Gregg Merkow wins 1st prize worth $561,195 at the WSOPC
Aug 25, 2005  
by Jason Kirk  

The final table of the Main Event of the WSOP Circuit at Grand Casino Tunica kicked off just after 2 PM today. Nine players survived three grueling days of poker to make it here, eliminating 170 others along the way to find themselves staring down a chance to win $561,195. There was a great deal of experience at the table. John Juanda has 3 WSOP bracelets to his name, and Bobby Law and Bryant King both placed well into the money at this year's WSOP Main Event. Sonny Perry won a $1000 No-Limit Hold'em event at the WSOP Circuit in New Orleans this year, and Johnny Clements placed 4th at the WSOP $3000 Pot-Limit Hold'em event. Steve Rassi has made 4 final tables at major Bellagio, Mirage and WSOP Circuit events in the last 15 months, and Darrell Struck has World Poker Open and WSOP Circuit final table experience, and Jeff Wood has played in the World Poker Open and World Series of Poker for the last two years. Of all the final table players today, only Gregg Merkow of Plano, TX, came in without experience at a major tournament.

The action was tense at first with several hands being raised only to have the remaining players fold around, or to see a flop and have a single bet take claim the pot. The tension grew when Jeff Wood of Knoxville, TN, raised and Sonny Perry of Nashville, TN, came over the top all-in. Wood thought over his decision for a minute before calling - and both players showed ace-jack offsuit to chop the pot. That hand went a long way toward getting the players to loosen up enough to get the chips moving around, but the ice wasn't completely broken until Darrell Struck of Dallas, TX, moved all-in preflop. John Juanda called from the small blind, and Bobby Law also made the call from the big blind. Juanda checked and folded when Law moved all-in, and Law showed ace-king offsuit against Struck's pocket fives. Neither of Struck's outs materialized and he was out in 9th place, earning $34,010 for his performance.

Bobby Law of Chetek, WI, had been a thorn in John Juanda's side since they were placed at the same table on Day Three, and sitting on Juanda's direct left today he prevented the pro from making any sort of moves at all. Spectators in the Grand Event Center probably saw Juanda play as few hands as he ever has at a final table. At the first break, Juanda had been unable to play at very many pots and was the shortest stack on the table. When he finally found a spot to make a stand, he ran into Sonny Perry's pocket aces. Juanda's king-six offsuit flopped a gutshot straight draw, and turned a king to pair up, but none of his outs came home and he was eliminated in 8th place with $51,015.

A mere five minutes later, the biggest pot of the tournament up to that point was kicked off when short-stacked Johnny Clements of Panama City Beach, FL, moved in for his last $25,000. Sonny Perry made a raise of another $50,000, and Bryant King - who had started the day the same way he ended Day Three, on an absolute tear - moved all-in. Sonny Perry didn't hesitate for a moment before calling. Perry had pocket kings, Bryant had pocket aces, and Clements had ace-five offsuit. A gutshot straight draw materialized on the turn, and the crowd chanted for a four to hit the river. Instead, the river card was a king, and the room exploded in the wake of Perry's win. He thrust his fists into the air and King went on an F-bomb spree, earning himself a ten-minute penalty. Also caught in the wake was Johnny Clements, who left the tournament in 7th place with $68,020.

King's penalty didn't end up hurting him too much, and he seemed to have recovered from tilting upon returning to the table. After three minutes, however, Gregg Merkow made a raise to $24,000, and King came over the top all-in. Merkow went deep into the tank, and would have stayed there longer if King hadn't called the clock on him. As soon as Merkow's countdown began, he told King that he put him on a middle pair and thought he was still tilting. Then he called and turned over king-queen offsuit. Merkow's read was good, as King turned over pocket nines. A queen hit the flop and Merkow exploded from his seat, screaming, "That's what I'm talking about!" King caught no help, and found himself the new table short stack. Minutes later he was eliminated when yet another unfriendly river card spiked - this time it was an ace to pair Steve Rassi up. King played a solid aggressive game throughout the tournament and was obviously disappointed with his 6th place finish, but he can be proud of the decisions he made and the $85,025 should go at least part of the way toward soothing the hurt of the beats he took today.

Play continued until the dinner break without much change in the chip counts, and when the players returned the play was once again tentative. Nobody wanted to commit too many chips to a particular pot, so many of them were claimed before the flop with a single raise. After an hour of this pattern, play finally loosened up a bit. Sonny Perry made a raise to $30,000 and Steve Rassi called out of position. He moved all-in as the first to act on the rainbow flop of ten-nine-six, and after thinking it over Perry said, "I think I can call that." He did, and showed nine-seven of clubs against Rassi's jack-ten of diamonds. Rassi's hand was good until the river, when a seven spiked to give Perry two pair. Rassi played patiently throughout the four-day event, picking his spots to attack relentlessly, and caught a bad break at the end. His 5th place finish earned him $102,030.

