Big time poker returned to New Orleans last week, and judging by the results of the first event, things are looking up for the Katrina-ravaged area.
The top two finishers in the 2006 Bayou Poker Challenge, held at Harrah’s New Orleans, made inspirational vows to donate a significant portion of their winnings to family members who suffered losses in the hurricane and flood last September. Bach Vu, better known around local parts simply as "B," won $79,298. His runner-up, Dave Gafford, who lost his family’s home in the disaster, plans to use much of his prize money, $42,556, towards rebuilding his property. Indeed, sometimes nice guys finish first and second.
This marked the second consecutive year that Harrah’s New Orleans has hosted a full-scale World Series of Poker Circuit stop. After a hugely-successful first year, expectations were high for a big turnout in 2006. Poker players did not disappoint, as 545 entrants participated in the kick-off tournament at the Bayou Poker Challenge, the $500 buy-in no-limit Texas hold’em event. On day one, it took 14 long hours to eliminate 536 players, leaving the final nine to compete at the final table on day two.
Here’s the outcome from the final table:
9th Place — Finalists played for one hour before the first player was eliminated. James Crow, who travels to poker tournaments all over the country with his wife, was the ill-fated finisher. Crow, from Flowery Branch, Georgia, flew off with $5,287 in prize money.
8th Place — James Davenport joined Mr. Crow a short time later. Davenport, nicknamed the "Redbird of Texas," turned into the "Railbird of New Orleans" when he was rudely knocked out in eighth place. He feathered his nest with $7,930.
7th Place — Douglas Freiss lasted two hours before he finally ran out of chips. In previous tournaments, Freiss has finished high in a number of major events, but had to settle for $10,573.
6th Place — Troy Davis went from contender to pretender, busting out in sixth place. The Hamlocal got involved in a few big confrontations, losing both hands and all of his chips in the process. He came away with $13,216.
5th Place — Jack Harrod found himself down to only 38,000 in chips, while everyone else had over 100,000. Under the gun and dealt pocket fives, Harrod moved all-in and was called quickly by two opponents. "B" Vu managed to spike a fifth club on the turn, making a flush. Harrod was eliminated and earned $15,860.
4th Place — Bruce Thompson was unlucky on his final hand. He was dealt K-8 and flopped two pair — kings and eights. Unfortunately, the chip leader Ryan Gafford had two diamonds in his hand and caught a fifth diamond on the turn to complete a flush. Thompson still had four outs on the river to make a full house, but missed. Thompson, who plays poker mostly on the Internet, added $18,503 to his bankroll.
3rd Place — Rick Garren, from the Houston area, arrived with the lowest stack. He survived nearly four hours before finally busting out in third place. He made a bold move on his final hand when he was dealt A-10 and moved all-in after the flop came Q-J-9. Garren was semi-bluffing on an outside straight draw and was called quickly by "B" Vu, with Q-8 (top pair). He missed the straight, and Vu raked in what remained of Garren’s chips. Third place paid a very respectable $21,146.
If there is such a thing as justice at the poker table, it was served on this night as both of the heads-up finalists were much-deserving locals from the New Orleans area. When the poker duel began, "B" Vu, from Marrero enjoyed slight chip lead over Dave Gafford, from Denham Springs.
2nd Place — It took only 10 minutes of heads-up play before the final hand of the tournament was dealt. Gafford flopped top pair (tens) and was all-in. Vu was dealt pocket kings and was thrilled to see his opponent commit all of his chips with the smaller pair. The board failed to rescue Gafford, who was forced to settle for second place. His take amounted to $42,556.
The runner-up had a story just as enchanting as the winner. Dave Gafford said he lives in (what he calls) "the love shack" with his family. His family includes a wife and three children. Gafford described the "the love shack" as a 700-square foot wooden hut built on his land near Baton Rouge. "We call it ”˜the love shack’ because there’s got to be a lot of love to live in it and survive after all we have been through," said Gafford, who added he can finish building a new house for his family and move out of the "love shack."
"B" Vu won what was only the second major tournament he has ever entered. "Last year, I played in the $500 event (here at Harrah’s). Over the past year, I have been working on my game and really improved," he said. "When I came to this final table, I was short-stacked but I really thought I could win it."
When he’s not playing poker, Vu works full-time boiling crawfish in a local seafood restaurant. "I make my real money with the crawfish," Vu admitted. "But, it’s sure nice to win one of these every now and then, too."
Vu added that his brother became the family’s backbone after his father died. But he lost his house in the flood. "Now, I want to do something good for him," Vu said.
Indeed, some stories have happy endings.