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By Mike Nelson
For the twenty first time players made their entrance to the grounds of the Tournament of Champions, as a field of 140 Red Hot Poker Tour elite entered the tournament …

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Red Hot Poker Tour Season 11 Championship

Submitted by on July 26, 2008 – 4:32 PMNo Comment
by Michael “Scoop” Stone 

Red Hot Poker made a return trip to the Brick Yard BBQ for its eleventh Tournament of Champions. But the old tournament structure was left on the side of the track, in favour of the much-hyped Regional Showdown. Each Red Hot region – GTA, HBO, KWC (get the acronyms out of the way first), London, Ottawa, the Red Club region, Toronto, and Windsor – sent 16 of their best players to the Tournament of Champions. Each region would play their own tournament, the winner of which would get a seat at the now-legendary Tournament of Champions final table.

  TOC 10 winner Osman Soubra
  Red Hot Poker Tour – Season 11
Tournament of Champions winner

Gary Biggar
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Brickyard Barbecue, Etobicoke, Ontario
  Tournament of Champions 11 photos

Before play would begin, a couple of familiar faces addressed the crowd. First up was Gary Biggar, winner of a mini-regional showdown before last season’s Tournament of Champions, which led to his tenth place finish in a 2693 player World Series of Poker tournament earlier in July. Gary showed sincere pride in listing his top 10 list of WSOP advice (and things to do, why it’s fun, and how to make it enjoyable). In relating an exchange he overheard between Vanessa Rousso and another player, he seemed to be offering a gameplan for the entire room. “Luck usually favours the backbone, not the wishbone,” said a peeved Vanessa, after an inferior hand busted her out. “I feed my courage so that my fears will starve to death,” replied her defiant opponent. Gary would have ample opportunity to use this advice himself, as the day wound on.

Dean MacNeil then took the mic to address the community, a group of friends bonded by their mutual love of poker and dreams of succeeding as players. He showed pride in those that have so far represented Red Hot not just as members, but as Ambassadors for the league, whether playing in regular tournaments or major events, or being there to cheer each other on to success. He remained hopeful that his original mission statement, which went back to the very first Tournament of Champions, could still come true: that Red Hot would be the ‘American Idol of poker,’ giving amateur players an opportunity to hone their skills in preparation for the world stage. As Gary had just shown, Red Hot Poker surely has the talent to step up and challenge the best in the world.

And with that, the players took their seats to prove him right. Regional pride was in full-effect in the early going. The GTA sported Mardi Gras beads and Hawaiian leis courtesy of dealer Livaline, and spent much of the early stages lobbing good-natured jabs back and forth with rival Toronto. But as the tournaments each wound down to the final table, then the final 3 and finally heads-up, the tension ratcheted up noticeably. On the GTA final table pocket aces were cracked three times (which is all your humble author will say about his own departure from the tournament, three-handed). The London region featured a heads-up match that lasted 2-hours. Some regions played fast and loose, as huge pots flew across the table and players were eliminated quickly and swiftly, while others trodded along playing fundamentally sound poker in an attempt to last to the end.

When the final hand was played over at the Toronto table, all the matches were complete. And for the second season in a row the crowd filed into the Brick Yard’s back room. Scott McFadyen, Red Hot’s very first tournament director, would take his first seat in the Tournament of Champions dealer’s box. Dean filled in for the absent Michael Bennett Leroux behind the microphone, and introduced the players who had survived the first half of the shootout:

1 London Wayne Desmarais – London’s Season 11 Points Champion
2 Ottawa James Reinhart – Season 7 Champion
3 KWG Srdjan Sekulic – Fourth in Points in KWG
4 GTA Valerie Ushanova – Fourth in Points in GTA
5 Red Club Shawn Scerri – Second Final Table
6 Windsor Ed Caulfield – Windsor’s Season 11 Points Champion
7 HBO Gary Biggar – HBO Season 11 Points Champion
8 Toronto Jason Acton – Second in Toronto Points in Season 11

Each player resumed play with 8000 chips, while the blinds would start at 100/200. Proving that the cream rises to the top, Wayne, Ed, and Gary all topped their regular season regional leaderboard. The final table would live up to the hype, and it did not take long for a pot of substance to be played. On the third hand, Valerie raised from early position, and Jason called from the blinds. The two players got into a raising war on an 8c-5c-Jd flop. Jason bet, Val raised, and Jason defiantly shoved all-in. After Val called, and the chips were counted down, Jason showed AsJs, for top pair… but Val’s 7c6c was good enough for an open-ended straight flush draw. Jason paired his ace on the turn, but the river was a club sending Jason home first from the final table.

