The richness of Southwestern poker

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James Williams, a 26-year-old plumber and homeboy, turned $190 into $56,652 on Nov. 5, doubling his lifetime earnings by winning the Heartland Poker Tour Main Event at Route 66 Casino Hotel.
His K-Q held up against the K-9 of Anthony Herrera of Santa Fe and earned Williams his first career victory. Williams, his wife and his winnings made plans to hit the road and meet up with champions from throughout the season for the final HPT stop of 2012 at Belterra Casino Resort in Florence, Ind., on Nov. 9-18.

The second HPT event in New Mexico drew several HPT finalists, such as Craig Casino, Stan Jablonski, Scott Dougherty and Logan Knight. From Bullhead City, Ariz., Jablonski was the only returning final-tablist to make the cut for a second time in Albuquerque. Though the Route 66 event attracted big-name pros Maria Ho, Bryan Devonshire and Allen Kessler, only Kessler cashed (11th, $5,058). Ho busted on Day 1 and Devonshire left on the money bubble.

INN OF THE MOUNTAIN GODS: In the Not Exactly Mainstream But Cool Tournament Category was the October event at the Inn of the Mountain Gods, which was for casino employees and their guests. Five tables, 50 players and the prize pool was $1,700. Top winner, table games dealer Kevin Clark, took $700, and the five other top winners chopped $1,000. Only one of the five was not an employee, which might indicate employees do watch and learn from the mistakes they see every day in the poker room. John Harper and Rebecca Blount did a great job organizing and running this six-hour tournament that started at 10 a.m. and included breakfast and lunch for all players. That the casino would honor their employees in such a way was pretty amazing, but the chosen dealers for this tournament were all new graduate trainees who got their initiation while working with the rowdiest, friendliest (and possibly, most demanding) players in New Mexico.

BALSINGER THIRD: You’ve likely heard 21-year-old ASU political science major Jake Balsiger of Tempe, Ariz., finished third in the World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio in Las Vegas. There are a number of terrific poker rooms in the Tempe area, not the least of which is Casino Arizona Talking Stick’s the Arena Poker Room. I’m thinking Jake may know his way there, and not just because it’s only a 15-minute drive from Tempe to Scottsdale. With 47 non-smoking tables, a giant scoreboard featuring 16 flatscreens and a sports ticker, the Arena is Arizona’s largest poker room, and home base for the state’s best sports and card action.

— Mary Bradley is Ante Up’s Southwest Ambassador. Email her at anteupmary@gmail.com.