Grand Series at Grand Casino Mille Lacs Recap
Canada Invades the Heartland
The Heartland Poker Tour saw another first today as James Gibson became the first Canadian citizen to take down an HPT championship. It was almost a “first” of another sort as past HPT champion Soni Lo nearly became the first ever repeat champion on the HPT, having to settle for a second place finish when his A/8 lost to Gibson’s K/7 on the final hand.
The marathon final table included a wide variety of poker players including a musician, ballet instructor, farmer, cab company owner and gas station owner. However, in the end it was retired truck driver James Gibson who took down the first place cash prize of $77,720 as his poker playing buddies cheered him on from the front row.
“I had a dream about this last night” said Gibson. “I couldn’t sleep at all, but when I did, I dreamt of winning this tournament.”
Gibson went on to say that his victory and first place prize will go a long way to smoothing things over on the home front.
“My wife’s been keeping a log of my poker wins and losses, including expenses” said Gibson. “I’ve been running kind of bad lately, so this is going to really help.”
For a while it didn’t look like anyone would ever win the tournament as the first six blind levels and several hours passed before any of the final six players were eliminated. When the tournament field was finally narrowed to three players, blinds had risen to a level deemed “inappropriate” by tournament directors and the level was finally capped to finish out the event, in order to maintain the integrity of the game.
“I really wanted to win this thing” said 2nd place finisher Penh Lo, a diversity training instructor and ballet instructor. “I wanted to be the first ever two time champion on the HPT.”
In the end it was not to be for Lo who entered the final table as a substantial short stack with only about 100,000 of the 2.1 million chips in play. Lo, who recently took a year off from playing poker to travel to Asia, says he’s “back” and plans to focus more on his game.
Ironically for Gibson and Lo, this was not the first time they’d met at a poker table. Sixteen months ago at Shooting Star in Mahnomen, Gibson, his Canadian poker friend Jimmy Palenko, and Soni Lo all met at the final table of ten during that HPT event. On that day, Lo and Palenko tangled several memorable times on the TV table (as Gibson bubbled the TV table), with Lo busting Palenko before going on to win the event.
“I really respect Soni and his game” said Gibson before the event started today. “I remember playing against him at another HPT event when he took my buddy Jimmy P (his friends nickname)”
Gibson avenged his buddy’s loss, having to storm back from a deep hole, early on today’s final table. After losing a couple hands early, Gibson made a stand with pocket fives and they held up against eventual fifth place finisher Keith Doering, the farmer from southern Minnesota who entered the day as chip leader. After his double up, Gibson showed great patience and picked his spots, including one suck out when a lovely nine of clubs hit the river and prevented a third place finish.
Things could have been much different for Doering had his pocket queens held up against pocket three’s midway through the final table. That bad beat crippled Doering who was in the midst of a phenomenal run during the weekend, entering the main event after a big score at the blackjack table early Sunday morning.
The final table capped a week long event at the Grand Casino Mille Lacs in central Minnesota. The main event was one of five events run during the week, with four preliminary events, including a bounty tournament. Players traveled from all over the U.S. to play in the events and the final table included a Floridian and a Canadian.
The Heartland Poker Tour will have a busy fall, with upcoming events scheduled in Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, Iowa and Indiana. The year end event is open to all registrants and is scheduled to be held at Majestic Star Casino in Gary Indiana where the prize pool is expected to swell to over $1,200,000.