Hastings leads South Florida's WSOP surge

August 04, 2015, Dave Lemmon, Jennifer Gay, Danny Wade, Charles Allison, Andrew Malowitz  

Thousands of players travel from all over the globe to Las Vegas each summer for the World Series of Poker, but it was the South Florida area that produced 10 of this year’s 68 champions. It was no big surprise that former champs such as Jason Mercier, Robert Mizrachi and Brian Hastings added to their collections, but when first-time bracelets went to a high school football coach from the Palm Beach area, a Seminole Hard Rock poker dealer and two South Florida real estate agents, it was easy to see something special is happening in the Sunshine State.

This year’s poker festival at the Rio was the “Summer of Hastings” as the Pennsylvania transplant, who moved to
Ft. Lauderdale two years ago, captured two titles (the $10K stud event and the $1,500 10-game mix) after three small cashes in the opening two weeks. Hastings followed up the victories with a couple of deep runs in the Little One for One Drop (11th, $332K) and the main event (49th, $133K). It took a brutal Day 6 cooler (kings vs. aces) to end what was shaping up to be a run to the November Nine.

If Hastings didn’t inspire other South Florida players, some of his magic indeed rubbed off as his good friend and real-estate agent Jackie Scott won the ladies event, her first WSOP cash and first appearance in any ladies-only tournament. Another first-time bracelet-winner was Palm Beach Gardens High teacher Jeff Tomlinson, who used every bit of his football toughness to outlast Anthony Zinno, Jonathan Little and Dan O’Brien at the final table of the $5K eight-handed event.

He defeated Pierre Milan in a grueling six-hour heads-up match that lasted 129 hands. Miami real-estate broker William Kakon bagged a $1,500 tourney while poker dealer Perry Shiao took home more than $1 million in the Monster Stack. No word whether Shiao will be pitching cards at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open’s $5 million guarantee main event, which was running as this issue hit the stands, or simply buy in with ease. Veteran pros Barry Hutter of Hollywood, who included at win in Event 14 among his five summer cashes, and Ben Zamani of Boca Raton, who won Event 20 after finishing a heartbreaking second just four days earlier, rounded out the South Florida cavalcade of jewelry headed back to South Florida.

CONINE CHARITY: Jeff Conine, one of the most beloved players in South Florida’s pro baseball history, continues to give back to his community and the Marlins with his charitable work in the Miami area. Thus, it was no surprise Mr. Marlin led the way in raising $100K-plus for his favorite project with the fourth annual Jeff Conine Celebrity Poker Classic at the Isle Casino at Pompano Park. After the closing of Calder’s Studz Poker Room last summer, the event ran for the first time at the Isle Casino and benefitted the Conine Clubhouse at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.

The event drew 230 players as Sam Brandwein of Boca Raton won the title and a $10K seat at a future major tournament. Among the celebrity athletes and media stars who served as bounties was ex-Dolphins receiver James Pruitt, who made the final table and finished fourth.

“Not only is the Isle a stunning poker room, but everyone has gone beyond expectations tonight,” Conine said, “and
100 percent of the proceeds go directly to the Conine Clubhouse because the Isle picked up the tab for all the food, beverage, dealers and everything.”

HIALEAH: As the cardroom at the legendary Hialeah Park racetrack enters its third year, director of poker Nelson Costa hopes big tournament action will draw some of the best players from around the state. Its anniversary event runs Aug. 25-29 and is the biggest ever at Hialeah, featuring 10 opening sessions with two per day (11 a.m. and 7 p.m.). The $250 tournament will feature a $200K guarantee and will conclude with Day 2 on Aug. 30. See the ad of our August issue for details.

“We are 100 percent confident that people coming to the room for the first time will love it, especially with our recent addition of the King’s Court tournament room, which will comfortably accommodate over 100 more players,” Costa said.

Central Florida

Tampa Hard Rock ambassadors Natasha Barbour and John Racener had great runs at the WSOP. Racener had multiple cashes, including a final table in the $3K HORSE (fourth, $75K) and the One Drop High Roller for $390K.

Barbour finished second in a $1,500 event, falling to Ben Zamani of Boca Raton after an ill-timed bluff went awry. She earned $284K there and had two other cashes in the 50-50 event and the $1K online championship.

Other highlights include another Tampa grinder, Ronald “R.J.” Sullivan, who finished sixth in the $1,500 bounty event for $56K, plus a few thousand more in bounties.

Steve Jenkins, a local player who won the Derby Lane $300 PokerFest for $31K, made it to the final five tables of the Monster Stack event and busted 43rd for $30K.

Two other local pros, Justin Zaki and Carlos Loving,navigated the $565 Colossus event’s 22K entrants to finish 789th and 712th, respectively. The tournament paid more than 2K players and was the largest live tournament in history. Zaki had five cashes; Loving three.

EVENTS: See ads for the Silks PPC event on Page 33 of our August issue and Seminole Immokalee’s $100K guarantee on Page 51.

