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Omaha Hi-Lo Split

$1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo Split “Midnight at the Oasis”

Just call them The Magnificent Seven. When play started today at the final table of the Omaha Eight or Better event, one of the strongest final tables in recent memory started play.

Relative unknowns Nat Koe and Young Pak looked around and saw themselves surrounded by the likes of Eli Balas, Brent Carter, Danny Dang, Mark Gregorich, Mike Matusow, Vince Burgio, and Robert Turner.

Usually a lesser-known player has to wade through one or two top talents at a World Series final table, but seven? That’s asking a lot.

Since there’s no harm in asking, how about asking ex-computer programmer Nat Koe to survive down to the final four, but then to try to win with only $12,000 in chips, while Brent Carter, Danny Dang and Vince Burgio had the other $424,000?

Too bad we didn’t have a sports book offering then-current odds. The line you could have gotten on Koe at that point would have made the people who bet St. Louis Ram football futures this year seem like chalk players. Koe pulled it off, although it took almost eight full hours of play for Cinderella to turn not into a pumpkin but a bracelet winner. It was very nearly midnight when the final hand went down, and players and journalists alike were a bit delirious by then.

What a long, strange trip it was. We lost the colorful and quotable Matusow first, when holding A-K-Q-10 and staring at a flop of 3-10-J, he got it all in against Carter, who held A-A-4-7. Matusow could have won with a nine, ten, queen, king, or ace on either the turn or river, but a 4-3 finish sent him home.

Balas took out Pak when Pak turned a straight but Balas made a flush on the river. Pak played well enough to have a good read on Balas; even holding the straight, he thought long and hard about calling for his last $2,000, even though there was more than $40,000 in the pot. But call he did, and Koe was now surrounded by Series veterans on all sides.

Koe helped his own cause by eliminating Robert Turner when Turner’s open-ended straight draw never got there, and Koe won with ace-high. It was very appropriate that the sun just starting to set outside the tournament room, because the tournament was about to enter a Twilight Zone of its own.

In a long stretch that only Rod Serling could love, all you needed to do was get short on chips to become a big threat in this tournament. When Turner went out, only Burgio was short. Exactly five consecutive scooped hands later, Vince was the big-time chip leader with about $200,000.

“Five hands in a row, it’s not fair,” said Dang.

“It was certainly the best rush I’ve ever had at a World Series final table,” said Burgio later.

Gregorich was one of Burgio’s rushing victims, and had only $12,000 left shortly thereafter. He and Burgio were chatting, and Vince was encouraging him. “I only had $15,000 when that rush started,” Vince said.

Half of Mark’s chips went into his big blind, and he declined to call a raise, so he had only $6,000 left when he had to put up a $3,000 small blind. Koe sat in the big blind, and Burgio flat called. All Mark had to do was toss his last $3,000 in to take a shot at turning it into $18,000.

He mucked the hand. He later told me he held 8-8-9-Q. I’d have played that at 5-1 odds, but perhaps that was why Mark was at the final table and I was reporting (of course it also helped that Mark entered and I didn’t).

Gregorich’s strategy almost worked. He managed to turn his $3,000 into $18,000, and as this was going on, Burgio turned to a friend, hit himself in the forehead a couple of times, and said “I find myself rooting for him, and then I have to remind myself, I want him out!” That’s nice guy Vince Burgio for you, for what it’s worth. But Mark’s improbable comeback ended and he went out 6th.

Balas and Koe were the short stacks now, and Balas got the last of his chips in with A-A-2-6 against that dang Dang, who held A-5d-6-10d. Balas led until the river, but the final board of 8d-9c-2d-Ks-9d flushed Balas out in 5th. Burgio was still the 500-pound gorilla, albeit a nice one, with about $200,000. Dang and Carter each had about $100,000, and Koe had about $40,000.

The Final Four briefly debated a save of 22-14-14-8, but Burgio hesitated and Koe said let’s go ahead and play. He must have known something. He started whacking away at Carter, and after several confrontations, Brent was down to $25,000. But since today was “short stacks always quadruple up day,” Carter got back into the swing of things, and with the chips relatively equal, the foursome made a save of $68,000 for Dang, $72,000 for Carter, $70,000 for Koe, and $68,000 for Burgio. They also agreed that the remaining $33,000 would be split $15,000 for first, $10,000 for second and $8,000 for third.

Shortly after the deal, Koe took his turn as low man with $12,000, and with the blinds at $5,000-10,000, an eventual victory for him seemed as improbable as one for, say, the 1969 Mets. Oops, bad example. He quickly doubled to 24, then to 48, took another 30 in another pot, then scooped Carter, and in less than five minutes had “pulled a Burgio” and turned his hopeless stack into the chip lead.

