South Florida Players Shine at Aussie Millions


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Article from June 2016 issue

Seminole Hard Rock Ends WPT Season in Style

For the first time, the World Poker Tour replaced its season-ending championship (played at the Borgata in Atlantic City in the recent past) with a special Tournament of Champions event this year at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, FL which only past main event champions on the tour could enter.  It would be taped to complete the Season XIV television schedule.  It was preceded by the regular tour stop (the 6th edition of the Seminole Hard Rock Showdown), plus a $10K SHR Finale Freeze-Out and a $25K High Roller.  With special scheduling, the starts were staggered so almost everyone could play most, if not all of the events (of course, bankroll permitting…).
After a successful charity event benefitting the Jason Taylor Foundation on April 13th raised over $17,000 to help underprivileged children in South Florida, the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Showdown $3,500 buy-in event kicked off two days later with a reduced guarantee ($2-million) from previous years and just one opening day.  However, unlimited re-entries were accepted until mid-evening and 1,222 entrants created a $3.9-million prize pool. Day 2 saw 488 players return and the field was whittled down to 74 players who returned on Sunday to play down to the final table. Many of the game’s biggest names participated, including five former WSOP champs (Joe Hachem, Jerry Yang, Jamie Gold, Ryan Riess and defending champion, Joe McKeehen), but when the dust cleared, the final ten players were rewarded with two days off and returned on Wednesday to crown a champion. Cate Hall of Tucson – formerly a full-time lawyer having a breakout season - attempted to capture the Season XIV Player of the Year title and eliminated the man she was chasing, Mike Shariati, in 21st place.  However, Hall needed a third-place finish to take the title and was eliminated in 9th place, giving the POY honors to Shariati.
Justin Young, a Colorado native who graduated from N.C. State, was near the top of the chip counts throughout the event and ended up going heads up with Garrett Greer for the title. Young bounced back from a 3-to-1 chip deficit to become the latest name etched on the WPT Champions Cup, thus earning a spot in the TofC later in the week in addition to a $669K payday.  Young was thrilled with the biggest win of his career (he was runner-up in the 2008 WPT 5-Diamond Classic) saying, “It’s truly unbelievable… you’re always looking for the next pay jump and to put yourself in position to win, but you never want to get too cocky.”  He added, “Then, to put yourself in that position and actually come through, I can’t even describe it – it’s out of this world.”
The $10K WPT Finale filled in the open space on Monday & Tuesday and 342 players competed, playing down to a Thursday final table, which was won by former South Floridian Chino Rheem ($705K). Rheem defeated a tough final table that included Aditya Prasetyo and former WSOP Europe Champion Adrian Mateos.  The High Roller event fit itself into the action as well and attracted an impressive field of 94 players. The money bubble for that one burst in the wee hours of Thursday morning, with Davie’s Jason Mercier suffering a tough KO at 5 in the morning, leaving 13 players in the money for a return later in the day.  David Malka of Los Angeles took down the title, besting former November Niner Sylvain Loosli of France to take home $698K.
New T of C brings back WPT Champions, Introduces “Action Clock”
That left the highly-anticipated Monster Tournament of Champions and the appearance of a 30-second “Action Clock”, which would be implemented on every hand.  The event drew 64 former WPT Champions, who were timed on each hand by an IPad in the dealer box at each table featuring 7-inch high red digital numbers which counted down from 30 to zero on each hand. There would be a warning beep and dealer reminder used as a 10-second warning, but if the player did not make a play before the final buzzer sounded, the player’s hand was declared dead. Each contestant had four 30-seconf time chips to restart the clock which could be used at any time.  The first player visibly perturbed by the clock was former Legends of Poker champ Matt Salzberg, who shortly after letting the clock elapse in an early hand, had it happen to him again a few hands later while contemplating a raise on the river against Matt Waxman. He tossed in calling chips immediately after the buzzer went off, but Tournament Director Tony Burns – who was standing next to the table as it happened – ruled that the play was too late and killed Salzberg’s hand.  After a heated discussion ensued, play resumed and that appeared to be the only major controversy on Day 1.
During the first break after the incident, Waxman recounted the hand, saying that he had a set of Jacks that actually would have lost to Salzberg’s jack-high flush if the call had stood up. The South Florida native went on to say that while he thought the clock was good for the game, it wasn’t always easy for many players to make the necessary adjustments.  “There’s a lot of noise going on in the room and the dealer doesn’t always give a ten-second warning loud enough, so it’s definitely causing some issues.  But ultimately I’s the player’s responsibility – even though it is something new, we’re playing for a lot of money and should be able to look at the clock while making a decision.”   He continued, “I think it is a great thing for poker at this level – it’s necessary because a lot of people are just rude, and it is not fair to take so much more time than other people. When this tournament gets deep every decision at an important hand can take a minute and a half at a final table, maybe every street, but if you’re a slow player you just have to be ready.”
Things settled down after the early fireworks and the leader at the end of the opening day was Farid Yachou of the Netherlands, a transplanted Moroccan who qualified by winning at WPT Amsterdam last May.  He was followed closely by Michael “Grinder” Mizrachi and Justin Young.  Fort Lauderdale’s Jonathan Jaffe would emerge as the chip leader at the conclusion of Day 2 with The Grinder still in 2nd and fellow South Floridian Noah Schwartz right behind in 3rd.
That literally set the stage for the televised final table and the two short stacks entering the action were lesser-known Europeans: Yachou and Vlad Darie of Romania, who both won their way in over the past year (Darie captured WPT Vienna just a month ago). The two were going up against the three well-known South Floridians, along with an established pro in Darren Elias.  Not intimidated in the least, Yachou and Barie would move up in the chip counts, and when the Grinder was knocked out by Yachou in third place, the pair would match up head-to-head for the $381K first prize cash, along with a pair of 24-carat gold Monster headphones, a Hublot watch, an Aurae Gold MasterCard and a 2016 Corvette convertible.
Mizrachi had led the majority of the final table and his large rail of supporters, which included his well-known family and lots of South Florida friends, was absolutely stunned at the Grinder’s elimination. In fact, it was reported that a despondent Mama Grinder looked longingly at the red sports car upon exiting Hard Rock Live, saying “There goes my car…”  Still, in the days following the passing of rock legend Prince, it just felt right that someone would be driving off in a “Little Red Corvette”.
Eventually, that someone would be Yachou, and his face was not the only one bearing a huge smile after the trophy was handed out.  Matt Savage, Executive Tour Director of the WPT, felt like the entire T of C concept accomplished the goal of the organization, saying, “I really wanted the Champions Club to mean something and I think we’ve now proven that it does with the T of C, so I’m excited about next year.”
Saga also thought the action clock was basically a non-factor.  “There were people that were going to make an issue of it from the start, but even the players that are known for taking a long time - like Yevgeny Timoshenko, Jordan Christos and Marvin Rettenmaier – they adjusted as they should because they are professionals and made the best of it.  In the end, I don’t think it affected their play very much and I believe it created a different dynamic more than sped the people up,” he said.
He also raved about the performance of the host property, saying, “This is just a first class operation at the Seminole Hard Rock – they really do it right here and I think for years to come this is probably going to be one of the biggest spots in poker.”

