South Florida poker series madness erupts in February

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Several poker series will dot the landscape in South Florida this month, attracting many of the top U.S. players to the incredible Sunshine State climate at a time when the weather is most pleasant. The tip of the Florida peninsula known as South Florida mainly consists of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, and each county will host an interesting series.

The biggest of them all will be the World Series of Poker Circuit at the Palm Beach Kennel Club (Feb. 16 –27), which set state records in its inaugural 2011 event. Across Belvedere Road from the super-convenient Palm Beach International Airport, this historic track (owned by the famous Rooney family of Pittsburgh Steelers fame) has two large poker rooms on opposite ends of the facility, a perfect setting for what could be the largest event in Florida history. The series, expanded from 10 to 12 ring events, will be bookended by an exciting $1 million guarantee Event 1 and the $1,500 main event, which will attract the top regulars from this prestigious circuit.

Reed Zhao of Lexington, Ky., won last year’s opener, collecting almost $50K for the victory in the $345 buy-in event, which had 877 contestants. This year’s event could have a first prize nearly five times that.

The circuit and the track have upped the ante considerably, with a $555 entry fee and the seven-figure prize pool guarantee for Event 1, which certainly is causing some trepidation and maybe a few sleepless nights for PBKC’s director of poker operations Noah Carbone and poker manager Tim Wright.

“It’s nerve-wracking, but we have the full support of the company and the WSOP and I believe it will turn out well,” Carbone said. “We’re going to be with the WSOP over the next three years and we couldn’t be happier with this association. … The staff and professionalism that this branding brings with them is incredible; to us, it’s the Rolls Royce of poker.”

While the World Poker Tour has expanded recently to all parts of Florida with its many regional events, Carbone feels since PBKC hosts the only WSOP-related event in Florida it makes this special.
“We think that starting the series off with such a huge event will create a tremendous amount of excitement over the 12 days, and that will benefit us in our cash games and satellites,” he said.

To reach the $1 million guarantee, the opening event will need 2,000 entrants, which seems like a daunting task, but PBKC has been awarding seats over the past month or so in a high-hand promotion and numerous satellites. With three opening-day sessions and re-entries allowed, the goal should be accomplished, with 11 extra tables creating plenty of spots for a hoped-for 750 players in each session. Wright said Day 1A entrants will “get three swings at it, if they prefer.”

The buzz is so intense that pokertickets.com (handling advance online entries) told Carbone it never had seen such interest in an event so far in advance.

With H.O.R.S.E. and a six-max tournaments among the 12 ring events, plus a non-ring ladies tourney (a special diamond pendant will be awarded) on the agenda, there should be something this year to satisfy everyone. Last year’s colorful collection of ring winners included 67-year-old Tampa Bay Ray (Ray Del Cueto) and a retired woman (former corrections officer June Amer), along with a 23-year-old Miami man playing in his first live tournament (James Giraldo) and the youngest-ever WSOPC champ, John Riordan, then 19, who took home $210K for his main event victory by defeating 741 players.

MORE EVENTS: With the Isle Classic completed in Pompano at press time and the WPT regional event known as the Lucky Hearts Open under way at the Seminole Hard Rock, the action is red-hot in South Florida through the end of February. WPT personalities Tony Dunst and Mike Sexton (and who could forget the Royal Flush Girls?) will be attending the Lucky Hearts main event, which starts Feb. 10 ($3,500 buy-in/$750K guarantee).

Before that, Studz Poker Room at Calder Casino & Race Course will host its first tournament series, the Miami Gardens Poker Classic (Feb. 3-12). The six-event series will feature more than $200K in guarantees, with the main event starting Feb. 10 ($440, $100K guarantee).

The room continues to fight for business against its more-established rivals by providing an extremely comfortable and fun experience and definitely appeals to the player looking for value with less money to throw around.

Director of poker Chris Trabue said he and his staff continually listen to what players want, and a perfect example is the fact that all jackpot promotions are included in Studz tournaments, including this series. Trabue is hoping the series will attract some new players who are priced-out by the Hard Rock events and “add a bit more to our core group of players.”

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