The Michigan State Poker Championship at FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Mich., was once again a record-breaking affair. At the final table, all eyes were on pro Aaron Massey, who was looking to go back-to-back in Mid-States Poker Tour FireKeepers main events (the two largest tournaments in state history). However, at the end of a long day, it was 27-year-old Brett Blackwood who captured the title and a $188,314 first-place prize.
“It feels fake right now, right now it just feels like a dream,” Blackwell said after the win. “I was all-in 14 or 15 times, often behind, and just ran spectacular. Heads-up, I hit the river twice to stay alive. It feels great. I like the trophy. I’ll put the money in the bank. The (pot-limit Omaha) bankroll was all right, but it just got a whole lot healthier, you know what I’m saying.”
Blackwood, who was playing in just his eighth tournament, is a painter by trade but spends much of his free time playing $5-$10 PLO in Detroit. He decided to play three $250 satellites for the MSPC and managed to win a seat. From there, the story was survival as time and again Blackwell was on the ropes, but nary an opponent could finish him off.
He was followed by Cy Church of East Lansing ($114,701), Griff Woodman of Portland ($74,641), Vinh Ho of Midland ($51,701), Jimmy Ray of Indiana ($37,663), Lars Cole of Ada ($28,932), Massey of Chicago ($23,882), Satish Thakur of Farmington Hille ($19,944), Josh Marvin of Sterling Heights ($16,007) and Nevada Saad of Dearborn Heights ($12,241).
The $1,100 event drew 884 entrants, made it the largest tournament in Michigan history, surpassing 820 runners from May’s event, and became the largest MSPT event in the Midwest. The $300K guarantee was shattered ($884K).
HORSESHOE SOUTHERN INDIANA: Robert “Skinny” Hankins needs to use both hands to display all of his rings after winning the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event. The 28-year-old pro from Nashville is only the ninth in history to win six.
“This feels awesome,” Hankins said after winning $146K. The prize pool was $648K with 432 entries.
HORSESHOE HAMMOND: Dylan Linde won the WSOPC main event for $348K. The 35-year-old pro from Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, grew up playing video games and strategic card games, making the move to poker a relatively easy transition.
“This is fantastic,” Linde said. “It’s nice to finally win a live tournament. I haven’t really had that much success live. I’ve had a lot of, like, eighth-through-18th-place finishes.”
The prize pool fell just short of $2M with 1,308 entries.
CANTERBURY PARK: Ervin Bjerga of Motley, Minn., took home $75K after winning the $1,100 Fall Poker Classic Main Event in Shakopee. This is Bjerga’s second biggest career cash, just behind a first-place finish in a Mid-States Poker Tour event in February 2015. Bjerga battled second-place finisher Robert Garcia for more than an hour before they agreed to a chop, giving Garcia $62K.
The final table wasn’t easy for Bjerga as it featured several tough players. Fifth-place finisher Ben Marsh had won an MSPT event and has more than $200K lifetime earnings. Minnesota Poker Hall of Famer Mike Schneider was 10th. The main event drew 389 entries to produced a $377K prize pool.
Rajaee “Robbie” Wazwaz of Brooklyn Park, Minn., defended his title of the high-roller event. Wazwaz took home $36K for the win. The event drew 41 players and had a prize pool of $93K. The buy-in decreased from $5,250 last year to $2,500 this year.
Alan Carty won Event 1 ($340 NLHE) for $22K. Gregory Lee won Event 4 ($235 seniors) for $9,432. James Johnson won Event 8 ($340 HORSE) for $7,595 and Lucas Mernin won Event 9 ($550 NLHE) for $26,100.
RUNNING ACES: Matt Alexander of Minneapolis beat 754 entrants to win the Hallow Scream event in Columbus. Alexander took home $38,978 of the $154,332 prize pool, increasing his lifetime earnings to $797K.
MESKWAKI CASINO: Ken Komberec from Grafton, Wis., won the Mid-States Poker Tour Main Event in Tama on Nov. 7. He topped the respectable field of 405 players for $93,922. The event beat the $300K guarantee ($405K) and it looks like the MSPT will return here four times in 2017.
HORSESHOE COUNCIL BLUFFS: The poker room will host its annual Horseshoe Holiday Poker Classic with an expanded schedule. The long line of events kicks off Dec. 26 and will run until the $240 main event champion is crowned Jan. 8.
DIAMOND JO CASINO: The bad-beat jackpot continues to climb at the Worth poker room, surpassing $220K at press time.
JUMERS CASINO: The bad beat was $207K at press time.
HOLLYWOOD CASINO COLUMBUS: The room has been doing some great promotions for cash games, giving away $15K every Friday and Sunday as 10 $500 winners play a $10K Cold Hand at 10:15 p.m. each Friday and Sunday. Winners are selected by random drawings at the top of every hour from 1-10 p.m. and entries are earned at one entry each hour played (2X entries from 10 p.m.-6 a.m.).
HOLLYWOOD CASINO TOLEDO: The room has been paying high hands every 30 minutes on Thursdays (4-midnight), Fridays (4-2 a.m.), Saturdays (noon-2 a.m.) and Sundays (noon-10 p.m.). The minimum qualifying hand is aces full of deuces, and both hold cards must play. The bad-beat jackpot was $110K at press time.
RIVERS CASINO PITTSBURGH: High-hand promotions are Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and $200 hot seats are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Million Dollar Bad Beat requires a hold’em player holding 10-9 suited to flop the low end of a straight flush, losing to a player who holds A-K suited for a royal. Also, at press time, the bad-beat jackpot for hold’em was $179K.
BRZOZOWSKI MISSES OUT ON GOLD RING: Johnny Brzozowski of Winneconne nearly won a gold ring at the WSOP Circuit Horseshoe Hammond stop. Brzozowski finished fourth in a field of 221 players in Event 2 ($580 NLHE) for a career-nest score of $9,190.
SUN LEADS MSPT POY RACE: With just four stops remaining in 2016, Milwaukee’s Hao “John” Sun led the Mid-States Poker Tour Season 7 Player of the Year race with 3,300 points. That was just ahead of Chicago pro Aaron Massey, who had 2,900 POY points.
CLOSINGS: Bad River Lodge & Casino closed its poker room Sept. 28 and Ho-Chunk Gaming Nekoosa will close its room Dec. 31.
Meet John Doyen
John Doyen, who cites fishing and playing poker as his two favorite hobbies, hails from a small town in Wisconsin and is shift manager at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee.
How did you come to work in poker? I started dealing blackjack at the age of 18 in a small casino in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I transitioned to poker when they opened a small room. I enjoyed dealing as well as playing the game. I started at Potawatomi as a floor supervisor after they expanded their room in 2008.
What do you like most about working in poker? I love the atmosphere. It’s a very relaxed place to work compared to other areas of the casino. I also really like working with the guests, most of which are very pleasant. I really like talking to them.
What’s your favorite memory when it comes to your work and why? My favorite memory, to this point, has been working with the Mid-States Poker Tour. It really opened my eyes to the potential of what our room can be. It’s been a great experience to be a part of. — Chad Holloway