North Florida

Recently, bestbet Jacksonville announced it will be joining rooms such as Ebro and Tampa Bay Downs in offering Three Card Poker and other variants such as Pai Gow and Two Card Poker. Rather than playing against the house, players in the game will be going against a banker who pays out all of the bets. Jacksonville is expecting to open six tables at the start of September. It’s an interesting turn for the continuing evolution of not just poker in Florida, but gaming in general.

In other news, the June $50K at bestbet Jacksonville ended with a lucrative four-way chop benefiting chipleader Daniel Hutter the most. He took home to Gainesville more than $17K while the others each scored $10K.

The two-day event brought out 581 players and nearly doubled the guarantee. Bestbet is gearing up for its next big televised event as the WPT returns in November with its Bounty Scramble, featuring $2.5K celebrity bounties and a million-dollar guarantee. Satellites start in September.

BESTBET ORANGE PARK: The monthly $30K guarantee is here to stay. The most recent event drew 454 players for a $54K prize pool, ending in an eight-way chop with 11-year bestbet vet Robert Rogers and John Alvenus from Gainesville taking home a $6.5K share. The other players took home $3.5K each.

DAYTONA BEACH: The Heartland Poker Tour returns Oct. 9-19 at Daytona Beach Kennel Club. Check back next issue for details on the buy-in as well as satellite information. But before the HPT is the inaugural PPC Beachside Open on Aug. 11-16 with the main event sporting a $50K guarantee.

The latest incarnation of DBKC’s Great American Poker Tournament wrapped up with Longwood native Barry Blakely taking home $11K after working out a deal with local player Martin Rodriguez, who pocketed $10K.

EBRO: The Panhandle room has been making strides in its weekly tournament offerings. With incentives such as adding money to prize pools and weekly guarantees, Ebro is seeing all-time records in its tournament turnouts.

Louisiana

The Cajun State had a few standouts at this summer’s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, led by Baton Rouge’s Corrie Wunstell, who won a bracelet in Event 36 ($1,500 PLO) for a staggering $267K. The 2010 WSOPC champ also finished 20th in Event 2 ($5K NLHE) for $14K.

Keith Lehr of Bossier City brought home more WSOP gold by winning Event 10 ($10K heads-up) for a whopping $334K.
Caufman Talley III of Lafayette made a deep run in the most anticipated tournament of this year’s series, the $565 Colossus, which had 22,374 entries. A multiple WSOPC winner, Talley fell just short of his first bracelet but cashed for $38,639 in 17th place. He also had cashes in three other events.

Lafayette’s Blake Barousse was 16th in Event 16 ($1K Hyper Hold’em) for $9,253 and Judy Leblanc of New Iberia followed up her nice showing at the WSOPC New Orleans with a 77th-place finish ($2,985).

Other cashers included James Sievers of Monroe (Event 11, 22nd, $6,076); Michael Horchoff (Event 16, Millionaire Maker, 69th, $16,303); Kevin Benoit of Baton Rouge (Event 20, ninth, $33,781) and Doug Gambel of Ponchatoula (Event 26, 38th, $4,794).

Mississippi

The Gulf Coast Championship at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi runs Sept. 18-28. This year’s championship features a $1,580 buy-in and boasts a $250K guarantee. Details, including event lineup and structures, can be found at beaupoker.com.

Booking your room now as the poker rate at the Beau in the fall always sells out quickly. See the ad on Page 5 of our August issue for more information.

While there are no major events scheduled in Tunica through the end of 2015, the WSOPC stop is a little earlier than previous years starting on Jan. 21 and running through Feb. 1. With this being the only WSOPC stop for the state, larger-than-ever fields are expected. This is always a big event, dating to its days at Harrah’s, and with the event at Horseshoe we could be in for record-breaking numbers in 2016.

Meet David Gustafson

David Gustafson, a.k.a. Gus, has been a poker dealer and dual rate since 1999. Originally from Middletown, Conn., Gus started dealing at Mohegan Sun and spent four years there until the poker room closed briefly in 2003. He moved to Jacksonville in 2005 and he’s been dealing for bestbet since.

What’s the biggest difference between working in a poker room like bestbet in Jacksonville and a big casino like Mohegan Sun? The people are just friendlier. It’s not as businesslike at the table. Up north I always felt like there was a lot more tension in the games, but in Jacksonville and Florida in general it’s just a more relaxed and laid-back group of people.

What do you love most about your new home? I’ve been in love with (Florida) from the moment I got here. You have palm trees and beaches; everything is green all the time. Idefinitely don’t miss shoveling my car out of the snow every morning.

What do you love most about being in poker? I love the game. More than anything, I’m a really open guy. I like meeting people, shaking their hands and getting to know them. Being a dealer is the perfect job. We’ve got so many great people in Jacksonville and I know a lot of them on a first-name basis.
— Charles Allison