Commentary

All fun and games for Bounahra

Updated: October 30, 2011, 11:09 AM ET
By Bernard Lee | ESPN.com

Editor's note: You can watch Bob Bounahra make his way toward the WSOP main event final table as Day 8 coverage continues on ESPN on Nov. 1 from 9:30-11:30 p.m. ET.

Poker trivia time: What do Dennis Phillips, Kevin Schaffel and Soi Nguyen have in common with 2011 November Niner Badih Bounahra?

Of course, they were all members of the elite fraternity called the WSOP November Nine. More specifically though, these gentlemen were all the elder statesmen of their particular November Nine year. Since the WSOP main event champion in the last three years has an average age of 21, the elder-statesman moniker doesn't seem to bode well for the 49-year-old from Belize. Nevertheless, Bounahra doesn't see it that way.

[+] EnlargeBadih Bounahra
AP Photo/Isaac BrekkenBadih Bounahra is the only amateur at the 2011 WSOP main event final table.

"I am not under any pressure," he said. "I believe the pressure is on the young boys. I am 49 and I have no pressure, so I take it day by day."

Bob, as his friends know him, has been part-owner of a poker room in Belize for a couple of years. This social club is the place where he and his friends have honed their poker game.

"It started two years ago where a group of us got together to open a social place, like a club," Bounahra said. "As we began planning, someone suggested making it a poker room since all my friends in Belize would always talk poker. So, now we come here, sit down have drinks, eat and play poker. That's how it started."

In a country that is geographically a little bit smaller than Massachusetts (population 6.5 million), Belize has a population of approximately 325,000 people -- the country with the lowest population density in Central America. That said, the country has turned out some solid poker performances at the WSOP over the past several years.

"Belize has some good poker players," Bounahra said . "I believe that if you count the number of players from Belize that play in the World Series [main event] every year, it's about maximum maybe five, but we have a serious cash percentage if you think about Belize compared to another countries in the world. Last year my brother cashed, and we've had a couple guys cash deep in the main event over the past few years."

Despite their solid performances, none of these players or any player from Belize has ever made the WSOP main event final table like Bounahra. Since making the 2011 November Nine, he has become a celebrity in his home country, similar to former WSOP champions Joseph Hachem in Australia and Jonathan Duhamel in Canada.

"It was the best feeling you can ever have. The minute I landed home here, everybody was excited," recalled Bounahra, a father of three. "People are really, really going crazy here in Belize. Everybody welcomed me when I came back. Everybody was watching the television all hours of the morning. … It is something really good for Belize."

Bounahra's journey was almost cut short on Day 6. Short-stacked, he decided to push all-in with 8-7 suited and unfortunately ran into pocket kings. He truly believed his 2011 main event run was over.

"I had about 425,000 left and I decided to shove with my suited connectors and ran into kings," he said. "But this was the first time I am all-in, and usually when I'm all-in, I walk to the rail and talk to my supporters and don't watch. The rail was so far away, my supporters could not see and I did not know that I flopped a straight [4-5-6]. The player in Seat 1 joked that it was a bad flop and when the turn came a king, he said that my opponent turned a full house. When the river [a deuce] finally hit, I walked back over to shake everybody's hand and wish them luck to make the November Nine. When I got to my seat and they said 'Why don't you look at the flop?' I couldn't believe that I won the hand. It was one of the happiest moments for me. I can't tell you if that was the happiest moment or making the November Nine. From then on, I felt I was on a freeroll."

Two days later, poker fans around the world witnessed Bounahra's run to the final table on ESPN. On the final table bubble, they watched as a short-stacked Bounahra pushed all-in with his own pocket kings, eventually called by John Hewitt's K-Q. This timely double-up allowed Bounahra to end the night with 19.7 million in chips, finishing in sixth chip position.

What viewers didn't see were Bounahra's cards less than 10 minutes earlier, when he looked down at his hand and had to make one of the biggest decisions of his poker career.

"Pius [Heinz] raised for 1.1 million in chips. Then it was reraised by Ben Lamb to 3.1 and then it folded down to Matt [Giannetti] and he shoved all-in for about 8 [million total]. I looked down at pocket queens and I had to lay down my pocket queens because of the raise and reraise and the shove all-in. I knew that Ben was going to call no matter what because he had already committed so much."

After the hand played out, Bounahra's pair would have held up, but he had no remorse. Well, maybe a little bit.

"I honestly laid it down very easily, but when the results ended up and the pocket jacks [of Matt Giannetti] held up, I felt it a little bit disgusted. But I just let it pass by me like it didn't happen, and fortunately I got pocket kings and I doubled up right after that."

While many of his other competitors have admitted to watching the television broadcasts, Bounahra has stayed away from his TV thus far, but when this hand airs on Nov. 1, he might be watching.

"I purposely had not seen anything on ESPN," Bounahra said. "I had a lot of people watching and I intentionally told them not to tell me what happened … because I really did not want it to affect my game. That's one of the reasons I believe I made it to the November Nine, because I blocked everything out."

Before returning to the Rio All-Suite Hotel Casino, Bounahra does plan to review some of the video, but will not solely rely on this information.

"I think I'm going to study the tapes before the November Nine," he said. "Honestly, I will say that when the November Nine happens, I'm going to play them one-by-one and try to bring the bracelet back home to Belize."

If Bounahra is successful in his quest for WSOP main event glory, he'll be in the front of a poker revolution. Not only will he have one quality that will differ from the three previously mentioned elder statesmen, but he'll also bring poker to the forefront of Belize and put a country not traditionally known for its poker prowess on top of the world.

Bernard Lee is a columnist for ESPN.com and the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Since finishing 13th in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, Lee has earned over $2 million in career earnings, including three poker titles. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Bernard is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and also the host of a weekly poker radio show in Boston, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show".

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