There were many competent players at the final table of WSOPC Horseshoe Rincon but it took a former chef to create a truly spectacular final-table performance.
Ben Hock came to the final table third in chips but was overshadowed by high-flying chip leader Michael Martin and well-known journalist/poker player Bernard Lee. It only took about nine hours for Hock to get everyone's attention.
The day began with some extremely slow play. Many felt that short stacks like Ron Koenemann ($43,000 to start) and Howard Wolper ($63,000) would make some moves early on but it simply didn't happen. We didn't see very many flops and there were no eliminations. It took until Level 13 for the chips to truly start flying.
In the first pivotal hand of the final table Koenemann bet $18,000 pre-flop and Samuel Shamburg shoved all-in. Koenemann called and flipped over 8♣ 6♣ to Shamburg's 10♠ 10♣ Koenemann managed to hit the flop and double up in the process. Suddenly Koenemann was breathing a bit more comfortably. Shamburg, on the other hand, was on life support.
It turned out that Wolper would indeed be the first player eliminated. In his last hand chip leader Martin raised $15,000 from the cut-off and Wolper shoved from the big blind. Martin had 3♦ 3♥ while Wolper had A♦ 2♣. It was a race situation and with the K-9-4-10-Q board Martin got the check mark. The table wouldn't get any more of Wolper's "colorful" comments.
The next to go was Ron Koenemann, who had been waiting for a spot to make a stand and finally decided to make a move with A♥ 6♥. Unfortunately he got caught by Lee who held Q♠ Q♣. The board came J♣ 9♦ 5♣ 8♦ 2♦ and that was it for the well-liked Koenemann. Lee and Martin seemed like they were gunning for a heads-up battle between them.
Short stack Dan Jensen made what turned out to be a costly lay-down when he came over the top on Ben Hock for $32,000. Hock went all-in and after thinking for a minute Jensen laid it down. He might have made a different play if he'd known what would come to pass about 30 minutes later.
Keith Murrell raised to $18,000 pre-flop and Jensen went all-in for approximately $40,000. Murrell called and flipped over A♣ Q♠ to Jensen's K♥ J♦. There were no surprises on the board and Jensen would have to settle for seventh and $23,981.
It was around this time that Ben Hock started to build some momentum and in a surprising turn of events he won a pot off Bernard Lee with 8-2. Most of the players seemed more comfortable playing pre-flop for most of the night and so it was in this hand, where Lee and Hock checked all the way to the river. Hock took it down with a pair of eights made with some help from the board.
Shamburg was still reeling from his costly hand versus Koenemann in the early part of the day and was shoving all-in numerous times desperately trying to get a quick double-up. Unfortunately Shamburg got called at one of the worst possible times.
Shamburg went all-in for his last $50,000 from the cut-off and got not one but two callers in Bernard Lee and Ben Hock. Hock and Lee checked the board of J♥ 4♦ 2♠ 10♠ 9♠ all the way to the river and then revealed Q-Q and A-K respectively. Shamburg mucked his hand and headed toward the payout booth. He received $28,582 for coming in sixth.
Midway through the evening tournament officials announced they had added to the prize pool because they had unclaimed satellite chips. It was a good show of faith from Harrah's and the prize pool was upgraded evenly.
Local Nick Manganaro was cheered every time he raked a pot and at least 75% of the crowd's most vocal members were definitely in his corner. Suffice it to say they went crazy when Manganaro doubled through Keith Murrell.
In the critical hand, Manganaro and Murrell both saw a rare flop that came 8♥ 3♥ 2♣. Murrell bet $30,000 and Manganaro shoved all-in. Murrell opted to make the call and flipped over J♠ J♣ but unfortunately for him Manganaro had flopped a set with 8♠ 8♦. The board finished 5♠ and then 6♥. That was the beginning of the end for Murrell.
Several hands later Murrell got it all-in good with A♥ K♥ versus Martin's J♠ 8♣. Unfortunately it wasn't enough because the board came 10♦ 10♥ 8♦ 2♠ 9♣ and tossed Murrell from the tournament. Murrell received $33,273 for placing fifth.
Lee had been playing a fairly solid game for most of the night but suddenly found himself surrounded by three hungry chip leaders in Martin, Hock and Manganaro. Lee opted to make a move while holding Q♠ J♦ and Martin looked him up with A♠ 5♠. The board came K♣ 8♠ 3♣ K♦ 3♦ and the intrepid blogger and all-around nice guy was sent to the rail.
Lee got $37,965 for coming in fourth. Not quite the $400,000 he got for coming in 13th at the 2005 WSOP Main Event but still decent.
The next two hands would probably be considered the most exciting of the final table.
In the first hand Michael Martin bet $24,000 from the button and Ben Hock called from the small blind. Nick Manganaro decided to go all-in from the big blind and Martin folded. Hock made the call and flipped over 10♦ 10♣. Manganaro flipped over K♠ K♥ and the crowd went crazy.
After the J♥ 7♣ 5♥ 6♠ 5♥ board there were many high fives in the audience as the Manganaro moved way up the chip rankings.
This roller-coaster was just getting started, however, and on the very next hand Hock was dealt 10-10 again and called Manganaro's all-in raise. Incredibly Manganaro had Q-Q and looked primed to take Hock out of the tournament. With the crowd on the tips of their feet the board came 8♠ 7♠ 4♣ J♥... 10♠!
The crowd exploded, thinking their horse had just eliminated another player, but on closer inspection the cold truth was realized. Hock had hit a two-outer to make a set of tens and it was now Manganaro who was on the verge of elimination.
Indeed Manganaro would be busted several hands later when his J♣ 10♣ failed against Martin's K♦ 5♦. Manganaro placed third for $52,039 and will likely be back and better than ever at next year's WSOPC Council Bluffs.
Martin and Hock went into heads-up play almost even in chips (Martin had $542,000 to Hock's $453,000) and things seemed primed for an all-out war between the two rivals.
Instead heads-up was rather lackluster, with Martin going extremely card dead and Hock's constant pre-flop aggression slowly battering him into submission.
The turning point came when Hock made it $32,000 to go and Martin re-raised to $64,000. Hock made the call and the flop came 10♦ 9♠ 6♠. Martin was first to act and he made a massive bet of $115,000. That didn't scare Hock, however, because he went all-in. Martin folded instantly and Hock raked the pot. Because Hock had won so many of the smaller hands earlier, Martin was left with only $160,000.
The players went on break for 15 minutes when Level 14 ended. When Martin came back he seemed to be in a better frame of mind and won two hands in quick succession. Unfortunately that's as far as his comeback went because he ran into a monster several hands later.
Hock completed from the small blind and Martin checked the big blind. The flop comes 10♥ 6♠ 3♥ and Martin bets $23,000. Hock calls. The turn comes 7♣ and Hock checks. Martin bets $54,000 and Hock check-raises to $100,000. After thinking for several minutes Martin decides to go all-in. Hock makes the call and flips over 10♣ 6♣ for two pair. Meanwhile Martin has 8♥ 4♥ for a monster draw that includes a double gut-shot straight draw and a flush draw.
Unfortunately the river falls 3♣ and gives Hock the check mark and the $169,237 plus a $10,000 buy-in to the WSOP Main Event. Martin will have to settle for $94,263 for second place.
That's it for the tournament and for us. Congratulations to everybody who played in the WSOPC Horseshoe Council Bluffs and enjoyed some delicious Iowa corn.
We'll see you next time in Atlantic City for WSOPC Caesars Atlantic City. Goodnight, and good luck digging those corn kernel skins out of your teeth!