There are many places to play poker in South Florida, but it’s when one of your favorite places is taken away that you realize what you had been taking for granted. When the Big Easy Poker Room at the Mardi Gras Casino closed Sept. 6 to make preparations for Hurricane Irma, employees and regulars had hoped to get right back to normalcy in a week or so.
However, the facility suffered serious damage after getting hit by a tornado during the hurricane and couldn’t re-open for poker and greyhound racing until Dec. 1, ending 12 weeks of inactivity. New carpeting, a brighter paint scheme, additional TVs and new felts on the tables have given the room a fresh look as most tables were full on a recent visit.
Players were happy to see the room back in action, including those who play at many South Florida venues.
“I’m very happy to see them open again,” Alan Singer said. “You get attached to the dealers and waitresses, who are very friendly here.”
Harold Rudolph, who plays at the Hallandale facility three or four nights a week, agreed. “I enjoy playing here for lots of reasons and it’s the easiest game in town,” he said with a smile.
Paul Ray said playing at Mardi Gras was his preference. “The games are relaxed and consistent, and I really like the staff.”
Director of poker David Litvin said he hoped to have a tournament schedule in place by the New Year and talked about how many employees told him they missed interacting with the regular patrons. “Even the ones that get on our nerves some.times,” he said, jokingly.
ISLE CASINO: The Isle Classic runs Jan. 2-22.
HARD ROCK HOLLYWOOD: If it’s a major tournament series in sunny South Florida in late November, you can bet many of the world’s top players will show up. Throw in the Poker Night in America show and it’s a stone-lock guarantee. This was the case Nov. 15-29 as hundreds of recognizable faces filled the tables for Rock ‘N’ Roll Poker Open.
Local tournament regular Michael Newman stole the show by beating 584 players to take down the title and $374K in his best live finish since a 12th-place showing in this same event in 2015. David Peters, Jake Bazeley, former WSOP champ Joe McKeehen, Dan Colman and Shaun Deeb were eliminated from the last 18 players. But that hardly diminished the star power. Tom Marchese and Ari Engel were the first two players knocked out un.der the bright TV lights, followed by SHR ambassadors Sheddy Siddiqui and Darryll Fish. Matas Cimbolas of Lithuania held the lead for much of the latter stages of play, but had a 7-to-1 disadvantage by the time he got head-to-head with Newman, who took just three hands to finish off Cimbolas.
After a restless night, Newman was running on adrenaline as he celebrated with friends.
“I didn’t sleep, not even one second, last night,” said the 48-year-old New York native who formally worked on Wall Street. “I was so excited about today. I played really well and my cards held and I won.”
In earlier series events, titles went to David Peters ($5K high roller), Phillip Hui ($300 HORSE) and wheelchair-bound Jeffrey Fogel, the basketball coach who suffers from ALS. David Shmuel of Miami showed his versatility by winning two trophies, the $360 PLO/8 tournament and a $150 re-entry event, while Francois Zayas of Miami Springs got the series started by taking home $107K-plus in the opening $360 Ultimate Re-Entry, which attracted 3,570 players and more than doubled the $500K guarantee. Next up is the Lucky Hearts Open series Jan. 11-24.
Milagros Peterson won the Great American Poker Tournament at Daytona Beach Racing and Card Club in mid November. The tournament had a prize pool of nearly $86K as Peterson took home $18,829 and a coveted $330 seat to the 2018 GAPT main event.
EBRO GREYHOUND PARK: This Panhandle property is offering more guarantee tournaments.
Jan. 12 is a $5K for $120 and Jan. 16 is a $2K for $50. A $300 megastack will be Jan. 24-28 with four starting flights. For details, go to goebro.com. Cash games have high-hand promos and royal-flush jackpots every day.
CREEK GRETNA: This poker room near Tallahassee is offering three guarantee tournaments this month: Jan. 6 is a $2K for $60 at 7 p.m.; Jan. 26 is a $5K for $120 at 7 p.m., and Jan. 26 is the monthly $10K guarantee for $270 at 1 p.m. High-hand promos run each day. See the ad in our latest issue.
ORANGE CITY RACING AND CARD CLUB: This facility has aggressive daily high-hand payouts and expects to continue a Tuesday and Wednesday night tournament schedule. The long-awaited tournaments in this room started in November and may be revised as participation dictates.
PENSACOLA GREYHOUND TRACK: Michael Starr won the monthly $20K guarantee Nov. 26. This month’s $20K will begin with three Day 1 flights (Jan. 25-27) with Day 2 on Jan. 28. Satellites run multiple times each week. Also, $2.5K guarantee events run Wednesdays all month. And there are Friday night tournaments at 7. A $60 Omaha/8 tournament will be Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. Full house promos run all month for cash games.
