Cliff Ellefson, Nevada Union grad, heads to massive poker tournament in Bahamas | TheUnion.com

Cliff Ellefson, Nevada Union grad, heads to massive poker tournament in Bahamas

Cliff Ellefson fought through an 800-plus person poker tournament to the final two, and he had some rough cards to show for it.

Holding ace-four, the Nevada Union High School graduate had pushed in most of his chips on what would become the last hand. His opponent had two 10s — much stronger cards.

Three cards lay face up on the table, one of them a three. The dealer would turn over two more. Both players could use any of the five face-up cards, as well as their respective two-card hands, to make the best five-card hand.

Ellefson needed a miracle.

"Call it the miracle on felt," he said.

The fourth face-up card was a two. The fifth and final card a five. Ellefson held a straight — the winning hand.

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Hundreds of people paid $86 for the chance to win a trip to the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold'em Championship in the Bahamas. The trip includes a $25,000 buy-in into a massive poker tournament, $3,000 for room and meals and $2,000 for a round-trip flight. But it was Ellefson who played some 16 hours of poker to claim that prize Aug. 5 at Stones Gambling Hall.

The players included some professionals, like Chris Moneymaker, who in 2003 helped make the game mainstream by winning the World Series of Poker main event. The gambling hall called its August tournament a celebration of Moneymaker's win.

Justin Kuraitis, Stones' tournament director and media coordinator for Stones Live, said the final table had professionals, high-limit players and Ellefson. Watching the game, Kuraitis turned to a fellow tournament director.

"Wouldn't it be great if the hometown guy won?" Kuraitis asked the other director. "He was that perfect person to take it down."

In the cards

Now a Lincoln resident, the 36-year-old Ellefson continues to come here for adult leagues like the Western Nevada County Slo-pitch Softball Association. He also volunteers at a senior center.

Ellefson is the owner of Ecoattics, an insulation company. He's no longer heavily involved in its day-to-day operations, which gives him time to volunteer and play in the softball, and other, leagues.

It also gives him time to play poker.

Ellefson plays regularly at Stones, and at some point learned about the Moneymaker PokerStars Players Championship Tour. He figured plenty of players would enter, and he bought two tickets — one for Saturday and another for Sunday.

The final nine players from each day became the tournament's last 18 players.

Ellefson lost Saturday and returned Sunday for a second try.

"It's not like I was thinking about winning," he said.

The Sunday game eventually brought Ellefson to Moneymaker's table. He'd previously encountered the poker pro, calling him friendly. People rooted for Moneymaker — a man who 15 years ago rose from anonymity after winning an online tournament that launched him into the World Series of Poker and his historic win there.

Ellefson saw Moneymaker get booted from the tournament. Many others slowly left as well, until only Ellefson and a handful of players sat at the final table.

Endgame

The remaining players starting dropping away, and then it was down to three. The trio made a deal: Each of them would win $5,000 of the prize money, regardless of their place in the tournament.

All that remained was to determine first place.

"I got runner-runner straight," Ellefson said of the cards that delivered his win. "It kind of felt like time stopped for a second for me. The biggest thing was cameras coming right up in my face."

Ellefson thanked Stones Gambling Hall, praising its tournament directors. He also thanked Moneymaker, who reached out to Ellefson through the gambling hall. The poker pro, the man who Ellefson remembers watching win the World Series of Poker in 2003, offered to coach him.

"It was pretty surreal," Ellefson said of the game. "It's actually really hard."

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

This story has been updated to include the full names of the two poker tournaments.

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