Weber earns top spot at Isle’s Battles main event

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We all know the Florida poker scene has taken off the past four years and the Seminole Hard Rock Open in August with its $10 million guarantee turned things on its ear. At one time, the Isle Casino’s poker room in Pompano Beach was the big boy among parimutuel rooms, but with the opening of bestbet Jacksonville’s 70-table room and the continued growth of Palm Beach Kennel Club, the Isle is not a lock to be the top revenue producer in the state every month.

Besides the World Poker Tour events and World Series of Poker Circuit, the Isle is trying to hang on to its place in the sun with four major series each year. But with new management in charge at the Isle (Stan Strickland replaced Mike Smith in April), major tournaments seem to be priced more for the recreational market.

The Isle’s main event in its Battles at the Beach series in March went head-to-head with the WPT Jacksonville bestbet Open’s main event, offering those coming to Florida after the WPT California Swing a clear choice. The Jax event had a $3,500 buy-in, while Strickland decided to drop the buy-in from last year’s similar level for the BAB main to $1,090 while only dropping the guarantee slightly from $500K in 2013 to $400K this year. Both events did well, with the bestbet tourney reaching a prize pool around $825K thanks to 258 players, while the Isle attracted 510 entries, which generated a $510K prize pool, well surpassing the guarantee.

So while the WPT event may have drawn more big-name players from a national level, the Isle tourney drew Central and South Florida players in droves, including Jason Weber from St. Petersburg, a full-time health therapist and part-time player. For Weber, it was an easy decision to head to Pompano to spend a little vacation time with his wife, Anna, and it paid off handsomely with his biggest poker payday.

“I try to play as much as I can in the Tampa area, but we like to travel to South Florida occasionally for good events,” said Weber, who collected $115K for his victory, as he agreed to a chop with Adam “Roothlus” Levy of Coconut Creek after nearly two hours of grueling, heads-up play. Levy took home $95K after the chop.
Now that he has a bit of a bankroll, Weber assured me he would be driving to Hollywood for the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Showdown (which was still running at press time), as he continued to fulfill his dream of becoming a full-time player.

I talked with some local pros about the changes at the Isle over the past year and many identified a different philosophy, including smaller buy-ins.

Chris Bolek, a Boca Raton pro who won the Isle Classic in 2013 when Smith was director, has noticed the differences as well.

“It’s still a great room and I love playing cash games there,” Bolek said. “The big buy-ins bring in a lot of big-name pros, and I’m not sure we can expect that anymore.”

No information has been released regarding the buy-ins, guarantees and structures for Isle’s biggest series, the Florida State Poker Championship, usually in late July or August. In 2011, that main event posted a $1 million guarantee (unheard of at the time) and a $5,300 buy-in. Because of the risk of an overlay, it provided Smith with a few sleepless nights at the time, but now those types of events are commonplace at the Hard Rock.

The Hard Rock opened the Showdown series with a $560 event (with six opening sessions) that held a seven-figure guarantee, $1 million prize pool that rivaled the Isle’s largest guarantee. Dan Piela of Wheaton, Ill., was the winner when he agreed to a three-way chop with Michael Ortiz of Hialeah and Bryan Green of Miami, while 2012 Ante Up POY Darryll Fish also made the final table, finishing eighth. Piela took home the top share of the prize money, collecting $144,294.

That ambitious tournament structure for the first of 20 events got the series off to an exciting start, but the Hard Rock fell just short of the 2,000 entries required to reach the guarantee, ending up with 1,966 entries and causing a $17K overlay.

ANTE UP CRUISE: The Club 52 Poker Room at Melbourne Greyhound Park is hosting a $125 Super Stack tournament May 17 at 1 p.m. where an Ante Up Poker Cruise package for two will be awarded. The poker cruise sails out of Port Canaveral, Fla., to the Bahamas. For more on the cruise, go to anteupcruises.com and for more on the tournament be sure to call the poker room (321) 259-9800 or see the ad on Page 53 of our May issue.

GULFSTREAM CHARITY: Gulfstream Park hosted its fourth Florida Derby charity tournament March 26, an annual event that benefits the Permanently Disabled Jockey’s Fund. The 110-player tournament, which guaranteed $10K, raised more than $7,400 for the foundation. Chris Gatis won the event and $4,689. Gulfstream Park jockey Manoel Cruz was eighth for $461. For more info or to make a donation to the fund, visit pdjf.org.

— Email Dave at bigdave@pokeractionline.com.