25 Billion Bash: The big winners
It seemed like a long shot. Even to the most optimistic person, the odds seemed pretty rough. There were thousands upon thousands of tables running early Monday morning on PokerStars. Not only did an optimist have to be sitting at the right table, but he also had to be dealt in on the 25 billionth hand. Really, it's a wonder people even tried.
The man known on PokerStars as NeonFrost was just the right kind of optimist.
"I talked about the 25 billion bash promotion to my friends the entire week. I could not stop thinking about how incredible it would be to win the kind of money that was up for grabs," he said. "'I joked about doing everything in my power to be at the tables while the 25 billionth hand was being dealt."
NeonFrost is actually a 27-year-old named Mike Soroka. A one-time pro golfer, he now works in the golfing industry and plays a little poker on the side. It's a game he's been playing since fifth grade when he played in games where the bets were made out of sugar and fruit chews.
Early Monday morning, Soroka (left), noticed the big hand coming. He knew there was big money on the line. He madly started opening tables.
"I joined about 15 tables with limits ranging from .01/.02 up to 3/6 and had Hold Em, Omaha, and Omaha H/L tables going," he said. "Fifteen was insane. I literally folded every hand that was dealt to me because a new table would pop up before I could even look at my hand."
Then, just like in the movies, everything slowed down. A announcement popped up that the big hand was being dealt at table Susilva, a $1/$2 limit Omaha Hi-Lo table.
"Right away I looked down at the 15 tabs that were open and noticed Susilva was one of them," Soroka said later. "'When I clicked on the table and saw myself sitting there, I lost it."
PokerStars gave the rail time to crowd in. So many people were at the one table, the server hiccuped ever so slightly. Suddenly, things looked very odd and very wrong to Soloka.
"Out of nowhere, the alert that lets you know it's you turn went off and my hand was folded before I could do anything," Soloka said.
See, Soloka knew he was guaranteed some money if he was dealt in the hand, but if his hand actually won, he stood to win up to $80,000 more.
Cue the insanity. Cue the expletives. Cue a young man in southern California losing his mind. The only thing that would make matters worse was if his folded hand actually would've won.
Oh, and it would have. His queen-high flush would have been good for the top half of the pot, $50,000 in cash, and $50,000 in tournament entries. Suddenly, it all slid over to another player. Soroka was beside himself.
That said, he had noticed that several other of the players had been oddly disconnected. Luckily for Soroka, PokerStars noticed the same issue and said it would count his Soroka's hand as being in play.
That meant $50,000 was going to come out of the pocket of the other player.
And how did that player react?
One word: Class.
That was what Julio Lau, aka tupapi777, was all about.
"I would've been happy just splitting the 100k prize if I didn't win the grand prize," he said. "Plus, I understand no one would've mucked a hand in that spot, so I was satisfied with the decision."
Lau, a man with a ton of good karma coming his way, describes himself as a struggling poker player. Watching his bankroll swell by $50,000 was a moment he not only won't forget, but may still not have fully grasped.
"I was very excited," he said. "I couldn't believe it was happening."
Now, Lau is trying to decide what he will do with his newly-won bankroll. All he knows for sure is he is going to play the World Series Main Event this year.
"Definitely!" he said.
For his part, Soroka is sending his thanks to Lau and PokerStars. He's looking to pay off his truck and credit cards and be debt free very soon. After that, the Vegas travel fund will get a boost, and Soroka's pad will have the biggest TV he can buy. "Just in time for March Madness," he said.
Indeed, Soroka is an optimist. He saw his chance, he took it, he saw it ripped from his grasp, and then given back. That's how an optimist rolls. Now, it's on to Monte Carlo.
"I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to travel and to play against the best players in the world," Soroka said. "I've never been to Europe and can't explain how excited I am for Monte Carlo."
To read more about the 25 billionth hand, read 25 Billion Bash: Big hand ends in split pot, more prizes.