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'Little Joe' Comes up Big in Pot-Limit Omaha Championship:  Winnings pledged to pay for daughter’s college education

The real winner of the kick-off event of the 2005 Jack Binion World Poker Open was not a poker player, but rather a 15-year-old high school girl from Pasadena, TX named Lillian Rutledge. Proud father and new poker champion ‘Little Joe’ Rutledge pledged he would donate his entire tournament prize winnings in this event totaling $104,021 to his daughter’s college education fund. In a few short years, young Lillian will enter Texas A&M University to study agriculture because of what her father managed to accomplish in this poker tournament.
   Playing in only his second Pot-Limit Omaha tournament ever, Rutledge topped a highly-competitive field of 281 players. Interestingly enough, Mississippi is acknowledged as the Pot-Limit Omaha capital of the world (more games are to be found in this region than anywhere else), but to the chagrin of the locals, it was a daring Texan who stormed in and rode off with first place.
   One of the tournament’s most exciting hands took place at the end of Day One, when ten players remained. Luis Velandor, from Lake Elsinore, CA was ‘all in’ and down to a single out when he held a lower full house. Prospects dim, Velador spiked a miracle 42 to 1 shot on the river and made four-of-a-kind, which rocketed him up into the chip lead going into Day Two at the final table. For Velador, the monstrous catch would prove to be worth an additional $53,000 in prize money.
   The final table began with thousands of poker players and followers crowded onto the second floor of the Gold Strike Casino-Resort. In a scene more reminiscent of Times Square on New Year’s Eve than a poker tournament, the nine finalists took their seats and were eliminated in the following order:

9th Place – Randy Edmonson, from Columbus, MS arrived severely short stacked. He had barely enough chips to play through one round of blinds. Edmonson was eliminated in the opening minutes and collected $6,501 for two days of poker playing.

8th Place – Gene Frank came in second-lowest in chips and went out next. Frank, playing in his fourth consecutive JBWPO, has made several final tables at major poker tournaments, including second-place in a Limit Hold’em event in 2002. Frank wasn’t able to generate much momentum in his short stay at the final table, and the insurance agency owner from Evansville, IN had his policy for survival cancelled. His premium amounted to $9,752.

7th Place – Longtime poker pro Billy Duarte is no stranger to making final tables. He arrived as one of the most experienced players, yet was short-stacked throughout the first hour. The 66-year-old retiree from Colorado received $13,003 for 7th place. Duarte, never one to shy away from expressing his opinion, stated unequivocally that he opposes poker tournaments with multiple re-buys, believing they are “bad for poker.” While Duarte’s point is debatable, the large number of re-buys in this event (averaging about 1.5 per player) added to Duarte’s net win.

6th Place – ‘Sunny’ Nijran, from London, England was the lone non-American at the final table. Like those who went out before him, Nijran was short-stacked the entire time.  The 33-year-old poker pro went out in 6th place, worth $16,253 in prize money.

5th Place – Manelic ‘Manny’ Minaya went out next. Playing for the second straight year in the JBWPO, the 52-year-old billing and collections manager from Tampa, FL invoiced his fellow poker players for $19,504 in cash.

4th Place – Tommy Grimes (along with Duarte) was the most accomplished and experienced poker player in the finale. Grimes made it to the final table in the main event here in 2003 and has played in Tunica every year since the tournament’s inception in 2000. Grimes, a professional gambler from Houston, TX added $22,754 to his impressive winnings from poker tournaments with his 4th place finish in this event.

3rd Place – Ray Weaver, from Birmingham, AL calls himself a “lucky old man,” since he been  married to his wife for 51 years (with four children and 10 grandchildren). Weaver’s best tournament finish to date had been 2nd place to former world champ Scotty Nguyen back at the 2000 JBWPO. He failed to improve on that impressive performance on this day. Still, the 70-year-old retired auto salesman received a very nice payout totaling $29,256 for 3rd place.

The heads-up confrontation between Texan ‘Little Joe’ Rutledge and Californian Luis Velador lasted a half hour. Interestingly enough, both players had sat side by side much of the previous day and half-jokingly exchanged words that they planned to face off as the tournament’s final two players. The mutual support and encouragement obviously worked, as Velador began heads-up play against Rutledge with a slight chip lead.

The duel featured at least one stunning hand that completely altered the outcome of the tournament. With both players playing big draws aggressively, Rutledge missed and then moved ‘all in’ with nothing more than a pair of eights, when the board showed a possible straight as the ‘nut’ hand. Rutledge was convinced his opponent Velador did not have the top straight and made a massive ‘all in’ bet that gave him a decisive chip lead. As it turned out, Velador was on a wrap-around straight draw as well, and later stated that he couldn’t beat the pair of eights. So, the laydown was correct.

The final hand of the tournament came in lightening fast time, as the finale ended just 1:50 into Day Two. Velador started off with the best hand, holding A-A-7-4, but Rutledge made a heart flush with K-Q-Q-2 and took Velador’s last chip.   

Afterward, Luis Velador had mixed feelings about the outcome of the tournament. As a decisive chip-leader coming into Day Two, he was expected to finish high. Indeed, second-place in any poker tournament is bittersweet. He collected $57,212 but was disappointed he failed to win. 

The winner, ‘Little Joe’ Rutledge owns a business in the Houston area called “Vegas Style.” The retailer opened up only a few months ago and saw an incredible boom in business over the holidays – due entirely to poker’s massive popularity. Patterned after a Las Vegas landmark, the “Gamblers General Store,” Rutledge hopes to cash in marketing poker items, such as tables, cards, chips, and other products. If his business sense is anything like his talent at the poker table, “Vegas Style” will certainly become quite a success, as will student Lillian Rutledge, Texas A&M Class of 2012.


2005 Jack Binion World Poker Open  Daily Report

January 7, 2005

Event #1

Pot-Limit Omaha

Buy-In: $500

Number of Entries: 281

Number of Re-Buys: 431 

Prize Money: $326,514

Official Results:

1.  Joe Rutledge  Pasadena, TX  won $104,021

2.  Luis Velador  Lake Elsinore, CA won $57,212

3.  Ray Weaver  Birmingham, AL won $29,256

4.  Tommy Grimes Houston, TX won $22,754

5.  Manelic Minaya  Tampa, FL won $19,504

6.  B. “Sunny” Nijran  London, UK won $16,253

7.  Billy Duarte Berthoud, CO won $13,003

8.  Gene Frank Evansville, IN  won $9,752

9.  Randy Edmonson Columbus, MS won $6,501


10. Qasim Tiwana - $4,021         11. Frank Kassela  - $4,021
12. Elmer Thomas - $4,021

13. Ayaz Mahmood - $3,351
14. Jeremy Tinsley - $3,351
15. Thor Hansen - $3,351

16. Thomas McGrath - $2,681
17. Derek Tomko - $2,681
18. Todd Gordon  - $2,681

19. William Nuah - $2,011
20. Jere Weaver  - $2,011
21. Gene Fisher - $2,011
22. Jason Maeroff - $2,011
23. Richard Smaniotto - $2,011
24. Pat Castelluccio - $2,011
25. Bobby Slagle - $2,011
26. Frankie Wales  - $2,011
27. Jack Ward - $2,011

Final Table Started at: 4:00 pm CST

Final Table Ended at:  5:50 pm CST

Report by Nolan Dalla – JBWPO Media Director

Tournament Director – David Eglseder

Co-Tournament Director (Horseshoe) – Ken Lambert, Jr.

Co-Tournament Director (Gold Strike) – Robert McGovern

(click photo to enlarge)

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