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Article from May 2016 issue

South Florida Players Eagerly Anticipate GPL

With the inaugural season of the Global Poker League underway, at least two South Floridians are excited at the prospect of being a part of Alexandre Dreyfus’ first attempt at “sportifying” the game of poker.  Jason Mercier of Davie, ranked 4th in the world on the Global Poker Index, was a first-round selection (#3 overall) of the New York Rounders at the GPL draft in February, while Chance Kornuth (ranked #75 on the GPI and currently living in Ft. Lauderdale) was selected in the 4th round by captain Maria Ho of the Los Angeles Sunset. 
As one of the few players selected that was actually at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills for the draft festivities, Mercier – one of poker’s biggest sports fans – had high hopes for the league to make a big splash immediately.  “It was cool to be a part of the first-ever draft in poker for an official league,” said Mercier, adding, “I am very excited and hopeful for the league to be successful.”
At press time, with opening week matches slated to get underway on April 5-7, both Mercier and Kornuth were both looking forward to being involved with a project that seeks to unite poker players and fans in a unique way.
“When the draft started I was kind of indifferent, but as I watched it unfold on Twitch, I was thinking how cool it was to be a part of it,” said Kornuth.  He went on: “I am looking forward to seeing in what direction it goes, and I can see the future of poker becoming better because of it.  I think the concept is fantastic – I think that the advertising and sponsorship possibilities that go along with being a real sport could be very beneficial for everyone.”
With format details still being released, the schedule will apparently involve a 15-week regular season, with 6-player and head-to-head matches taking place online Tuesday through Thursday to kickoff the season for 8 weeks through the end of May.  The live portion of the campaign, known as the Summer Series, will then take place from June 5th through July 8th - 33 days of daily heads-up battles played in “The Cube” and filmed live on location in GPL’s Las Vegas Studio. After a short break, weeks 9 through 15 will resume online on August 16th, followed by the playoffs for the Final 8, with dates TBD.  Finally, the four teams that emerge from that will meet at the SSE Arena at Wembley in London on November 22nd & 23rd to crown a champion.
Both Mercier and Kornuth were feeling pretty confident about their teams: the Rounders consist of captain Bryn Kenney, Tom Marchese, Kevin MacPhee, Jason Wheeler and Tyler Kenney, while Maria Ho will name two wild cards soon to join Fedor Holz, Olivier Busquet, Eugene Katralachov and Kornuth on the Sunset.  “I’ve been friends with Maria for about 5 or six years, while I don’t really know the other guys very well,“ said Kornuth, adding, “but I’ve been a fan of Olivier for quite sometime and Fedor is just a super sick talent and Eugene is great as well.”  Meanwhile, Mercier told me he thought they had a “pretty bad-ass team.” “I’ve known my teammates for over five years and I think the team that Bryn put together is definitely one of the best from purely a skill standpoint.  It’s nice to have a group of guys of similar ages and backgrounds,” he said.
While the two South Floridians could match up at the 6-max tables in the opening weeks, the first heads-up battles between these two players could emerge in Week 4, when the Rounders and Sunset meet on April 28th.
Mercier concluded by dismissing some of the worries that evasive players mentioned when they refused to commit to the league.  “The GPL is trying to be considerate of everyone’s time, knowing that most of the players involved are traveling to live tournaments much of the year, so I am not too worried about the time commitment.  I am interested in doing anything that is going to grow the game of poker and inspire another poker boom,” said the superstar.
Kornuth agreed, and added, “There’s also something to be said about getting in on the ground floor of something so exciting.”

