Peppermill Resort Spa Casino-Reno, NV Recap
Black Friday Casualty Wins Nevada State Poker Championship
Reno, NV (5/23/2011) – For the past five years, Gary DeBernardi has been living the dream as a professional poker player sponsored by one of the top online poker sites. DeBernardi, or “Debo” as his friends chanted from the rail at Monday’s taping of Heartland Poker Tour, was a union carpenter before quitting his job to play poker full time in 2004. With the support of his wife and son, DeBernardi grinded out a living for his family. His world changed April 15th when the U.S. Department of Justice seized the top three sites and DeBernardi’s endorsement deal vanished. Even after poker’s “Black Friday,” the support of his family never wavered. “My wife always had my back,” said the 39-year-old from Bend, Oregon. Taking down the nationally-televised Nevada State Poker Championship means he will once again bring home the bacon. “$94,140 will pay the bills for quite some time,” he said. Holding the cash after just two hands heads up, Debo said he will take some of his winnings to the World Series of Poker in addition to paying off bills.
The event at Reno’s famed Peppermill Casino was the last stop for many players on their way to the World Series of Poker, attracting established pros such as Antonio Esfandiari, Men “the Master” Nguyen, Kathy Liebert, Dennis Phillips, Darvin Moon, Bryan Devonshire, and JJ Liu. Poker enthusiasts were treated to a “Who’s Who” of celebrity players on property throughout the weekend. As part of the Nevada State Poker Championship festivities, Jennifer Harman hosted her fifth annual charity poker tournament to benefit The Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Nevada SPCA), a no-kill sanctuary. The weekend events kicked off Friday when over a hundred stars of entertainment, sports, and poker descended on Peppermill to celebrate the unveiling of a newly renovated 30-table poker room. On Saturday, Nevada SPCA companion animals escorted celebrities on the red carpet just before the charity tournament kicked off. Some of poker’s most-recognizable stars, including Daniel Negreanu, Annie Duke, and Lon McEachern, spent the afternoon calling, raising, and folding for the cause. Celebrations continued at Peppermill’s Tuscany Lounge where actor Lou Diamond Phillips joined the house band for an impromptu song and Negreanu took over the dance floor. The star-studded charity event was a draw for players across North America, including DeBernardi. Even before winning the televised main event, he was happy with his decision to travel to Reno from Oregon for the charity tournament. “The event was fantastic; it was awesome,” he said.
Winning the Nevada State Poker Championship at Peppermill makes DeBernardi one of the lucky ones out of an estimated 25,000 people who earned a living from online play. Twenty-one-year-old John Norberg didn’t have the best timing when he decided to quit his job as a waiter earlier this year to play poker professionally. Just a couple months into his new gig, the Yuba City, California man is left with few other options than to play live. “Because there’s no online poker anymore, I’m here,” he said while collecting a nice paycheck in third place. Norberg also plans to take his $28,242 to the World Series of Poker. “It means a better trip to Vegas,” he said.
Yet another pro at the final table, Tim West of Los Altos, California is optimistic about the future after Black Friday. “It’s actually kind of liberating,” said the 25-year-old, “I’m excited to embark on a new journey.” Little could spoil his outlook after taking down the Wynn Classic 5k Main Event in March, followed by 2nd place at WSOP’s Circuit event at Harrah’s Rincon a week later. His fourth-place finish at the Nevada State Poker Championship adds another $21,966 to over $300,000 in career winnings.
The only local player at the table, Keith Ryan also plans to take his HPT paycheck to Las Vegas for the WSOP. A self-described “professional gambler”, the 48-year-old Reno man invested just $155 in HPT’s main event by winning his way in through a satellite. Finishing in fifth place, he plans to hit as many WSOP satellites as possible with his $18,828 prize.
Sixth-place finisher Jesse Rockowitz is hoping to repeat his success at last year’s WSOP. The poker pro won Event 45 for $721,000. Making the final table at Peppermill’s Nevada State Poker Championship, the 25-year-old from Pacifica, California is one to watch. Rockowitz says the $15,690 will be put to good use, especially at a time when funds are inaccessible online.
Runner-up Darrel Dier of Sacramento, CA, planned to build his WSOP bankroll with low-limit cash games at Peppermill. Coerced by friends to take the last seat in a $125 HPT satellite, he won his way into the main event, ultimately earning $47,070. Success onHeartland Poker Tour will provide new opportunities for the 24-year-old pro’s run at the WSOP. “This is huge,” he said.