Nevada - Palms Casino Resort Recap
November Niner Takes Down HPT’s Most-Accomplished Final Table
Las Vegas – (April 16, 2012) – Palms Casino Resort played host to one of the most accomplished Final Tables Heartland Poker Tour has ever seen on Monday. The final six players - Dan O’Brien, Steve Gross, Phil Collins, Matt Marafioti, Leo Wolpert, and recent HPT champ Terry Presley - boast roughly $20 million in combined lifetime winnings. “They’re all superstars,” said Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler, who made his own attempt in the Main Event but came up short. Many notable players went deep and cashed in the event, including Randy Dorfman, Christina Lindley, author Michael Craig, and Dutch Boyd, who bubbled the TV table. Ultimately, the title belonged to 2011 November Niner Phil Collins, defeating Marafioti heads up when he paired his nine with ace-nine vs. ace-queen for the $71,556 championship.
At the top of his game, Collins is enjoying life post-WSOP by playing more golf and spending more time with his wife. Making the Final Table of the WSOP Main Event “is basically the coolest thing you can ever do in your industry,” said the 27-year-old, “It’s like pitching in the World Series.”
“Playing eight days in the (WSOP) Main Event is an experience almost no one gets to have,” he adds, “You leave a better player.” Although his fifth-place WSOP finish is undeniably his favorite poker memory to date, he says, “I’ve really enjoyed my experience with HPT. The structure is phenominal.”
For Leo Wolpert, his first HPT experience was also positive. “I never expected to be at a live Final Table and have all these superstars at the table,” the 28-year-old pro from Fairfax, Virginia said. Earning $22,489 in fourth place puts him close to the million-dollar mark for live tournament winnings.
The young pros, all in their twenties, represent the success stories that drive others to the game. The one-year anniversary of poker’s Black Friday over the weekend was not lost on them. Many told producers of getting their start in poker by parlaying modest online winnings into bigger stakes and live tournaments. Today, these are the players who are “living the dream.”
Runner-up Matt Marafioti could be a poster child for the attractive lifestyle of a pro player. The 24-year-old from Ontario, Toronto drives an Aston Martin, collects art, and enjoys some of the best fine dining in the world. With $5 million in total career winnings, he’s earned the respect of the poker community and his skeptical parents. “Poker is about your mindset, your attitude, discipline, and your understanding of the game,” he said before claiming $41,570 in second place.
Steve Gross, a 26-year-old Vegas pro, has an impressive resume including thirty career titles and 256 cashes, mostly from online play. “Steve is the best online player ever,” said Collins. Throughout his successful history in poker, Gross says he’s rarely been a superstitious player, “but I caught myself being superstitious for this one.” After a good Day One, he took no chances and started his day the same way for Day Two: with a trip to a donut shop and a dog park. To prepare for Monday’s Final Table, he again made a donut run and took his dogs to the park.
Although Gross will put most of his third-place HPT prize money away, he also hopes to indulge with some of the $25,897. “I’ve always wanted to be courtside at the Garden for a Knicks game,” he said.
With $1.4 million in career winnings and live commentary experience for World Poker Tour, Dan O’Brien has made a name for himself in the industry. Yet, the former equity trader says his proudest accomplishment is “having the guts to leave Wall Street.” Fresh from commentating the recently-launched iSeries in Ireland, O’Brien was able to ignore the lights and cameras of HPT’s set to focus on his game. “If it wasn’t for my recent TV experience, I would have been a lot more nervous at the TV table,” said the 27-year-old pro from Las Vegas who was overall satisfied with his fifth-place finish and $17,173 payday. “I was able to bob and weave with a really short stack and I was able to see a lot of flops,” he said.
In addition to the $14,666 Terry Presley earned in sixth place, he also secured enough HPT Player of the Year points to propel him to POY leader. As a recent HPT champion, Presley was tied in second place with two other 2012 champs before the event at the Palms. An attempt to pull ahead at HPT’s St Louis stop last month resulted in a disappointing finish as the money bubble, earning him no additional points. Finding himself up against one of the toughest fields in HPT’s 100-event history, Presley had work to do to get to the Final Table Monday. At the start of Day 2, he was last in chips and prepared for another disappointing finish. “I packed my bags, checked out of my room, and booked a 5 PM flight home,” he said. As he rallied to claim his seat at the televised Final Table, he said, “I’m just thrilled to be with the HPT gang again.”
The outsider at the table, Presley is twenty years older than the young pros and works as a plumber in Huntsville, Arkansas. Since his win in Oklahoma in February, he plans to play as many HPT events as he can fit into his schedule. A scheduling conflict during next week’s HPT event at Golden Gates Casino and Poker Parlour may cost him his POY lead. Historically one of HPT’s largest events of the year, other POY hopefuls are sure to make the trip to Black Hawk, Colorado. From Colorado, HPT heads to Minnesota for another nationally-televised event before the end of the month.
Because the five pros at Monday’s table are very familiar with eachother, the national broadcast of the Las Vegas event will be an especially fun show for viewers, said HPT Producer and Commentator Fred Bevill. Michael Craig watched every hand live on set. “HPT events still have the feel of great home games,” Craig said, “This Final Table is the coolest home game ever.” Two one-hour episodes from Monday’s Final Table will air in June. Broadcast information is available at HPTpoker.com.