$2,500 Omaha Hi-Lo Split: "Why Couldn't We Just Fugetaboudit?"

by Andy Glazer - poker.casino.com

Hope springs eternal at the World Series. And I do mean ETERNAL.

After a heads-up battle that lasted longer than the Mesozoic and Cretaceous eras combined, Mike Sohayegh, a New Yorker who had only played in three tournaments in his life (not three World Series tournaments, three tournaments) and who hadn’t won any of them, knocked off a two-time Series casher, Hasan Habib, for the championship of the $2,500 entry Omaha Eight or Better event.

To add a little more perspective to the upset’s nature, it was very clear, once the tournament got heads-up, that “New York Mike,” as he wanted to be called, had never played heads-up before, because it took several explanations for him to get used to the concept of a small blind on the button acting first before the flop but last after the flop. But Mike did have those several geological eras to get used to the idea, and he pulled off a pretty major surprise.

When we started play, the seats and chip counts, playing with $1,000-2,000 blinds, were:

  1. Bobby Kirkwood, $76,500
  2. “New York” Mike Sohayegh, $68,000
  3. Kalivas Demos, $7,500
  4. Hasan Habib, $43,500
  5. Sang “Jimmy” Lee, $39,000
  6. Hassan Kamoei, $40,500
  7. John Bonetti, $70,500
  8. Howard Lederer, $12,500 9) Ron Stanley, $42,000

It’s hard to feel badly for someone with the talent and earnings of Howard Lederer, but I do. Lederer is one of the most respected and talented high-limit players around, but someone has never managed to push the ball across the goal line in a World Series tournament. Starting as second lowest on the chip ladder today didn’t offer a promising start to changing his status as one of the best players never to win a bracelet, and he exited first, getting his last $5,500 in with pocket aces and hearts.

He flopped an ace for top set, turned the nut flush draw, and lost on the river when Bonetti made a straight. I get the feeling the time will come when Lederer will win two bracelets in a week, and it might even be this week, but the streak didn’t start today.

Aside from Lederer’s elimination, not much dramatic happened at the first level, except for John Bonetti being up to his old tricks. Bonetti has won three bracelets with a fast, aggressive style that tends to get him to fewer final tables than players of equal talent (not that there are many of those), but with a lot of chips when he does get there, and John started today just off Bobby Kirkwood’s lead.

He immediately started pushing the game around, making it “his” table, and when the blinds moved to $1,500-3,000, Bonetti had moved over the $100,000 mark. Meanwhile, Kalivas Demos had managed to outlast Lederer, who hadn’t come to the final table looking just to last, and had only $3,000 left, not even enough to get through the blinds. Bonetti and Demos hooked up in a three-way hand with Sohayegh, and Bonetti checked the flop, apparently hoping that Sohayegh would also check the hand down to the river and give them the best chance to eliminate a player.

Sohayegh went right ahead and bet at the 8s-Qh-10s, ignoring the classic, unspoken tournament strategy of checking down to eliminate an opponent. We didn’t know why until we learned later about his almost total lack of tournament experience. He bet again at the turn, the 7s, and Bonetti, grumbling, called. When the jack of clubs fell on the river, Sohayegh finally checked, and Bonetti now bet, holding the As-Ks. Now that there was no chance that a Sohayegh full house might beat a similar Demos holding, Bonetti was content to collect a bet from his non co-conspirator, and Demos exited.

For a while I forgot that other players were in the game, because Bonetti was raising almost every pot, and Sohayegh calling almost every pot. Bonetti got the better of most of the exchanges and extended his chip lead, but Sohayegh finally ended the rush when Bonetti couldn’t bring home his nut-low, nut-flush draw when the 7c-Qd-10h-6c board finished with the jack of hearts.

“Nice card, dealuh,” Bonetti grumbled in his lovable Brooklynese. “I like dealers. I was a dealer a long time myself. Then I woke up, it was a nightmare.” I don’t know, maybe I miss my granddad, but John Bonetti grumbling in Brooklynese is usually funnier than most people trying to be nice in Midwest-neutral.

Next out was Kamoei, at his third final table of this World Series. Short stacked, he was almost forced to go all-in from the big blind with 10-9-8-3, and former World Championship final table member Ron Stanley obliged him with A-Q-J-2. Kamoei trailed with modest hopes after the Q-8-5 flop, but the 2-2 finish filled Stanley and we were six-handed.