BESTBET JACKSONVILLE: The winter series has 11 events this month, including the $200K guarantee main event, which be.gins Jan. 18 and ends Jan. 28. The $1100 main event has satellites available Jan. 6, 12, 18, and 25.
BESTBET ORANGE PARK: Sean Ingram of Jacksonville won the November deepstack after a four-way split. Ingram outlasted a field of 255 players in a tournament that exceeded its $30K guarantee by $10K. The Orange Park facility has a full slate of tournaments and cash-game bonuses this month.
HARD ROCK TAMPA: The $150 November Little Slick saw 1,716 players take a shot at the $100K guarantee prize pool, which ultimately topped $205K. The top 170 cashed as Troy Bercot of Palmetto won the guitar trophy and nearly $18K after a final-table deal. Other top finishers included Raymond Dwyer (second), Quyen Hoang (third), Gerald Silva (seventh) and Garth Fudens (eighth). On a quick side note, former Ante Up Ambassador Andrew Malowitz busted 45th for $649. Stay tuned for results from the winter series, which was still running at press time.
In staff news, poker veteran Randy Kiefer is the new director of poker.
SARASOTA KENNEL CLUB: The One-Eyed Jacks Poker Room’s $440 Fall Classic, which had a $25K guarantee, more than doubled the prize pool ($58K) as 145 players attended. The tournament ended with a three-way chop between Randy Spain, Paul Spice and Sean Platt.
DERBY LANE: The $150 Accumulator ran Dec. 27-31 with a $50K guarantee. If you read this in time, players get a 30K stack with the add-on and 20-minute blinds (30 minutes on Day 2). Look for results in a future issue.
MELBOURNE GREYHOUND PARK: The Club 52 Poker Room is host.ing a series of tourneys that total $100K in guarantees. There will be a $25K guarantee on Feb. 2 and a $75K guarantee Feb. 3. You can win your seat to the $75K through satellites, which will run all month. On Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon and 7 p.m. are $85 satellites and every Saturday at noon is a $130 chance. Call the poker room at 321-259-9800 for more details.
TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The Silks Poker Room, open daily 10 a.m.-4 a.m., has a great view of the horse track’s finish line. The room also has some of the best tournament structures in the bay area and, of course, spreads hold’em, Omaha and stud.
TGT POKER: The poker room at Tampa Greyhound Track doesn’t just have your standard poker offerings. In addition to hold’em, Omaha/8, pot-limit Omaha and stud, the property has Open Face Chinese, Ultimate Hold’em and Three Card Poker. It’s open every day 10 a.m.-2 a.m., except on Fridays and Saturdays when it closes at 3 a.m. See the ad on Page 51 and stay tuned for some new promotions.
AMERISTAR ST. CHARLES: The Heartland Poker Tour’s Championship Open began as Ante Up went to press, but not before a few tourneys entered the books. Event 1, a $350 tourney with three starting flights and a $100K guarantee, had 819 entries for a $245K-plus prize pool. Chris Parsley took home the HPT belt, which looked like it was on loan from the WWE, and $34K-plus in a three-way chop. St. Louis local Greg Radoosh pocketed $4,300 for ninth. Check back next month for results from the $2,500 main event.
RINGS IN CHOCTAW: Two St. Louis-area pros won rings when the World Series of Poker Circuit made its biannual stop at Choctaw Casino in Durant, Okla., this past November. Josh Turner won his sixth ring in Event 3, a $365 turbo, the same format in which he won his fifth ring, by topping a 383-player field and pocketing $25K-plus. Turner also made the final table in two more ring events and finished 12th in another.
While John Richards was on the rail watching Turner win his sixth ring, Turner joked that Richards should watch him play so he could learn how to close out a tournament. It must have worked because Richards won his second ring a few days later, besting a field of 163 in the $580 event. He defeated a final table that featured several tough opponents, including Mario Silvestri, Steven Williams and Marshall White, who was at his second straight final table after winning his fourth ring the day before.
Richards also finished sixth ($8,023) in Event 10 ($1,125 PLO), which was one of Turner’s other final tables (he finished ninth for $3,874).
At the Beau Rivage, the Million Dollar Heater kicks off as the first tournament, running Jan. 4-15. This is the seventh year for the MDH, with each year generally being better than the last. This year’s series promises $1M in guarantees and 65 tables. This will go a long way toward reducing alternate numbers and congestion, but it’s still recommended to preregister.
Opening weekend of this event sees huge crowds and long waits to get seated, despite some of the most efficient staff in the South. With a $600K guarantee on the first event and just a $355 buy-in, it’s no wonder this is one of the most popular events of the year.
The $2,700 main event features a $300K guarantee. There are 14 events, some with buy-ins as affordable as $155. Daily mid-afternoon alternative events such as Omaha/8, PLO and six-max mix things up and offer some variety from the standard NLHE lineup. Nightly NLHE events run for $125, as well as a multitude of satellites.
