Florida rocks the 2008 World Series of Poker

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By Scott Long

A bracelet, baby!

When Floridians make final tables 21 times, you have to think the law of averages will catch up sooner or later. And they did for Frank Gary of Fort Myers.

The 41-year-old retiree was the only Floridian to win the coveted bling this year, taking down Event No. 41 ($1,500 mixed hold’em) for $219,562. Gary, who sold his small high-tech company a few years ago and now travels the country in his RV, thanked God for his winning performance.

The Main Event

Hold on, folks — it ain’t over yet. A controversial decision by the WSOP to delay the final table of the main event for 117 days means nine players are still alive for the richest purse in poker this year.

David Rheem is one of them.

Rheem, sponsored by PokerStars, used to call Cooper City home, but now hails from Los Angeles. Rheem will go into final-table play in November seventh out of the final nine with 10,230,000 chips. Nick Sortal of the Sun-Sentinel has reported Rheem has an open arrest warrant for a misdemeanor trespassing charge in Hollywood. That news led Chicago Tribune poker columnist Steve Rosenbloom to quip, “Harrah’s and ESPN wanted a new kind of poker broadcast, and I’m thinking, having Florida authorities cuffing a wanted man as he reraises from the button at the biggest poker tournament in the world is a new kind of poker broadcast.”

Since then, Hollywood Police say they aren’t actively seeking Rheem, so it looks like he can focus on his cards.

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To say Bernie Koerner backed into his main event seat wouldn’t be fair, but the story is funny just the same.

Imagine this: You’re playing in Daytona Beach Kennel Club’s satellite tournament for a chance to go to Las Vegas to play in the biggest poker tournament in the world. It’s bubble time and if just one more person gets eliminated it means you’re flying west. And that’s when you get a seven-hand penalty! That’s what happened to Koerner, 64, of Daytona Beach.

“The girl on my left had her hands covering her cards,” he said. “I didn’t know she had a hand. Someone on my right went all-in and I was the chipleader at the time and I called and showed my cards. I didn’t know there was someone left in the hand. I should’ve just gotten a warning.”

So off Koerner went, banished to the rail (or in this case the lounge) to wait out seven agonizing hands as his stack was blinded off. But, when the penalty was over and he returned to his seat he discovered he already had earned a spot in the WSOP.

“When the penalty happened I turned to my tournament director and said ‘Bernie’s going to win a seat,’” Daytona Beach Kennel Club poker room manager Mark Hayes said. “Bernie’s only been playing poker for about three years. It’s a great story.”

And he made the best of his WSOP seat, turning in the eighth-best performance by a Florida player. He finished 180th out of 6,844 and earned more than $38,000. Considering he started his WSOP voyage by winning a $65 satellite, Koerner isn’t really complaining about the penalty.

“I probably would’ve won the tournament anyway,” Koerner said, “but as it turns out the penalty ended up working in my favor.”

Jacobo Fernandez rules them all

They say sometimes players just get into a zone. But even when everything seems to be in sync, it’s hard to consistently perform through the marathon rigors of the World Series of Poker. But Jacobo Fernandez of Hollywood did it.

With a staggering seven cashes, including three final tables, the Dominican Republic native held a tight grip on the prestigious World Series of Poker Player of the Year honors until well-known pro Erick Lindgren literally nipped him at the wire. Fernandez finished third, 13 points behind. He did, however, win CardPlayer’s WSOP Player of the Year, as the magazine’s criteria is slightly different.

Fernandez, who has four World Poker Tour cashes to his credit, spread out his success over the Series. He took third in Event No. 3 (pot-limit hold’em, $1,500), and finished in 100th place in Event No. 48 (NLHE, $2K). Along the way, he earned $653,040 (the largest haul from Florida). And Fernandez is no specialist. His cashes came in stud, Omaha, Omaha/8 and three hold’em disciplines.

In Event No. 3, he went into the final table as the chipleader with a quarter of the chips in play, but lost the lead when he got heads-up with pro David Singer. Fernandez battled Singer for five hours before the Las Vegas pro took the bracelet.