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Willmar, Minn., man places 48th in recent World Series of Poker event in Vegas

Stephen Peppin of Willmar, center, plays in the 2011 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Peppin played in a no-limit hold 'em event from June 21 to 23 and placed 48th. (Submitted photo courtesy of Stephen Peppin)

WILLMAR -- When he's not cutting hair or with the family, he's sitting at a poker table waiting for the perfect hand.

Stephen Peppin, owner of Pep's Sports Barber Shop and Salon on First Avenue in Willmar, placed 48th recently in the 2011 World Series of Poker.

The 42nd annual tournament included 1,734 international players, and Peppin was one of the last 10 Americans to be eliminated after three 10-hour days.

"Your mindset has to be focused on poker, you can't do anything else," Peppin said. "You have to be focused for 10 hours, sleep, and then repeat it two more times. If you're playing hard, you're going to be mentally exhausted."

The tournament in Las Vegas features several events. Peppin played in a no-limit hold 'em event from June 21 to 23.

Peppin was beat out by the eventual third-place finisher Thomas Middleton from the United Kingdom with a pair of nines. Peppin drew an ace and king while Middleton had an ace and nine. The board was a 9, 5, 2, 10 and jack and Peppin had $125,000 in the pot.

He couldn't believe Middleton called his hand.

"He had to know he was behind, I never showed a bluff," Peppin said. "There's no way he should have called."

Despite losing the hand and getting knocked out, Peppin walked away with $12,860 in prize money adding on to his career total, without losses, of about $87,000, he said.

Although he didn't finish where he wanted to, Peppin said it was one of the best experiences he has ever had playing poker.

"It brings in all the best players throughout the world," he said. "Everybody knows how to play and make moves on you and has the same goal so there is a lot of pressure with every hand but playing with the big names was pretty cool."

Confident in his poker-playing abilities, Peppin also travels to various Minnesota casinos to participate in the Minnesota Poker Tour.

Having placed high during three tournaments, he said poker "has been good to me."

Peppin said he picked up poker in 1997 and continually has gotten better.

Although very few area residents will play him, Peppin said he makes sure he plays the best card-players to ensure a good game.

"There's no prize playing around here, it's just like any other sport," Peppin said. "If you play with bad players, you pick up bad habits."

Looking ahead, Peppin plans to play in the Fall Classic in Canterbury this October.