The money does swing fast at this level. With the blinds at 5&10, playing 10&20, there are only 22 big bets on the entire table, an average of 5.5 big bets a player. Any big scoop was likely to give us a new chip leader and a new trailer, and no one seemed capable of scooping two in a row.

Carter took the next turn as low man, but quickly came back. The Nile River hadn’t had ebbs and flows like this. Burgio got short but was unable to pull a Burgio. Holding A-K-K-10, all the money went in on a 9-9-Q flop, and Koe flipped over his two queens. Seeing Burgio’s near-hopeless two-outer position, Carter said “a king seems inevitable,” but the full moon isn’t actually due until the final day of the Big One, and the queens full actually held up.

Carter’s low chip status entitled him to take over the chip lead a while later, and his knowledge of the rules and wariness of competitor moves created some controversy. In a big pot with Koe, and the game now up to $15,000-30,000, Carter led out on the turn. He said nothing about his bet, but had placed $23,000 of his bet into the pot when Koe said “call” and started putting his chips into the pot.

“He’s calling out of turn,” Carter said. “He can’t do that.” Carter refused to complete the last $7,000 of the bet and mucked his hand. Tom Elias ruled that even though Carter had made forward motion in a limit game, Koe’s call was out of turn, and that Carter had the right to kill his own hand.

Koe remained angry about the incident for a while, and Carter later said, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake,” and also apologized after the tournament was over. When I asked him about the incident, he said that he’d been on the wrong side of that one, too. “Sometimes people put their chips in early as a move, knowing they can take them back. That’s a trick some people do when they don’t have a hand.” Nonetheless, Carter seemed to genuinely regret the incident.

After the commotion died down, we got back to playing poker, and the chips continued their interminable ebb and flow. Carter finally got Dang out with an improbable full house. Holding 2-3-5-6, Carter bet $20,000 at the 7-2-7 flop, and Dang called. The 5s hit on the turn, giving Carter two pair and a low, and after Dang checked, he bet $40,000 and again Dang called. Another five hit on the river, and Dang led out for his last $15,000. Carter called, and Dang asked helplessly “do you have anything?” Carter showed the 2-5 for the full house, and Dang mucked his hand without showing it.

We were now heads-up, with Carter holding a 3-2 chip lead, $265,000-$180,000. But these things change in a hurry playing $20,000-40,000, and Koe won a $140,000 pot to shorten Carter yet again. He finally finished him off when an exchange of pre-flop raises got all the money in: A-A-K-8 for Koe, A-2-6-K for Carter, and the aces held up when the board showed 4-J-3-3-J.

Koe, a native of Thailand, came to the U.S. twenty years ago, and two years ago at age 40 quit his computer programming job to play high stakes poker at the Commerce, where he can usually be found in the 80-160 games. In a statement that fit well with the general weirdness of the day (and night), he explained that he plays just about all games “except Omaha and except tournaments.” So naturally, he won an Omaha tournament in just his second-ever Series appearance.

I just can’t wait for that full moon. And if you think this tournament was weird, work your way down through the “By the Numbers” section and find out about some major weirdness in a side game.

By the Numbers

Entries: 290

Total Prize Pool $435,000

1) Nat Koe, $85,000 (officially $160,950).

2) Brent Carter, $82,000 (officially $82,650).

3) Danny Dang, $76,000 (officially $41,325).

4) Vince Burgio, $68,000 (officially $26,100).

5) Eli Balas, $19,575.

6) Mark Gregorich, $15,225.

7) Robert Turner, $10,875.

8) Yong Pak, $8,700.

9) Mike Matusow, $6,960.

10th-12th, $5,220: Ben Tang, Cliff Pappas, Marlon Delossantos.

13th-15th, $4,350: Charlie Brahmi, Paul Weiss, Barry Bindelglass.

16th-18th, $3,480: Larry Coat, Ed Galvin, James Michael Douglass.

19th-27th, $2,610: Ansoni Kim, Michael Patti, Shinjuro Uchida, Anthony Cousineau, John Shipley, Andreas Krause, Bret Sampson, Cong Van Do, William Kieth Bertram.

FUN AND GAMES AT THE WORLD SERIES

Ever have one of those days when you’re stuck a bit and would like to make a comeback? A restaurant owner and side game player named Hector, who’d gotten stuck $150,000 in a no-limit hold’em game decided to short-buy back in for another $10,000. He had $4,000 left when he went on what you might call a small rush. He turned the $4,000 into $750,000. Guess they won’t be allowing any more short buys in the big game for a while.

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