Caporuscio takes the crown

Updated: October 9, 2005, 1:27 AM ET
By Steve Rosenbloom | Special to ESPN.com

Day 5, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2005, 10:30 a.m. U.S. Poker Championship Daylight Savings Time:

Final table, and it begins before the final table. James Caporuscio, who knocked out Kevin Chan to set the final nine the night before, is celebrating amid family and friends outside the Taj poker arena.

Celebrating with them is Ralph Pecorale, another player who made the final table.

But Pecorale is not just another player at the final table. Nope, he's a buddy of Caporuscio's. A weekly poker buddy. Caporuscio, 24, a mortgage banker for Franklin First Financial, and Pecorale, 36, a real estate attorney, were part of an eight-man game that had a plan. They bought in for $200 apiece weekly, with $800 going to the weekly pool and the other $800 going into escrow. The points winner after 12 weeks got the $9,600 in the escrow account, added $400 of his own, and bought into the U.S.P.C. Caporuscio won it.

"I told him if he won, I'd come down with him,'' Pecorale says. "I paid the $10,000 buy-in. I've been saying for the last two years that I should play in one of these. My wife said go for a day or two and see how you do. She's not a gambler and she's been checking the website every hour.''

Not just buddies, Caporuscio and Pecorale are partners. See, Caporuscio was uncomfortable with the $200 a week because, well, he's 24 and just doesn't have the bankroll for it. So, Pecorale paid half of Caporuscio's weekly buy-in and bought half of Caporuscio, a regular part of poker that creates ethical perception problems.

Whatever, Caporuscio had about 20 family and friends lined up to easily fill one-quarter of the arena used for the final table, and that group naturally found a good deal of enthusiasm for Pecorale.

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Andrew Barta catches me walking through the Taj casino 90 minutes before the scheduled start (but nothing in the event has started when scheduled). Barta knows I'm writing about the tournament and he wants to talk. I guess I'd want to talk, as well, if I was at the final table of the first $10,000 buy-in event I'd ever played in and already had knocked out Erik Seidel and John D'Agostino. Barta, 46, a tall guy with thinning hair, makes guitar equipment and amplifiers for the likes of the Rolling Stones, HZ Top and Les Paul. Barta starts with the short stack today: "I have one move.'' Barta would make that move -- all in -- a couple of times, steal some blinds and antes, and would build his stack with the type of aggressiveness with a small stack that Men "The Master'' has, well, mastered.

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An hour before kickoff, Chris Furbert is sitting at the counter having breakfast in the Taj's café. "I didn't sleep,'' Furbert says. "Oh, I was in bed, but I was looking at the clock every two hours.'' Furbert, a union organizer in his native Bermuda, won a $225 satellite at the Taj to enter this event, the first time in five tries that he has gotten into a $10,000 buy-in tournament. Furbert, who knocked out Day 4 chip leader Mark Seif, has been a thrillride, finishing the first day with $61,000, the second day with $127,000, the third day dead last with just $25,000, and heading into the final table with $443,000. Not bad for a guy who says he plays most of the time for points in a bar league on his island.

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Frank Vizza paces outside the Taj poker room. This is his first final in five $10,000 buy-in events, although he cashed three times in the 2005 World Series of Poker. A trader of crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange, Vizza, 39, took a week off and found his skills on the floor translate well at the table.

"I was once involved in a study by the U.S. Marine Corps about making split-second decisions,'' Vizza says. "That's all we do on the floor. I've been trading for 15 years. Everyday, big-dollar transactions, quick decisions. That gives me a big advantage. The biggest thing is knowing when to get out. If you don't have the discipline to known when to get out, you're dead.''

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Thirty minutes in, we see the first flop, and it's for all of Mike Santoro's chips. He moves in with 9-9 and is called by Caporuscio's J-J. The board blanks. Santoro finished ninth, good for $37,102.50.

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We';ve gone from raise-it/take-it to raise-all-in-fold. Then this: Vizza moves in with 10's. Furbert has him covered and calls with A-K of diamonds. The board comes four hearts, and the 10's stand up to double up Vizza to around $500,000.