Just as Tournament Director Bob Thompson announced the next hand would be the last at this level, Bonetti tossed some chips in and said “maybe we’ll have a good one before the break, boys,” and he was right, unless you count the “we” part, because in three-way action, Bonetti wound up making both a wheel and hearts on the river, and gouged out most of Ron Stanley’s stack. At the break, the chip counts were roughly

Bonetti, 156k
Sohayegh, 98k
Kirkwood, 68k
Habib, 38k
Lee, 30k
Stanley, 20k

After the break, playing 2-4, 4&8, Bonetti happily showed down his 2-3-3-4 against a board of A-9-3-8-J. He had trips and the nut low, and Sohayegh took almost a full minute staring at his hand before he turned over a Q-10 for a straight that took the high. This was either one of the slowest slow-rolls in poker history, or Sohayegh just couldn’t read his hand. Thompson gave a general warning about slow-rolling, but Bonetti didn’t grumble at all, a sign I took to mean he was REALLY mad and didn’t want to show it. I can’t imagine too many players who wouldn’t have been. That long a stare at a hand almost always means, “How could I have all these outs and miss everything,” not “oh by the way here is the nut high.”

Stanley and Jimmy Lee then started a “who can last longer with no chips” contest and each took turns surviving all-in situations. Stanley was shorter, and had hopes of Jimmy going out first when he got hooked up with Sohayegh on a hand, but Jimmy bailed out before he could get shorter than Stanley.

Bonetti had been ignoring the action, and Assistant Director Tom Elias gently reminded him “It’s your big blind, John.”

“Don’t bodder me, I’m watchin a basketball game,” grumbled Bonetti. You have to love John Bonetti. The action of a World Series final table isn’t enough for him; he needs to be sweating a few hoops bets to keep the adrenaline going.

Shortly thereafter, Lee got all-in with Bonetti and Sohayegh, and this time Bonetti announced “I CHECK” at the flop loud enough to be heard even over the bad beat grumblings of the nearby live game players. Sohayegh hadn’t been a willing co-conspirator the last time this situation came up, so Bonetti was making the correct play a bit more obvious.

Sohayegh went right ahead and bet anyway, and Bonetti got out of the hand. Lee wound up beating Sohayegh, and Bonetti starting grumbling. “This guy (Sohayegh) is going crazy, we got him all-in, and he’s bettin. I’m glad you won, kid (Lee). What’s he bettin, top pair? A guy’s all-in, I never bet the other guy out unless I got the stone cold nuts.”

Don’t sugar coat it, John, tell us what you REALLY think.

Although Bonetti had been glad Lee had won against Sohayegh, he didn’t have any qualms about finishing Stanley off heads-up shortly thereafter, calling Stanley’s raise from the big blind without ever looking at his small blind hand. Bonetti turned over A-K-3-7, pretty good for a no-peek hand, and Stanley showed 10-8-4-2 with diamonds. The board came Js-Jd-Qd-6h, the A-K was winning, and Stanley exclaimed “Ten!” as the dealer turned over the river card. For a moment Stanley thought he had rivered Bonetti with a pair, but Bono pushed his A-K forward to show the big straight, and Lee had survived the short stack duel.

Filling in some dead time, Mike Paulle took the microphone and told the gallery where everyone was from, and when he got to Bonetti, he mentioned Bono’s current residence, Houston, Texas. “You’re a cowboy,” someone said. “I want to see you ride a horse.”

“Yeah, a spaghetti cowboy,” said the Brooklynite who had marched into the Tournament of Champions under the Italian flag. “Ride a horse? Fugetaboudit (that’s “forget about it” to those of you who don’t know many New Yorkers). I went on a round-up once, I stayed in the pick-up truck. Fugetaboudit, a horse, fugetaboudit.”

“Fugetaboudit” is probably what Bonetti wished that Sohayegh would do about his style of playing so many hands, because he went on a big rush, several times outdrawing the spaghetti cowboy, and took over the chip lead. Not so very long ago, with Jimmy Lee barely hanging on, and the other four stacks reasonably solid, it looked like it was going to be the old game of “knock out the short guy and let’s make a deal,” but now Sohayegh’s rush had also put Kirkwood in trouble.

