Grand Casino Mille Lacs - Onamia, MN Recap

As a seven-year-old, Matt Hyland spent a couple of hours each day after school at the antique shop his parents owned. To occupy his time, he and his sister learned to play poker in the store’s backroom. His time at the antique shop appreciated in value Sunday night at Grand Casino Mille Lacs when the 25-year-old became the latest champion on The Heartland Poker Tour. His final hand, king-queen, appraised at $49,932.

Still close with his sister, Hyland juggled the festivities surrounding her wedding Saturday with qualifier rounds on the HPT. Sacrificing their honeymoon, the newlyweds cheered on Hyland, a Brainerd machinist, from the rail. When a second queen appeared on the flop, a big week for the Hyland family got much bigger.

“Maybe a better wedding present is in order for your sister,” joked HPT Commentator Chris Hanson.

Heads up against Hyland, Amy Muller, 44, was one of two women to make the televised final table Sunday night. Having two women playing for a championship was a first for the nationally-syndicated show.

“Poker has a predominantly male fan base, no doubt,” said Executive Producer Greg Lang, “but we’ve noticed gains in the female demographic as popularity continues to grow, and the women in the field are strong players.” The HPT 2009 Player of the Year, Mary Jo Belcore-Zogman, continually finds success at the felt, including an impressive run at the World Series of Poker this summer.

Muller of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has been playing HPT events for five years without success. Sunday’s payout of $24,966 will ensure she continues to play.

The other woman at the table, Wendy Woodgate, was hoping her gender would give her an advantage over the men at the table. “I hope the other players feel sorry for me and think I’m just a little old lady,” said the 56-year-old restaurateur from Devlin, Ontario. Her plan seemed to work until a series of fours left her in fourth place. Woodgate naturally went all in with king-queen, picking up another queen on the flop. A four on the flop for Hyland’s pocket fours sent the little old lady on her way with $11,651.

Hyland had a habit of picking up just what he needed on the flop Sunday night.Holding ace-six off-suit late in the match and facing an all-in against Brainerd business owner Ron Imgrund, Hyland flopped trip aces. Imgrund indeed went all in with queen-jack, sending him to the rail in third place. Imgrund, a regular at HPT stops, aspired to make a final table by his 50th birthday. Having turned 50 in April, he declared, “close enough” as he collected $14,980.

Another Brainerd man, Kurtis Fentress, earned a spot on the televised set playing his first Heartland Poker Tour event. When nothing materialized for his ace-queen, the 29-year-old law enforcement student won $8,322 in sixth place. “This is the biggest prize I’ve ever played for,” said Fentress, aside from the time he met his wife while playing poker.

Fifth-place finisher Tom Burri, 41, has played in a half-dozen HPT events over the years. Finally making it to the televised set, at least a portion of his $9,986 will go towards future stops on The Heartland Poker Tour. “I’m going to Vegas!” Burri announced, referring to the launch of Season Six for The Heartland Poker Tour this January at Red Rock Casino Resort Spa. Executives with the HPT are coordinating a departure from the heartland for the special inaugural event, flying two hundred players by private jet to Las Vegas.