Circuit schedule, including all upcoming stops and dates, please click the WSOP Circuit Schedule page.

Horseshoe Casino (Hammond)
777 Casino Center Drive
Hammond, IN  46312
Telephone:  (219) 473-6065  
Toll-Free: 1 (866) 711-SHOE