Florida State Poker Championships garner national focus

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Most poker players and fans have little perception (orinterest) into the preparations involved in putting on a major tournament or series of events.From the early decisions regarding buy-ins/schedules and promotional efforts that encourage players to attend, to the eventual setup and staffing of the poker room, the manager must painstakingly agonize over all of these details for months.He or she works hard to make sure things run smoothly while not hurting the regular cash games, the bread-and-butter of the operation.

So when Mike Smith, director of poker at the Isle Casino at Pompano Park, decided to take things to the next level and offer a $5,300 buy-in for the main event of the Florida State Poker Championship with a $1 million prize pool guarantee, he knew there would be some “Maalox moments” in his future.He also knew the timing was right, immediately after the World Series (with poker interest at an all-time high) and before the start of Annie Duke’s Epic Poker League, which would siphon off the top names in the game.

Sure, all those zeroes on the billboard looked great, but anything less than a turnout of 200 players would force the owners of the casino to pony up the additional cash to meet the guarantee, upping the stress level for Smith.

A turnout of 105 players on Day 1A gave him a chance to breathe easier, and when 178 showed up for Day 1B for a total of 283 players, he easily had his guarantee with a $1.415-million prize pool.Smith, a man of few words, often deflects credit and attention to his well-trained staff, and when I asked him the two-word question, “Overwhelming success?” he replied simply with a nod and a smile.Later, with the action under way, he said, “To be honest, my work is mostly done now.My guys will take care of the rest and I’ll start planning the next one.”

The other big question was whether the larger buy-in would be a huge draw for the big-name stars, and the answer was yes.Floridians that often play in the Isle’s bigger events showed up from around the state as expected (Harrison Gimbel, Mike Beasley, Sharon Levin, Hayden Fortini, Darryll Fish, Matt Waxman, Ebony Kenney, Noah Schwartz and John Riordan).Four of the televised WPT-Hard Rock Showdown final-table members were on hand as well: Justin Zaki, Abbey Daniels, Tommy Vedes and champion Taylor Von Kriegenbergh.
Speaking of familiar faces from poker television, Tom Marchese, Dwyte Pilgrim, ESPN analyst Olivier Busquet, Robert Mizrachi (Grinder’s older brother) and Andrew “LuckyChewy” Lichtenberger all made the scene. The tournament’s star power was bookended by South Florida’s Jason Mercier (the No. 1 player in the world according to ESPN’s “The Nuts” Top 10 rankings), who played Day 1A, and Tampa’s John Racener (2010 WSOP Main Event runner-up), who strolled in about three minutes before the 2 p.m. entry deadline on Day 1B.Those two have combined for $10 million in earnings over the past three years, so I guess they can show up whenever they like.

As a tribute to the quality of this field, only Pilgrim, Marchese, Robert Mizrachi and Lichtenberger made it to Day 2. Mizrachi was chipleader at the start of Day 2 with 189K chips, but dropped to 80K before making a comeback and finishing in 18th place with 210K.LuckyChewy fared better on Day 2, finishing with 695K, just ahead of Connor Drinan, but well behind the chipleader, Brian Hawkins (1.07 million) of Ft. Myers.

Day 3 would start just outside the prize-money bubble with 30 players, a fact that created some minor grumbling, but was unavoidable because of the feelings of at least one player who did not want to continue past the scheduled 10 levels the previous night.I guess we can feel sorry for John Dobson, the FSPC bubble boy.But I feel worse for Rob Mizrachi, the last well-known player at the final table, who was brutally eliminated in eighth place holding pocket aces vs. Samar Williams’ A-8 offsuit. An eight on the flop for Williams and another on the turn sent the eldest Mizrachi brother immediately to his cell phone to text news of the horrible bad beat to the rest of the family.

On the final day the field was down to six, five of which were 20-something online grinders with only a handful of large live cashes on their resumés. The other was a 49-year-old businessman named Mark Hazlett from Satellite Beach, which was fitting because he drove down before the event and “satellited” into the tourney.The Day 4 leader ultimately was eliminated when Drinan’s flush on the river overtook his flopped straight.Drinan would win the title (see results and photos on the next page), earning him $378,719.

So with this groundbreaking event in the books, Smith turns his attention to the next big poker series, the Isle Open, which will be played Oct. 9-24 with the buy-in for that main event at $2,200, “mainly to take some of the stress off me,” he said jokingly. “But the Florida State Championship is our WSOP and we’ll be back with a similar format, same time, same channel, next summer.”

— Big Dave Lemmon is Ante Up’s South Florida Ambassador. Email him at bigdave@pokeractionline.com.

FLORIDA STATE POKER CHAMPIONSHIPS

JULY 7-AUG. 2 • ISLE CASINO • POMPANO PARK, FLA.

Event 1 • $330 NLHE w/re-entry
Entries: 1,035 • Prize Pool: $310,500
Roberto Riva, W. Palm Beach, FL, $43,000

Event 2 • $230 Omaha/8
Entries: 157 • Prize Pool: $31,400
Chris Hice, Panama City, FL, $4,900

Event 3 • $330 NLHE
Entries: 207 • Prize Pool: $62,100
Eugenio Castaneda, P. St. Lucie, FL, $12,432

Event 4 • $340 Seniors
Entries: 85 • Prize Pool: $26,350
David Poces, Boca Raton, FL, $3,910

Event 5 • $550 NLHE
Entries: 628 • Prize Pool: $314,000
Doron Malinasky, Hollywood, FL, $70K

Event 6 • $1,100 Shootout
Entries: 88 • Prize Pool: $100,000
Evan Snow, Coral Springs, FL, $22,000

Event 7 • $200 PLO w/rebuys
Entries: 86 • Prize Pool: $47,280
Mark Thoenes, Greenville, SC, $16,076

Event 8 • $330 NLHE
Entries: 287 • Prize Pool: $86,100
Mike Sexton, Coral Springs, FL, $12,500

Event 9 • $200 NLHE w/rebuys
Entries: 115 • Prize Pool: $47,500
Steven Goldman, New York, $15,672

Event 10 • $550 NLHE
Entries: 211 • Prize Pool: $105,500
Barry Hutter, Bradenton, FL, $30,011

Event 11 • $1,600 w/bounties
Entries: 275 • Prize Pool: $412,000
Mark Shoichet, Royal Palm Bch, FL, $60K

Event 12 • $225 Ladies
Entries: 47 • Prize Pool: $9,400
Samantha Hesley, Wellington, FL, $3,760

Event 13 • $2,200 6-Max
Entries: 79 • Prize Pool: $158,000
Joshua Hillock, Palm City, FL, $31,323

Event 14 • $330 NLHE
Entries: 259 • Prize Pool: $77,700
Samuel Panzica, Saline, MI, $7,510

Event 15 • $550 PLHE
Entries: 62 • Prize Pool: $31,000
Cesar Fuentes, Venezuela, $9,021

Event 16 • $350 w/bounties
Entries: 186 • Prize Pool: $59,520
Yesniel Pulido, Pem. Pines, FL, $12,196