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(Articles from March 2016 issue)
One of the luxuries for traveling poker professionals is the opportunity to visit exciting and exotic lands around the globe to compete at the felt.  If they can play well and earn lots of cash on what amounts to a playcation… well it doesn’t get much better than that.  Such was the case in January for two South Florida residents, Darryl Fish and Chance Kornuth, who each won a major tournament at the Aussie Millions in Melbourne.
Kornuth, who moved to Florida just over two years ago from Las Vegas, captured the $25K Challenge event in Australia just a week and a half after final tabling a high roller tournament at the PCA in the Bahamas.  When I spoke to him in December, Kornuth was eagerly anticipating the two trips, saying, “I’ve never been to Aussie Millions - my wife and I are both going and we are so excited to check it out.  It has always been on my bucket list and to be able to do it for work just shows how lucky we are.”  And speaking of a family vacation paying for itself, Kornuth left nothing to chance, collecting over $790K in Australian dollars, on top of $192k payday at Atlantis.  He bested an extremely tough international final table, which included Igor Kurganov, Jason Les, Steve O’Dwyer and Dominik Nitsche.
   For Fish, who lived in the Ft. Lauderdale area for many years before moving to Vegas and then relocated back to Hollywood a few months ago, the payday was much smaller but no less significant.  His victory in the Aussie Tournament of Champions ($1,100 buy-in) was his first big win since grabbing a WSOP Circuit ring in the 2015 main event at Palm Beach Kennel Club, and followed close calls at the WSOP National Championship in July (3rd place) and a runner-up finish at the WPT event at Montreal in November.
   Following that one, he told me he was entering 2016 with a high hopes and a new focus.  “I’m definitely feeling more confident about my poker because I’ve had a great year in tournaments,” said Fish, adding, “I’ve concentrated on focusing on things that keep me more on an even keel, and that translates well to the poker table.” With this visit to Melbourne being his first as well, the trip signaled a new plan of tournament choices for him.  He explained. “I’m going to start incorporating trips where I can have fun away from the poker itself instead of just going for the grind - I want to enjoy myself more and if you balance yourself out more, your results are going to be better than if you just play non-stop.  My goal is actually to play less poker, so I can play better poker.”
Dania Jai-Alai Returns with a New Name and Look
The Casino at Dania Beach opened their poker room on January 15th in the former location of the 2nd floor exhibition hall, adjacent to a gorgeous sports lounge.  The soft opening took place a couple of days after jai-alai action returned to the court and 850 slot machines began rolling on the floor below.  The room features 15 poker tables and six special tables featuring Ultimate Texas Hold’Em, 2-card and 3-card poker, all set up in a very roomy fashion.  Several early promotions include a “Dawn Patrol” high hand giveaway of $250 every hour from 9 a.m. to noon daily, $200 every 30 minutes from noon to midnight and a one-time $500 high hand from midnight to close.  In addition, winners on Friday nights from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. also get an iPad mini. The room also has a bad beat jackpot of $20K which needs a minimum of Quad 8s to qualify, and royal flushes pay $500 (two cards in hand). Tournaments are offered Sundays at 1pm ($50 buy-in/$1,000 guarantee) and Wednesdays at 7pm ($85 buy-in/$1,500 guarantee).  The Dania facility, located at 301 E. Dania Beach Blvd. less than 5 minutes from the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, is also scheduled to host big-name music and comedy acts this year at the Stage 954 concert venue, with Foreigner scheduled to perform on March 11th and Ralphie May on March 19th. So if you are feeling “Hot Blooded” or “Cold As Ice”, or simply are looking for a few big belly laughs, one of the these dates would be a good choice for a poker/concert doubleheader.
The casino/poker room opens daily at 9am and closes on Sunday-Thursday at 3am, Fridays and Saturdays at 4am – it is a beautiful venue, so check it out.

