Majestic Star Casinos - Gary, IN Recap

Black Belt Fights His Way to HPT Championship

Gary, IN – In the early 90’s, Dave Kiss was a national champion in martial arts.  The fourth-degree black belt landed another championship Monday, earning the glory with cards instead of kicks.  The 48-year-old Hopkins, Michigan man became the latest Heartland Poker Tour Champ, winning $128,614 at Majestic Star Casino in Gary, Indiana.

“It’s the same adrenaline rush as karate,”said Kiss, “without getting kicked in the head.”

Buying into the tournament for just $250, Kiss secured the win with pocket deuce against ace-nine.  When a set of queens emerged in the flop, Kiss’s mirrored glasses came off revealing a different side of the experienced fighter.  The single dad said, as he accepted the cash, that he plans to take his 13-year-old daughter shopping. 

Heads up against Kiss was software engineer Brian Brenneke, who made a spontaneous decision to play the Heartland tournament.  The Fort Wayne, Indiana man made a stop at The Majestic Star Casino to play a cash game.  Realizing the size of the prize pool, the 36-year-old father of two decided at the last minute to try for a main event seat by playing a $250 satellite qualifier.  He earned his spot in the field of 453, eventually scoring $64,307 in second place.  Brenneke, who had a failed attempt at an HPT event at Majestic Star in 2008, credits PokerVT for improving his game.  PokerVT, Daniel Negreanu’s virtual training site, sponsors the HPT along with PokerStars.NET.

Pat Heneghan, 56, represented neighboring Chicago at the final table.  The retired city worker promised to cut his curly dark hair if he won the championship.  Flush diamonds on the river against his jack pair resulted in a slow day for his barber and a $38,584 third-place finish. 

Monday’s tournament marks the eighth time The Majestic Star Casino hosted The Heartland Poker Tour in the Chicago area.  Poker room manager Dom Niro says the HPT is a perfect fit for the Lake Michigan riverboat.  “We’ve established ourselves as a value poker room, offering deep stacks for low buy-ins,” Niro says,“HPT’s $1100 main event buy-in caters to our players.”

The Heartland Poker Tour, established in 2005, aims to award “life-changing money” to “real people.” Affordable buy-ins and weekend tournaments attract poker enthusiasts who may not attempt more costly tournaments.

“Our casino partners note the benefit of retaining the field as customers after the cash is awarded at the final table”, says President Todd Anderson, “They come for the chance to play on TV, but they return for the love of the game.”   

Poker buddies Matt Stammen and Bryan Roberts of tiny Coldwater, OH play together at least once a week.  They both won their way into the main event, with Stammen knocking out Roberts on the bubble.  The 35-year-old Logistics Engineer met his own fate when he went all in with ace-king.  When the flop delivered a ten for Kiss’s ace-ten, Stammenwalked away in fourth place with $30,010.

Matt Rizai, originally from Istanbul, Turkey, enjoys the challenge of the game he calls “complicated.” The CEO of a SiliconValley technology company, Rizai thrives on the pressure of live tournament poker.  The hobby is also more lucrative than his other interests, marathon-running and scuba-diving; Rizai turned his $250 buy-in into $25,723.  Finishing in fifth place, Rizai’s hand became “complicated” when his king-jack lost to ace-high all in.    

More than just a casual player, Thomas Faino is a self-described “degenerate gambler”.  The 21-year-old earned a $21,436 boost to his bankroll when he finished in sixth place.  The professional player from Muskegon, Michigan, got burned by a queen on the turn with ace-king against ace-queen.  “That’s poker,” Faino said.


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