TommyGun Nguyen is WSOP world champ

November 28, 2016, Christopher Cosenza, Kittie Aleman, Garrett Roth, Jay Zeman  

The string of twenty-somethings winning the World Series of Poker Main Event is over as 39-year-old Las Vegas resident and Saigon, Vietnam, native Qui “TommyGun” Nguyen is the world champion of poker. Nguyen took the lead on the first hand of the final table and rode that momentum to his first World Series of Poker bracelet and $8M.

“Thank you to all of my friends and family,” he said after the victory. “I’m so excited. I don’t know what to say. I just tried to remind myself to never give up, to never give up. It was tiring, it was tough, but I wanted to stay aggressive and never give up and thankfully for me it worked out.”

His heads-up match with San Francisco’s Gordon Vayo lasted until 3:20 a.m. in the Rio’s Penn & Teller Theater. Vayo, 27, earned $4.66M for second.

“It was a little frustrating at times, but he played phenomenal,” Vayo said. “I didn’t get a lot of hands heads-up, but all the credit to Qui; he played great.”

Nguyen is a married father of a 4-year-old son and once owned a nail salon in Alaska. He is the second Vietnamese-born world champion after Poker Hall of Famer Scotty Nguyen, who won in 1998.

Playing an aggressive style, and arguably the least accomplished player at the table coming in, Nguyen did the unimaginable by constantly playing pots, applying pressure and putting his tablemates to tough decisions. In the end, the combination of cards, fortitude and aggression led Nguyen to poker’s ultimate championship.

Nguyen came to the Rio with one WSOP cash, a 54th-place finish in a $1,500 event in 2009 for $9,029.
On the final hand, Nguyen raised to 8.5M and was reraised all-in by Vayo for his last 53M chips. Nguyen called quickly. Vayo had J-10 and Nguyen had K-10. Nguyen flopped a pair of kings and they held for the title.
Cliff Josephy, 50, of Syosset, N.Y., was looking to become the event’s oldest winner since the November Nine era began in 2008. But he finished third for $3.4M, his largest career cash.

He was followed by Michael Ruane of Hoboken, N.J., ($2.57M), Vojtech Ruzicka of the Czech Republic ($1.93M), Kenny Hallaert of Belgium ($1.46M), Griffin Benger of Toronto ($1.25M), Jerry Wong of Coconut Creek, Fla., ($1.1M) and Fernando Pons of Spain ($1M).

SOUTH POINT: The $160K Holiday Hold’em Freeroll is Dec. 12-13 at 6 p.m. with the finals on Dec. 17 at 10 a.m. Players who logged 100 hours of live play through Nov. 30 will get 10K chips. First pays $35K, second is $15K and third is $10K.

VENETIAN: The Weekend Extravaganza runs Dec. 7-11 and features $176K in guarantees. The featured event is the $340 doublestack, which has three flights (Dec. 8-10, 6:50 p.m.) and has a $100K guarantee. For more, go to venetian.com

ARIA: The poker room has a new feature called Protection Poker. Tables with this feature have unique rules whereby if you’re on a receiving end of a nasty bad beat, you’ll still receive a portion of the pot. Call for details or go to arialasvegas.com.

Northern California

Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln, Calif., recently hosted the Heartland Poker Tour in October as the $2,500 main event had a $500K guarantee. Thunder Valley displayed again why it’s one of the top poker rooms in the nation, as entrants nearly doubled the guarantee ($971K), which was one of the largest prize pools in HPT history.
The field started with 437 entries and after a fierce final table, Blair Hinkle from Kansas City took the title and $223K. He defeated John Sheehan from Navato, Calif., who earned $137K.

“It’s been a long one. It’s been a grind for sure,” Hinkle said with a smile on his face after the win.

Other players at the final table included Derrick Geliberte from Elk Grove, Calif., (third, $91K), Saurabh Patel from San Jose (fourth, 63K), Daniel Maor from San Jose (fifth, $48K), Lance Donnell from Reno (sixth, $37K), Marty Verdegaal from Hanford, Calif., (seventh, $31K), Hoang Vang from Fresno, Calif., (eighth, $25K) and Ian Kalman from San Francisco (ninth, $21K).

Sheehan had nice things to say about Hinkle after the event ended.

“I’m a little tired, a little disappointed,” he said. “I had a lot of fun. Blair’s a fabulous player.” Hinkle is no stranger to six-figure scores or seven-figure scores for that matter. This was his sixth live six-figure victory of his career. His total live earnings have grown to a whopping $4M and first overall on Missouri’s all-time money list.

He has a 2008 World Series of Poker bracelet in the $2K event, good for $507K. He also won two WSOPC rings and made multiple WSOP final tables.

