Northern Lights Casino - Walker, MN Recap

Nice Guy Finishes First in Minnesota

Walker, MN – After twelve failed attempts at other stops on the Heartland Poker Tour, Steve Malkovich pushed snooze twice on his alarm clock Sunday morning, reconsidering his plans to enter the latest HPT event at Northern Lights Casino in Walker, Minnesota.  The 35-year-old construction laborer eventually made it out of bed and went on to dominate the final table in the quickest victory in HPT history. 

Holding an untouchable monster chip stack, Malkovich of Duluth, Minnesota, described his game as “polite aggressive.”  The father of two learned it pays to be nice.  It paid $48,002 to be exact.  Malkovich wasn’t done being Mr. Nice when the cameras stopped rolling.  He immediately donated a portion of his prize to HPT’s charity partner, Disabled American Veterans.

There was plenty of “Minnesota Nice” at Northern Lights Casino Sunday night.   HPT President Todd Anderson said the Minnesota stops on the tour are a great opportunity for new players who are otherwise intimidated to play live tournaments.  “From the players to the dealers, there is definitely a kindness about the people we encounter in Minnesota,” Anderson says.  “It makes for a great tournament for all of our players and a rewarding job for our crew.”  

Rob Premo, VP of Table Games, wouldn’t have it any other way.  “Our top priority is to make sure every player enjoys the event, whether they cash or not.”

Second-place finisher Durwin Matuska was a new player just two years ago.  The retired auto worker still describes himself as a “learning player.”  He went all in when he hit two pair on the river, only to be defeated by a Malkovich set of sixes he slow played on the flop and turn.  Playing in a casino for the first time just a year ago, the Crosby, Minnesota man won $24,001 Sunday night.  

Matuska must be a quick learner.  He knocked out long-time card player Michael Lewis when both men had kings and nines.  A ten kicker for Matuska meant ten grand less for Lewis.  The financial consultant from Wisconsin will invest his $14,401 third-place pay out.

Lewis, who calls poker “a fun diversion”, outlasted Nate Avenson, who calls poker a job.  The professional player from Park Rapids, Minnesota earned an $11,201 paycheck when Malkovich came up with a wheel against his ace-ten.

Malkovich’s path of destruction began when he knocked out chip leader Mark Wadekamper, an account manager from Lonsdale, Minnesota with trip sixes.  Holding ace-six, Wadekamper went all in when another six appeared on the flop.  Playing since the age of eight, the 48-year-old won a bit more than the nickels and dimes he played for as a kid; he pocketed $9,600 in fifth place.  

Also gaining experience with ten-cent games as a high schooler, 23-year-old Paul Katchmark, graduated to an $8,000 payout in sixth place.   The banker from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota was all in with jack-queen when a five appeared on the river, giving Matuska a nine-high straight.  Sunday’s tournament was Katchmark’s first attempt at a Heartland Poker Tour event.  Making the final table right out of the gate, Katchmark’s aspirations to become pro look promising.

Champion Malkovich proves persistence pays off in poker.  He has a dozen Heartland Poker Tour attempts under his belt, including the very first HPT event in 2005 at the same casino where he finally went all the way.  Asked to describe how his experience was different at Northern Lights Casino four years later, Malkovich said, “It’s a lot more fun when you win.”


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