Diaz pockets $134K at Isle Poker Open in South Florida

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The Isle Poker Room in Pompano Beach closed out its rotation of four major tournament series in late October with the conclusion of the Isle Open main event, as the $1,500 buy-in tourney easily surpassed the $500K prize pool guarantee with 477 entries.

The event attracted many of South Florida’s top players, including Maurice Hawkins of West Palm Beach, who sat in to play just one day after arriving home from a top-50 finish in the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event in Berlin, and Parkland’s Matt Waxman. Hawkins finished 25th and Waxman was eliminated in 21st place.

On the final day after Lenny Duvdivani of Sunrise and Dmitry Agrachov of Weston went out in sixth and fifth place, respectively, the final four launched into a marathon session that lasted several hours. But shortly after Hans Winzeler was eliminated, the final three players agreed to chop, handing the trophy to David Diaz, a WSOP bracelet-winner in 2011.

Diaz, who finished second over the summer in the main event of the WSOPC at the Palm Beach Kennel Club, collected $134,523 for the victory while Evan Teitlebaum, also of Parkland, took home $110K for second. Joey Couden of Blacklick, Ohio, cashed in third for $90K.

For Couden, it was a breakout second-half in 2015 after three cashes at the World Series, as this was his third major final table after a victory at the Florida State Poker Championship in August at the Isle. Diaz (No. 341) and Couden (No. 345) are ranked in the Global Poker Index.

HARD ROCK HOLLYWOOD: The casino continues to expand its association with two major poker entities: the World Poker Tour and the Poker Night in America. The WPT returns for its regular mid-April appearance with the Seminole Hard Rock Showdown. However, the WPT also revealed it is doing away with the WPT World Championship, which was at the Borgata last April, and would be replacing it with a new event called the WPT Tournament of Champions, scheduled for April 21-23 at Hard Rock Hollywood, immediately after the Showdown. All Season XIV champions will receive an automatic invite and will have their airfare and hotel accommodations paid for, and members of the WPT Champions Club can buy-in for $15,400. This means no players will be allowed to participate that have not won a WPT event.

“The season-ending WPT Tournament of Champions will truly be a championship event,” WPT CEO Adam Pliska said.

As for PNIA, it will cover the Rock ‘n’ Roll Open final table (Nov. 27-Dec. 2) and bring back televised high-stakes cash games, including the return of an all-ladies table.

“We’re looking forward to the anticipated encore of Ladies Night,” said Jason Newman, director of poker marketing for Seminole Gaming.

The WPT also announced the facility would host a WPT DeepStacks event Jan. 14-18 with a $1,100 buy-in.

MARDI GRAS: Some of David Litvin’s friends and employees refer to him as the “King of the Freeroll” because the director of the Big Easy Poker Room has had tremendous success with small nightly events and a major guaranteed freeroll about once a month. So, with the holidays rolling around, December will feature two freerolls at the Hallandale facility. The first will be Dec. 6 at 1 p.m. and will feature a $10K guarantee, but the tournament fills up quickly, so getting your free ticket shortly after they become available at 10 a.m. that day is advisable. Big Easy will up the ante with a special freeroll on New Year’s Eve at 7 p.m. with a $15K guarantee. It will feature a special $500 high-hand giveaway unique to the tournament, with qualifying during the first 30 minutes of action after the break. Litvin talked about the continued success of the events paying for themselves.

“We always have at least 150 players at the rebuy period, so the interest is still there,” he said. “These freerolls attract people that will eventually play cash games, but most people treat it as a great value, knowing they will spend some rebuy money to have a shot at a really nice prize pool.”

North Florida

DAYTONA BEACH KENNEL CLUB: The Heartland Poker Tour Main Event at Daytona Beach Kennel Club was the poker room’s largest HPT yet, as 389 players from all over the country generated a $575K prize pool. Staying true to its roots, the heart of the final table was stacked with homegrown players such as Tallahassee’s Jared Reinstein and Jacksonville’s David Jackson, Andrew Dykeman and Dalton Mills. Mills finished second in his last HPT final table but this time he came up short of the televised final table in 10th place for the second time in his HPT career.