A $50K guarantee seniors event for $290 is Jan. 9 at 11 a.m. Expect stiff competition for this great value. On Jan. 12, don’t miss the $1K PLO Championship.
The 2017 MDH set a state record for most entries in one event. It’s no doubt 2018 will pack an even bigger punch as the popularity of the hospitable poker room continues to grow under poker room manager Henry Garrison’s leadership.
Discount rooms are available, but as with any event at the Beau, they tend to sell out early. Call 1-888-567-6667 to make your reservations. For more information, including blind structures and formats, visit beaurivage.com.
COUSHATTA CASINO: The Winter Classic was still running at press time (Dec. 27-30) so check back for results. Promos include mini-bad-beat jackpot ($2,500, aces full of kings) every day, quads bonus on Mondays ($100-$500) and Kings Cracked ($100, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.). For more promos, call the poker room or see our Where to Play section in our latest issue.
GOLDEN NUGGET LAKE CHARLES: The bad-beat jackpot was approaching $270K at press time. Other promotions include foot.ball squares. Visit the Golden Nugget website for official rules of all promos.
BOOMTOWN CASINO NEW ORLEANS: The bad-beat jackpot (quads) was at $165K at press time. The room has a new $65 Omaha/8 tournament on Mondays with registration opening at 5:30 p.m. and closing at 8:30.
HARRAH’S CASINO NEW ORLEANS: The bad-beat jackpot (aces full of queens) was $132K at press time. Promos include Aces Cracked, football squares and high hands. A new promo called the Power Hand runs midnight until 4 a.m. A random hand his picked every hour and if you win with the exact hand you’ll get $200. Win with that hand in any suit and get $100.
L’AUBERGE CASINO RESORT LAKE CHARLES: The bad-beat jackpot (quad fives) was $235K at press time. Other promos include football squares, a descending bad beat and quads. Call the room for more promos and information.
HORSESHOE BOSSIER CITY: The room has a mini-bad-beat jackpot of $5K for aces full of 10s beaten. There’s also Aces Cracked, Splash Pots, football squares and high hands.
ISLE LAKE CHARLES: On Mondays (11 a.m.-11 p.m.), players earn $150 for quads, $300 for a straight flush and $1K for royals. Both hole cards must play. Tuesdays are Aces Cracked (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) and Kings Cracked (4-10 p.m.). There are a ton of other promotions so call the poker room for details or see our Where to Play pages in the back of this issue.
HARRAH’S CHEROKEE: Charles Johnson outlasted a field of 957 players to collect his first ring and $272,744 at the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event. He also earned a seat in the season-ending Global Casino Championship.
“We’re here, man,” the champ said after the win. “It’s really a dream.”
Johnson, 37, is the manager of a contact center in Atlanta but discovered poker four years ago. He plays in charity tournaments at the American Legion several times a week against tough competition.
“I feel like that got me ready to be here tonight,” he said.
This victory came after one of the worst stretches he’s experienced. “I went to Tampa. I was the chipleader late in Day 2. Dumped off my chips. Went to Jacksonville. Ran it up, dumped off my chips. You see the pattern here?”
The trip to Cherokee started off pretty poorly, too. Johnson bricked everything he played early in the series and he decided to leave town and head back home to get his head straight. He almost skipped the main event.
“It just wasn’t happening for me,” he said. “I’m like, I’m done.”
After playing at the Legion, he decided to make the drive back to Cherokee to try to satellite into the main. “Ended up getting a seat, and that’s all she wrote,” he said.
Johnson’s previous best score came in last year’s Monster Stack event at the same venue. He made the final table, finishing in ninth place for about $5,400.
The main event field was littered with bracelet-winners, ring-winners, and other tournament standouts. The final table included three former WSOPC winners: Ryan Jones, Krzysztof Stybaniewicz and David Jackson.
Meet Gary Stewart
Gary Stewart is almost ready to play more poker. Stewart of Slocomb, Ala., has been working on helicopters at Ft. Rucker, Ala., for 18 years after retiring from the Air Force. He enjoys cash games and especially excels at tournaments. He plays at the various cardrooms along the Gulf Coast. A frequent winner at Ebro Greyhound Park, he recently finished 12th in a 1,200-player $355 tournament at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss. After his upcoming retirement this year, Stewart plans on visiting more cardrooms and entering more tournaments.
“I really enjoy the challenge of tournaments,” he said. “The mental toughness needed, the competition with other players and the satisfaction of making proper decisions at the right time are the things I love about poker.”
He has been playing poker for 40 years and his recent successes have inspired him.
“Success breeds confidence and, in turn, confidence breeds success.”
Stewart’s wife of 43 years, Jill, has enjoyed some success by cashing in a handful of tournaments. A schoolteacher, she also is looking forward to future poker challenges.
“Playing poker is something I love to do and being able to share it with Jill makes it an even better experience,” he said. — Crash Martin