Fish hooks a big poker title in South Florida

February 27, 2018, Dave Lemmon, Crash Martin, Sara Malowitz, Ron Hope, Todd Lamansky, Jennifer Gay  

One-time Ante Up Player of the Year Darryll Fish, a hometown favorite at South Florida poker tables, won the main event of the WPT Lucky Hearts Open at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood on Jan. 24 for $511K. He defeated Alexandr Shevelev of Siberia in a heads-up match that lasted four-plus hours. Fish, 32, put his first WPT title on an impressive resume that includes a World Series of Poker Circuit ring in 2015 and a win in the Aussie Millions Tournament of Champions in 2016.

Former WPT Player of the Year Andy Frankenberger finished third, while Ness Reilly took fourth. The tourney attracted 911 entrants, creating a prize pool that beat the $3M guarantee.

The 24-event series also featured two big high roller events, with the $50K event going to German superstar Stephan Schillhabel and the $25K to Justin Bonomo, while Scott Baumstein won the opening event, the $1,100 WPT DeepStacks tournament. Twenty players notched six-figure paydays during the event.

The next big series will be the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown from April 5-17 and will include the $3,500 WPT Showdown Championship (April 13-14). One event that will not be returning this year is the WPT’s season-ending Tournament of Champions. That event moves to the Aria in Las Vegas on May 24.

GULFSTREAM PARK: Recently hosting horse racing’s richest race, the Pegasus World Cup, helped the poker room have a huge day. The monstrous attendance at the track helped fill the poker room, according to manager Scott Poole. “That was one of our biggest Sundays ever, no question.”

Stronach Group chairman and president Belinda Stronach said owners are considering plans to develop the land around the racetrack with possibly a hotel.

ISLE CASINO: The Isle Poker Room in Pompano Beach is making its mark with some smaller independent tourneys, including a pair of January $100K events. Francisco Pulido of Pembroke Pines won the first for $26K-plus, while the second drew 867 entrants and ended in a six-way chop led by Michael Marks and Michael Tait. Late in the month, former November Niner Jerry Wong made a big comeback to collect $42K in the $2,500 single-ante tournament.

CHARITY EVENT: The eighth annual Tyler’s Team Charity Poker Classic will be March 25 at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. Visit or call Kevin McKellan at 516-215-3717 for more details.

MARDI GRAS CASINO: The Hallandale Beach property, with its popular Big Easy Poker Room, is in the process of being sold to Jeffrey Soffer, the owner of the Fontainebleau Resort on Miami Beach, the largest hotel in South Florida.

What effect this will have on the venerable dog track and its gaming operations, owned by Hartman & Tyner since 1978, is unclear, though Soffer has long been interested in obtaining a casino license for his massive Miami Beach property.

Central Florida

The Naples-Ft. Myers Poker Room’s Poker Championships will run March 22-25. It kicks off with a $200 no-limit hold’em event with a $15K guarantee March 22 at 6 p.m. The $550 pot-limit Omaha championship is March 23 at noon and the $1,100 main event is March 24 at noon. The two-day tourney has a $100K guarantee. For more information, see the ad on Page 5 of our current issue.

KELSALL SUCCESS: Sometimes players have to leave the cozy confines of home to find success. Take for instance A.J. Kelsall. He has been making noise since the WSOP last year and that has continued into 2018. At the recent $1,100 WPT DeepStacks main event in Hollywood, Fla., which had a $1M guarantee, he finished fifth. After 1,366 entrants and generating a prize pool of $1.3M-plus, Kelsall was third in chips at the final table, ultimately busting when his A-4 couldn’t catch up with the pocket jacks of the eventual winner Scott Baumstein. He earned $56,239, which set him up to travel to New Jersey for the Borgata WPT main event. 

Kelsall busted 45th for $14,106. Another Tampa Bay-area pro, Justin Zaki, made the final table and finished second for a remarkable $434K. Zaki has $2.32M in career earnings.