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Next hand, same guys. Vizza raises to $60,000. Furbert is all in for $91,000. It's another $31,000 to Vizza, who has queens. I'm not laying down queens for $31,000,'' Vizza says. "I'm not laying down 7-deuce for $31,000.'' So, he calls, and finds out that Furbert has aces. Another bullet come son the flop, and Furbert double back up.

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The goofball announcer in the arena, who made every raise sound like it was apocalypse now, referred to one of the best poker players in the world as "Josh'' Juanda, which came as news to John Juanda.

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Barta raises to $50,000. Juanda moves in for another $158,000. Barta deliberates, then turns to Juanda on his immediate left. "He said, 'I'd love for you to call,''' says Barta, who folded. "I wanted to see what he had. He said I'll see it on TV.''

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On a board of A-7-J, two spades, Furbert moves in and Pecorale calls. Furbert has A-K offsuit for top pair/top kicker. Pecorale has J-10 for second pair/top kicker. The turn comes a queen, the river an ace. Furbert doubles up.

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Furbert calls $220,000 in bets by Caporuscio and pressures him to fold by moving all in on a flop of 4-5-7, all hearts.

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Pecorale moves in for $163,000 and gets called by Men "The Master.'' Pecorale shows 3-3, "The Master'' A-Q of clubs. The treys hold up, and Pecorale is over $300,000.

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Pecorale calls a $60,000 raise by Brecher, and they get a flop of K-8-7, all hearts. Brecher moves in, and he has Pecorale covered. Pecorale calls with A-K offsuit for top pair. Brecher has A-Q, one heart for a flush draw. Blank, blank. Brecher doubles up Pecorale to more than $500,000.

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Two hours later, we still have eight players, the low stacks winning the all ins, just like Barta's A-Q sucking out against Furbert's K-K with a queen on the flop and an ace on the turn to reach $500,000.

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Furbert calls a $60,000 raise by Caporuscio, as does Men "The Master.'' Everybody checks a Q-6-3 flop. The turn came a 6. Men bet $100,000, Caporuscio folds, but Furbert calls. The river comes a Ace. Check, check. Furbert shows a Q. Men mucks. A quick $300,000-plus pot for the Furbert rollercoaster.

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Almost three hours after kickoff, we have the most potentially volatile hand - two all ins and a call. On the short stack, Brecher shows A-5 offsuit. On the second-shortest stack, Vizza turns over Q-J of spades. On the biggest stack of the three, Barta flips up K-Q of hearts. The board came 9-7-3-8-7, no suits. So, Brecher's ace is good enough to triple up his $169,000, and Barta's king wipes out Vizza's queen, sending Vizza home in eighth place. Seven players remain.

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But wait. There's more. Or less. Less competition for first prize, that is. Barta raises, Pecorale calls, Caporuscio re-raises $240,000, Barta moves in for another $140,000, and Pecorale folds. Barta has A-Q of spades, Caporuscio A-K offsuit. The board comes 10 or lower. Caporuscio drags a $700,000 pot, Barta rakes in more than $54,000 for seventh place.

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But wait. There's still more. And less. Caporuscio raises to $100,000. Furbert makes it $340,000. All in. Call. Both have A-K unsuited. But then the flop comes with two clubs - Caporuscio has the ace of clubs - and the turn and river come runner-runner club. Huge cheer from Club Caporuscio taking up at least one-quarter of the arena. Visible anger from Furbert. "How the . . .'' Furbert spits out. "I couldn't believe it. Couldn't believe it, man.'' Still stunned way after the four clubs hit the board, Furbert heads back to Bermuda with more than $76,000.

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Two kids approach Juanda outside the poker room during the last break. They're fans. They can't get into the arena. "You want to get in?'' Juanda asks. Yeah, sure, the two guys say. So, Juanda walks them into the arena and gets them seats, providing whatever fan club he can muster to counter the massive cheering section for Caporuscio and Pecorale.

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Juanda, by the way, is wearing glasses instead of contacts.

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Five players left: Juanda, Brecher and "The Master'' - three regular pros - and weekly poker game buddies Caporuscio and Pecorale, with Caporuscio the chip leader at $2.68 million, followed by Pecorale, and Pecorale owns half of Caporuscio's finish. "I'm going to put him in a lot of tournaments now,'' Pecorale says.

