Merda takes Florida State poker title at Isle Casino

August 29, 2018, Jennifer Gay, Todd Lamansky, Dave Lemmon, Sara Malowitz, Crash Martin, Ron Hope  

For a good portion of the final day, it looked like veteran poker pro Jonathan Jaffe was headed for a main-event win in the ninth annual Florida State Poker Championship at the Isle Casino in Pompano Beach, Fla. But in the end, it was little-known Igor Merda of Miami that would capture the trophy in the $1,500 tourney and the $145K first prize to surpass his career earnings.

Jaffe held the lead with 18 players left as Day 3 began and after 11 players had been eliminated, the Massachusetts native held nearly half of the chips in play. When play reached four-handed, Jaffe eliminated Ft. Lauderdale’s Adam Adler and then Merda knocked out Dmitri Pirfilev. After a half-hour of heads-up play, Merda grabbed his second major win of his career, while Jaffe, with $3M-plus in career earnings, collected $102K as runner-up.

The event featured plenty of star power, as featured guests Scotty Nguyen and Vanessa Rousso advanced from their opening sessions, while Johnny Chan fired a second bullet on Day 2 but was eliminated early.

This edition of the FSPC was the first for director of poker Ken Lambert, who has been at the Isle for less than a year but is adjusting nicely to this interesting poker market. “I’ve never worked in a market that had such highs and lows for in-season and out-of-season, so it’s been a learning curve for me. High-hand jackpots seem to be the most competitive tool in Florida, so we’ve made some changes, but we feel that it’s more important to improve the professionalism in the room and we’ve tried to give all players their best experience possible.”

When asked if there would be a return to the larger buy-ins and bigger guarantees of the past, Lambert expressed doubts. “I think it’s tough to go back in that direction since there are so many tournaments around the country today. We need to cater to the buy-ins that fit and something around that $1,500 range seems to work really well right now with locals and some traveling players. Not saying we would never do it, but right now that’s not going to be the direction for the future to go that high.”

BIG EASY CASINO: It’s not exactly the type of occasion that deserves a hearty celebration, but the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Irma finally is bringing a sense of normalcy to the Hallandale facility. The poker room reopened in December after the massive storm nearly destroyed the building.

An ambitious schedule of high-hand giveaways resumed in July and the cardroom’s nightly freeroll tournaments return Sept. 6. Tourneys start nightly at 7 with a $1,500 guarantee on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday with a first prize of $500, while the same numbers will be featured in a shootout on Tuesdays. The guarantee is $2,500 with a top prize of $1K in the Friday and Sunday shootouts, along with a regular format on Saturday nights.

There also will be a high-hand jackpot of $100 during these weekday events and the prize increases to $200 on the weekends. Poker room director David Litvin is excited to get back to a regular schedule and has plenty of promotions and excitement on tap for the NFL and NCAA football games this fall, which will be shown on the large collection of big-screen TVs, including three 85-inch models.

WSOPC RETURNS: Seminole Casino Coconut Creek hosts the first of two tournament series on the World Series of Poker Circuit this month. With 12 rings on the line over 12 days, the series kicks off with a $400 NHLE event Sept. 13 at 11 a.m., featuring a $50K guarantee. The next day, another $400 tourney with four opening sessions begins with a $300K guarantee. The $1,700 main event is Sept. 21-24 with a $100K guarantee. The WSOPC returns to Coconut Creek for another series Feb. 7-18.

ANNIVERSARY: Miami Poker Society, a partner in Ante Up’s Restock the Shelves food-bank initiative, celebrated its 10-year anniversary by having a canned-food-drive tourney. Jeremy Matthews won the event, but the real winner was Curley’s House, which received 1,000-plus canned goods from this event.

Mississippi

BEAU RIVAGE: The Gulf Coast Championship is Sept. 6-17 at the Biloxi property. The first event is a huge $300K guarantee for $150. There are two days with two flights each (noon and 5 p.m.) with re-entry permitted, allowing plenty of opportunities to bag a healthy stack. Early registration is strongly encouraged as this event draws a massive field. 

The rest of the GCPC packs a lot of variety and opportunities for big prize pools. For more information, check out beaurivage.com or contact the poker room at 228-386-7092. Be sure to catch the main event on Sept. 15 for $1250 and compete for the series championship. 

PEARL RIVER RESORT: The Choctaw property near the middle of the state hosts its monthly $50K guarantee Sept. 13-16. Thursday offers plenty of mega-satellite opportunities for those who prefer to win their way into the event. The $160 main event has four starting flights, two each on Friday and Saturday with Day 2 on Sunday playing down to a winner.
For more information about this and other events, check out pearlriverresort.com.  

HORSESHOE TUNICA: The poker room hosts a $10K guarantee every Saturday for $160. This tournament draws a pretty large field and often boasts prize pools much larger than the guarantee. Players start with 12K end enjoy a slow-moving structure. If you find yourself unlucky and out of this event early, the cash games are some of the best in the state.

