Indiana-Ameristar East Chicago Recap

Illinois Man Wins $164k on HPT

Puccio gets Title at Ameristar East Chicago

East Chicago, IN (December 15, 2014) – Landscape contractor Mike Puccio topped a big field at Ameristar Casino Hotel East Chicago on Monday to earn the coveted Heartland Poker Tour (HPT) Title and $164,249. The Deerfield, Illinois man admitted that playing his way to the nationally televised Final Table was a nerve-racking experience.

“I’ve been excited and nervous for the last two days,” said Puccio. “I haven’t been able to close my eyes.”

The tournament came down to a standoff between Puccio and business owner Bledar “Blade” Shaholli that lasted nearly three hours. In the end, the two players got all of the chips in the middle with Puccio holding two pair to Shaholli’s ace-high. Shaholli’s hand failed to improve and he was sent to the rail in second place. The St. Clair Shores, Michigan man will still take home six figures as he earned $100,405 for the finish.

Poker enthusiasts from across the country flocked to Ameristar East Chicago for the series, which was the last of the year for HPT. For a second time in four months, the Main Event prize pool swelled to over $700k. Several notables were spotted in the field throughout the weekend. Craig “The Legend” Casino and Greg “Fossilman” Raymer contributed commentary to the 12-hour livestream as did Kirk Fallah, who owns a local charity poker business.

St. Louis, Missouri’s Joshua Turner was on a mission to win after finishing seventh at an event outside of St. Louis a few months ago. “Feeling so amazing. Energy is right where it needs to be,” Turner tweeted before the table began. The pro poker player started off strong and at one point held the chip lead three-handed. After a quick turn of events, Turner found himself out of the tournament in third place for $66,556.

Originally from Mumbai, India, Shiva Dudani now resides in Chicago. Last time HPT visited Ameristar East Chicago, Dudani bubbled the nationally televised table, getting eliminated in tenth place. This time, he earned a seat in front of the cameras and played his way to a fourth-place finish. Dudani earned $46,275 for his efforts. The poker player will use the money to “live and eat a little better” when he visits Australia next month.

The player at the table with the most HPT experience on Monday was real estate agent Ben Castle. This was Castle’s twelfth cash and third TV table with the tour. His highest finish to date was third place. Unfortunately for the Western Springs, Illinois man, the Title still eludes him. After coming into the day as the chip leader, Castle was sent packing in fifth place at the hands of Turner for a $34,635 score.

Investment banker Arris Kontos came into the day with one of the larger stacks at the table, but was never really able to get things going. His day came to a close when Puccio’s pocket jacks defeated his queen-ten in a monster pot where both players got the chips in before the flop. For the sixth-place finish, Kontos will take $26,780 back to his hometown of Baldwin, Michigan.

Nick LaFata made his way to the table under the lights after investing just $375. LaFata, an assistant manager at a home improvement store, managed to turn that $375 into $21,781 when he finished in seventh place. The Springfield, Illinois native enjoyed his first HPT experience. LaFata plans to apply his winnings toward the purchase of a new home.

Yaroob “Ruby” Kaskorkis was making his second appearance at a televised HPT Final Table in less than a month. Kaskorkis finished ninth at a recent event in Michigan. The restaurant owner from Grand Rapids, Michigan improved on that finish by one position this time. He earned $17,853 for eighth place.

The first elimination of the day came when recent college grad William Miner put his remaining chips on the line with jack-eight against Dudani’s pocket queens. The queens held up and Miner, from Chicago, was out in ninth for $14,282.

“It’ll be a nice Christmas,” the new champ Puccio said. “I’ll tell you that.”

HPT players will take a break for the holidays before returning to the felt on a week-long poker cruise next month. From there, the tour will head west for stops in Northern California and Reno/Tahoe. Full schedules and more 2015 tour dates are available at