2016 Battles at the Beach Series Kicks Off at the Isle
While continuing to cater to smaller players along with big-name pros, the Isle Poker Room kicks off their first big tournament series with a $75 buy-in event with a $50K guarantee on February 29th. The Battles at the Beach also features a $570 buy-in event with 6 opening sessions on March 3rd-5th and a $1,500 main event with three opening days from March 17-19, along with a $500K guarantee.

No Isle Classic This Year in Pompano (January 2016 articles)
By BIG Dave Lemmon

After hosting the Isle Classic for six consecutive years to open the yearly tournament calendar in January, the Isle Casino & Racing in Pompano Beach decided not to hold that series this year.  Instead, they are concentrating on cash games during a very busy tourist season in South Florida.
The inaugural main event, with its $900 buy-in, was won in 2010 by  South Florida local Steve Karp, and in subsequent years as the buy-ins grew to a high of $2,500 in 2012 and 2013, the championship became a showcase for the area’s top pros. Matt Waxman and Chris Bolek were among the other champions, while last year’s main event was won by Albert Destrade, whose previous claim to fame was a third-place finish on the network reality TV show Survivor.
Besides the vigorous competition in the South Florida poker market, it is apparent that this tournament became a casualty of the Broward casino’s extreme popularity.  “January is one of our most cluttered months in terms of promotions, and we’ve made the decision to concentrate on the regular action that our players desire,” said Rob Wyre, the Isle’s General Manager, who added, “To have both tournaments and numerous cash tables at such a busy time, something has to suffer.”
Wyre also noted that a number of poker-playing tourists come to the facility regularly from the Northeast each winter after being acquainted with Stan Strickland, who arrived at the Isle in 2013 after seven years at the helm in Atlantic City at the Borgata Poker Room. “Stan is an outstanding poke director and a lot of players have followed him down from up north,” said Wyre.
The next major poker series at the Isle will be the Battles at the Beach from February 29-March 21.
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Bazeley Tops Star-Studded Field at Rock ‘N Roll Poker Open 
By BIG Dave Lemmon
Jacob Bazeley of Cincinnati captured the title at the main event of the Rock ‘N Roll Poker Open in Hollywood’s Seminole Hard Rock by defeating a tough final table which featured a mix of big-name pros and grinders from around the state of Florida.  David Prociak of Winter Park, Florida staged an epic 68-hand heads-up battle - which included several lead changes down the stretch – before finally succumbing to Bazeley, who upped his career live earnings to over $3-million. Popular pro Jessica Dawley was the first player eliminated on Day 5, followed by former world #1 “Mad Marvin” Rettenmaier, while Joshua Gibson of Ft. Myers and Martin Carnero of Davie, took 3rd and 4th places, respectively.  Seven of the top eleven players on Florida’s all-time money list played in the event, but most failed to cash: Jason Mercier, Noah Schwartz, Matt Waxman, John Racener, Harrison Gimbel and Vanessa Rousso.  Only Mercier (29th) and Gimbel (23rd) took home a payday.
Rousso - fresh off her third-place finish in the CBS reality program “Big Brother” - also competed before the “Poker Night in America” TV cameras in SHR’s second high-stakes cash game for ladies only, along with Danielle Anderson, Abbey Daniels and Samantha Abernathy, among others. Rousso was the big winner among the women, profiting over $19K from her $5K buy-in. In the two days of open cash action, which will be televised on the PNiA show later in 2016, Dan Shak and Mike Sigel were the most successful, each taking home a profit of $21,250.
A large field of 766 entries helped the event easily surpass its $2-million guarantee, with Bazeley collecting $568K for the win and Prociak cashing for just under $331K. 
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January 2015 Article:

It was a serious business in the ballrooms of the Seminole Hard Rock Resort & Casino as Day 2 of the SHR  Rock'N Roll Open's $2-million guaranteed main event got underway; meanwhile, on the other side of the complex, TV equipment was being set up to record the fun and frivolity of the celebrity cash games to air on "Poker  Night in America".  The future episodes will air in late March and early April during the program's second season on the CBS Sports Network.

