Big events hit Iowa this month


Ante Up Magazine Midwest Poker

March is a magical month in Iowa for tournament players. First, the Mid-States Poker Tour makes two stops in the area: Grand Falls Casino near Sioux Falls, S.D. (March 4-8) and Meskwaki Casino in Tama, Iowa (March 20-22). The Grand Falls event is a $50K guarantee regional with many $80 satellites and a couple of trophy events. The $360 main event has Day 1s March 5-7. 

The Meskwaki stop is an MSPT main event with a $300K guarantee. There are a number of satellites for this event starting at $65. Also, the cash games during this event are the best in Iowa for action and variety. 

HORSESHOE COUNCIL BLUFFS: The World Series of Poker Circuit makes its yearly stop March 26-April 6. There will be 13 ring events and buy-ins are $250-$1,700 (main event), so there’s something for everyone. The cash games here are considered juicy by locals so there are many reasons to head to the Horseshoe.


The Cleveland Open ran Jan. 16-19 at Jack Cleveland Casino, an MSPT main event. The $1,100 tourney drew 611 entries for a $592,670 prize pool, beating the $300K guarantee. Patrick Steele of Chelsea, Mich., won the title and $124,461. 

At the final table, Lydia Waltonbaugh was the first to exit when she moved all-in with A-J and didn’t improve against Jeff Mirelli’s kings. 

Ryan Rebman and Mark Wahba were next to exit when Dan Pechnik’s A-K eliminated both of them on the same hand. Doc Love also fell to Pechnik when his A-8 couldn’t improve against Pechnik’s queens. Mirelli busted in fifth when his trip kings lost to Steele’s full house. 

D.J. Swartz had Pechnik dominated when they got the money in preflop. Pechnik was unable to hit one of his three outs and went home in fourth. Three-handed action lasted more than two hours until a blind-vs.-blind cooler saw Swartz’s pocket kings get cracked by the A-Q of Steele to send him out third place ($55,711).

Steele held the lead against Ronnie Dowdy for all of heads-up play, which lasted roughly 90 minutes. They played a lot of small pots that saw Steele grind Dowdy down to a push-or-fold stack. In the end, Steele had Dowdy dominated but found himself behind after the flop. He took the lead on the turn and it was enough for the victory. Dowdy earned $76,455.

For Steele, who was the MSPT Player of the Year in 2013, it was his 25th career MSPT main-event cash. As a result, he became just the fifth person in the MSPT Hall of Fame.

“Words can’t describe it, but to do two things in one night, finally get a win on the MSPT, it’s pretty awesome,” Steele said. 

HOLLYWOOD TOLEDO: The HPT Mini Series hits March 5-15 with $50K and $100K guarantees. See the ad on Page 35 of our March 2020 issue.


GUN LAKE CASINO: This new 14-table room in Wayland has an ad on the facing page. If you’d like up-to-date cash-game details, download the Bravo Live Poker app. 

FIREKEEPERS CASINO: In Battle Creek, there’s a $100 women’s event March 14 at 2 p.m. Players get 12K chips and 20-minute levels. Also, the Sizzlin’ 750, which costs $750 and runs March 6-8 with two Day 1s, has satellites March 1-5. Call for details.


Greg Raymer topped a field of 520 entries, winning the HPT main event at Ameristar East Chicago for $171K-plus and a $3.5K HPT championship package. The 2012 HPT Player of the Year has five HPT main-event wins and $8M-plus in live earnings.

Raymer began heads-up play with a 2-to-1 disadvantage vs. Evan Bethyo, then quickly doubled-up his first hand to even the stacks. The prize pool was $748K-plus.

