Turning Stone Resort Casino-Verona, NY Recap
Verona, NY – (August 16, 2011) Heartland Poker Tour officials made good on a promise to fans to bring their nationally-syndicated poker tour to the East Coast in 2011, and Randy Pfeifer is especially grateful. The 40-year-old poker player from Cheektowaga, NY is the latest champ, taking down a field of 443 in the Empire State Hold ‘Em Championship at Turning Stone Resort and Casino. Though hundreds of players campaigned to bring HPT back to Turning Stone, it was Pfeifer who prevailed and earned $157,819 in a marathon event spanning four days. In the end his ace-king proved to be the crippling hand versus Evan Lamprea’s ace-jack.
For Pfeifer, it was a crowning achievement in a seven-year quest to make it as a poker player after giving up a career as a nightclub owner. Pfeifer chose to try his hand on the poker felt after getting married and starting a family less than two years ago.
“This is very surreal” said Pfeifer as he cradled his bricks of cash. “It’s tough being on the road now that I have a new daughter, but this money will pay for her college education so it’s all worth it.”
Pfeifer beat out an impressive field, including recognizable pros Dennis Phillips and Lacey Jones, who cashed in 27th place. Although Phillips bubbled the money in a hand that had him as the 92% favorite, he graciously tweeted, “Great time. We will be back to Turning Stone again.”
A destination resort in Upstate New York, Turning Stone attracts more than four million visitors each year with world-class gaming and upscale amenities. One of HPT’s most-requested stops, Turning Stone helped launch the careers of Adam Junglen, Tyler Reimer, and Jason Somerville, who all found themselves at HPT’s TV table during previous events.
ESPN.com’s Bernard Lee played his second HPT TV table Tuesday. With three players remaining, Lee held the chip lead on at least three occasions and came within a bad river card of holding an eleven-to-one chip advantage heads up and near-certain win. After an ace spiked on the river, nothing went right for Lee again. Lee takes home $52, 144 in his quest to qualify for the Epic Poker League. Tuesday’s cash puts him within a couple thousand dollars in winnings to qualify.
Other notables in the field included poker media guru Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers and 2009 WSOP Main Event Runner-up Darvin Moon, who both busted on Day One of the four-day Main Event. Epic Poker League member Todd Terry cashed in 52nd place.
Finishing second was Evan Lamprea, a 22-year old college student from Woodstalk, Canada. Lamprea, who has a deep run at a WSOP Main Event to his credit, made the five-hour drive with his girlfriend to play the event.
“I came to play the tournament because it was such a great structure,” said Lamprea. “It’s been a long four days but I’m very happy with finishing 2nd. It could have gone either way and I’m happy how I played.” Lamprea has $88,379 to ease the sting of finishing that close to an HPT championship.
The fan favorite at the final table was George Hetelekides, a restaurant owner from Canandaigua, NY. George spent a good part of the day as the short stack but made an impression as comic relief, keeping the mood light despite the pressure. Hetelekides never had any traction at the table but still managed to hang on and finish in fourth for a $40,086 score.
Fifth-place finisher Jeffrey Braverman from Pittsford, NY saw his day come to a crashing halt when he picked the absolute worst time to bluff, shoving his chips with only nine high into a Lamprea’s set of fours. The full-time financial analyst and part-time golfer takes home $33,458.
“This was my first live tournament of this size” said Braverman, whose father beamed at his side. “This has been a great experience and I can’t wait to do it again.”
Now filming its seventh season, HPT invites poker enthusiasts to compete for a chance to play poker on TV and win “life-changing money.” To date, HPT has awarded over 29 million dollars and produced 170 hours of television programming. The event in Upstate New York will be produced into two episodes and broadcast in November. Heartland Poker Tour is available on TV in over 100 million US households, in addition to widespread distribution throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.
Sixth-place finisher Sam Panzica, a 19-year-old aspiring pro from Saline, Michigan, will likely play another HPT event, especially with a $26,830 deposit to his bankroll.
“The players spoke,” said HPT President Todd Anderson, “A hugely successful event means a return to Turning Stone is highly likely. We’re in negotiations now to bring HPT back every August for this event.” For information about upcoming tournaments, subscribe to HPT’s free newsletter at HPTpoker.com.