Proving he was an equal-opportunity non-conspirator, Sohayegh raised when Jimmy called all-in, and Habib called. The flop came down 6h-7h-Kd, Sohayegh bet, Habib called. The turn came 4s, Sohayegh bet, Habib called. The river came Qc, and surprise surprise, Sohayegh bet, Habib called. It was pretty hard to blame Sohayegh for not subscribing to “conspiracy theory” on this one, though: he turned over Ah-3h-Ad-6c, and his nut flush and second-nut low sent Lee out and ate off a big chunk of Habib’s stack. Suddenly Sohayegh was a chip monster and Habib and Kirkwood were both short.

Bonetti, who had dominated the action for so long, got cold at the wrong time, and Habib got back into the chip hunt at his expense. Bonetti survived several short situations, including one dual all-in where he verified that he had started the hand with more chips than Kirkwood, in case they both went out on the hand (which would have meant third place for Bonetti and fourth for Kirkwood), but each of them survived.

Bonetti finally went out on a multi-way hand. Pre-flop, everyone came in for one bet, and when we saw the 9c-8s-2d, Bonetti checked, Kirkwood bet, and Sohayegh and Bono each called. The Ks turned, once again Bonetti checked, Kirkwood bet, and Sohayegh and Bono called, although Bono could only call for his last nine chips. The Qs fell on the river, and Sohayegh, apparently confused by the all-in situation, exposed his hand when Kirkwood still had a chance to bet… although not much of a chance, because Kirkwood only had four chips left himself. Either emboldened or terrified by the exposure (Sohayegh had grabbed his cards back quickly; I could see all of them, but they were all high and mostly red, and certainly looked capable of making some kind of straight; I just couldn’t be sure), Kirkwood bet his last four chips, and Sohayegh, realizing that Kirkwood knew exactly what he had (even if I didn’t), folded, either afraid of the flush or perhaps not having a straight, we’ll never know.

In any case, Kirkwood turned over 8-8-3-2, a set of eights, an unhappy Bonetti showed his A-4-7-8, wished everyone good luck, and left. Kirkwood, with his back to the wall n the one seat, turned around to look at the board to see what this sudden move up the ladder had meant: $16,000 extra, at least, with steps to $80,000 and $160,000 now no longer impossible. Only moments before, Kirkwood had been skating on very thin ice, but a quick rush got him into a virtual dead heat for the lead.

Mike Paulle, in a move that I suspect is designed to get everyone out of here before the next day’s event starts, mentions on the microphone that the chips are dead even, and sure even, Habib immediately asked if anyone wanted to make a deal. Kirkwood refused. The affluent bar owner had felt, he said afterwards, that the money pressure would hurt the other players’ games more than his own.

Nice theory, nice position to be in, bad result. The dilithium crystals in Kirk’s engines started giving out, or at least his cards did, and despite very solid play, his stack shrank steadily. You know you’re running bad when you flop quads with 4-7-4, see a queen on the turn, and know any high card and probably a few of the low ones give you a scoop, but an ace on the river let Habib escape for low, and probably finished any chance had of Kirk getting back into warp. He finally exited when he flopped a flush with the 10s-Js, only to find the As-6s in Sohayegh’s hand. I guess he can afford it, but Kirk left with $40,000, instead of the $90,000 he was offered in the 3-way split deal.

Now heads-up with Habib, Sohayegh displayed his unfamiliarity with the small-blind-on-the-button aspect of heads-up play, but had a big chip lead and didn’t want to deal. Eventually Habib got a small chip lead and offered an even chop, but Sohayegh didn’t want to go for it, and once the chips got even again, Habib didn’t want to offer any more deals. He thought he could out-play Sohayegh, and he was right.

But he couldn’t outlast him.

You need a lot of gears to perform well as a tournament player. Sometimes you have to play fast, sometimes you have to slow down, depending on the stacks, where you stand on the chip ladder, who is playing, etc. Very rarely does proper heads-up play call for slowing down. In this case, Sohayegh slowed down, but not in the “conservative play” sense of the phrase.

Sohayegh… slowed… down… like… one… of… those… people… who… speak… so… slowly… that… you… want… to… shake… them… or… at… least… finish… their… sentences… for… them.

Every decision went slowly. Every count of every chip stack went slowly. Sohayegh’s play was so slow that it made Phil Ford and the North Carolina “four corners” offense that forced the NCAA to use a shot clock resemble the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV by comparison.