SARASOTA KENNEL CLUB: After a successful first run in early 2017, America’s Poker Tour returns to One-Eyed Jacks (March 16-26) with another $1,100 main event with a $200K guarantee. Last year’s champion, WSOP bracelet-winner and tour ambassador John Racener will be joining five-time WSOP bracelet-winner Michael “Grinder” Mizrachi to host the event. With $60 and $240 satellites running since January weekly, this event will surely break the guarantee. 
Other events include $210 deepstacks (30-minute blinds, 20K stack), a $150 seniors, $150 six-max, $220 PLO, $200 bounty and $330 deepstacks. 

Many in the Tampa Bay area, including fan favorites Dr. Marvin “Duckman” Karlins, philanthropist Anthony March and other pros and recreational players will be making the trip and looking for their share of this prize pool.

TGT POKER: The Tampa room will offer no-rake tournaments at 1 p.m. starting March 6. They will be Tuesday through Friday, ranging from $40-$80 and will feature a dedicated tournament director. There also will be $2 drinks daily for players and you earn comp dollars for food and drinks in cash games. Promotions are updated at 2, 6 and 10 p.m. every day at

CLUB 52: The poker room at Melbourne Greyhound Park hosts a $10K guarantee at noon March 3 for $130. See the ad on Page 43 of our current issue for more details.

North Florida

BESTBET JACKSONVILLE: The WPT DeepStacks Festival runs March 2-12. The $1,500 main event sports a $300K guarantee and is the last of 11 events that include two multiple flight tourneys, one with a $100K guarantee and another with a $50K guarantee, four bounty events and two Omaha tourneys.

The main event features starting flights March 9-10, Day 2 March 11 and the live-streamed final table March 12 at 2 p.m. Watch it live at

“We are excited to be hosting another WPT DeepStacks event,” bestbet VP of poker operations Deborah Giardina said. “Bestbet has been partnered with WPT for seven years throughout which our collaboration has fostered many successful events. We anticipate another great series this time, too.”

In other news, Timothy Johnson of Jacksonville won the January 1010XL main event, outlasting a field of 125 players. He pocketed $2,900 after a four-way chop.

On March 14, bestbet hosts a charity event at 7 p.m. for Critters Exotic Pet Rescue. The entry fee is $60 and a silent auction begins at the first break. Also, March 24 is the college tournament. Players must have a valid college ID.

BESTBET ORANGE PARK: This Northeast Florida facility has a $300 high-hand bonus Thursdays every half-hour between noon and midnight.

CREEK GRETNA: This room, closest to Tallahassee, hosts a $270 event with a $10K guarantee every month. The next one is March 17 and satellites are available multiple times each month. A $2K March 3 and a $5K on March 23 also highlight the calendar. See the ad on Page 45 in our current issue for more info.

The January $10K event resulted in a three-way chop as Willie Lawrence, Andy Roland and Brooks Jampole each took home $2,668.

ORANGE CITY RACING AND CARD CLUB: In addition to the weekly Monday and Tuesday tournaments, a Thursday $65 event has been added. Mel Taylor of 101.1 WJRR radio plays in Mel’s Hot Rock Tournament the first Thursday of each month. The bad-beat jackpot was $105K at press time.

EBRO GREYHOUND PARK: Dylan Skelton, winner of the 2017 Emerald Coast Spring Classic, won the Player of the Year tournament bracelet after a three-way chop with Todd Smith and Ed Sheridan. The $300 event with a $50K guarantee ended Jan. 28 with Daniel Price receiving a $15K payday as 267 entries created a prize pool of $66,750 and paid 30 places.

Ebro hosts a $5K March 9, a $2K on March 13 and a $3K event every Thursday. Royals and bad-beat jackpots are in play every day. Look for the Emerald Coast Spring Classic lineup in the April edition.

DAYTONA BEACH RACING AND CARD CLUB: The $50K event in January brought out 725 entries and created a prize pool of $87K. Gordon Philbrick was champ with a prize of $10,051 and a sought-after 2018 GAPT Championship seat. 