But it was Winter Park pro Corey Thompson who took down the title, more than tripling his best live tournament cash, pocketing $131K. On the final hand, Thompson’s pocket 10s coolered Steve Karp’s pocket nines. Karp earned $81,326 for second.

The preliminary series also were the most successful to date with record turnouts for each event, including 118 for the $165 seniors, which was chopped for $2.9K each between Ormond Beach’s Jim White and Orlando’s Clay Taul. Other big winners included Alan Phillips and David Prociak and Jason Loposilvero, who split Event 1 for $11.6K each.

This was HPT’s seventh visit to Daytona Beach since 2011. Denver’s Corey Zedo finished fifth for $28,350. He plans to apply a portion of the winnings toward motorcycle upgrades.

BESTBET JACKSONVILLE: At press time, the Bounty Scramble $5K Main Event was under way. The preliminary series had wrapped up and was the most successful to date. The Player of the Series was Palm Coast’s Johnny Ear, who won Event 1 ($200 NLHE), toppling 851 players to earn $23K. A week later, Ear was at the final table of Event 6, which boasted a field of 613 players and a $183K prize pool. He wouldn’t fare as well, finishing fifth, but it was enough to earn him POS and entry into the $5K, $1 million guarantee main event. He also posted another final-table appearance for $4.2K in Event 16.

Denis Gnidash from Fair Lawn, N.J., took down Event 16, which is considered the hardest undercard event of the series. The $2,100 buy-in with $500 bounties attracts a tough field of pros looking to warm up for the main event. Gnidash took home $32K after a three-way split with 2013 WSOP champ Ryan Riess and Sam Phillips.

Central Florida

The Poker Players Championship is one of the favorite tournament series in the bay area, with stops in Ocala, Naples/Ft. Myers and Tampa Bay Downs. These series send many players to Aruba for the PPC World Championship. Of the 10 players who made the final table, four were from the Central Florida poker area and the champion has a home in Tampa. The four Central Florida finalists were David Kidd (eighth, Naples, $11,360), Steve Trizis (seventh, St. Petersburg, $15,147), Danny Lobado (second, Tampa, $62,480) and PPC world champ Vincent Fiorenza (Oviedo, $106,027). Fiorenza also won the HPT Daytona Beach stop last year, defeating local pro Carlos Loving. And this is the second six-figure score of Fiorenza’s career.

With the conclusion of the world championship comes the end of the player-of-the-year race, which went to Tampa Bay player Allen Wiseman. With 10 cashes for more than $60K this past season, Wiseman earned the POY title and entries into the North American Championship at the Silks Poker Room and the World Championship in Aruba.

HARD ROCK TAMPA: The Winter Open runs Dec. 3-20 and will include numerous guarantees, a ladies event, a seniors event, PLO and four multiday events ($150 buy-in/$50K guarantee; $350/$150K; $560/$200K and $1,650/$300K).

DERBY LANE: The St. Petersburg poker room has added guarantees to many daily tournaments. Sundays will have a $5K guarantee on the 1 p.m. $150 tournament. Tuesdays will be a Player Appreciation $207 event ($200 to the prize pool) and will have a $15K guarantee. Check the Derby Lane calendar to see when your favorite tournament will be running.

FT. MYERS-NAPLES GREYHOUND: The popular Miller & Moulton celebrity event is Dec. 17 ($75, 7 p.m.).

Louisiana

COUSHATTA CASINO: The annual $550 Fall Blowout tournament drew 112 players and when the tournament reached the bubble stage (13 players left), the negotiated a chop of the $54,320 prize pool.Overwhelming chipleader, Jeremy Tinsley, received the biggest portion ($9,661) for first place.Bruce Soileau was second ($8,369).

Said tournament director Darron Simon: “We’re interested in making this a multiple-starting-day tournament in January to increase participation and prize money for the players.”

The Winter Classic runs Dec. 9-13 (See the ad on Page 36 of our December issue).