Local South Florida pro Chris Bolek of Boca Raton was rarely high on the leader board throughout much of the early action, but in similar fashion to his 2nd-place finish a month earlier at the WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble in Jacksonville, he used patience and perseverance to grind his short stack into the final table.  Bolek was fourth in chips when he came back for the fifth and final day, but shortly after Jeff Chang was eliminated in 4th place, Bolek found his 3-million chip stack trailing badly to chip-leader Andy Andrejecic's 8-mil and Sean Winter's 7-mil.  Andrejevic took a big hit after running into Winter's pocket aces, then Bolek finished him off when Andy's pocket sevens could not overtake Bolek's pocket tens. Despite relatively close chip stacks (9.87M to 8.08M) entering head-to-head action, Bolek got it done quickly by winning nearly every big pot until his stack had climbed to over 15M.  He then came back with pocket 10's once again and when they held up against Winter's A-5 offsuit, Bolek had captured a title to make up for the one that narrowly eluded him a few weeks earlier. Still exhilarated by his $284K payoff in early November,  Bolek eclipsed that by defeating the 600 other entries by collecting $480,200 plus the first-place trophy at the facility less than 30 miles from his home.  "I'm a South Florida player and I play here a lot," said Bolek, adding, "Their structures are great here, competitive with anything else in the country." (Full disclosure: Bolek occasionally co-hosts my poker podcast, so let me be the first to say, "Merry Christmas, my friend!"

So while the main event was while whittling down from 224 players that started Day 2 to the one happy camper at the final table, "Poker Night in America" continued to tape interesting material in the Paradise Live venue.  The series has broadcast 26 of the 29 episodes from Season 1, and these shows will air in the latter part of the show's second season.  (If your cable system does not carry CBS Spoorts Network, you can aklways view previous episodes on You Tube.) The two days of cash games featured Shaun Deeb, Gavin Smith, Jean-Robert Bellande and Ken Aldrich among others - but whether it was due to overabundant partying the previous night on South Beach, or too much tryptophan over the Thanksgiving holiday, the men seemed sluggish and several of the contestants seemed uninvolved.  So leave it to the ladies to save the day. The world's consensus top female player, Vanessa Selbst, led the table in star power, while Ultimate Pro-turned video star Danielle Moon-Andersen joined the action along with 2011 WSOP Ladies champion Marsha Wolak and South Florida beauties like Ebony Kenney, Lily Kiletto and Jessica Dawley. The table interaction was exciting as the women drank shots, told stories and played some very competitive poker.  Some of the table talk surrounded the previous day's paintball excursion, which was taped for the broadcast, while laughter and smiles filled the room for nearly 8 hours of play.

"This is without a doubt the greatest thing we have ever done," show producer Todd Anderson told me during the production, continuing "We've wanted to try a ladies-only game for a while, but weren't sure how it would work. In fact, I ran the idea past Vanessa  and she said she would participate, but wasn't sure if it would draw enough players.  But when I put the word out there, the response was incredible... everybody wanted to play!" 

When play was completed, it appeared to me that Selbst had accumulated the biggest windfall, helped along by the final hand, which the ladies agreed would be a blind Omaha hand with no betting (and hence no skill).  As you might surmise, it was Selbst who raked in the substantial final pot by showing quads.

And while the women had lots of fun at the felt and at the after-show party (which reportedly lasted until nearly sunrise),the show will demonstrate lasting benefits for the poker community.  Social media was buzzing with reaction to the live stream, and Wolak told me she received several comments from women were so intrigued by the game that they wanted to definitely start to play more, including a few that had never taken the time to learn.

For fans of poker television, it is refreshing to see a little different look at the game, something that consultant Nolan Dalla is very proud  to work on.  " There's is an adjustment period required for the viewer of this show.  It is raw, there is nothing rehearsed about it and it is like what you would feel and hear if you were sitting down at one of these high-stakes cash games," said Dalla, who moonlights during his time away from his regular position as WSOP Media Director. "Our challenge is to make this show better, make it more interesting and go outside the realm of what we've shown in the first season."

2015 Poker Season Kicks Off With Isle Classic

The Isle Poker Room at Pompano Park  gets the year started with its Isle Classic Series featuring 11 major events, beginning with a $350 buy-in NLHE event with a $300K prize pool guarantees and 8 opening sessions spread over 4 days.  The tourney starts on january 7th and is slated to conclude on January 11th.  The main event will have a $1,200 buy-in and a half-million dollar guarantee and will be played January 22-26.  For more info, go to

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September 2014 Article:

Married Couple Balances Poker, Parenthood... and Cupcakes !

   Though still relatively rare, the number of married couples that both play professional poker seems to be on the rise. Not surprising, because as numbers for women who play the game continues to grow, it would make sense that couples in love would share a passion for the game. While the poker world is still mourning the passing of Chad Brown, many casual fans were only aware of Chad because he was married to the Lady Maverick, Vanessa Rousso.  Since then, serious couple Doc Sands and Erika Moutinho-Sands, though not married at the time, made headlines by finishing 29th and 30th in the 2012 WSOP Main Event, even making an appearance on one of the featured TV tables sitting across from each other.  Double H.O.R.S.E.champion in 2013, Tom Schneider, told me he has a very competitive relationship at the felt with his wife Julie, and they went head-to-head again this summer during deep runs in two events again this year.