Four-handed play continued for the next two and a half hours, and all the remaining players notched up their aggression levels. It was during this period that Gregg Merkow nearly crippled himself on a hand with Sonny Perry and Bobby Law. He limped in first to act, and he and Perry called Law's $30,000 small blind raise to see the flop which came ace-six-deuce. Law checked on the flop and Perry bet out $60,000, leaving the action up to Merkow, who finally called after being given a countdown to make a decision. Then Law check-raised another $100,000. Perry folded, and Merkow went into the tank once more. Fourteen minutes into the hand, Merkow finally folded, leaving himself with only $250,000. That made him the short stack at the table as the level ended and the players retired for a break.

Upon returning Merkow ordered a Red Bull from the waitress, which seemed to affect him in a very positive way. He took down 6 of the first 9 pots with either a raise or re-raise, displaying intelligent aggression of the sort usually only seen from top-tier professional players. Even when his rush of cards ended he continued to play in a higher gear for the rest of the level. Jeff Wood finally hit the point where he decided to make a stand against Merkow's aggression, moving over the top of Merkow's raise with king-queen offsuit. Merkow considered the situation carefully before calling with ace-jack. The flop came ace-queen-ten, pairing each player's hand and also giving each a gutshot straight draw that could only be completed if the other made two pair. Wood received no help and left the tournament in 4th place with a prize of $136,040. His patient and aggressive style will pay dividends if he chooses to continue playing in the Circuit events later this year.

Once play was three-handed, Sonny Perry found himself the shortest stack at the table, surrounded by two behemoths. "I'll give y'all one chance to chop this money, that's all," he said to the others, and laughter rippled through the audience. Neither of his opponents said a word. "All right," he said. "I gave you fair warning." Within ten minutes, Perry became a serious threat. Gregg Merkow raised to $48,000 preflop, and Bobby Law re-raised another $150,000. With no hesitation, Perry moved all-in for another $122,000. Merkow folded after some consideration, and Law called quickly. He showed ace-queen of diamonds, and Perry showed a dominating ace-king. A king on the flop sealed the deal, and Perry doubled through the chip leader to take that position for himself.

Perry continued to pile chips up for a short while before bleeding off $150,000 on a pre-flop betting war with Merkow. Just a few minutes later Merkow took Perry out in a heads-up battle in the blinds. Both men checked on a flop of nine-six-deuce with two spades. The turn came the five of hearts, and Perry led out for $30,000. Merkow raised another $80,000, Perry came in for another $80,000, and Merkow moved all-in. Perry called and showed the five-deuce of spades for a pair with a combination gutshot and flush draw, and Merkow turned up the seven-three of spades for a higher combination gutshot/flush draw. Merkow's friends, who had driven in from Dallas in the morning, chanted for a spade - and their prayers were answered when the ace of spades hit the river. Sonny Perry fell short of winning a second WSOP Circuit championship ring, but he earned $170,050 for his trouble - not too bad for four days' work.


Merkow came into heads-up play with a nearly $900,000 chip lead and he played his big stack the way it's meant to be, putting consistent pressure on Bobby Law. After 27 hands of heads-up play, Law re-raised all-in over Merkow's standard preflop raise to $69,000. Merkow called quickly, showing ace-seven offsuit to Law's pocket fives. An ace came on the five, and that was all she wrote - Merkow waited in anticipation of the end of the hand, and when the last card safely hit the board he exploded with pure joy. The amateur with little major tournament experience outlasted the toughest field of the Tunica WSOP Circuit to take home the gold championship ring, $561,195, and an invitation to the Tournament of Champions on Las Vegas next year. Bobby Law, for his part, earned $309,491 and the knowledge that in the right situations he can outplay one of the world's best poker players.

The Main Event was a grueling tournament despite its relatively small field of 179 players. The players who lasted until the final table were a varied bunch with one thing in common: great skill at the game of no-limit hold'em. If the next Circuit stop in Las Vegas draws a field this tough, the WSOP Circuit will be well on the way to earning a reputation as a destination for the world's best poker players. By the time the Circuit returns to Tunica in January of next year, that reputation should be firmly cemented.

More Pictures from the Final Day.

John Juanda Sonny Perry Darrell Struck Johnny Clements Bryant King Steve Rassi



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