Can Fish and Pahuja take home WSOP gold?

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South Florida’s stars are at the World Series of Poker in droves, many trying to further their fame and fortune, though several still feel they have something to prove. South Floridians grabbed three of the 16 payouts in the $25K mixed-max event: Noah Schwartz of Sunny Isles Beach (16th) and Barry Hutter of Hollywood (15th) each collected $54K for their rather large min-cashes, while Matt Gianetti of Aventura finished fifth for $171K. Earlier in the casino employees event, Patricia Baker, a dealer from Little Torch Key, made her second deep run in the past three years with a 16th-place finish out of 876 entrants, after taking second in the same event in 2012. Davie’s Jason Mercier nearly made a final table in the $10K Deuce-to-Seven event when he got knocked out in ninth for a $30K payday.

Two of the more interesting South Florida standouts we’ll be watching this summer are 2011 Ante Up Player of the Year Darryl Fish and reigning WPT POY Mukul Pahuja, a New York transplant who moved to Coconut Creek in 2011 and has lit up the poker world with more than $2.3 million in earnings since last year’s WSOP ended.

Fish has seen both ends of the success spectrum in Vegas the past two summers, earning just two small cashes in 2012 but coming back last year to finish third in the second event of the series to collect more than $215K. He has made several final tables over the past five years, but has no major wins on his resumé in that time. Still, he says he wouldn’t miss these seven weeks for the world.

“It’s summer camp for adults; everybody’s there so it’s a really cool environment. It’s like nothing else and for poker players, it’s the No. 1 thing,” he said. “I would really love to win a bracelet; it would really solidify me about how I feel about my career. I think anyone who wins one feels like they’ve earned their place in the game and all the hard work has paid off. But really, I just hope to make a lot of money.”

Pahuja, while also still looking for his first major victory, will not be sneaking up on anyone this summer after three WPT final tables in 2014, including two runner-ups. However, he is just starting to see the effect of those TV appearances recently with the delay between the playing of those final tables and the actual airings.

“They are just starting to air on TV, but if a lot of people start coming up to me, I’ll just try to be polite and be myself. In my mind, there is no reason for my ego to blow up,” he said.

At the felt, he knows others could take a different approach against him with his new notoriety.

“That will be the challenge, trying to recognize who looks at me differently. I should probably talk to some of my friends that have been on TV and see what adjustments they had to make. I don’t think it’s too serious though; it’s not going to dominate my decision-making.”

Through it all, he tries hard to stay grounded.

“I dreamed of having some success, but never thought it would become reality this soon. It seems almost greedy to dream that big,” he said. “My mind-set really hasn’t changed too much from a year ago. I just try to work hard and focus on the next tournament and enjoy my time in between.”

Pahuja also reminded me that despite a year of huge earnings, he has yet to accomplish his ultimate goals.
“I’ll just keep plugging along and keep trying to get that first big win,” he said with a smile.

FLORIDA STATE POKER CHAMPIONSHIP: The Isle Casino’s premier event returns July 9-Aug. 5 and this year it guarantees $2 million throughout the series. Ask the poker room for details.
PBKC WSOPC: The World Series of Poker Circuit returns to Palm Beach this month, beginning July 30. The full schedule and details can be found in our July issue.

HARD ROCK OPEN: The Seminole Hard Rock Open’s main event, to avoid conflict with EPT Barcelona, will start just a bit later than last year (Aug. 28-Sept. 3). Last year’s $5,300 buy-in smashed the $10 million guarantee by nearly $2M. The 23-event festival starts Aug. 14 and will feature a $2,200 eight-game mix, a $2,200 six-max tourney and a $100K buy-in super high roller, which starts Sept. 1.

NEW POKER ROOM? Thanks to a favorable appellate court ruling and a little-known loophole that has been on the books for 30-plus years, Florida City, at the southern tip of the peninsula, may soon get its first poker room. The room apparently would be south of Homestead and become the sixth cardroom in Dade County. The 1st Florida District Court of Appeals released an opinion in late May overturning a ruling by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering that the owners of the Magic City Casino in Miami could not be granted an additional permit.

The 1980 law apparently will require at least one jai-alai match be played on the premises, which could make the construction costs a bit prohibitive, but the owners of the former Flagler Dog Track have expressed an interest in opening a second poker room and possibly a casino since purchasing the Miami Jai-Alai summer permit about a year ago.

— Email Dave at bigdave@pokeractionline.com.