High Finance

Though Samuel Oberlin is only 22, his nickname is "Gramps." ("My friends are idiots, and I take care of them," he explains.) Tonight "Gramps" took care of the final table as he earned  $143,064, a gold and diamond trophy ring and a $10,000 buy-in to next year's WSOP main event for winning the $5,000 championship at the WSOP Circuit tour at Horseshoe Southern Indiana. He came to the final table with the chip lead, then dropped down after playing very few hands when he got very few cards. He managed to hang around, but was still a 4-1 underdog when he got heads-up with Jerry Martin, then began to catch cards, winning after several chip-lead changes.

Oberlin is a finance student from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who got an early start in poker, playing when he was four. His style of play now is based on Gavin Smith's "flat-call strategy," explaining that when you limp, it's easier to trap your opponent. He said the final hand was a good example, when he just flat-called Marin's pre-flop raise holding pocket queens He said his ability to make very quick decisions was also a factor in his win.

Until now he's played mostly cash games, usually no-limit and some pot-limit Omaha. He's had two prior tournament cashes, once just making the money in a $1,500 WSOP event, and $13,259 for finishing fifth in a deep-stack extravaganza in Las Vegas. On his bio sheet, Oberlin wrote that he wished he had any poker highlights. Well, he certainly does now.

This was the opening stop in the 2008-2009 WSOP Circuit tour. Next will be at Horseshoe Hammond, running from Oct. 24 to Nov. 2 and expected to draw huge turnouts because of the casino's proximity to Chicago

Final table action tonight started at level 17, with blinds of 4,000-8,000 and 500 antes, 28 minutes left on the clock. Oberlin led with 229,500 while Ray Lynn was very short-stacked with 17,500. All the other players had plenty of chips, and with 1,260,000 of them on the table, and the blinds still so low, that meant that players had an average of 36 big blinds, leaving plenty of time for conservative play.

Here were the starting chip counts  

Seat 1. Jerry Martin - 137,500
Seat 2. David Kopacz - 151,000
Seat 3. Samuel Oberlin - 229,500
Seat 4. Jamin Stokes - 189,500
Seat 5,  Dean Schultz - 114,000
Seat 6.  Joey Couden - 128,000
Seat 7. Derek Whelan - 117,500
Seat 8.  Ray Lynn - 17,500
Seat 9. Len Ashby - 177,000          

Starting play was extremely tight, and the level ended with nothing much happening except for Lynn tripling up with trip 5s. Blinds now were 3,000-6,000 with 1,000 antes. Play continued tight until 25 minutes into the round when Lynn pushed in with K-Q and got called by Jamin Stokes with A-Q. A board of J-5-334 didn't change anything, and Lynn finished ninth for $11,902.

Lynn, who is 61 and from Washington, D.C. won a $500 no-limit event here a few days ago. He was taught poker by his father when he was five and estimates he's played some 35 Circuits, along with a lot of WSOP events, as well as WPT tournaments every month. His poker highlight was finishing fourth and winning $89,000 in a WSOP $1,500 Omaha event two years ago.

The level ended, and after a 15-minute break the eight finalists returned to blinds of 4,000-8,000 and 1,000 antes, now playing 90-minute rounds. Oberlin had not won a pot in quite a while, and at this point, Stokes had edged into the lead with 240,000. Late into the level, Dean Schultz moved in for 70,000 with Ac-5c and Jerry Martin called with As-Js. The board came 7-6-6-J-5, and Schultz was out in eighth place, which paid $15,806.

Schultz, 48, is from Akron, Ohio, and divides his time between poker and real estate. He's been playing poker 20 years, plays numerous Circuit events, and his many cashes include a fifth in the 2004 U.S. Poker Classic and a win in a $2,500 Borgata tourney. He has $600,000 in total cashes, half of it coming from the Borgata victory.

The next big action came after a flop of Jc-5c-5d. Derek Whelan checked, Oberlin bet 25,000, and Whelan check-raised all in. Whelan had Kc-10c for a flush draw, while Oberlin had 6h-5h for trip 5s. A queen and deuce came, both offsuit, and Whelan was down to 20,000. Two hands later he went all in for 14,000 with A-2, losing to Oberlin's K-J when the board came J-5-3-6-2..

Whelan, 24, is from St. John's, Newfoundland. He's 24 and has been playing 14 years, seven no-limit, learning by experience. He's a pro who had been a stay-at-home dad. He enjoys sports and chillin' with the little ones, his two daughters.