Despite that double-up by Val, it was Ed who dominated the table’s early action, with both his frequent raises and his table talk. “I predict a bald man will win tonight,” he said at one point, showing off his barren dome. “People are shaving their heads as we speak,” quipped Dean. “I’m the sexiest bald man at the table!” Ed continued, though that was a sentiment sternly rejected by Wayne’s supporters. More common was Ed’s taunting salvo to an opponent contemplating what to do with another big Ed bet. “I’m new,” he’d say, faux-sheepishly.

But Ed was not just talk; he was a force with his chips, moving them into the pot without fear. He struck first by eliminating Srdjan when his kings held against the KWG-er’s pocket tens. Then he went and doubled Shawn up when his top pair of queens were in deep trouble against Shawn’s set of threes. And the carnage continued when, in an unraised pot, Ed struck a dagger into the heart of the 613′s James, when the 2-3-2 fit nicely with his 32 holding, besting James’ pocket sixes and sending the former champ to the rail in 6th. James could hold his head high, though, as he had just become the first person to ever make three Tournament of Champions final tables in Red Hot’s history. “Two wins would’ve been nicer,” he noted as he left the playing area.

Trying to stop the Ed onslaught, Gary attempted to recruit others into battle. “We gang up and take him down, Wayne?” he jokingly asked, after another Ed raise. “… and Gary suggests collusion,” Dean dryly announced to anyone in the crowd that might’ve missed it. Ed did slow down a tad, but it was Shawn who came to the fore. First, he repopped Val’s small blind raise, and managed to have his aces hold up against her pocket eights, busting the GTA top female in 5th. Then, he called an Ed raise from the small blind, and check-called a king-high flop. When Ed bet the turn – another king – Shawn immediately reraised, and got Ed to fold. “I’m not new!” he bellowed at his opponent, looking to take over the role of table captain.

Gary made good on his earlier promise, by doubling through Ed when his AQ rivered a straight versus Ed’s pocket nines. With that, the players took their first break and Ed, once big and mighty, was now riding the shortstack:

Shawn Scerri 20,000
Wayne Desmarais 17,700
Gary Biggar 17,300
Ed Caulfield 8,900

When play resumed, the blinds had moved to 300/600 with a 100 ante. And Ed immediately got a lot of his chips back from Gary. The two men got all the money in preflop. “This is it,” Gary announced before rolling over pocket queens. Unfortunately for him, Ed shows pocket kings, which head for a huge pot, crippling Gary. “Queens and I just don’t get along,” he said, referring to the hand that busted him out of the WSOP event.

Despite Gary’s misfortune, it was Shawn who surprisingly went out next. Shawn led out and was called by Wayne on the flop and the turn, when the board comes 2h-9h-Ac-5h. The river brought another ace, and Wayne immediately moved all-in. Shawn announced that only a boat or a bigger flush could beat him, and called with his Th6h. Wayne showed A9 – his favourite hand! – for a full house that bounced Shawn to the rail in fourth.

Over the next half a dozen hands, Gary was all-in several times, and took four of them down. He hung around long enough to witness from the sidelines the next big pot between Wayne and Ed. On an 8-9-6 flop, all diamonds, Wayne check-called Ed. The turn was a Jack, and Ed immediately moved his huge stack into the middle. Wayne took very little time to call, with his pair of nines. Ed had only pocket fours, but the four of diamonds gave him a flush draw. He missed on the river, and Wayne scooped a huge pot, knocking Ed out in third.

