Beat the odds

May 30, 2005 3:11 AM

Anyone who still doubts Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 World Series of Poker victory being the "sonic boom" that propelled poker into a new era of popularity is strongly advised to listen to the wisdom of Sonny Perry, a folksy 63-year-old retiree from Nashville. "Moneymaker won that big tournament out there and I figured if he could do it, anybody can," Perry said.

Inspired by Moneymaker’s implausible victory, Perry started playing online poker about a year ago. He also happened to know a few people in and around his hometown of Nashville who knew the reigning world champion. When Perry told his fiends that he too, might travel to a World Series event and play in a big poker tournament, they all thought he was crazy.

"Everybody told me, ”˜You’re throwing your money away. Why do you want to go down there (to New Orleans) to play?’ One good friend told me, ”˜Just give me your money and save yourself the trouble — don’t go down there."

But Sonny Perry is a believer. He demonstrated what a little faith and a lot of guts can do. It also helped considerably that Perry played at a level far above what one might expect of a poker player with so little live tournament experience. Playing in only his second tournament ever, Perry blasted through 846 entries and waltzed his way to a $110,785 payday. Perry, a former construction worker, must be glad that he didn’t listen to the advice of his ”˜friends.’

"I’m going to show them this ring," Perry said, flashing the gold ring on his finger awarded to each World Series of Poker Circuit champion. "You couldn’t give me enough money for this ring," Perry said.

The $500 buy-in no-limit hold’em event at Harrah’s New Orleans casino attracted the second largest field on this year’s circuit, just one player shy of the record event. However the prize pool was the highest amount for any non-championship event thus far on the circuit. Seventy-two places were paid. With $410,310 in prize money at stake, players were eliminated as follows:

10th Place: Jon Backman came all the way from Sweden to play in New Orleans. He arrived at the final table with a decent stack size, but nothing went right during his 30-minute stay. Backman went out first and collected $4,515.

9th Place: Dan Phillips was low on chips throughout. The surgery assistant from Rainelle, WV was on life support most of the way, and finally expired in 9th place, worth $8,205.

8th Place: Adam Green is s rare coin dealer (the proper term is actually a ”˜numismatist’) from Washington, DC. He specializes in collecting and selling treasures from Nepal, Tibet, and other Himalayan regional coinage (arguably the most specialized profession in history ever to make it to a final table). Green tried to make a move at the pot on a semi-bluff with a straight draw, but was called by Sonny Perry holding pocket 9s. Green collected some extra coin — $12,310 in American currency.

7th Place: Harry ”˜Hop’ Dujas went out next when he was steamrolled by Sonny Perry’s full house. The St. Martinville, LA business owner, who likes to play no-limit hold’em as a ”˜hobby’ added $16,410 to his poker bankroll.

6th Place: Jack Ward, a Gulfport, MS auto-broker is one of the nicest people in poker. But sometimes, bad things happen to good people. He was getting low on chips and made his final stand with 3-3. Steve Presley called the modest raise with K-10 and flopped two pair. That pretty much ended Ward’s hopes of victory. The pot-limit specialist who has previously won major tournaments in California and Nevada drove off with $20,515 in prize money.

5th Place: A few hands later, pocket 3s woke from the dead. Sonny Perry was dealt 3-3 and saw the flop come Q-5-3. Steve Presley, a professional poker player from Southhaven, MS had K-Q and was ”˜all in’ with top pair. Staring at trip 3s, Presley failed to catch a miracle and exited with $24,620 for 5th place. Presley has also previously won tournaments in Mississippi and Arizona.

4th Place: Timmy Flotte a local from New Orleans brought along the rowdiest cheering section. Backed by nearly a dozen cheerleaders, Flotte didn’t disappoint them, lasting nearly five hours at the final table. But Flotte ended up making a costly mistake when he committed his entire stack with A-Q versus Don Mullis’ A-K. Both players flopped and ace, but the Flotte was outkicked and was booted out in 4th place — good for $28,720.

3rd Place: After Flotte’s elimination, the chip counts were about equally divided. Then a game of musical chairs began. Dangerous Don Mullis seized the chip lead, leaving Russ Sherrod shortest on chips. A short time later, Sherrod won a big pot with an uncalled raise and took the chip lead. Half an hour later, Sonny Perry had a 2 to 1 chip lead over both opponents. Then, Don Mullis took a horrible beat. Mullis was dealt A-K versus Russ Sherrod’s A-3. Mullis’ flashy grin disappeared with the final board showed J-9-3-6-10, giving Sherrod the pot with a dainty pair of 3s. From the look on Mullis’ face it was as if he’d drank a bottle of Tabasco sauce. Mullis, poker hottest tournament player with an astounding six final tables made in his last nine WSOPC events entered (66 percent) received $32,825 for 3rd place. "I was scared to death of Don," Sonny Perry said later. "He came from being down low on chips and took the chip lead”¦ he’s a great player."

The heads-up duel between Russ Sherrod and Sonny Perry began with Sherrod holding a slight chip advantage — 700,000 to 570,000. Then, Perry shifted into high gear and gradually took a 3 to 1 chip lead. There were no big hands during the 30-minute duel, just a number of sizable raises by Perry, uncalled, which resulted in a windfall of chips. Then, Sherrod became the aggressor and drew back to even.

The final hand of the tournament was the ultimate illustration of having the worst hand, but playing the situation perfectly, where the odds actually favored the underdog. Sherrod was dealt 9-5 of spades. He watched as the flop come 7-6-4, with two spades. He raised ”˜all in’ and was called. Sherrod had a massive number of outs, holding an outside straight draw, a flush draw, and one overcard. In fact, he was the odds-on favorite. Sonny Perry had A-6 and flopped second pair. A six on the turn gave Perry trip 6s. But Sherrod still had a lot of outs. A worthless king on the river ended the night for both players, as Perry was declared the victor.

Runner-up Russ Sherrod played exceptionally well. Given the way the last hand was played, he certainly had a great chance to win his first major tournament. But he couldn’t catch a break on the last hand. Sherrod, the owner and breeder of thoroughbred racehorses (mostly in Kentucky and Louisiana) cashed a place ticket in his event. His 2nd place showing earned $58,060.

Meanwhile, the winner was visibly thrilled with the outcome. He immediately phoned his wife of 40 years, who was back in Nashville waiting for an update. "I’m going to give all the money to her," Perry said proudly. "But first, I’m going to show it to a few people up there in Nashville who told me I was wasting my money coming (to play at the World Series of Poker)."