Gant beats record field for Arizona state poker title

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Eltorna Gant, a.k.a. BG, from a state-record field of 1,233, overcomes a 28-1 chip lead for $233K.

The eighth annual Arizona State Poker Championship, which started Aug. 10, attracted some of the most popular poker players in the world, but in the end it was a local man, Eltorna “BG” Gant, who captured the title, a bracelet, a trophy and $233,696.

Some of the big names in the field included Octo-Nine member Jacob Balsinger, a local player at Talking Stick Resort, as well as Dennis Phillips, Matt Affleck, Chip Jett, John Cernuto, Karina Jett, David Pham, Tom Schneider, David Williams, Ylon Schwartz, Ryan Hughes and Mike Wattel. Poker pro and TV personality Tiffany Michelle hosted the final table.

Though many pros and big names were in the event at the start of the fifth day, local players overwhelmingly represented the final table with 8 of 10 being from Arizona. As the table dwindled three players, Matt Elsby held a commanding chiplead over Adam “Whitey” White and Gant, who lives in Casa Grande.

The play three-handed was intense, but White exited third, leaving Elsby with a remarkable 28-1 chip lead to start the heads-up battle with Gant. But Gant’s aggressive style allowed for him to steal blinds and within 90 minutes the players were about even. The big hand came when the 29-year-old Gant picked up pocket kings vs. Elsby’s pocket 10s as the chips were about square at that point.

“I knew I was going to do it,” said Gant, a first-time entrant of the competition. “I never stopped believing in myself that I would win, I just thought it would take longer.”

The excitement leading up to the state championship was accelerated this year thanks to four warm-up events leading up to the $1,070 main event.

Though the prize pool was advertised at $1 million, the event set a record, drawing 180 more entries than last year (1,053), requiring the Talking Stick Resort to shut down cash play for the first time in recent memory, meaning all 54 tables were used for Day 3 action. The entries of 1,233 set a state record, handing out $233K for first place from the record $1.23 million prize pool.

“We couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling outcome,” Talking Stick director of poker Kent Odekirk said. “Many of BG’s competitors were professional poker players and tournament regulars, which proves that with some major luck and a good sense of judgment, poker can be anyone’s game.”

Odekirk, who predicted the event would attract about 1,200 players, went on to praise his staff.

“My employees made this a great event,” he said. “We were thrilled with the turnout and it ran like a fine-tuned piano. And I want to thank all the guests that made it a great event.”

With a record-breaking field and an overwhelming amount of chatter about the nice accommodations at Talking Stick Resort, it will be exciting to see what changes and new features will be added for the 9th annual event next year.

In September, the Arena Poker Room at Talking Stick will feature the 7th annual Arizona State Ladies Poker Championship with an estimated $80K prize pool. Play starts Sept. 8 at 10 a.m. with a $200 buy-in.

The ladies event will end Sept. 10. For more information be sure to call the Arena Poker Room or visit talkingstickresort.com.

— Brian Fanzo is Ante Up’s Arizona Ambassador. Feel free to email him at anteup.fanzo@gmail.com.

ASPC final results

1. Eltorna “BG” Gant, Casa Grande, AZ, $233,696
2. Matt Elsby, Chandler, AZ, $147,960
3. Adam “Whitey” White, Washington, D.C., $97,407
4. Sal Musto, Tempe, AZ, $72,747
5. Nathan Pfunger, Tempe, AZ, $59,184
6. William Yantis, Tucson, AZ, $46,854
7. Richard Saine, Phoenix, $34,524
8. Adam Singer, Paradise Valley, AZ, $28,359
9. Mohammad “Mo” Abedi Arani, Plano, TX, $20,961
10. Dylan Hortin, Anthem, AZ, $14,796