Pardon the basketball analogy, but I had so much time to think during the hands that not only did I mentally review the entire history of NCAA basketball, I actually—I kid you not—wrote a short fiction story and gave it to Mike Paulle, who can confirm its existence, although it will never be published, because it involved certain dreams I had about ending this tournament in a quick and unconventional style.

Sohayegh and Habib played heads-up for three hours that felt more like three centuries. An endangered species could have repopulated itself during the time it took to finish this match. I thought Sohayegh was just running out of gas. He’d flown in from New York only the day before, and so was still on east coast time. It was already after midnight, west coast time. He admitted afterwards that he was tired, but hadn’t felt exhausted.

“I played very slowly because I did not want to make a mistake,” he said. “There was a lot at stake and I did not want to rush.”

I asked Habib if the slow play bothered him, took some of the air out of his own game.

“I didn’t mind the slow play,” Habib said. “What I minded was him hitting about ten gutshots. Every time I thought I had him he caught a big card.”

I’m not going to bore you with the hand by hand details. The chips went up, the chips went down. Each player had a substantial lead at one point. I know a lot of this has sounded like Sohayegh was an inexperienced player who caught cards at the right times, and certainly that was true, but the cards didn’t just run over him. He was tired, he was inexperienced, and heads-up is a very tough form of poker, but Sohayegh did some learning as he was going along, and he did what he had to do to win: take time to figure things out that more experienced players would have already known. A lot of players, feeling the late hour, and the peer pressure to play at a more normal speed, wouldn’t have had his determination and will to win. And at a key moment, with the blinds up to $8,000-15,000, playing 15&30, he showed us he had more than gutshots in his arsenal.

Sohayegh bet a 6d-2c-Kh flop, and called a bet. He checked when another king hit on the turn, and Habib bet $30,000 at him. Out came the raise, and Habib mucked his hand. Habib never recovered, and a few hands later, a set of twos held up for the title, K-9-8-6 for Habib, 2-2-7-8 for Sohayegh, and the final board of A-2-K-8-9 ended the battle that was never going to end.

I’d bet on Hassan Habib in a rematch, but Mike Sohayegh wound up showing me more than I’d thought at first blush. And besides, you have to take what life offers you. How often does a guy get to age three centuries in, dare I say it, “only” 9 hours?

By the Numbers

Entries: 160

Total Prize Pool $400,000

  1. “New York” Mike Sohayegh, $160,000
  2. Hasan Habib, $80,000
  3. Bobby Kirkwood, $40,000
  4. John Bonetti, $24,000
  5. Sang “Jimmy” Lee, $18,000
  6. Ron Stanley, $14,000
  7. Hassan Kamoei, $10,000
  8. Kalivas Demos, $8,000.
  9. Howard Lederer, $6,400.

10th-12th, $4,800: T.J. Cloutier, Blair Rodman, Vince Burgio.
13th-15th, $4,400: Arthur Young, Phillip Gordon, Yuegi Zhu.
16th-18th, $4,000: Paul Phillips, Barry Bindeglass, Larry Reynolds.


There is a balance to the Universe (at least that’s what Chevy Chase (Ty Webb) said in “Caddyshack,” and who am I to dispute a golfer who measures himself against others by height). After enduring the torturous final today, it looks like we’ll have a lot of fun tomorrow in the Razz final.

Seat 1, Men “the Master” Nguyen $64,100.
Seat 2, Huck Seed, $35,000.
Seat 3, Tommy Polk, $3,700.
Seat 4, Michael Sisskind, $38,200.
Seat 5, John Spadavecchia, $16,500.
Seat 6, Larry Colt, $6,100.
Seat 7, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, $11,300.
Seat 8, Roger Aielli, $18,600.

Men “the Master” and Huck Seed need no introduction to anyone who has been around tournament poker for more than 15 minutes, Spadavecchia is familiar to many from his Championship final table appearance and other finals, and Chris Ferguson already has one bracelet this series. I sense a seed of excitement brewing. I don’t think there will be a need to razz tomorrow’s champion.

Today’s runner-ups in Razz:

9th-12th, $2,900: George Bofysil, Michael Wattel, Bonnie Damiano, Carl Yeller.
13th-16th, $1,935: Barbara Gold, Howard Mann, Brain Nadell, Brent Carter.

/Andy Glazer