On the next hand, Stokes raised with pocket 7s, then moved in after he was raised by David Kopacz, who held A-8. Kopacz paired his bullet when the board came J-6-4-A-6. and Stokes was out in seventh place, which paid $19,870. Stokes, 27, is a poker player from Grand Rapids, Michigan who began playing eight years ago, learning by "hard knocks." Two years ago he won a $1,500 event here. Stokes also plays golf, "badly."

Kopacz now was chip leader with about 450,000. When blinds went to 6,000-12,000 with 2,000 antes, Kopacz had increased his lead to over 500,000.. Next, Joey Couden found himself down to 15,000 when he moved in with pocket 5s and lost to Len Ashby's A-7 after the board came Q-J-2-A-9. He then had two miracle survivals, once when he was all in with K-3 against three players, and caught two more treys, the next time when he put in his last 42,000 with 5-3 and flopped two pair to beat Oberlin's K-6. He finally went broke in a hand that was almost a replay of the one that left Whelan crippled. This time the flop came J-5-5. After Ashby made a small trap bet of 13,000, Couden check-raised, as Whelan did, in this hand holding pocket aces. Ashby, slow-playing, turned over 10-5, for trip 5s, the same hand Oberlin had against Whelan. For finishing fifth, Couden took home $27,818. Couden, just 21, was a student before turning professional. He is from Columbus, Ohio and began playing poker five years ago in private games. This is his poker highlight.

A very big hand now came down. On the river, the board showed 10h-9s-7d-3s-8s. Martin bet 50,000. Kopacz, holding K-6 for the bottom end of the straight, came over the top for 100,000, and then Martin.moved in. "You've probably got a better hand," Kopacz said, but he couldn't throw his straight away and called. Martin turned over As-Ks for the nut flush, and suddenly he had the chip lead with about 540,000.

As play continued, Oberlin, who had gotten low, doubled up when he called with pocket queens after Len Ashby moved in with Ah-Jh. The board came K-Q-4-6-5, and now Oberlin was back to about 240,000.

The players took a short break, returning to blinds of 8,000-16,000 with 2,000 antes, with Martin still in the lead with 476,000. Not long after, Ashby finished fourth. With the board showing K-7-6-3, Ashby bet 40,000, Martin raised and Ashby pushed in. Ashby turned over 9-8 for an open-end straight draw, while Kopacz had K-J. Ashby missed his draw when a 4 came on the river, and finished fourth, worth $32,792.  

Ashby, 27, is from Louisville and worked in sales before turning professional. He learned poker 10 years ago playing with friends. His biggest poker accomplishment was winning a pot-limit Omaha rebuy event at the World Poker Open last year. He also has several WSOP cashes.

Soon after, Kopacz, getting low on chips, re-raised all in from the big blind holding Q-6 after Martin opened for 46,000. "I'm drawing dead," he said after Martin turned over pocket queens. Pretty much so. The board came Q-4-3, and now Kopacz was dead to a highly unlikely runner-runner straight, which never came, as he settled for $43,714 for third.

Kopacz, 48, won the prior event here, $1,000 no-limit. He's from Hopkinsville, Kentucky where he is the chief technology officer of a web hosting firm. He learned poker two years ago when his wife, trying to get him off slots, paid for both of them to attend Camp Hellmuth poker boot camp. His main hobby is amateur radio, and in 2004 he was named the amateur radio operator of the year. He also sponsors a program to fly low-income children interested in amateur radio to an annual event in Jamaica.

Heads-up, Martin was way in front, with about a million chips to about 240,000 for Oberlin. Oberlin then closed the gap a lot when he doubled through with pocket queens against Martin's K-J after the board came A-J-8-6-Q. He then took the lead a few hands later. With a big pot and a board of Jd-8h-5d-Ad-Qh, he bet out and Martin gave it up.

The lead changed hands twice more, and with Oberlin ahead once again, the final hand came down. On a flop of Js-5h-4c, Oberlin bet 85,000 holding pocket queens, and Martin went al in with Jh-7d. Martin couldn't catch up when an 8d turned and an Ad hit the river, and finished second, which was worth a nice $79,480. Martin, 35, is a retail worker from Indianapolis. He learned poker watching ESPN and from friends. In his first Circuit event here last April, he finished eighth in the main event. He also finished 158th in the WSOP main event this year. His other hobbies are pool, video games and sports.