Back-to-back Tunica events draw plenty of players

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The World Series of Poker Circuit stop in Tunica is the pinnacle of poker events for the northern end of the state. At the end of every January thousands of players brave the unpredictable weather and book their reservations at Harrah’s for 20 days of nonstop action. This year was no exception.

Tournament director and local favorite Jimmy Sommerfeld is native to nearby Memphis, which makes it a much-anticipated stop for his touring company Poker Tournament Consultants. The first ring event boasted a staggering 1,032 entrants and a first-place payout of $54,747. Sommerfeld couldn’t have been happier with the turnout.

Even a world-class tournament director can’t prepare for the unexpected. A freak winter storm dumped six inches of ice and snow in less than an hour just days before the main event. Travel in and out of Tunica ground to a standstill as casinos operated on a skeletal crew. In an unrelated fluke, a power outage during the first hour of the main event turned the event center pitch black, leaving 480 participants scrambling to guard their stacks. When the power resumed, the staff put all hands on deck to resume the tournament clocks and keep things moving without a hitch.

Sam Barnhart ultimately won the championship. The Little Rock, Ark., native, who had no notable tournament cashes before this, took home an impressive $148,612. What some rumored to be Barnhart’s relative beginner’s luck was quickly put to rest when just a couple of weeks later he cashed an additional $10,476 in the Gold Strike’s Delta Gold main event with his fourth-place finish.

Barnhart, needless to say, was thrilled.

“This has been a huge achievement,” he said. “I hope this run continues on in Las Vegas. I’ve played a few events in neighboring states, but I haven’t had this kind of success anywhere else.”

Barnhart is a regular $20-$40 limit player at the Horseshoe in Tunica where he can be found most weekends.

“I would like to thank the wonderful staff at Harrah’s and especially the staff at Horseshoe for their overwhelming support.”

Horseshoe has a picture of Barnhart’s championship win on display in the poker room.
The Delta Gold, which began just nine days after the culmination of the Harrah’s event, filled the ballroom of Gold Strike with daily events spanning a week and a half. Despite relatively small fields for the daily noon events, the $1,080 main event drew an impressive 135 entrants. Final-table dealer Patrick Gormandy said one of the best parts for the traveling tournament staff at Gold Strike is how much fun everyone has.

“The people in Tunica are really nice, everyone has such a great time,” he said.

The event champion, James Reed, pocketed $43,214 and a beautiful crystal trophy, which his wife promptly claimed. Reed called his mom just before photographs were taken to commemorate his win. He shared that she wasn’t in great health, but that he couldn’t let the moment pass without including her. He said his mother always has encouraged him to play poker and that she was one of his greatest supporters. Reed’s mother is justified in her faith. This win adds to his career winnings of more than $170,000 since 2008.

Other accomplishments of note include Michael Postle of Hernando, Miss., winning three NLHE events and Salah “Papa” Levy of New Jersey winning two events (stud/8 and Omaha/8).

With Tunica all wrapped up, the MGM touring staff left for Biloxi for the Spring Break Classic scheduled at the Beau Rivage (March 17-27). Floor supervisor Brannon Kingston said, “We’re expecting great crowds at the Beau Rivage. Spring Break is always a fantastic event.”

Sommerfeld’s crew is on the road again as well, this time with a West Coast stop in San Diego for the WSOPC event at Harrah’s Rincon. Several of our Mississippi players will be heading west to participate in the $10K televised WSOP event on March 27. Among the confirmed participants are celebrities Charlie Sheen, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Details on this and the Spring Break Classic will follow in next month’s column.

— Jennifer Gay is a poker journalist, poker room supervisor and poker player local to the Mid-South region.She can be contacted at facebook.com/aceofjewels.