However, none of these amazing wins even touch his largest score, which was from the 2013 Hard Rock Poker Open in Hollywood, Fla., where he won the event for $1.7M.

Hinkle also was an online poker legend, winning countless tournaments, including the Full Tilt Online Poker Series XIX Main Event for $1.1M-plus, which was regarded as one of the most prestigious events in online poker.

Up next for Thunder Valley’s Up the Ante Poker Room will be the WPT California Swing in early January. But there will be a host of $100 satellites in late December for this event. See the ad on Pages 2-3 of our December issue for all of the details and the schedule to the Poker Night in America series in January.

STONES GAMBLING HALL: Saturdays in December feature a $130 deepstack tournament at 11 a.m. Player start with 15K chips and there is unlimited entry through the first six levels.

Reno/Lake Tahoe

ATLANTIS CASINO: All this month, cash-game players earn $4 an hour in comps.

If cash games aren’t your bag, you can play a $40 no-limit hold’em tournament every morning at 11. Players start with 6K chips, and if your tracked play shows you played at least one hour of live poker within 24 hours before the start of each tournament, you’ll receive 2K more in chips.

GRAND SIERRA RESORT: The poker room has introduced a new event called the First Saturday of the Month $5K Guarantee. It begins at 11 a.m. and costs $100. Rebuys for $100 are allowed through the first three levels and there is an optional $100 add-on. Players begin with 5K chips and can get 5K more with an optional $10 dealer add-on.

PEPPERMILL CASINO: The poker room often adds money to prize pools for its weekly tournaments. It also has an Omaha event on the last Saturday of the month at noon that costs $150 for 15K chips. A $10 optional dealer add-on gets you 5K more.

HARVEYS LAKE TAHOE: Michael Pearson beat 475 players over three days of poker to win the World Series of Poker Circuit main event and $153K.The $1,675 event was the first ring for the 29-year-old player from San Francisco.
“It’s a good tournament,” he said. “Tahoe is great; a great place to be for a weekend.”

Pearson said he started playing as a hobby when he was 17 but only recently hit the live poker scene.

“I guess I started playing three years ago, more live,” he said. “Mostly cash, but I’m liking tournaments a lot more now.”

He was chipleader after Day 1A but had a tough final table on Day 3. He said a pivotal point in play came against Valerie Hanley. There was almost 360K in the pot and two diamonds on the flop when Hanley bet 200K. Pearson held the king and queen of diamonds and made his move.

“I think at that point I just have to go with it. If there’s any chance she is folding I have to ship it. If I have any fold equity I have to try to take it,” he said. “Then she ends up having the very worst thing for me to see.”

Hanley called Pearson’s shove and turned over her A-J. Pearson’s tournament life was on the verge of being extinguished. Then, a queen came on the river, giving Pearson a pair and new life.

Later, he went heads-up with Michael McDonough, who put up a good fight but couldn’t overcome Pearson’s lead. Pearson also earned a seat at the Global Casino Championship in late 2017.

Southern California

Michael Kaplitz of San Diego won $4,846 and got his name on the RiverCard trophy after a two-way chop Oct. 30, in the Pala RiverCard Halloweekend tournament.

Kaplitz held the most chips and he and Howard Mazer of Mission Viejo, Calif., agreed to the chop after four days of poker action.Mazer won $4,845.

There were 216 players to generate a $31,350 prize pool. Rounding out the top five were Mac Sohrabi of Encinitas ($3,500), Eric Fuston of Murrieta ($3,500) and Leonard Gutierrez of Chino ($1,833).

BICYCLE CASINO: The World Series of Poker Circuit returns Dec. 1-20, offering 20 events with buy-ins of $150-$3,250 and 12 ring events.Nightly satellites ($150) run Dec. 1-8 for the main event. Guarantees on some events range from $10K-$500K.

The $1,675 main event begins Dec. 10 at noon with its first flight. There will be a second flight on Dec. 11 at noon, too, with Day 2 being Dec. 12.

One of the interesting non-ring events on the schedule is the pot-limit stud/8-Big O/8 tourney with a $10K guarantee on Dec. 7 at noon for $240.

Be sure to go to thebike.com or wsop.com for the full schedule and more details.

PECHANGA RESORT: Look for a variety of promotions in December. Monday-Thursday between 3-9 a.m., all live players receive a square and additional squares may be earned with specific hands. Random drawings will be every 30 minutes in those six hours.The player holding the winning square’s number wins $50.

During Monday night football games, $100 hot-seat drawings start at 2 p.m.Four drawings for $400 happen each quarter and nine $100 drawings kick off after the game. Tickets are distributed each quarter.

