Central Florida poker scene is hopping

January 30, 2017, Sara Malowitz, Christopher Cosenza, Dave Lemmon, Todd Lamansky, Jennifer Gay  

Poker sure has been busy at the Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa, Fla. First, the Winter Poker Open, which ran Dec. 1-18 and had a little something for everyone: Omaha players, Classic Rockers (aka seniors), women and three weekend events that shattered expectations.

But the $1,650 main event was the crown jewel of the series, sporting a $300K guarantee that ended up being more than $700K. Some big-name pros in the main event included Greg Raymer, John Dolan, Sheddy Siddiqui and Allen Kessler, plus local pros John Racener, Justin Zaki and Tampa ambassador Wally Maddah.

David Bradshaw, Matthew Leecy and Josh Lowing agreed to chop, giving Bradshaw the win, $154K and a seat into the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open’s $5,250 main event. Leecy walked with $120K and Lowing earned $86.8K.
Others who made a splash in the series were Maddah, who made the final table of the $360 event, and John Holley, who not only won the final $250 turbo but had declared he would win a trophy in the series and waited until the last event to make good on that promise.

In other news, the Hard Rock opened its new poker room on Jan. 2. It gives players plenty of room at the table, comfortable chairs, USB chargers under each seat, a snack bar with fresh food, huge TVs and a fresh modern look.

DERBY LANE: Looking for a way to play in the World Series of Poker? The Derby Lane Poker League has a 20-week season that kicked off Jan. 12. It has sent at least 10 people to the WSOP main event. Last year, Steve Trizis made a fine run to cash in his first WSOP appearance, courtesy of his win in the league. There is still plenty of time for you to enter.

The structure will send as many $10K seats (plus expenses) to the series as it can. For more information, see Derby Lane management.

SEMINOLE IMMOKALEE: The second annual Seminole Immokalee Poker Challenge runs Feb. 21-26. The six-day festival is part of the Seminole Hard Rock Poker season and features two primary events headlined by the $1,650 buy-in, $200K guarantee. In all, the series will award more than $250K.

The championship begins Feb. 24 and is eligible in the SHRP Player of the Year race, which awards prizes to the top three points earners and boasts a winning prize valued at $32,450. The tournament features an added seat in the $5,250 Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Championship for the winner.

Last year’s championship drew 127 entries and saw Herbert Woodbery of Winter Garden claim the top prize of $51K along with a $3,500 tournament entry.

Preceding this year’s $1,650 championship is the $350 buy-in, $50K guarantee opener, which will feature an added $1,650 championship seat.

With four starting flights, the event saw a strong field of 188 entries last year as Brian Wilson of nearby Cape Coral won ($16,356). There will be daily satellites and side events. The series schedule and event structures are available at seminoleimmokaleepoker.com.

South Florida

The seventh edition of the Palm Beach Kennel Club’s February stop on the World Series of Poker Circuit begins Feb. 9 with a $365 Monster Stack at noon. The series continues with its 12 Rings in 12 Days format, headlined by the $1,675 main event, which will feature two starting sessions Feb. 17-18. Other ring events include PLO/8, a second Monster Stack and two new options, a six-max and an eight-max.

The past two main-event champions of this popular series were top local pros Mukul Pahuja and Darryll Fish.
HARD ROCK HOLLYWOOD: The week after Christmas in South Florida isn’t particularly known as a big poker week, but Youssef Nassr of Haines City, Fla., picked up some nice holiday cash by defeating a field of 148 at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood to capture the Fun in the Sun series main event on Dec. 30. The $560 tourney easily met its $50K guarantee and Nassr took home $20,428 by defeating Jose Castro and Adam “Roothlus” Levy.

Jeff Fogel, who serves as a counselor and girls basketball coach at the Michael Ann Russell JCC in North Miami Beach, was second in chips as the tourney wound down to the final 10 players. After about an hour of play, Fogel suffered a bad beat when he turned a flush, got it all-in and groaned when the board paired on the river to give his opponent a full house and eliminate Fogel ninth. He laughed it off with a simple, “That’s poker.”

Fogel has battled far tougher challenges in life since being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2012. He was given about five years to live in 2015, but he has refused to let the disease rob him of the opportunity to inspire youngsters. He travels to schools and gives motivational speeches, showing children the 27-minute documentary of his life with the disease, Who is Lou Gehrig?

The inspirational film, written and directed by South Florida filmmaker Gil Green of 305 Films, has been shown at several film festivals and has received critical acclaim. Miami Heat player Udonis Haslem is one of the film’s executive producers and has a small cameo in the movie along with several other Heat players.

At the felt, Fogel uses an elevated motorized wheelchair, but because he has lost the use of his arms and hands, he requires assistance to look at his cards and move his chips. Top players and good friends such as Michael Moed, Steve Karp, Matt Waxman and David Kaye have served as his assistant in recent events. He needs no help in making decisions, however, as evidenced by Fogel’s amazing 158th-place finish in the inaugural Colossus at the World Series of Poker in 2015, which has 22K-plus entries.