    The newest married couple that grabbed the spotlight this summer at the World Series was Michael Moed and Angela Prada-Moed of Miami Beach.  Michael is an Omaha Hi-Lo expert who has won several Omaha 8 events and been ranked in the top ten on a couple of Omaha lists.  Despite playing several events at the WSOP this summer, Michael had just one cash... that is, until he played the Main Event, his first NLHE tournament in nearly two years.   Amazingly, he showed that he hadn't forgotten how to play Hold'Em, making a deep run into Day 5 before finally being eliminated in 264th place, collecting over $38K after  lasting longer than 96% of the field.

   But the truly impressive story is Angela, a Colombian immigrant who moved to the United States in 2000 as a teen.  She had absolutely no knowledge of poker until meeting Michael, who taught her everything he knew about the game and encouraged her to read poker books and work hard to improve.  An 8th place finish at a $500 Bellagio tournament by Angela  less than 6 months after initially learning the game was an indication to Michael that his wife was more than just a pretty face when it came to the poker tables. He finds her rapid improvement remarkable.  "She didn't even know what the four different  suits were in the deck before we met," he told me,  but feels that now she is a much better player than him after having a little more than five years experience of serious play.  He sheepishly admitted, "I've literally never beaten her in a heads-up situation - she can read my soul..."

Angela's first big splash at the World Series came in 2012 when she reached the final table of the Ladies' Championship and ended up finishing fourth. However, the following year brought life-changing events that pushed poker to the back burner for the couple.  Angela gave birth to the Moeds' first child in March, and six weeks later, they opened Sweet Times, a cupcake shop in the western Miami suburb of Kendall. "That was suicidal," says Michael, adding, "but just the way it worked out."  Luckily, Angela's special recipe learned while studying to become a pastry chef made the business an immediate success, and with the help of Angela's mother with taking caring the growing child, the Moeds were able to survive the growing pains of the business as well.  "Without her mother's help, we would have been sunk," said Michael, but she is an absolute angel."

The Moeds had discovered a growing niche in the food business which had taken off around the country, but at the time was virtually non-existent in South Florida.  "Angela perfected the art of making Italian Buttercream, which we use in all our cupcakes.  It's a little more time-consuming , it's a little more expensive, but the taste and texture shows in the quality of the cupcakes," said Michael who now spends his time away from the felt trying to franchise the concept.  "We hope to have 15 to 20 stores from Homestead to Palm Beach in the next few years," he told me.

   Despite juggling the chores connected with operating a fledgling business and balancing the joys and hard work of raising their beautiful son named Lucas, both Angela and Michael knew they were eager to return to the WSOP this summer.   "We decided over the winter that we were definitely going to play this year in Vegas if we could work it out, we just weren't sure for how long," said Michael.  They ended up renting a timeshare for a month and flew back and forth three separate times during the series  The payoff came in Event #45, a $1,000-buy-in NLHE event, when Angela found herself with the chip lead at the end of Day 2 with eleven players remaining.  Angela says she played  patiently and relatively conservative on the final day, but really wasn't that nervous at all. "She was really calm.  I'm actually the one about to have a heart attack watching her play," said MIchael, and continued, "Angela has something in this game that can't be taught and that is her poker instincts - when she follows those instincts, she is right 99% of the time."

   Angela used those instincts at the final table to pick off a couple of bluffs, then rode two big hands to reach the final three players.  It took another 72 hands before Paul Sokoloff was eliminated, and after 32 more hands of intense head-to-head play, Will Givens of Centennial, Colorado prevailed, leaving a disappointed and drained Angela with a $189K check for her runner-up finish to ease the pain.

    So, now back in MIami with a summer of poker behind them, Angela and MIchael barely have time to reflect on the best  couple of weeks in their poker lives.  Angela has  received accolades from the poker world and Michael has even  received taunts on Twitter with the hashtag:  #shesbetterthanu.  He remains philosophical about that, saying, "I'm not the best poker player in my family and I'm okay with that. I'm not the best-looking one in my family and I'm okay with that, too.  I'm just happy and I'm grateful that we have a great life and we both love poker.
  However, there's  no time for poker right this's time to make the cupcakes.

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December 2013 Article:

Isle Ends Tournament Year; South Florida Poker Scene Nearing Over-Saturation?

    The Isle Poker Room in Pompano Beach closed out its annual cycle of four  major tournament series with the conclusion of the Isle Open main event  on October 30th.  Whether the same rotation returns in 2014 is still up in the air according the Director of Poker Stan Strickland, who told us he is deciding if  the same buy-ins, structures and series dates are still viable in an increasingly competitive and  evolving South Florida poker market.