Tuesdays are high-hand days. From 1-10 p.m, the winner takes home an extra $250, second receives $150 and the Omaha winner pockets $100. Thursdays and Sundays also offer high hands with the same prize money and run 1-11 p.m.

The $15K Mega Cash Giveaway on Dec. 17 starts at 1 p.m. and runs until 3 a.m. One winner each hour gets $1K. Guests earn entries Monday-Friday in live games starting Dec. 1.Play 15 hours or more on Wednesdays during December to earn $100 gift cards. Finally, Dec. 31 will feature drawings every 15 minutes from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. for mystery cash envelopes ($25-$1K).

HARRAH’S SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Dash for Cash promo runs Dec. 1-29.The top-10 hour-earners for the month (150-hour minimum) will win big money. The top five earn $2K and 6-10 earn $1K.

HOLLYWOOD PARK: The $100K End Zone Challenge runs every week through Jan. 1. During the first and last football games on Sunday, Monday and Thursday, cash pots will be added to two tables for touchdowns and field goals ($50), fumbles lost ($60), two-point conversions ($75), kickoffs or punt returns ($100) and a safety ($125).

COMMERCE CASINO: The L.A. Poker Open was running when Ante Up went to press, but Lori Wheeler of Los Alimitos was declared the winner after a four-way chop of the $175 opening event. She pocketed $6,245 while Cole Hayashida of Los Angeles was second ($5,025). Randall Holland of Winnetka earned $3,760 for third and Samkyu Chung was fourth ($3,630).

Pacific Northwest

SNOQUALMIE CASINO: This property is 28 miles east of Seattle and has five tables, the smallest of the three poker rooms in tribal casinos in the immediate Seattle area. It starts the day with a $35 event at 10:30 a.m. with $300 added and routinely spreads NLHE games with $3-$5 and $5-$10 blinds. High hands are as much as $300 per hour on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and royals are $500.

CHINOOK WINDS CASINO RESORT: The poker room, now on the second level of the casino, features a $40 tournament at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays. Players get 3K chips and you can pay the optional $20 add-on at the break for 3K more. Also, Omaha cash games begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays.

TULALIP RESORT CASINO: The Last Sunday of the Month event moves to Dec. 18 at 11 a.m. because the last Sunday is Christmas. It will have a $220 buy-in for 10K chips. If you pay the optional $10 dealer add-on you’ll get 2K more.

WIZARDS CASINO: If you’re in the Seattle area, don’t overlook the non-tribal cardrooms. If you’re into tournaments, Wizards Casino in Burien (12 miles south of Seattle) has added-money tournaments at noon daily, $35 buy-in with $500 added ($40 buy-in on Sundays). They are popular with the locals.

Wizards is a 15-table cardroom with four tables featuring $2-$20 spread-limit. In addition to added-money tournaments, promotions include Double Monte Carlo Mondays, high hands Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and a monthly $4K freeroll for players with more than 40 hours of cash play.

B.C. POKER: Looking for a big score but not into tournaments? Head Northwest to the River Rock or Hard Rock casinos in British Columbia to catch a piece of their humongous Super Bad Beat jackpot (quad eights beaten), which was nearly $600K Canadian at press time.

River Rock is a 10-table room in Richmond, B.C., featuring $3-$6 limit and $1-$3 or $3-$5 NLHE. Not surprisingly, no one at the River Rock wants to play any tournaments until the jackpot is hit so they have suspended their tournament schedule. The Hard Rock is a five-table room in Vancouver with more emphasis on NLHE and pot-limit Omaha, though it’s getting fewer PLO games with the hold’em jackpot being so huge.

Meet Lena Evans

As an ex-pro blackjack player, Lena Evans was introduced to poker 10 years ago and loved the competitive aspect of playing against others. She became a high-stakes player but rcently shifted her focus to the tournament landscape.

“I consider myself a part-time professional poker player,” she said. “Poker is not my sole source of income, but I do it equally to other revenue-generating activities. I was proud of my performance at the WPT Legends of Poker series at the Bicycle Casino in August. I went deep, final-tabled or cashed a significant amount of the events I entered.”
She owns a company called m8trix Poker, but her life’s passion is philanthropy. Integrating her love of poker into her other endeavors was a natural fit.

Evans has organized and hosted many celebrity charity tournaments to benefit many varied organizations such as the March of Dimes, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the YMCA. She also serves on the boards for Rady Children’s Hospital Rancho Santa Fe and Links to Freedom, a rehabilitative golf program for wounded service members.

“My most important ‘hobby’ outside of poker are my two amazing sons,” she said. “I love to play golf, travel and enjoy the arts, including symphony, theatre and ballet.”
— Kittie Aleman