ISLE OF CAPRI: Poker room manager David “Stew” Stewart has returned to the Lake Charles Casino’s eight-table poker room.Stewart briefly left the Isle to open and manage the six-table poker room across the lake at the Golden Nugget Lake Charles. It didn’t take Stew long to realize he missed his “home” and is eager to return the Isle of Capri as the premiere poker room in southwest Louisiana.He has introduced quite a few player promotions and new tournaments to the weekly schedule.Check out the poker room’s website or find it on Bravo.

Mississippi

GOLDEN NUGGET: The Biloxi poker room does a great job of keeping its tournament and promotions updated on its website. Visit goldennugget.com and select the Biloxi property for specifics. Highlights this winter include a breakfast or lunch buffet for anyone playing at least three hours of live action, live and tournament bad-beat jackpots and tons of fun high hand/splash-the-pot opportunities.

SCARLET PEARL RESORT AND CASINO: Expect lots of fun promotions when this property opens Dec. 9 in D’iberville.

BEAU RIVAGE: Poker room manager Johnny Grooms also does a great job of keeping monthly live promotions fresh and exciting. Check out beaupoker.com for a calendar and break down of everything going on for the remainder of 2015, which includes the popular “Lose an Omaha hand with four unpaired wheel cards or two aces and two wheel cards and win $100.” Simple, to the point, easy money. Can’t beat that.

PEARL RIVER RESORT: In the middle of the state, table games administrator Neal Atkinson has some crazy good promotions in his poker room. Check out pearlriverresort.com for details. Highlights include a prime-time Aces Cracked promo awarding prizes from $30-$225 and a “suited card splash the pot” where a single suited flop awards a hearty pot splash with additional money awarded if the turn and the river are also the same suit.

HORSESHOE TUNICA: Up in the northern end of the state, get your tournament fix here every Saturday. The $12K guarantee with just a $150 buy-in is the best value in the state for a guaranteed prize pool. It’s a veritable who’s who of local poker, too, where every week familiar faces gather to compete in the tourney and then hit the live games for action that lasts the rest of the weekend. Tournament details can be found at caesars.com and just follow the prompts to the Tunica property.

AMERISTAR VICKSBURG: Chan Pelton captured the HPT main event and $42,560. The rancher from College Station, Texas, took over the chip lead with seven players left and never relinquished the lead.

Missouri

HOLLYWOOD CASINO: The St. Louis property has launched a unique new promotion called Sets Cracked. This promo pays players whose pocket pairs make a set, full house or quads and lose to another pocket pair. An interesting aspect of this promotion is though each player must hold a pocket pair, both hole cards do not have to play to qualify. This means your set still gets paid when it loses to a four-card straight or flush, provided the winning player is holding a pocket pair. Each rank (deuces through aces) has its own $100 daily jackpot that increases by $25 for every day that it does not hit. That’s at least $1,300 up for grabs every day.

AMERISTAR CASINO: Kane Lai, the doctor from Highlands Ranch, Colo., ran well and played even better on the way to his first HPT victory ($150,593).

Lai’s final opponent was logger Chris Cornell as they got all of the chips in the middle with Lai holding a better flush. Cornell, a Clarksville, Tenn., native, earned $92,055.

Meet David Bennett

David Bennett is an avid poker player who lives in the Tampa Bay area, but don’t call him a pro.

How long have you been playing and what are your goals/aspirations with the game? I started playing poker around 2007.My initial focus was on the cash games, but shortly after moving to Florida in 2010, I began playing a lot of local tournaments.Two weeks after moving to Florida, I won $78K in a tournament at Derby Lane (in St. Petersburg) and have been hooked ever since.Though poker has been my main source of income for the past five years, I still do not consider myself a professional poker player.My main goal is just to continue to improve my game and become more consistent with my play.I believe consistency is what truly separates the pros from the skilled amateurs.I feel if I continue to work at it, the results will come naturally.

Why did you start the Derby Lane Poker League two years ago? (It’s) a way to offer some of the local players an opportunity to win their way into larger buy-in tournaments.We play once a week and members are awarded points for finishing in the top five.This year, we will be sending five of the 27 members to Las Vegas for the WSOP. Though very competitive, the league has a family feel to it.Members are always very supportive and genuinely want each other to succeed outside of league play. — Andrew Malowitz