Circuit quickie

May 23, 2005 5:19 AM

In 1939, John Steinbeck wrote a literary masterpiece that instantly became a 20th century classic. The Grapes of Wrath told a story of struggle and sacrifice. It was a family’s gamble that a better life existed beyond the drought-ridden dustbowl. The hero of the story packs up everything he owns and guides his family across the wind-swept prairie to a new home in a strange land, where he hopes to escape the Great Depression and build a better life.

If poker has such a sentimental champion, it is most certainly the winner of event No. 2 at the World Series of Poker Circuit in New Orleans. Jose Jimenez, a 28-year-old Mexican immigrant, won first place and $66,527 in prize money. The story of how Jimenez topped a record field of 847 players would in interesting enough. But add the implications of what winning a poker tournament means to this man personally, and the victory extends far beyond a gold ring and glory.

Jimenez grew up in the bronze desert of northern Mexico, in the state of Sonora. He arrived in the United States five years ago. Jimenez moved to Dublin, Ohio and has been working as a waiter, hoping to get by, save money, and eventually bring is family to the U.S. His wife remains back in Mexico. Jimenez says that he hopes to bring her here legally, where the family can eventually settle down and be together. It is Jimenez’ dream to bring his wife to America — and ultimately to start his own business.

A few years ago, often bored and alone, Jimenez started playing poker during his off nights and gradually discovered he had a talent for the game. So, he started playing more frequently at local charity games in Ohio: and more often than not: won money. Torn by his allegiance to his family back in Mexico and staying in the U.S. to work, Jimenez planned his trips to Mexico to coincide with major poker tournaments along the way. In February 2005, Jimenez cashed for the first time at the WSOPC in San Diego, taking 4th place (and $8,400) in a no-limit hold’em tournament. Jimenez next trip back to Mexico was scheduled in May. New Orleans and the World Series of Poker just so happened to be on the road map.

On Thursday, May 19, no one paid attention to the quiet, mild-mannered poker player en route from Ohio to Mexico, who sat down amongst a swarm of 847 bodies. By the end of day one, some players began to take notice. In the largest poker tournament yet on this year’s circuit, 72 places were paid. With $246,477 in prize money at stake, players were eliminated as follows:

10th Place: On the very first hand of play, Gene Grimaldi took a walk. He was short-stacked with 17,000 (blinds were 6,000-12,000) and committed his last chip with K-7. Unfortunately, the marginal hand was dominated by K-10. A ten on the flop left Grimaldi drawing slim and he lasted all of 90 seconds at the final table. Grimaldi, a loan officer from New Orleans, added $2,710 to his portfolio.

9th Place: Sean McCabe went out a few hands later. McCabe moved ”˜all in’ with K-J and found himself dominated by Jose Jimenez’s A-J. An ace on the flopped pretty much left McCabe watching from the rail and the Florida-based poker player collected $4,930 for 9th place.

8th Place: Nick Graphia, age 54, looks every bit like what one would expect from his profession — as a private investigator. The gruff Baton Rouge-based P.I., who also plays in high-limit cash games, was short-stacked during his half-hour stay at the final table. He had the best hand before the flop with K-J versus J-8, but an eight sealed Graphia’s doom. He went out in 8th place and collected $7,395.

7th Place: Rick Klibert arrived with a big stack, but suffered a bad run at the final table. The IT specialist was disconnected when his A-K was ”˜all in’ against 9-9 and failed to connect. Klibert lost the proverbial ”˜coin flip’ hand and received $9,860 for 7th place.

6th Place: Mario Orozco has made several final tables in the last few years. He cashed 30 times in 2004. But 6th place was as high as Orozco could go in this event. His pocket 9s lost to pocket kings. Orozco, a professional poker player from Dallas, earned $12,325.

5th Place: Next, it was Todd Senser’s turn to hit the bricks. Playing in his first tournament ever, Senser pulled off an astounding performance, outlasting 842 players. On the final hand, his A-7 was bulldozed by Jose Jimenez’ pocket kings. Senser, a retail manager from San Antonio, took down $14,790 for 5th place.

4th Place: Darrell Hardin received most of the cheers from the crowd when players were introduced. But the cheers turned to silence when Hardin went card dead near the end of the tournament and ended up losing with a desperate hand (K-3) against A-Q. An ace on the turn put Hardin out in 4th place with $17,255.

3rd Place: Incredibly, only an hour had passed by and play was three-handed. Dewey Morris, a 60-year-old retired businessman from Nashville tried to make a steal on the button with J-7, but was called by Jimenez in the blind holding 6-6. With two overcards, Morris wasn’t in as bad a shape as he might have thought. But the final board failed to make a pair for Morris and the senior member of the final table was retired with $19,720 for 3rd place.

The heads-up duel between Jose Jimenez and Ron Medlin began with the Jimenez holding a 2 to 1 chip advantage. Heads-up play lasted 15 minutes, a virtual marathon by rollicking New Orleans final table standards. Yesterday’s event clocked in at a lightning-fast 2 hours and 20 minutes and this final table made that look like a full-day’s work on a chain gang. This final table was settled in just 85 minutes, which may very well be a World Series of Poker record, dating back to the inception of the first tournament in 1970. Considering not nine, but ten players started at this finale, the quick pace had to be history-making.

The final hand came when Medlin went ”˜all in’ with A-7 and was called instantly by Jimenez, holding pocket kings. The final board showed Q-6-4-8-9 and no ace meant that Jimenez was the winner. Medlin collected a nice consolation prize — $34,875 for 2nd place.

Following the conclusion of the WSOPC in New Orleans, Jose Jimenez will continue his journey back to Mexico. Waiting for him in a dusty town in Sonora will be his wife, who is in for a heartwarming surprise. Jimenez expects to use some of the $66,527 in prize money to start the family business he always dreamed of owning. He hopes it will be a restaurant. One can only hope Jimenez will catch another break soon and be reunited with his wife, here in the U.S.