COVER STORY: Florida Million

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By Christopher Cosenza

Unprecedented. That’s the only way to describe the inaugural Florida Million Poker Tournament that attracted 2,349 entries.

• Never have six Florida poker rooms (Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale Beach, Daytona Beach Kennel Club and Poker Room, Naples-Ft. Myers Greyhound Track in Bonita Springs, Palm Beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach and Orange Park Kennel Club in the Jacksonville area) come together with one common goal.
• Never have poker rooms held Day 1s across the state with Days 2 and 3 culminating in one room for the grand prize.
• Never has a Florida poker event had a million-dollar prize pool.
• Never has there been such a poker tournament buzz in the Sunshine State.

And, yes, we have a winner: Charlie Miller of Palmetto. 

Miller, chipleader for pretty much all of the last day (April 11), bested the 234 qualifiers who had advanced to Derby Lane for the finals. He took home $123,000 and a crystal trophy.

What? You thought the winner was supposed to pocket $250K? Well, that’s another facet of this event that might be unprecedented. The amount of deals and chops that were executed nearly outnumbered the players in the field. Day 3 began with 18 players left, and some of the shorter stacks tried to convince the chipleaders to take some money off the top to flatten the pay scale. But can you blame them? This prize pool ($1,174,500) was the largest in state history, and most of these players got into the finals via $70 satellites or $550 buy-ins. 

Calmer heads prevailed and the tournament played out until the final table, which had six Derby Lane qualifiers (including the final five). When the event reached 10-handed play, many of the players pushed for an equitable chop, but Miller stood strong … for a while.
“I was joking with a friend that there was no way in hell I was going to chop this tournament,” he said. “The only way I was going to chop was when the blinds were high enough and forced me to get into ‘push-fold’ mode. Luckily, I had a the chip lead or close to it most of Day 3 and the start of the final table, but I never had the massive 100-plus big-blind stack that some people seem to think the chipleader always has. Per usual the short stacks were just trying to survive and move up a few spots because they knew I wasn’t interested in a chop at that point. Eventually, I lost a big flip ({a-Spades}{q-Spades} vs. 10-10) and after the hand my chip advantage was pretty much gone.”

The stacks started to equal out and Miller realized he’d be better off avoiding variance.
“I still had the chip lead but not by much over second place, and the third- and fourth-place stacks were not too far behind,” Miller said. “But the rest of the table was short-stacked and in trouble. At this point I was willing to listen to a deal, so I told them to put something on paper and I would look at it.

“I really wasn’t interested in a chop until I heard the magic $100K number. My biggest win up to that point had been $25K so I wasn’t about to get greedy. I still had the chip lead and wasn’t close to ‘push-fold’ mode, but the short stacks were and we have all seen short stacks go on rushes late in tourneys and build up a stack. Basically, I ended up chopping because I didn’t want to take the chance of getting coolered vs. another big stack or two-outed and be forced into shoving with any two. So I finally agreed to chop.”
Ultimately it came down to the two men who coincidentally were the chipleaders when the day began: Miller and Alexander Gregory of Tampa.

“We kinda developed a friendship,” said Gregory, who officially made $73K, but made $124K after the final deal. “I almost busted (Miller) earlier in the tournament. It was small blind, big blind, got into a fight and he shoved on me. I had king-queen and he had king-seven, but I laid my hand down. I almost called him. … We were the only two who said no to the (18-player) deal. … And then in the bathroom we saw each other and said if we get down to the final two we’ll chop it up.”

And with that, months of planning, qualifying and playing came to an end. But the tournament will live on as future Florida Millions are being planned after such an extremely successful maiden voyage.

“I don’t think it could have gone any better or been better executed,” Derby Lane director of poker operations Jeff Gamber said.

This event also served as a taste of things to come for Florida rounders. With the state getting true no-limit poker July 1, million-dollar prize pools may become commonplace, and the Florida Million series will fit in nicely.

“No matter what the limits are I think this format transcends that,” Gamber said. “If you can get six or seven people to agree and have a common goal to provide the best possible events that you can, I think no matter what the buy-in is, the Florida Million will continue on.”

A chat with the champ

Ante Up’s Chris Cosenza had a chance to speak with Charlie Miller, the inaugural Florida Million champ. The 37-year-old from Palmetto, Fla., shares his thoughts on his poker career and winning this historic event.

When did you start playing poker? Like most guys I started playing in college for a little beer money. I really didn’t get serious about the game and try to improve my play until around 2005.

Where do you play regularly? Most of the time I’m playing mid stakes online. I try to play a couple of times each week at Derby Lane (in St. Petersburg, Fla.,) or One-Eyed Jacks (in Sarasota, Fla.) just to relax and have a little fun.

How did you qualify for the Florida Million? I won my way in through a satellite tournament at Derby Lane. I think the buy-in was $70 and won the first time I played.

What did you think of the way the event was run? I thought for a first-time event the tournament was run really well. I’m not sure how the other Day 1s were handled but I think Derby Lane did a great job running the final two days. I do think all the rooms need to sit down and discuss the tournament structure and provide the players with longer blind levels later in Day 2 and the final table. I wouldn’t mind seeing 30-minute levels early then increase to 40-, 50- and have at least 60-minute levels at the final table. Obviously, most players like having longer blind levels but at the same time I don’t think you can turn a $550 event into a four- or five-day tournament. Hopefully all of the tournament directors will find a way to increase the play at the later stages of the tournament and not have so many players in “push-fold” mode.

How many chips did you have entering Day 2 and Day 3? On Day 2 I had 277,600 with blinds starting at 1K-2K and a 400 ante; Day 3 I had 4,970,000 with blinds at 60K-120K and a 15K ante. I had a small lead entering the final day. Alexander Gregory had 4,885,000.

You had the chip lead pretty much the entire Day 3. How difficult was it to play with such a large stack for such a long period of time? I think the big stack is the easiest to play. Most players do not want to play a pot against you and it’s pretty easy to control the action on the table. Having said that, you obviously don’t want to get careless and spew off a large chip stack. I’ve punted off a few large chip stacks before and it’s not the best feeling.

Tell me the story of the 18-player chop discussion. Why didn’t it happen and who first approached you about it? (laughs) Ah, yes, the infamous chop story. Actually, there never was a plan in place to chop the tournament 18 ways. A lot of the short stacks approached me and Alexander and asked us if we wanted to flatten out the pay structure. I can’t remember the exact details but they wanted to take off $50K from first and take additional money from second through fourth and move that money to increase 11th-18th place. Then we would play the tournament out as $200K for first and, if I recall correctly, 11th-18th would get $15K. All of the short stacks wanted to take money from the top but the larger chip stacks didn’t want to do this. I had plenty of chips at this point and didn’t have any plans of taking money away from first.

Officially you won $137K, but unofficially you took home $123K; that’s still not chump change. Any plans for the money? Well, $123K isn’t life-changing money, but it’s still a nice score for me. I will buy I few small items but nothing major. I will probably take the majority of the money and look to invest in a foreclosed property and flip it in a few years. Though, a Nissan GT-R would look good sitting in the driveway. (laughs)