"Super Mario" Esquerra, who earlier this year won best all-around at the Bicycle Casino’s Mini Series of Poker, did it again for the 2003 Big Poker Oktober, winning the best all-around playoff and, officially at least, $500 and the "mystery car" Pinzgauer military vehicle.
Esquerra did it the hard way, because he had only 24 points for the invitational tournament. That gave him just $240 in chips in additional to the $300 in chips given to each player.
He also got lucky. With five players left, John Henson, a telecommunications technician, had the lead.
A chip-count deal (including $18,000 cash in lieu of the vehicle) was almost consummated, but Patrick Schulze, the low-chipped player, balked and play went ahead. One hand later, Esquerra took the lead away from Henson, and the hand after that Schulze was knocked out and this time the deal was done.
After alternating rounds of hold’em, Omaha hi-lo and 7-card stud hi-lo, the game became no-limit hold’em for the final table. Starting with a full 30-minute round, the blinds were $200-$400. Esquerra arrived very close to the chip lead, and seven hands later took it over.
Manolito Navarro, with A-5, raised $2,000 in late position. Esquerra moved in for $6,900. Lu Jun, in the big blind, called all in for his $2,100. And Manolito also called all in, $200 shy of Esquerra’s bet. Esquerra and Jun both turned up pocket kings.
The board came 10-8-4-5-Q.
"You just became very dangerous, Mario," Henson said as Esquerra pulled in the lion’s share of the pot. Navarro got $125 for 10th place.
Jun didn’t last very long after doubling up. Two hands later, he opened for $2,500 with Js-10s and Henson moved him in with A-Q. On the turn, Jun had an open-end straight flush draw, but couldn’t connect. Henson’s ace-high won and Jun finished ninth, which was worth $165. On the next hand, Henson made his second kill. After Schulze opened for $1,500, Henson made it $4,500 to go and Chan Vu moved in for $2,500 more.
This time it was Vu who had the A-Q, in diamonds, to Henson’s pocket eights. Two diamonds flopped, but Henson’s eights held up, and Vu collected $210 for eighth place. Henson now had the lead with about $22,000. He would hold it until that next-to-last hand.
On hand 21, the blinds became $300-$600 with $100 antes. Two hands later, Larry Jensen was in the big blind with 10-7. Esquerra, on the button, raised with K-J and Jensen tossed in his last couple of chips. The board came 8-8-3-5-6, and Esquerra’s king-high was good enough to leave Jensen in seventh place, worth $285.
A hand later, Eric Hamilton made it $1,400 to go with pocket eights and Matt Duggan, a psychologist, went all in with a $3,500 raise. Hamilton called, his eights held up when the board came K-6-2-6-9, and Duggan cashed out for $360 in sixth place.
"Good call, we need a ride home," called out Raymond Davis, kibitzing from the sidelines.
Another five hands went by, and the clock was stopped as the players discussed deal. The chip count was: Henson, $21,600; Esquerra, $12,900; Hamilton, $10,700; Gioi Luong, $8,200; and Schulze, $5,100. After long negotiations, Schulze couldn’t get the extra money he wanted, and play went on.
On the next hand, Esquerra raised $2,000, Henson made it $5,000, Esquerra moved in and then took the lead when Henson folded. On the following hand, Schulze moved in for his remaining $4,900 with Ac-4c. Luong called with A-K. Two more cowboys flopped, and Schulze got $475 for fifth place. A new chip count showed Esquerra in the lead, followed by Henson, with Luong now in third position and Hamilton in fourth. This time a deal was made, and Super Mario added another victory to his long resume