Central Florida

The Tampa Bay area has been catering to the everyday player for a long time, but recently the bar has been set higher. The Silks Poker Room at Tampa Bay Downs in Tampa has helped that bar with its Summer Series, which had eight events and $200K in guarantees.

The series’ $175 opener saw Jose Perez beat nearly 560 players in the $50K event for $16,610.

But the $400 main event and its whopping $125K guarantee was the story, drawing 400-plus players to beat the guarantee by almost $15K. The tourney ended in a five-way chop between William Muniz, Dave Edwards, Kelvin Foster, Kevin Pahl and Tom Nguyen.

One interesting note: The grandfather-grandson combination of Gus Trizis-Matt Trizis each cashed. Gus made the money in the $125 event, which had a $5K guarantee, and Matt cashed the main event.

CHARITY EVENT: One-Eyed Jacks in Sarasota is hosting a charity tourney to aid veterans Nov. 8 at 6:30 p.m. The proceeds from this $75 event go to the Reset Therapy Professional Institute, dedicated to helping PTSD and emotional trauma. The event will feature a 20K stack and a $1,500 guarantee. Call 941-400-5612 for details.

DERBY LANE: The Nickel is a $500 tournament on the last Sunday of each month. The first rendition of this event ran in July and drew 150-plus players, including 35 satellite winners, for a $69,921 prize pool. The tournament, which features the big-blind-ante format, lasted until after midnight before a five-way chop ended things.

CLUB 52: The Melbourne Greyhound Park poker room will have $1K high hands every 30 minutes on Sept. 22. See the ad on Page 43 of our September issue for more information.

ANTE UP POKER CRUISES: Are you excited by the idea of playing poker on the high seas? Our next poker cruise leaves from the Port of Tampa on Oct. 29 and visits Cozumel, Mexico and Key West, Fla., returning Nov. 3.
Ante Up Poker Cruises transforms the conference centers aboard regularly scheduled Royal Caribbean sailings into a professionally staffed and equipped poker room, complete with cash games, tournaments and an open-bar cocktail party.
Also, Ante Up has recently expanded its tournament offerings on all sailings, scheduling at least two tournaments every day at sea. Ante Up also can schedule private group sailings for groups of at least 16 passengers on most Royal Caribbean scheduled sailings.

If you’d like more information, go to anteupcruises.com and if you’d like to book, call Jeanne Cosenza at 727-742-3843.

North Florida

The much-anticipated GAPT 70th anniversary tournament at Daytona Beach Racing and Card Club finished in late July. The $70K guarantee was eclipsed as the prize pool grew to $112,280 from an astounding 802 entrants.

Edith Oakes of Jacksonville won the title and $18K. Quyen Hoang and Chris Weaver chopped second and third for $15K apiece and Weaver received the $500 GAPT seat at the GAPT main event. They outlasted 119 players that advanced to Day 2 as 80 places cashed. 

The Daytona Beach Fall Poker Classic runs Sept. 6-9. This 12-event series features three tournaments daily and a $330 GAPT Extravaganza on Sept. 9 at noon. Other tourneys are Sept. 2 ($10K guarantee) and Sept. 30, a $250 buy-in $20K deepstack. The entry fee to this event incudes dinner and drink tickets.

Also, don’t forget the HPT returns Oct. 18-29. See the ad on Page 29 for the schedule and other details. 

BESTBET JACKSONILLE: You may know Tony Miles as the guy who finished second in this summer’s World Series of Poker Main Event for $5M. But what you may not know is the Ormond Beach, Fla., resident began that magical run with a qualifying win here in a WSOP mega-satellite during the spring.

He was one of 25 main-event package-winners from bestbet. Richard Grant, another qualifier, finished 744th and cashed for $19,900.

In other news, the 1010XL main event drew 247 players to the $110 tourney for a $21,680 prize pool, but it ended in a five-way chop. The $350 event drew 285 entries for an $85,500 prize pool, and this, too, ended in a chop where the top seven each took home $8K-plus.

Tournaments include a $200 buy-in, $50K guarantee, with four Day 1s Sept. 6-8. Day 2 will be Sept. 9. There will be $55 satellites into this event Sept. 2, 4 and 6. Also, $570 mega-satellites for the $1M WPT main event will be Sept. 7, 13, 22 and 27. Five seats from each seating are guaranteed.

The Florida State Ladies Championship is noon Sept. 15. Two warm-up events will be Sept. 14.

BESTBET ORANGE PARK: The $30K will have a $200 buy-in and four starting flights: two each Sept. 28 and 29. Day 2 will be the next day. Four $55 satellites run at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 24-27.

The July event drew 316 entries, paid 40 spots and found Mac Johnson as its winner for $6,325.

EBRO GREYHOUND PARK: July’s $10K event, which cost $120, drew an impressive 198 players that built the prize pool to $18,810. After a four-way split, Dave Pleat was declared winner as the chipleader. 

The $300 megastack at the end of the month had 289 entries for a $72,250 prize pool. Joshua Lowing and Howard Bailey made a heads-up chop with Lowing taking first place and $16,500. Bailey earned $13,122.