“We were very pleased with our turnout for this event,” tournament director Wayne Zeevering said.

PENSACOLA GREYHOUND TRACK: David Taylor accomplished quite a feat in the 2017 POY race. After finishing as points leader, he went on to win the POY tournament, agreeing to a five-way chop, and as chipleader was crowned champion.

The January $20K wrapped up the last weekend of the month with Jimmy Driskell, Scott Miller and Ned Griffis each taking home $3,185.

There were 169 players for $20,280 prize pool. The March tournament will be a $50K (March 28-April 1). See the ad on Page 45 of our current issue for more info.


The Million Dollar Heater has wrapped up at the Beau Rivage, finishing another awesome start to the year.
The $2,700 main event exceeded expectations with 175 entrants, beating the $300K guarantee by $137,500. Familiar faces Randy Gordon of Metarie, La., (sixth, $21,492) and Tim Burt of D’Iberville, Miss., (fifth, $25,547) made the final table exciting to watch, but ultimately Timothy Miles of Miami Beach, Fla., took the championship and $113,131. Second place went home with Ante Up Poker Tour champ Michael Monaghan of Jackson, Miss., along with $65,285.

The series’ first event drew an astonishing 2,837 entries and a prize pool of $825,567, smashing the $600K guarantee.

Typical Mississippi final tables feature several familiar faces. This one mixed it up with some new names in the pool, proving poker is alive and well in the South. In the end, Kongyen Chang of Baton Rouge would beat Donald Colletti of Poplarville, Miss., for $94,844. Colletti got $55,867 for second. 

The series experienced excellent turnout. Event 5 (Omaha/8) drew nearly 100 entries and a $22K-plus prize pool. Danny Zaccaro of Mobile, Ala., beat Seville Hale of Pensacola, Fla., for first place and $8,190.

HORSESHOE TUNICA: The WSOPC finished up strong. Plenty of familiar faces took home big checks, making this annual event an especially exciting year. In total, 4,531 entries competed for $2M-plus in prize pools. Event 1 ($365 NLHE) hosted 332 entries and a $99,600 prize pool. Local favorite Ryan Enis of Corinth took seventh for $3,426.

Mississippi poker’s sweetheart, Connie Rice, went out fourth for $7,663. The winner, Edward Jolley from Sikeston, Mo., won $22,909 for his hard work.

Mike Cordell of Little Rock, Ark., just can’t be stopped. He’s been on a heater for quite a while and carried it with him to Tunica where he picked up his fourth gold ring. His Event 3 win marked his 25th career WSOP cash.

The $1,675 main event boasted 597 runners and a prize pool of $895,500. Sam Washburn of Arkansas beat an impressive final table for the championship. Runners included Scott Stewart (second, $116,316), Jim Naifeh (fourth, $63,115), Kyle Cartwright (fifth, $47,468) and Jake Bazeley (sixth, $36,233). Even more impressive is this was Washburn’s first WSOP cash. Along with it, he takes home a gold ring and a seat in the Global Casino Championship later in the season.


AMERISTAR ST. CHARLES: Charles “Chaz” Shields, who has been with the company for the past 20 years, 16 at the St. Charles property is the poker room manager. Shields replaces Denise Taykowski, who accepted a promotion at sister property, River City Casino.

JANUARY RUN GOOD: St. Louis-area pros Neil Patel, John Richards and Joshua Turner started the year off right with a combined 13 cashes for January, totaling almost $80K. All three of them cashed at the World Series of Poker Circuit in Choctaw Casino in Durant, Okla., where Richards and Turner won rings in November. Turner came up a tad shy of ring No. 7 with his fourth-place finish in Event 9 ($1,125 NLHE) for $14,789.

He almost final-tabled Event 6 ($365 NLHE) as well, but was eliminated 16th for another $1,120.

Patel finished seventh in Event 7 ($580 NLHE), one of his eight cashes for the month.