And with that, we were heads-up for the championship:

Wayne Desmarais 53,600
Gary Biggar 10,400

With a 5-1 chiplead, Wayne appeared a lock to end the match quickly and decisively. But Gary had other ideas. What followed was possibly the longest, and certainly the most epic, heads-up match in Red Hot Tournament of Champions history. Though it took only 60 hands to eliminate the first 6 players from the final table, the heads-up match would last 110!

Things began strongly for Gary, as he took down 8 of the first 12 pots. But Wayne roared back and rattled off 6 winning hands in a row to keep his opponent at bay. Post flop play was dominated by Wayne’s constant stabbing at pots whenever he felt weakness, often forcing Gary to fold.

Hand #85 of the final table brought the first big confrontation. After check-calling Gary’s flop bet when the board came 3-2-K, Wayne thought long hard about what to do with the turn bet after another king hit the board. His all-in stunned Gary, who thought long and hard before folding and showing a three. This brought the players to another break, with Gary having made some inroads, cutting Wayne’s chiplead down to a more manageable 2-1.

Tournament of Champions 11 photos 



With blinds now at 500/1000 and a 300 ante, the players traded small pots back and forth, with very few showdowns. This stretch of play lasted well over 50 hands, and proved taxing on all involved. At one point the long haul looked to be getting to the once-stoic Wayne. After a Gary raise, he smiled wryly and showed the lowly 32. Then, just two hands later, he raised preflop, only to face a Gary all-in behind him. The big man from London sighed and shifted in his seat for the first time. Then he cracked another smile, before reluctantly folding.

Wayne kept battling. After a big bet by Gary on a 4-T-K flop, Wayne moved all-in. Silence in the crowd accompanied Gary’s external monologue. “I so wanna make this call!” he repeated to himself, before, after an interminable length of time, finally folding. Then, on hand #151, Gary made a bold move. After limping in preflop, and facing a Wayne raise, Gary moved all-in. It didn’t take long for Wayne to call. Gary immediately looked up and mutter – “you caught me” as he rolled over his 85o bluff, which was up against Wayne’s favourite hand A9. But 85o got healthy very quick when the flop gave Gary top pair and a flush draw. Wayne never caught up in the hand, and, after 90 hands of heads up play, Gary had reversed Wayne’s big pre-heads-up chiplead, and now had a 5-1 lead himself!

On a shortstack for the first time all day, Wayne went at Gary, but had to chop the next two successive pots. Then he went on a roll, winning 9 of the next 13 pots – some of them monsters! – to reverse Gary and again pull back into the chiplead. During this period, the players decided to skip their scheduled break. But, looking to stem the tide that was Wayne, and get his composure back, Gary asked if action could be stopped anyway. After his return, he took a couple of small pots from Wayne, before the final confrontation.

With the blinds at 2000/4000 and a 500 ante, Gary correctly assessed the situation. “Is this how it’s going to be Wayne?” he asked after both players had taken a turn moving all-in preflop. Wayne just smiled. Finally, on hand 170 of the final table, Gary serenely moved all-in, and Wayne instantly moved his chips in as well. Gary’s AK was in good shape versus Wayne’s KJ. But the Q-J-8 vaulted Wayne into the lead. “The ace is a God,” Gary said, echoing a sentiment he had used to great effect at the World Series, and begging for some help. The king on the turn gave Wayne two pair, and Gary a pair of K’s … but it also gave Gary additional outs, as now a ten would make him a straight. But he remained true to his original plea. “The ace is a God,” he repeated emphatically as the crowd pushed forward to watch. And, as if his prayers had been answered, a divine ace fell on the river. As dealer Scott counted the stacks, Gary slumped back in his chair in relief. It took only a few moments to realize that Wayne was covered, and that Gary Bigger was the winner of the Red Hot Poker Tour’s Season 11 Tournament of Champions.

With his victory in last season’s regional showdown, his absolute domination of the HBO points leaderboard, his 5-figure cash at the World Series, and now his outright victory at the Tournament of Champions, it is safe to say that Gary had just completed the greatest 4-month stretch of poker in Red Hot’s history. Congratulations, Gary, and thanks from the rest of the Red Hot community for inspiring our dreams, and showing that they can come true.

  Read about Gary Biggar’s great run at the 2008 World Series of Poker

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