Other results: Event 1, Nicola Ditrapani, $56,726 (monster stack); Event 2, George Korovesis-Gerald Heath Jr. $6,203 (seniors); Event 3, Michael Vanderwoude, $6,905 (deepstack); Event 4, Naomi Pazol, $1,291 (women); Event 5, Daniel Hummer, $9,019 (six-max); Event 6, Anthony DeJesus, $2,703 (seven-game mix); Event 7, Bradley Beetz, $5,200 (bounty); Event 8, Michael Schlegel-Jose Cervantes, $2,066 (tag team); Event 9, Ronald Pikul, $4,117 (seniors); Event 10, Ryan Scully, $4,552 (PLO); Event 12, Anthony Kastelic, Richard Furfaro, George Gallagher and Stephen Precht, $2K ($2K maker); Event 13, Michael Hall, $4,585 (bounty); Event 14, Songjie Zhou, $1,600 (deepstack bounty).

The HPT returns for a nearly two-week schedule April 30-May 12.

BLUE CHIP: The room recently added a $30 Omaha rebuy tournament the last Wednesday of the month (6:15 p.m.). It features unlimited rebuys for $20 and there’s an optional

$10 add-on. 

HARRAH’S JOLIET: There’s a $5-max rake on all NLHE cash games. Also, the bad-beat jackpot (quad eights) was $260K at press time. The bad-beat room share increases $100 on every $100K, making the it $200 at press time.

GRAND VICTORIA: A freeroll series has started with a $150K guarantee main event Nov. 29. There will be three $10K guarantee freerolls with 10 seats advancing to the main event. The first freeroll is April 19. Call for more details.

HOLLYWOOD AURORA: The $50K HCA Classic will be April 25.

MAJESTIC STAR: The MSPT returns April 3-5 and Aug. 14-16.


RUNNING ACES CASINO: Richard Cockrell of Zimmerman, Minn., earned his biggest career cash of $26,615 after chopping the Big Stack Avalanche tournament at in Columbus. 

Cockrell had a large lead when playing heads-up against WSOP bracelet-winner John Reading, who had declined a chop offer earlier, wanting to win the trophy. 

But in the end, Reading agreed to the chop. Cockrell went on a heater in the two weeks after this tournament, placing first and third in two of the daily events at Running Aces. 

The $500 Big Stack Avalanche had 274 entries for a $119,601 prize pool.

CANTERBURY PARK: Britton Barclay of Eden Prairie, Minn., took home $21,940 after winning the Cheap & Deep tournament in Shakopee. 

Barclay went heads-up against Steve Lillehaug after Paul Cross went out in third. 

This was Barclay’s seventh career cash, according to Hendon Mob. The $275 event had six Day 1 flights and 547 entrants who fought for the $120,340 prize pool.


VEGAS SUCCESS: On Jan. 5, Wisconsin’s Michael “Big Mike” Liautaud topped an 85-entry field to win the Wynn $10K guarantee in Las Vegas for $3,204. 

He founded Milio’s Sandwiches in 1989.

Also, Sparta’s Jason Raymer won the Venetian Las Vegas $125 monster stack for $1,033 after a four-way chop Jan. 19.

OBITUARY: Longtime Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells poker dealer Jill Wirtz died in mid-January after a long battle with cancer. 

Meet Darin Utley

A poker player from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Darin Utley has nearly $240K in live tourney earnings.

When did you start playing poker? I started playing cards around the age of 8. My dad would sometimes have friends over and he would let me play. I remember sitting behind him at a bar for hours just so I could play his hand when he would go to the bathroom. By the time I was 10 or 11, I had taught my cousins and a couple of friends. We would play for candy.

You won a bounty event at Riverside Casino in Iowa over the Thanksgiving weekend, but what are some other poker highlights? I won the Riverside Casino Labor Day tourney for $15K a few years back. Also at Riverside, I got third in August at the Classic for $6K. Mostly everything else is on Hendon Mob, such as the Planet Hollywood Big O tourney I won for $30K and a win in a WSOP ring event this past January for $50K.

What’s your favorite game and why? My favorite is Big O. I enjoy it because you can see a lot of flops and play a lot of hands. I find people making a lot of mistakes, so it’s a game fairly easy to make money at.

To what poker goals do you aspire that you have not achieved? I suppose my biggest aspiration in poker would be to win a major tournament for around $500K, like a large-field WSOP-bracelet event. Other than that, I just enjoy playing cash games and occasional tournaments. — Ken Warren

Chris Cosenza

Chris Cosenza