Naz Al Scores Largest Poker Victory in Minnesota History
Shakopee, MN (April 30, 2011) – Just a week from earning his MBA in organizational management, Naz Al woke at 5 am Monday to take an online test, then drove to Canterbury Park Card Casino in Shakopee to test his poker skills at Heartland Poker Tour’s nationally-televised Final Table. His future looks bright. “There are things you learn in poker that you can take with you to real life,” he said. The 29-year-old student from Mankato, Minnesota passed the test, winning $118,482. The first-place money is the biggest prize ever awarded in Minnesota in a poker tournament.
After staging the largest poker tournament ever in the state of Colorado last weekend, HPT pulled off another record-breaker in its home state. The $473,928 prize pool at Canterbury Park Card Casino is the largest in Minnesota history. Since humble beginnings in Moorhead, Minnesota, HPT built a nationwide following of poker enthusiasts from coast to coast, awarding $34.5 million since 2005.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to bring HPT home to Minnesota again this year,” said President Todd Anderson, “We are committed to the loyal players in our backyard.” Despite national growth of the brand, Heartland Poker Tour episodes are still produced out of company headquarters on the other side of the Red River in Fargo, North Dakota. HPT is the only nationally-televised poker tour to schedule an annual stop in Minnesota.
Although others have attempted to imitate HPT, the grassroots poker tour is a fan favorite among poker enthusiasts and professional players alike. “Playing in the HPT is a little different than the tournaments I’m used to,” said champion Naz Al. “The structure is good. It gives you time to play. It’s been a good experience.” Fan Dane Fury of New York tweeted Monday, “HPT has been consistently great since inception. Keep the integrity and we’ll keep coming back.”
HPT has produced 197 hour-long episodes that air nationwide 52 weeks each year. Nationally-syndicated, the show is available to over 100 million U.S. households. The two episodes filmed at Canterbury will air as part of HPT’s eighth season in July.
When season 8 debuts in May, viewers will see a star emerge in Gary Lambert. The tattooed chiropractor and father of six made two HPT Final Tables already this year. With a 4th-place finish in St. Louis and second-place Monday, the Quincy, Illinois man known as “Lambo” takes the lead in HPT’s race for Player of the Year. “I’m going to do all the HPT tournaments I can,” said Lambert, who travels with his wife 52 weekends each year to play poker, “My heart is with HPT.” His success in Minnesota adds another $67,061 to a half million dollars in career winnings. Asked the secret of his success, Dr. Lambert revealed, “It’s not the hands you play, it’s the hands you throw away. I’m not afraid to fold.”
None of the players at Monday’s Final Table have aspirations to play poker professionally. Retired entrepreneur Dan Conway has played at least a half dozen HPT events and earned just one small cash before playing at Canterbury. “It’s just fun,” said the 71-year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I’ll never become a professional; that much I know.” Yet, he plans to reinvest some of the $23,222 he earned in sixth place into his poker hobby after gifting some to his grandchildren and to charity.
Edward Janezoch of Minneapolis is in a similar position. The retired software consultant picked up poker a few years ago while recovering from surgery and has been steadily working towards bigger buy-in events, with the goal of traveling to larger tournaments out of the area. After a $13k score in a small tourney last week and $28,436 in fifth place Monday, he can pack his bags.
Monday’s third- and fourth-place finishers are also packing their bags. Paul Ratajczyk from Champlin, Minnesota intends to take his wife and daughters on vacation with some of the $36,729 he earned in fourth place. His deep run on HPT follows his first-ever hole-in-one on the golf course just a few days ago. In third place, Eric Worre of Chanhassen, Minnesota plans to share his $42,654 with his dad and brothers on a golf trip to Ireland and Scotland.
Dr. Lambert is hitting the road as well. “We’ll definitely see you in Chicago for your next event.” HPT heads to the Chicago area May 4-20 for a nationally-televised event at Majestic Star Casinos in Gary, Indiana.