ISLE CASINO: The Battles at the Beach runs Feb. 15-March 7. Call the poker room for details and schedule information.

PPC UPDATE: The Players Poker Championship Tour, based in Pompano Beach, is being accused of failing to pay prize money in its season-ending championship event in Aruba in early November.

Reportedly, the top finishers were paid $10K at the event and promised to receive the remainder in a few days, but the funds were not forthcoming. Ante Up spoke briefly with Bryan Oulton, co-owner of PPC with Sandy Swartzbaugh, shortly after Christmas, but he refused to comment on the situation on the advice of his lawyer. The tour’s website has been reduced to a landing page.

The winner of the Aruba tournament, Stephen Deutsch, along with the fourth- and sixth-place finishers, Michael Lerner and Joan Sandoval, have retained poker attorney Mac VerStandig to represent them in an effort to get paid. Reportedly, three of the top poker rooms who have hosted PPC events in the past, the Isle Casino in Pompano Beach, Tampa Bay Downs and Maryland Live have severed ties with the tour, and the Isle’s scheduled series in early January was canceled. Sponsored pros Ronnie Bardah, Mark Kroon and Chris “Fox” Wallace have withdrawn their association with the tour. Bardah apologized on Twitter to those affected by the non-payments. Please continue to read Ante Up for more details as they become available.

North Florida

NEW NAME AT DAYTONA BEACH: The Daytona Beach Kennel Club and Poker Room has changed its name to Daytona Beach Racing and Card Club.

ORANGE CITY RACING AND CARD CLUB: The facility is set to open this month. Calling itself “Orlando’s Closest Poker,” this location is an extension of the Daytona Beach Racing and Card Club. It has a 33-table poker room, simulcast wagering and a sports bar. The poker room will have the same games and events as Daytona Beach, with hourly high hands, special promotions and tableside dining.

CREEK ENTERTAINMENT GRETNA: The poker room will have $200 high hands hourly on Feb. 11 from 1-11 p.m. Also, there’s a $10K guarantee Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. for $270 and a $5K guarantee on Feb. 24 at 7 for $120. There are $60 satellites for the $10K on select Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. and Thursdays at 7. Call 850-875-6930 for details.

PENSACOLA GREYHOUND TRACK: The $20K guarantee ($180) will have three Day 1s from Feb. 9-11 with Day 2 on Feb. 12. Satellites are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 1. There is a $70 bounty event Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. See the ad on Page 41 of our February issue for more promotions here and for sister property Creek Entertainment Gretna.

BESTBET JACKSONVILLE: Rory McCoid of Jacksonville won the $50K guarantee in December. The $200 event drew a huge field of 510 players, beating the guarantee with an $81,600 prize pool. McCoid earned $15K for the win. Mike Frierson of Honolulu and Jermaine Gerlin of Jacksonville chopped second and third for $10,562 each.

In other news, the poker room’s 700-plus employees ran a United Way campaign that led to more than $25K in donations to the United Way of Northeast Florida.

EBRO GREYHOUND PARK: A lot of new promotions and tournament structures were introduced in 2016, so the staff wants to know what you think of the changes and wants ways to improve the poker room. Call 850-535-4048 ext. 180 or you can email EbroPokerDirector@gmail.com with your comments.

North Carolina

Brad Albrinck won the $1,675 main event of the World Series of Poker Circuit on Dec. 5 at Harrah’s Cherokee in North Carolina. He earned $275K, besting Jason Rivkin of Eatontown, N.J., heads-up, for his second WSOPC main-event title.
Rivkin won $170,639 for second. Ante Up Pacific Northwest Ambassador Jay Zeman made the final table and pocketed $33,440. The main event drew 968 players for a $1.452M prize pool. Albrinck won his first WSOPC title in September 2013 at the Horseshoe Casino in his hometown of Cincinnati.

“You know, I started the day pretty short-stacked, so it was maybe less expected. Especially because (Rivkin) had all the chips for a lot of the final table,” Albrinck said.

Other winners were Jarrett Mullins ($365 Event 2, $101,190), Sergiu Nagit ($365 Event 2, $29,633), Robert Reed ($580 Event 3, $42,019), Josh Reichard ($365 Event 4, six-max, $34,188), Phong Nguyen ($365 Event 5 PLO, $19,945), Michael Sanders ($365 Event 6, $33,224), Jason Maeroff ($365 Event 7 Monster Stack, $56,106), Teodoru Balan ($580 Event 8, $33,600), Robert Briggs $365 Event 9, $26,265), Mohana Karella ($365 Event 11, $23,138) and Adam West ($2,200 Event 12 High Roller, $60,598).
The next WSOPC here will be April 13-24.


At the southern end of the state, there are plenty of big guarantees coming up you don’t want to miss.
In the Big Slick Poker Room at Scarlet Pearl, there’s a $30K guarantee Feb. 9-12. For $255, you get to compete for the massive prize pool, enjoy a buffet on Feb. 11 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. and meet the Absolute Girls (also Feb. 11).

The structure sheet, which boasts a slow-moving layout, can be found at scarletpearlcasino.com.

