Majestic Star Casinos-Gary, IN Recap

Job Interview Nearly Keeps Man from $140k Championship

Gary, Indiana- On his way to Majestic Star Casinos in Gary, Indiana to play the Heartland Poker Tour, Paul Davis stopped for a job interview.  With a poker buddy waiting in the car, the Elgin, Illinois man impatiently discussed the restaurant job he was hoping to land.  As the interview ran long, the 36-year-old from Elgin, Illinois began to worry he would miss his opportunity to play for life-changing money.  “I was so distracted, I think I might have blown the interview,” he said.  Davis was more focused at the felt.  Arriving at Majestic with just a few minutes to spare, the professional waiter played the main event, advanced to the televised final table, and left with the best tip of his life.

“I won’t feel as bad now if I don’t get the job,” Davis said holding his $140,184 first-place prize.

Heads up with Davis was Chicago pro Stuart Marshak, who spent nine years working in the financial markets before focusing exclusively on poker.  “I can return to the corporate world at any time and I probably will someday,” the 32-year-old said, adding that playing poker professionally has its ups and downs.  Winning $70,092 in second place, it’s unlikely Marshak will update his resume anytime soon.

For Duane Graff, 44, of Hickory Hills, Illinois, Monday’s final table was a long-overdue redemption.  The 44-year-old entrepreneur bubbled the TV table at Majestic Star the first time the HPT stopped at the Lake Michigan casino.  Since the 2006 event that drew record attendance, Majestic Star hosted the HPT ten additional times and Graff played every single one.  Missing the opportunity to play on TV was especially disappointing for Graff because, more than the money, he wanted his kids to see him play on TV.

“I want my kids to see that they can accomplish anything if they try hard enough,” the father of two said, “It’s taken me some time, but I finally made it.”

After fulfilling his dream of playing on TV, Graff set a new goal of winning an HPT championship.  “I’ll be back,” he said when he finished in third, taking home $42,055.

Graff was one of many familiar faces in the main event.  “The drive these players have in the quest for an HPT championship makes the tournament rewarding for our staff,” says Majestic Star Poker Room Manager Dom Niro, “Year after year, we get to know the players and enjoy watching them succeed.”

At 21 years old, Gordon Vayo is just old enough to play at Majestic Star but he already has more poker winnings than many players three times his age.  The self-taught Chicago man had his first taste of poker success as a teenager and never looked back, although his family initially frowned on his decision to make poker his career.  Fifteen to twenty tournaments overseas, including one that earned him $50,000, changed their opinion.  “I started seeing the world through poker and they respected that,” Vayo said.  When his ace-six ran into ace-king, Vayo took home a respectable $32,710 in third place.

Like champ Paul Davis, Michael Franco, 23, a recent college grad from Aurora, Illinois is also looking for a job in a tough economy.  Sitting down with just 165,000 in chips compared to million-chip stacks, Franco was hoping to double-up early and often.  He made his move in the fourth hand with queen-seven when the flop came five-ace-seven.  With no help from the turn or river, his plan failed when his caller revealed ace-five.  The sixth-place prize of $23,364 will tide him over until he finds a career in finance.

At just 35 years old, Jason “GBoo” Goodman already has a full resume after ten years on the police force, an amateur boxing championship, and time spent in the U.S. Army.  Now supporting himself through poker, the Oak Park, Illinois man compares his new career to boxing.  “You have to know your own limitations and overcome your own weaknesses,” Goodman said.  His advice got him past 393 players to fifth place for $28,037.