What a comeback!

Jan 18, 2005 5:52 AM

Special to GT

TUNICA, Ms — What are the chances that a poker player down 87-to-1 in the chip count would come back and win? Add the obstacle that the player holding the chip lead happened to be one of England’s top poker pros, having finished high in several big tournaments recently, including the 2004 World Series of Poker.

Then, consider the game they were playing — Omaha High-Low Split — normally not a game prone to massive chip swings.

Finally, what are the odds this unprecedented reversal of fortune would all happen within a lightening-fast 35-minute period?

Oddsmakers would no doubt post some pretty long odds on the proposition, kind of like the Boston Red Sox coming back to beat the Yankees after losing three straight games.

Well, lightening struck last Friday night at the Jack Binion World Poker Open, where Sirous Baghchehsaraie fought back from such a deficit to beat steely-eyed Brit, Gary Jones.

But the win was as unlikely as any and, in fact, it was the greatest comeback in the history of the tournament, which is held each year at the Horseshoe Casino Hotel and Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica, Mississippi.

After nearly six hours of final table play, the outcome seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Sitting at one end of the table with a massive chip count of $437,000 was Jones. At the opposite end of the table was the well-known Los Angeles touring pro, Baghchehsaraie, clutching his last five chips like an illegal alien gripping bus fare.

Baghchehsaraie didn’t have enough chips to post the big blind, let alone wait for a playable hand. Everyone rose to their feet and watched, anticipating the final hand of the night.

Instead, what they witnessed was quite possibly the single greatest comeback in poker tournament history.

When the tournament started, no one could have possibly foreseen what was to come. Following day one, during which 433 players were eliminated, the nine finalists took their seats at the final table. Thereafter, players were eliminated in the following order:

9th place: Andy Karon, lowest in chips from the start, went out first when he was dealt a normally-strong A-2-3-7, got counterfeited, and lost to two pair and a better low. Karon, from Duluth, MN received $4,287.

8th Place: Billy R. Woodrum, a poker dealer playing in only his second high-low tournament, was bounced off the final table when his A-5-5-7 was clobbered by Luis Velandor’s king-high straight. Woodrum collected $6,238.

7th Place: Luis Velandor failed to capitalize on an early rush, ran card-dead in his final 20 minutes and exited next. Velandor backed away from the table when his opponent, Hilbert Shirey, flopped quad deuces. Velandor, a California poker pro, exited with $8,318.

6th Place: Dustin Sitar went out next when he lost to Baghchehsaraie’s two-pair. Sitar won the main event here at the 2004 Mid-America Poker Classic and is a member of the self-titled "D-Squad" of poker players (a small elite group of young Las Vegas-based pros). Sitar was paid $10,397.

5th Place: Mark Dickstein survived three all-ins before having his poker tournament hopes guillotined. His A-4-6-7 was cut off by a flush and a better low, made by Gary Jones. Dickstein added $12,476 in investment capital to his poker bankroll.

4th Place: Hilbert Shirey, a professional gambler from Florida with several major tournament victories that include WSOP gold bracelets, was eliminated next when he lost to Baghchehsaraie’s straight with a low. Shirey picked up $14,556 in prize money.

3rd Place: One of poker’s classiest gentleman, former baby doctor-turned poker shark Max Stern arrived at the final table with the chip lead. However, Gary Jones took the lead when play became three-handed. Dr. Stern’s final half hour at the table was a disaster. He failed to scoop a pot of any significance. Like his wife, the lovely Maria Stern just a few days earlier (second in event No. 5), Stern’s finish was bittersweet. One of the original members of the famed "Costa Rica Connection," Stern was eliminated when Jones made a powerhouse High-Low hand — a wheel. He received $16,635.

When heads-up play began on Friday night, Jones held a 2-to-1 chip lead over Baghchehsaraie. Twenty minutes later, his lead had increased to 4-to-1. After another 20 minutes, Jones made a wheel, which cracked Baghchehsaraie’s set. Sirous was now in serious trouble.

Then it began. The winds changed. The sky opened. Lightening struck. And, jaws dropped. Sirous Baghchehsaraie went on the biggest poker rush of his life. Out-chipped by a count of $437,000 to $5,000 — a mind-boggling 87-to-1 — Baghchehsaraie posted his all-in big blind bet. He scooped the pot. Then he posted another blind, and won again.

He posted the big blind on the next hand, and won again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Well, you get the picture.

One railbird hollered out, "Hey Sirous, where were these cards earlier?"

It was as though Baghchehsaraie had nine lives and used every last one of them in a 35-minute poker display that cancelled dinner plans, bruised egos, and stunned a jam-packed poker room at the Gold Strike.

When Baghchehsaraie drew even in the chip count, the seating area around the final table was uncharacteristically silent. No one could believe what they were witnessing.

Recalling any comeback hands or one single key moment would be impossible, because there were so many of them. Baghchehsaraie must have scooped or split just about every one of the 30 or so final hands. At no time during the rush did Baghchehsaraie lose any part of his stack.

What was going on inside Gary Jones’ head could only be presumed as an utter state of shock and disbelief. It was as though his stack was engulfed by a giant mudslide, flowing toward the opposite end of the table. And he was totally helpless to do anything about it.

To his credit, Jones never lost his composure or temper, and handled the catastrophe as well as anyone ever having to suffer such indignity.

The final hand was typical of the previous half-hour of heads-up play. Jones started with J-J-4-4. Baghchehsaraie started with A-10-8-5. The board showed K-10-10-7-A — completing a full house for Baghchehsaraie.

For his effort, patience and miracle finish, Baghchehsaraie took home $64,467. Jones’ consolation price, which probably wasn’t much consolation, was $33,270.

Stunning, startling and miraculous — the words don’t truly describe Sirous Baghchehsaraie’s victory in the $500 buy-in Omaha High-Low Split Championship. Let’s just say you had to be there to believe it.

Note that the chip count is separate from the buy-in amount. The total prize pool was about $210,000, Chip totals are artificial amounts based on the amount of chips players have remaining in their hands.any part of his stack.

What was going on inside Gary Jones’ head could only be presumed as an utter state of shock and disbelief. It was as though his stack was engulfed by a giant mudslide, flowing toward the opposite end of the table. And he was totally helpless to do anything about it.

To his credit, Jones never lost his composure or temper, and handled the catastrophe as well as anyone ever having to suffer such indignity.

The final hand was typical of the previous half-hour of heads-up play. Jones started with J-J-4-4. Baghchehsaraie started with A-10-8-5. The board showed K-10-10-7-A — completing a full house for Baghchehsaraie.

For his effort, patience and miracle finish, Baghchehsaraie took home $64,467. Jones’ consolation price, which probably wasn’t much consolation, was $33,270.

Stunning, startling and miraculous — the words don’t truly describe Sirous Baghchehsaraie’s victory in the $500 buy-in Omaha High-Low Split Championship. Let’s just say you had to be there to believe it.

Note that the chip count is separate from the buy-in amount. The total prize pool was about $210,000, Chip totals are artificial amounts based on the amount of chips players have remaining in their hands.