Also at the Pearl, Feb. 25 will be a 100-person shootout

(10 tables of 10) for $150. Each table winner earns $1K. The winner of Round 2 receives a cruise package and entrance into a $100K guarantee main event in St. Maarten.

For those of you who enjoy single-table satellites or thrive in smaller tournaments, this is a great opportunity to play something a little different and have a shot at both an awesome prize package and a nice cash bonus.

BEAU RIVAGE: The property runs two great monthly events with healthy guarantees. The first is a $50K guarantee for $355, which includes the $10 dealer add-on 2K more chips. This tournament runs the first full weekend of every month with Flight 1A on Friday at noon, Flight 1B on Saturday at noon and the restart on Sunday at 10 a.m.

This tournament usually boasts a huge turnout with a prize pool in excess of the guarantee, making it a tremendous value for the investment.

On the third full weekend of the month, the Beau hosts a $25K guarantee. The $245 buy-in includes a $10 dealer add-on for 2K more chips. Flight 1A is Friday at noon, 1B is Saturday at noon and the restart is Sunday at 10 a.m. For more info, poker room rates and structure sheets, go to beaupoker.com.


HOLLYWOOD CASINO: If you’re looking to broaden your horizons in 2017 by branching out beyond no-limit hold’em, Hollywood has you covered with its weekly $2-$6 spread-limit stud game. The action kicks off at 11 a.m. every Friday and has become popular, so you might want to call ahead to reserve your seat, which you can do two hours in advance.
Players can reach Executive Producer status and all the perks that come with it by logging 350 hours of live play between Jan. 1 and June 30. That tier is generally unattainable at a casino by playing nothing but poker, but it breaks down to about 14 hours a week, and the $15 food voucher you’ll receive for every fours hours of live play (limit two per day) only adds to the value.


COUSHATTA CASINO: The $250 Winter Classic ran Dec. 27-30, drawing 368 players (100 on Day 1A, 96 for 1B and 172 for 1C) to generate a $77,280 prize pool. Alan Cramer of Beaumont, Texas, captured the title and $13,140.
He was followed by Logan Hewitt ($9,660), Desmond Scott ($7,728), James Thomas ($6,569), Iain Mann ($5,410), Brennan Benglis ($4,250), Homer Hinson ($3,091), Donna Tacone ($2,318), Larry Lentschke ($1,932) and Nelli Shteyn ($1,546).

The 20-table non-smoking room in Kinder has USB charger ports at its tables, 15 TVs, food comps and free Wi-Fi.
BOOMTOWN CASINO: Don’t forget, the Heartland Poker Tour runs until Feb. 6. The $1,100 main event has three starting flights Feb. 2-4 with Day 2 on Feb. 5. Call for details.

ELDORADO SHREVEPORT: The amount of promotions in this poker room is remarkable. Royals earn $500 around the clock and straight flushes pay $100.

Other promotions include a bad-beat jackpot (quad fives), Full House Frenzy, Splash the Pot, high hands and Aces Cracked (24-7).

Also, a Thursday freeroll promotion pays $5K every other week. Qualifying began Jan. 30 so call the poker room for details. Info can be found in our Where to Play section at the back of the magazine.

ISLE LAKE CHARLES: Each day of the week in the poker room has a promotion or event assigned to it. For instance, Sundays are Splash the Pot, Mondays have King’s Cracked, Tuesdays feature Hot Seats, Wednesdays are bounty events, Thursdays have progressive quads, Fridays are Aces Cracked and Saturdays feature tourneys. Call the poker room for specifics.

HARRAH’S NEW ORLEANS: The World Series of Poker Circuit dates will be May 11-22, but the event schedule hasn’t been finalized.

Meet Victoria Nunez

If you’ve played in many major tournaments, you probably will recognize Victoria Nunez, who has been a traveling dealer since 2011. She started in South Florida at Gulfstream Park in 2008. She has cut back on travel, but still finds plenty of work, mainly at the major events at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood. She hopes to become a tournament player someday. She chopped a ladies event heads-up at the Isle a few years ago in her first event.

What was your introduction to the WSOP like? My first WSOP job was in May 2011 at Harrah’s in New Orleans then went straight to the WSOP. I thought the circuit events were big, but the World Series was just massive compared to anything I’d ever dealt.

What do you like most about dealing all over the country? My previous job before dealing was as an outreach counselor and there was a lot of traveling, so seeing new places was always a lot of fun, but best of all was the excitement because I love poker and being involved with it on a daily basis. Being able to pick and choose the tournaments I want to work is also great for me. When my mother was very sick a couple of years ago and I took care of her, I needed that flexibility that you can’t have on a regular job. I’m also excited about working at the Hard Rock for its big events over the past few years because I’ve had a chance to see them build their brand up close.

Outside of that opening night bad beat, what is a top highlight of your career? Meeting James Woods at my first WSOP. I’m a big movie buff and I love him as an actor. I wanted to get a photo with him, but since I was working at the table, I couldn’t take my phone out right then. Three hours later, when I was on a break, he searched me out and said, “Do you still want that picture?” and I just melted. — Dave Lemmon