      Amateur player and local lawyer Jay Romano of Boca Raton took home the Isle Open  top prize of $100,000 as the largest chip stack in an agreed-upon four way chop with Justin Fawbush of Cocoa Beach, Matt Waxman of Parkland and Eric Riley of Deerfield Beach.  Fawbush and Waxman collected $84K each, while Riley agreed to slightly over $82K.  The players agreed to play a single face-down hand of Omaha for the trophy - the four men turned over one card at a time after the board was dealt and the hardware was won by Fawbush when he filled a flush on his final card.  Romano, a gregarious and likeable character, ended up with the trophy after making a deal with Fawbush sometime between the conclusion of the event and the payouts.  "This is my biggest tournament ever and I wanted to give the trophy to my son so he could keep it in his room," said Romano, adding, " I didn't want to lose it with a stupid hand of Omaha - I don't even know how to play Omaha!"

    The event featured a $2,500 buy-in and a $500K guaranteed prize pool and attracted 241 entries.  A slow first day of just 49 players  and a turnout of 62 in Day 1B created some apprehension of an overlay, but a big turnout on the final day sent the total cruising past the 218-player mark required to reach the guarantee. 

     Sunny Isles Beach resident Noah Schwartz, two days after arriving home from a  bracelet-winning in Paris at a WSOP Europe Mixed Max event, finished sixth in the Isle Open, while locals Maurice Hawkins and Anthony "Boston Tony" Ruberto took 10th and 11th place, respectively.  Waxman chose to play in this event rather than travel to France to play in the WPT Grand Prix de Paris, which he won in 2011, highlighting the fact that the Isle's biggest events are still extremely popular among the area's top players. (Of course, the fact that two of Waxman's best friends were getting married during the same weekend may have had something to do with it.)

    With large guarantees needed to attract big fields getting tougher to achieve, many poker room managers in South Florida are thinking the time might be right to scale back expectations.   Some of them feel that the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open's $10-million prize pool guarantee (and the ambitious satellite schedule that preceded it) has severely damaged the local poker economy, leaving players with limited bankrolls and the need to cut back their amount of play.

    If there's any doubt to that assessment, take a look at this year-to-year comparison - poker revenue is going up around the country and around the state of Florida, except in South Florida which was negatively impacted  by the Hard Rock's late August extravaganza:

Non- South Florida Poker Rooms

Name                                Sept. 2012 Revenue     Sept. 2013 Revenue  +/-
Dayona Beach KC              729K                               823K                          +13.2%
Derby Lane                         608K                               645K                          +6.0%
Best Bet/Orange Park    1,690K                            1,647K                          -2.5%
Naples/Ft. Myers               412K                              4474K                          +15.0%
Sarasota                             337K                                369K                          +13.5
Tampa Greyhound             181K                                156K                           -13.2%
Ft. Pierce JA                       181K                                207K                           +2.9%
Tampa Bay Downs              329K                                351K                           +6.7%
Ocala JA                              277K                                285K                           +2.9%
South Florida Rooms

Isle - Pompano Park        1,071K                                 868K                           -18.9%
Magic City                           618K                                  491K                           -20.5%
Mardi Gras                          464K                                  364K                           -21.6%
Palm Beach KC                1,150K                                  854K                            -25.7%
Calder                                  205K                                  221K                            +7.8%
Miami JA                              379K                                  251K                           -33.8%
Gulfdtream Park                 258K                                   392K                           +51.9%
Dania JA                                50K                                     33K                            -34.0%
There were some extenuating circumstances that can help explain some of the numbers: Gulfstream was way up this year as a result of a September 2012 aquarium break closed the room for nearly a week, Dania Jai-Alai closed their room on September 23, 2013 which dropped numbers significantly, and Palm Beach Kennel Club had a huge bad beat jackpot building in September of 2012, finally hitting on Sept. 24th.  However, the conclusion is this: South Florida rooms suffered significant downturns in the full month following the SHRPO, while Florida rooms elsewhere saw modest growth in nearly every case.  Since the two Seminole rooms in South Florida are not required to submit revenue numbers to the state, no definite conclusion can be reached regarding the effects on themselves directly, but the general consensus is that several events at both Hollywood and Coconut Creek failed to reach their guarantees in September and both rooms were noticeably emptier throughout the month.
Regalado Wins WPT Regional Event at the Creek
Francisco Regalado of Miami collected nearly $28K when the $500 buy-in main event of the WPT Regional Fall Poker Open concluded with a three-way ICM chop.  George Ryan of Boynton Beach and Chet Farrell of Jupiter took home the other big prizes after a short Day 2 concluded after a little over three hours of play.  The tournament used a new format developed and introduced by WPT Tournament Director Matt Savage at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, designed to keep the finish of a multi-day tournament from extending into the wee hours of the morning or extending into an extra day.  The difference was on each day one, where the field played down to 5% of the day's field (as opposed to the normal 10 to 12%), while the next 7%of players were awarded some prize money, but could return and re-enter the next day.  For example, Day 1B saw 103 players  compete down to 5 players who would return on Day 2, but paid 6th, 7th and 8th place finishers $1000, and 9th through 12th place finishers received $750 each.  As is usually the case, players who fared well enjoyed the new format, while those who missed out were unhappy.