September highlights include a $3K guarantee each Thursday, a $10K guarantee on Sept. 7 and a $10K deepstack Sept. 30. Labor Day “paydays” will be Sept. 2-3 at the cash tables.

PENSACOLA GREYHOUND TRACK: A $50K guarantee is this Western Panhandle venue’s biggest event of the month. Day 1s will be Sept. 26-29 with Day 2 Sept. 30. All tournaments begin at 1 p.m. The July $20K finished with Charles Bailey as the chipleader with David Delchamps and Tom Augustine runner-up as they each agreed to take home $4,245.

CREEK GRETNA: The Tallahassee area’s closest poker room hosts a monthly $10K guarantee (Sept. 15) for $270, with satellites available throughout the month. Other guarantees run Sept. 1 ($2K, $60) and Sept. 28 ($5K, $120).
The July event drew 76 entries and paid nine spots as Abolghasem Ghandhari won the event and $5,016.
The cash tables offer full-house promos and double-full-house promos Monday-Wednesday.

Louisiana 

COUSHATTA CASINO: Promos include a daily mini-bad-beat jackpot of $2,500 (aces full of kings), splash pots, Aces Cracked, Kings Cracked, Sets Cracked and high hands. Check with the poker room for details and see the ad on Page 39 of our September issue.

GOLDEN NUGGET LAKE CHARLES: The bad-beat jackpot was $112K at press time. Other promos include $100 straight flushes and $200 royals, paid around the clock, and ask about the mega-full house rollover.

L’AUBERGE CASINO BATON ROUGE: The bad-beat jackpot (quad fives) was nearing $200K at press time. Other promos include splash pots and high hands. The room is will start spreading new games with Monday and Wednesday hosting a $20-$40 limit game with a half-kill at 6 p.m. and Sunday and Thursday being a $15-$30 Omaha game at 6 p.m. Tuesday nights is a $5-$10 NLHE game at 6. 

Also, congratulations to James Lemelle and Jason Miller, who won seats for the HPT main event at Ameristar Vicksburg in August.

BOOMTOWN CASINO NEW ORLEANS: Promotions are Sunday, Monday and Wednesday $25 splash pots every half-hour and Faces Cracked for $25 Tuesday and Thursday.

HARRAH’S CASINO NEW ORLEANS: The bad-beat jackpot was $125K-plus at press time and mini-bad-beat jackpot pays 10 percent of the main. Promos include Aces and Faces Cracked, Power Hand Wednesdays and Lucky Seat Rollover. Ask about the $2K overnight loyalty drawings.

L’AUBERGE CASINO RESORT LAKE CHARLES: All quads will pay $250 and increase to $500 and $1K as more quads get hit. Call for details, and ask about the rotating full-house frenzy.

Congratulations to Capt. Ron Hope, Edward Kelly and Richard Grayum for winning seats to HPT event at the Ameristar Casino in Vicksburg, Miss., in August.

As for other tourneys, the Saturday event costs $150 and if you register by noon you’ll get more chips.

HORSESHOE BOSSIER CITY: There will be monthly WSOP satellites until January. Call for details. Promos include Aces Cracked, splash pots and daily high hands.

ISLE LAKE CHARLES: This poker room pays the most for Aces Cracked ($125-$200), depending on the day, and also features high hands and Queens and Kings Cracked on select days.

Missouri

HEARTLAND POKER TOUR: Gregory Radosh finished 16th in the Heartland Poker Tour’s $1,650 main event at Ameristar Casino in Kansas City on July 27, his first significant cash since winning the last HPT main event at Ameristar St. Charles this year. The tour returned Aug. 9-20 but it was still running at press time, so check back next month to see if Radosh defended his title.

CLOSING OUT VEGAS: Joshua Turner finished his summer by adding two more cashes to his World Series of Poker resumé, finishing 39th in Event 76 ($3K HORSE, $5,105) and ninth in Event 75 ($1,500 NLHE, $52,645), his third final table at the WSOP.

Meet Neil Patel

Neil Patel was born in England, moved to Springfield, Ill., at age 8 and has been living and working in the St. Louis area for the past six years. He won the WSOPC main event in Tunica in 2017 for $192,152.

How did you get into poker? I started playing poker when I was 23 or 24, but I really didn’t take it super serious until I moved to St. Louis. When I lived in Springfield, a bunch of friends would get together and play low-stakes tournaments and cash games. That’s where it all started for me, just having fun and hanging out.

When did you make the jump to playing professionally and how did your family take the news? I parted ways from my day job in IT last October, so I would consider 2018 my rookie year. The jump didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of soul-searching and reflection on life in general. I still feel poker is a small piece to my life puzzle. It took a little time for the family to adjust to my new career. Of course, they just want me to have a fallback in case it doesn’t work out. I just let them know I got this. 

What are some of your interests outside of poker? I’m an avid music fan. I enjoy spending time going to concerts and listening to music. I used to own nightclubs and bars and still enjoy my time checking out different scenes in different cities. I’m also a black belt in martial arts and try to practice whenever I get a chance. — Todd Lamansky