Black Hawk continues to attract big poker events

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March is shaping up to be a busy month for Colorado poker players, so now’s a good time to get your plans in order.

The Heartland Poker Tour at Golden Gates always attract some of the HPT’s top fields and prize pools, and there’s no reason to expect anything different from this year’s spring visit, especially since the HPT just made some tweaks to its tournament structure that it hopes adds to the draw.

However, what’s also notable about this year’s tournament is it’s been pushed up from its usual April appearance to the first week of March. Satellites and qualifiers kick off March 1, with the main event running March 9-11.

Last spring’s event set an HPT record with 820 players and a $1.23 million prize pool. Main-event champion Steen Ronlov, 67, earned $270,905 for his victory.HPT director of operations Jen Mastrud said moving up the Golden Gates event was simply a matter of logistics: “We had to juggle some things on our schedule to get more events on the calendar in 2013,” she said. “We’re still finalizing contracts for some events that haven’t been announced.”

Only days after the HPT wraps up, its neighbor the Lodge is hosting a prestigious event, too: a World Series of Poker Circuit event. This new addition will run March 14-25 and feature 12 ring events, along with a $250 no-limit hold’em ladies event for a WSOPC pendant and a $250 seniors tournament. The four-day, $1,675 main event runs March 22-25. The WSOPC official ring events at the Lodge will include several $365 options (mostly NLHE, with one Omaha/8) and a $580 NLHE.Asked what effect the Lodge might have on the Golden Gates turnout, HPT’s Mastrud didn’t sound too concerned.

“We like to see Black Hawk get visibility as a hotbed for poker,” she said. “Not only is Golden Gates our richest stop of the tour, the TV episodes filmed there get maximum exposure through multiple national rebroadcasts all year long. That equates to an unparalleled amount of exposure for the final nine players.”

Yes, she said nine players will be on the syndicated television broadcast, one of a few changes from the last time the HPT came through here. The TV table has been expanded from six. The HPT also recruited poker pro Daniel Negreanu to tweak the tournament structure, including the addition of antes in Level 4 to create more action. In a statement, Negreanu said, “I think the final result is a smoother structure with slightly more play.”

THAN POCKETS $50K AT CPC: December saw another fun series at the Golden Gates, the Colorado Poker Championship, with 32 reasonably priced events that ran from Dec. 1 right up through Christmas Eve. Vinh Than won the $1,100 main-event title for $50K, an impressive return on investment. The main also produced top-10 finishes from Coloradans Andy Geffen (eighth, $7,600) and Carla Sabini ($4,940), each recently profiled in this column.

— Rick Gershman is Ante Up’s Colorado Ambassador. You can email him atrickgershman@gmail.com.