He almost made a second WSOPC final table a couple of weeks later in Tunica, finishing 12th in Event 9 ($580 NLHE) and had three deep runs at the Lucky Hearts Poker Open at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla.; 32nd in the $3,500 WPT main event ($15,284), 13th in the $2,200 NLHE, and 16th in Event 13 ($1,100 NLHE), which Loni Harwood and Ari Engel chopped after eliminating Richards in third ($23,067). He also finished 15th in the main event for another $26,102.


COUSHATTA CASINO: The Coushatta Spring Classic runs March 13-18. The series includes a $300 seniors event, a $150 shootout, a $250 event and the $550 main event, which has two starting flights (March 16-17) with the final day March 18. All events start at noon.

In other news, look for changes coming this month with smaller entry fees, bonus chips for cash play before tourneys, unlimited re-entries for all event, start-time changes plus a new Uber Stack turbo tournament on Thursdays. Call the poker room for details on these and a plethora of other promotions.

GOLDEN NUGGET LAKE CHARLES: There will be a $100K freeroll May 8 at 10 a.m. Qualifiers will be the top 60 hourly players in a live jackpot-eligible games March 31-April 30. Top 60 players will be posted in the poker room and the top 10 automatically win $1K.

Also, the bad-beat jackpot was at $113K at press time and royals pay $200 while straight flushes earn $100 around the clock. Visit the room’s website for rules of all promos.

L’AUBERGE CASINO BATON ROUGE: Seniors receive a $20 food voucher for 2.5 hours of play in a jackpot-qualifying game. The room will spread new games on Mondays and Wednesdays: a $20-$40 limit game a half-kill at 6 p.m. On Sundays and Thursdays, look for a $15-$30 Omaha table at 6 p.m.

Tuesday nights is a $5-$10 NLHE game at 6. Players can call to reserve seats at 4 p.m.

BOOMTOWN CASINO NEW ORLEANS: The bad-beat jackpot was at $165K at press time.

HARRAH’S NEW ORLEANS: The bad-beat jackpot was at $135K and the mini-bad beat was 10 percent of the main. Call for details.  

L’AUBERGE CASINO RESORT LAKE CHARLES: A straight flush pays $100 and a royal gets you $200 as both hole cards must play.

HORSESHOE BOSSIER CITY: The room has a mini-bad beat of $5K (aces full of 10s). There also are Aces Cracked and daily high hands. Call for details.

ISLE LAKE CHARLES: Promos include high hand of the hour Aces Cracked, Queens Cracked the Sunday big bonus. Official rules are posted in poker room or call for details.

Meet J.D. Mast

How’d you end up working in poker? I started as a dealer at the Seminole Casino in Tampa in 1996. In 2001, I went to Las Vegas, where I worked at the Mirage. I worked every position I could to get more experience and decided to head back to Florida in 2004. That year, my great friend, Sam Minutello, was hired as cardroom manager at Tampa Bay Downs and brought me on to assist in opening the room and training dealers. I then worked about nine years in Sarasota at the dog track (poker room) before working the last year in Virginia as a supervisor at MGM National Harbor. I was hired as director of poker at TGT in January.

What are you working on? I want to embrace the players that have grown with Florida’s changes and create an experience they can enjoy. Players enjoy fresh ideas and that’s what we’ll offer. I really want to focus on offering a different selection of games and betting limits. I’m open to any ideas from players that will help us grow TGT poker room. I think players will really enjoy knowing somebody cares and tries to make things better each and every day.

What can be expected from your room? Our owners have invested a lot of money to fix the things at TGT that were neglected for many years. Since taking over in 2015, they have laid new carpet throughout the track, remodeled bathrooms in the poker room, new flatscreen TVs, new lighting in the parking lot and these are just a few of the changes people will see. Every security officer is fully armed and we put safety of our patrons No. 1.

When not working what do you do for fun? I’m a family man first. My wife and two daughters mean everything to me. We love to travel and just spend time together. I enjoy visiting other poker rooms and collecting casinos chips. I also try to play a little golf but I’m up for anything competitive to be honest. — Sara Malowitz