WSOP Main Event: Feature Table -- Sometimes Survival's Enough

by Craig Cunningham

Halona Hughes sat in the bleachers behind ESPN cameras with her mother-in-law, Germaine Littlebear. The two of them had snuck into the stands as her husband, PokerStars qualifier Randy Hughes, sat in the 8s, his back to the bleachers. To say he was focused would be an understatement as he never knew his wife and mother were ten feet away. His wife doesn't play online, but her life isn't too different than six-tabling on PokerStars. Halona has four children underfoot while working as a nurse. She and her husband are from the Oglala Lakota tribe, a member of the Great Sioux Nation. Randy owns his own computer engineering company. His firm designed and implemented the 911 system on the reservation in Pine Ridge.

Randy was one of the players at the table who had sat across from a WSOP bracelet winner before. He finished runner-up to Vince Burgio in a tournament at the Plaza fifteen months ago. Today Randy got short stacked, and he got all of his chips in the middle with Beth Shak. She had him covered, and he turned over A-Ko to her pocket queens. He stared at his last $3.5k in chips as the flop came. I asked him at the dinner break about the flop. "It was an ace, and I can't remember anything else. She did pick up a flush draw on the turn, but then the river was a brick." Beth's husband Dan was sweating her, his start date Saturday for the Main Event. Halona's joy was Dan's heartache, but Beth sat at $6k and was still alive.

Randy's double up followed a big hand that gave Scotty Nguyen the chip lead and saw the table's first new member. Scotty raised pre-flop, and Michael Chow (above) re-raised, then Scotty called. The flop came 3-6-6, Chow bet $3k and Scotty raised him all-in for another $6k. Chow is unmistakable with his neon pink spiked hair, and it glowed a bit more as he deliberated for five minutes. He made the call and turned over K-K, waiting to see if Scotty had the 6 or worse. Scotty flipped over 4-5, and Chow's stomach hit the floor when a 7 came on the turn for the straight. He needed a king or 6 on the river for a boat, but neither came. He made $90k in this year's World Series, but this will be a bitter one to get over.

Alan Adler took his seat, another solid player a WSOP cash this year and two last year. It looked like another seat might open as PokerStars qualifier James Olson called Jenny Kang's all-in after a flop of K-10-10. Olson turned over K-J to Kang's K-9, and Olson was well ahead. 6 came on the turn followed by a disappointing card for Olson, an ace. His better kicker gave way to the board, and the pot was chopped instead of going to him. Maybe worse for him, Kang held onto chips. Having her to his right and Scotty Nguyen to his left meant this was not really a table for chip accumulation. Olson had gotten down to $7k early in the day, but he sat comfortably at $15k by the dinner break.

PokerStars qualifier Robert Burns had long forgotten about chip accumulation. "You've seen the cards I've gotten," he told me before heading to eat. "I've had absolutely nothing all day." As he left, I put my arm over his shoulder. "You're playing great just to be right here." He's at $6.8k, about the same as Randall Hughes. Sometimes, survival is enough in poker.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker