Afriat wins WPT at Hard Rock for $1.08M

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The poker scene in Florida continues to grow and lots of people are happy about that. One of the happiest is Adam Pliska, president of the World Poker Tour, which has established major televised events at two of the largest facilities in the state: bestbet Jacksonville and the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood.

This year, the WPT flip-flopped the order in which the two events were contested and the Hard Rock knocked it out of the park once again, crushing its considerable prize-pool guarantee, which has the poker world buzzing.
“We are incredibly excited to be back here for the fourth year,” Pliska said. “The Seminole Hard Rock has done such a great job not only of providing this environment that the players love, but over the course of the last year has shaken up the entire poker industry.”

After attracting 2,384 entries last August to the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open and its $10 million guarantee, which created a prize pool of nearly $12 million, the facility came back in mid April for its regular stop in the WPT’s Season XII and offered a $5 million guarantee for a $3,500 main event. Again, the guarantee was met with 1,795 entries, easily eclipsing the 1,551 needed to reach $5 million. It was the largest WPT event ever. The number of entries in the entire 2013 event (542) matched the number of Day 1B, the middle of three opening days this year.

It also created a happy player in Eric Afriat, who felt about as bad as a person possibly could about collecting a seven-figure paycheck for winning a tournament. The 45-year-old from Montreal had made the trip to South Florida to visit his mother and family for a Passover celebration and hoped to work in a little poker during the trip. Deep on Day 3 and with numerous aunts, uncles and his wife sitting at the Seder without him at the home of his mother in West Boca Raton, Afriat kept checking his watch and realized that dinner was out of the question.

“I was so sad I thought about just leaving my chips at the table Monday night and going home,” he said. But he stuck around and at the Wednesday final table, slated to be shown this fall on WPT Season XII, he defeated his five opponents, this time with family and friends in attendance. He knocked out Mukul Pahuja in just seven hands of heads-up play to have his name etched on the WPT Champions Cup and collect $1,081,184.

As for Pahuja, who moved from New York to South Florida nearly two years ago, the second-place finish wrapped up POY honors for Season XII. His big year began last August with a third-place finish in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open at this same facility, netting him more than $872K, while this runner-up finish in April earned him about $692K. In between, he made two other WPT final tables, finishing second in Montreal and fourth at Bay 101.

He has earned more than $2.3 million just since last year’s World Series and has to be one of the players to watch as this year’s event gets under way in Las Vegas.

While everyone loves traveling to Florida for a chance to win big money at the felt while enjoying the warm tropical weather, locals such as Pahuja, Chance Kornuth, who finished sixth at SHR, and Jason Mercier, ranked fourth on the Global Poker Index, enjoy being able to sleep in their beds during a big event like this. However, living here can present some conflicts and distractions.

“My whole family lives here and I’ve lived here my whole life, so poker is not exactly a priority when I’m in South Florida,” Mercier said.

Unless you’re running deep in an event where the first prize of a million dollars is on the line … maybe then family commitments can be put on the back burner for a couple of days. Just ask Eric Afriat.

MORE WPT: While it would seem to be a natural to add more events to the Florida schedule, Pliska realizes the prudent thing is to use caution.
“We don’t want to become victims of our own success,” he said “In the last five years, the WPT has gone from 14 events to something around 76 when you include the regional events. “I don’t think I feel comfortable expanding beyond this because there is a limit to which you can market effectively and keep the poker economy in good shape.”

The WPT has regional events scheduled for Tampa, Coconut Creek and Jacksonville in addition to Hollywood, and with the two televised events in the state, don’t look for more to be added in the near future.
As for the Hard Rock, final preparations are under way for the return of the SHRPO series and another $10 million guarantee main event, set for Aug. 7-27, about three weeks after the conclusion of the WSOP action in Las Vegas.

— Email Dave at bigdave@pokeractionline.com.