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Third level today, blinds at $15,000-$30,000 with a $5,000 ante -- $70,000 an orbit.

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"The Master'' gets crippled when Juanda calls his all in with aces to Men's A-J of hearts. "The Master'' has Juanda's $265,000 covered by $10,000. This would turn out to be key, because "The Master'' remained alive to at least have a piece of the next hand. And what a hand. Caporuscio made it $100,000, Men moved in his $10,000, and Juanda moved in his $600,000 stack. Caporuscio called with K-K. Juanda has A-K. Men has 2-3 offsuit. What do you want for $10,000? Face cards? But hey, at least they're live. Boy, are they ever. The board comes 2-9-J-2-4, meaning "The Master triples up his $10,000, and Caporuscio wipes out Juanda. The part where "The Master'' had Juanda covered by a measly $10,000 that allowed him to live for one more hand - and then to win that hand - guaranteed him at least another $32,000-plus because fourth place paid $130,950, compared to the $98,000-plus that Juanda got for taking fifth.

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Caporuscio is over $3.4 million. This is just the other three small stacks moving all in and hoping Caporuscio doesn't have a hand. "He's actually playing really well,'' Juanda said of the Caporuscio kid who knocked him out. We played at the same table yesterday. He was making some good reads and was catching cards. It's going to be really hard for anyone to overcome him.''

Just ask Men "The Master.'' Caporuscio raises with Q-3 of spades, Men moves in with jacks, and the kid hits a queen on the river to send "The Master'' out in fourth.

Which means Steve Brecher's $400,000 stack is all that stands in the way of a Caporuscio-Pecorale home game for all the big money.

And then that happens, too. Of course. Natch. Had to be.

On a flop of 10-4-2, Caporuscio bet out $200,000 with 10-7 for a pair of 10's. Brecher moves in with J-2 for a pair of deuces. The 10's hold up. Brecher takes third and $218,250. Unbelievably, the kid who couldn't afford the buy-in to his own weekly game that he would win to earn the cash to play in this main event has a massive chip lead over the guy who staked half of his entry.

"It's surreal,'' Caporuscio says. "It's unbelievable that we're heads-up.''

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Heads-up play gets delayed because the Taj has to bring out the money. It takes about a half-hour. What gives? The way I've been playing video poker this week, I know the Taj has the money.

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And when they finally get down to heads-up, it takes forever. Or at least, an entire round, and there's still no winner. They played 37 hands, and the only thing they accomplished was to nearly triple up Pecorale to a little over $1 million, leaving him one double-up away from being tied after starting heads-up play as more than a 10-1 underdog. "I want the bracelet,'' Pecorale says between levels.

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New level, blinds are $20,000-$40,000 with a $5,000 ante. Caporuscio comes back wearing sunglasses and his ball cap turned with the bill forward. Like he wanted to hide things. Like he thinks he has been getting outplayed and is giving away tells, as well as chips. Dragging out the whole things is that these two guys know each other's game so well that they're afraid to take a chance with nearly a $400,000 difference between first and second places. Either one of them might've been better off if they had been against Juanda or some player who didn't know their game.

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Finally, after about 60 hands, and a flop of 7-9-10, two clubs, Caporuscio called Pecorale's all in. Caporuscio showed 10 of diamonds, 8 of clubs. Pecorale flipped up 8 of diamonds, 2 of clubs. Both had open-ended straight draws, but Caporuscio also had top pair, and it stood up.

This caps it. This makes Caporuscio a champion. This makes him someone with a future. Turns out, though, it didn't take running the table - all the tables right to the final table -- for him to get noticed this week.

"I got a couple offers from other pros,'' Caporuscio says. "They said if I cashed today, they'd stake me in other tournaments. But hey, I might pay for myself.''

He can certainly afford it, what with the $831,532.50 for first place. Heck, he might even be able to afford the $200 for his weekly game.

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Steve Rosenbloom's book "The Best Hand I Ever Played" is available at bookstores everywhere. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he is also author of a syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. To leave Steve some feedback, check out his mailbag.

Steve Rosenbloom has been contributing to the ESPN Poker Club since March 2005. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Rosenbloom writes for the Chicago Tribune and is the author of "The Best Hand I Ever Played."

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