Force wins WSOP NLH/PLO heads-up title for $207K

1 June 2012

One thing’s for certain. The World Series of Poker is never dull. There’s always something happening at the Rio – making that several things happening – no matter what the day or schedule of events. The WSOP also is willing to take some risks and offer unique attractions that are not even on the map of poker consciousness elsewhere. Consider the third gold bracelet event offered on this year’s schedule – a first-time-ever poker tournament called “Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em / Pot Limit Omaha.” The concept calls for competitors to play alternating 20-minute rounds of No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha – in the pressure cooker of a heads-up format.

Sure. Heads-up events have been held in the past. There’s also been plenty of No-Limit and Pot-Limit action. But never before in history has this rich gumbo of popular poker ingredients all been tossed into a collective pot and served to a medley of ravenous poker aficionados.

The “dinner” cost $3,000 to attend (the entry fee), which didn’t exactly dissuade 317 guests from sitting down at the table in order to dine at what amounted to the grand opening of a nine course meal. That's right, nine "courses" as in heads-up matches necessary for the ultimate winner, in what amounted to a gauntlet of increasing difficulty.

Culinary showman Emeril Lagasse would never have stood a chance. As things turned out, the guy with the coolest name in poker -- Leif Force -- ended up as the head chef of the affair, collecting an indubitably appetizing $207,708 in prize money as his main course, plus a sparkling new WSOP gold bracelet for dessert.

"My parents, they wanted to name me 'Life,' but they thought it would be hard on me growing up with a name like that," said Force. "So, instead they named me "Leif," which obviously isn’t much better. By the time I was like 12, basically everyone was making fun of me. You know, kids, when they’re young, they suck. They’re just like boys. Whatever. But after that, it paid off. It was actually a cool name, and girls started liking it. In the end, it’s definitely worked out for the best."

The enigmatic-looking poker pro, nicknamed "Jungle Boy" for his unorthodox appearances at WSOPs past, seems to have gradually melded into semi-conformity as his WSOP earnings have continued to uptick in recent years. Force, from Tallahassee, Fla., is best known to many for his 11th-place finish in the 2006 Main Event Championship, when he won a staggering $1,154,527 in his first-ever appearance at the WSOP. Since then, Force has posted some nice results, but
nothing close to winning what amounted to his most prestigious title ever.

The tournament was played over three consecutive days and nights, starting on Tuesday at noon, and concluding Thursday evening at a relatively early hour, so far as final tables go. Leif had his money and gold bracelet by 8:00 p.m., just as most other shows in Las Vegas were just getting underway. Instead, Leif found himself taking a bow and a curtain call of his own.

"I loved the tournament," said Force. It was turbo for the most part, which is great because that’s how I think Omaha should be. You know, a little gamble here and there. Besides that, I think it was pretty good structure.

The tournament began with 317 players, and only 64 players survived the first day. The second day included the field being further reduced to the last 8 players. Once the final heads-up match was reached on Thursday, players were moved to the ESPN Main Stage, where Force defeated Jason Koon in a span of about 90 minutes.

For his runner-up finish, Koon –- a local Las Vegas player -- collected $128,660.

Force faced his friend Julian Powell in the semifinals, and they made it interesting during a round of pot-limit Omaha.

"We just decided, ‘cause I love to gamble, 'What can we do to spice things up a little bit?' said Force. "I was like, might as well show one card. I figured he’d go along with it, so I just went for it."

Powell and Simeon Naydenov won $73,655 for their semifinal finish.

The prize pool totaled $870,870. The top 64 finishers were paid.

Among those who cashed in the round of eight were two former WSOP gold bracelet winners -- Andy Frankenberger and Annette Obrestad. The next group of in-the-money finishers (round of 16) included three more former title holders – Josh Arieh, David Williams, and Mike Sexton. In fact, Sexton, an inductee into the Poker Hall of Fame two years ago, entered the record books, of sorts. Sexton accomplished what is believed to be a first in poker history. He entered both the heads-up event and the $1,500 Stud High-Low event, and not only cashed in both, but managed to finish in the top 16 for both tournaments.

Other notable players who cashed included Matt Jarvis, who made the final 32, while four-time bracelet winner David Chiu, two-time bracelet winner Eric Froehlich, two-time bracelet winner Jose-Luis Velador, Ayaz Mahmood, Phillipe Boucher, and Sam Stein made the final 64.

Modified from tournament notes provided by WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla.

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