(Distributed Jan. 16, 2007)
UNKNOWN PLAYERS RELISH THE THRILL OF TOURNAMENT SUCCESS
TUNICA, Miss. — Perhaps the big-name professionals will take over the spotlight through the conclusion of this year’s World Poker Open here later this month, but in the early events it was relatively unknown players providing most of the excitement.
One of them was young Andy Ward of London, England. I played against him at the same table for seven levels of the $500 stud event and I don’t think he said much more than “Nice hand” when someone beat him and “Thank you” when he won a pot.
After I busted out in 26th place, I wasn’t surprised to see him make the final table. He finished fifth, after a five-way split was negotiated. Two days later, the polite but determined Ward captured the first-place bracelet and $81,694 in a WPO $500 no-limit hold’em event against a field of 620 players. “Thank you,” he said.
It was by far his biggest tournament cash, according to Internet records, which list his best previous finish as runner-up for $19,797 in the 2001 British Open poker tourney.
Later in the stud tournament, Barry Mullinax of Cumming, Ga., never stopped talking during his heads-up duel with Tom Witherspoon of Baton Rouge, La., also prone to chatting it up with opponents. Both were experienced poker players in their 50s with regular jobs to return to when the dealing was done.
Witherspoon said he really wanted the bracelet more than the money, but took his second-place finish in stride. “I play to win,” he said. Three days later, he finished 11th in a $500 no-limit hold’em event with 201 players.
Mullinax, on the other hand, was more excited about the competitive thrill poker provides than he was about the bracelet or even the money. He said he gets his biggest kicks playing poker in a home game back in Georgia.
“I’m not really much of a jewelry guy,” he said. “Winning has more value to me than the bracelet does.” Of course, when he said that just minutes after his victory, he already had the $2,000 diamond-laden bracelet on his wrist and a smile on his face.
He did admit: “I’ll wear this bracelet to my first home game after I get back.” Bragging rights, you know.
No one was more thrilled with their play in the stud tournament than Mary Ann Matthews of Missouri, the only woman to make a final table during the first week of the WPO.
After she was eliminated in sixth place, I asked if she was intimidated by playing against a roomful of men.
“No,” she said. “You have to understand, I spent 22 years in the Air Force, always around a bunch of guys and having to deal with them. I served in Southeast Asia, and in England when Libya was bombed. So, no, I’m not intimated by men playing poker.”
She could have added that she and her husband Gerald, also a military veteran whom she met while serving in Thailand, have what it takes to run a successful hardware store in the oddly-named town of Knob Noster. (I had to ask Gerald to repeat the town’s name three times to make sure I was hearing him correctly! Then I made him spell it!).
Although “bummed out” from being eliminated, she also was proud of her high finish in “the biggest money tournament I’ve ever played in.”
In a short two-year stretch of tournament poker experience, Matthews also took second place in the overall ladies points competition at last year’s Oklahoma State Poker Championships in Tulsa. It’s likely we haven’t heard the last of her in tournament poker.
Like so many other amateurs playing here and at similar tournaments around the country, Matthews’ first exposure to poker came from her family. “Dad had home games all the time and I used to watch a lot as a young kid,” she said.
Poker’s biggest pros may eventually rise to the top of the leader board here at the 2007 WPO, but they won’t have any more fun doing so than the lesser-known players who got there first.
E-mail your poker questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org for use in future columns. To find out more about Russ Scott and read previous LuckyDog Poker columns, visit www.creators.com or www.luckydogpoker.com.
COPYRIGHT 2007 RUSS SCOTT
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