    The Seminole Coconut Creek facility also announced that they will be hosting this February's WPT Lucky Hearts Open instead of the Hard Rock in Hollywood.  Last year's event was attended by many big-name players and was won by Matt Giannetti.  This year's tourney is scheduled to have a $3,500 buy-in and will be played from February 7-11.
Card Player Poker Tour heads to PBKC

The Palm Beach Kennel Club will host a Card Player Tour stop in December, with the 9-event series set for December 5-16.  The $1,120 buy-in main event has a $25,000 guaranteed prize pool with two opening sessions (Dec. 13th and 14th) and will conclude on Dec. 16th.

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November 2013 Article:

Dania Jai-Alai Temporarily Closes Poker Room for Casino Renovations

     Dania Entertainment Center, purchased from Boyd Gaming in May by a group of Argentine businessmen for $65.5-million, has begun a massive renovation to  install slots, thus becoming the last of the 8 pari-mutuel facilities in Dade and Broward counties to do so. Unfortunately, the building plan has forced owners to sacrifice the poker room for virtually the remainder of 2013.  The Dania Beach facility, which has hosted jai-alai games since 1953 along with a poker room since the late 1990's, closed their 26-table room on September 23rd with hopes of reopening in a new location inside the building in December.  Approximately 30 poker employees were let go, and will be given the opportunity to reapply when to room is re-established in an area known as the SkyBox near the jai-alai court's back wall.  In its place on the second floor will be 500 slot machines.

    Original plans had the room remaining open while construction of the casino commenced, but after a closer look at the logistics of the renovation emerged, that proved to be impossible.  Billing itself as "the friendliest room in town", Dania's bottom line for poker was less-than friendly, as the room ranked 22nd out of Florida's 23 card rooms, taking in just over $750K in revenues for the year ending in June of 2013.  Contrast that with state's top four facilities, which took in between $10-million and 14-million each during the 2012-13 fiscal year.  The Argentine group, which operates 27 casinos in South America under the name Casino Club, expressed a desire to get slot revenues established as quickly as possible, as history has seen the poker bottom lines at other South Florida facilities nearly triple in recent years.
Palm Beach Casino Ship Preparing to Sail

The Island Breeze II, originally planned to begin day cruises from the Port of Palm Beach in August, continues to refurbish the former Black Diamond ship, a 160-foot vessel that ceased  operations in February.  That ship proved to be a colossal failure after lasting just three months, with poor marketing, weather issues, and staffing  problems blamed for its early demise.  Though no official date had been announced at press time, port officials were anticipating a late October or early November launch of the 600-passenger boat, which will feature a full casino with 14 poker tables, 21 table games and 220 slot machines, in addition to a sports book.  Operated by New Jersey-based Island Breeze International, the newly-refurbished ship is hoping to fill the void in Palm Beach County left by the closing of the Palm Beach Princess, which ended similar cruises in early 2010.
Lehavot leads South Florida charge at November Nine
    Weston resident Amir Lehavot will be South Florida's only participant at the final table of the 2013 World series of Poker Main Event, but he may not even have the active support of the area's many poker fans.  The Israeli native raised eyebrows by publicly announcing on Twitter and the 2+2 forum his plan to sell shares of his November Nine action, with each percentage point (up to 30%) available to prospective buyers for  $29,248 apiece.  With over $733K already paid out to the nine finalists and thus subtracted from any potential payouts,  investors will need at least a third-place finish by Lehavot to turn a profit.  Entering the final table in 2nd place with a chip count of just under 30-million, and with a 2011 WSOP Pot Limit Hold'Em bracelet to his credit, Lehavot is expected to challenge for the $8.36-million first prize, but if he sells all 30% of his shares, the return for a victory to a one-point investor will be just over $76K. 

     Several South Florida residents and a few media members have expressed a desire to cheer against Lehavot, feeling that he has turned poker's biggest event into a mere financial transaction, thus cheapening the emotional value of the world's most coveted bracelet.

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Previous Month's Article:

When the Florida State Poker Championship gets underway at the Isle Casino in Pompano Beach on July 11th, that big man with the familiar face will not be taking the microphone to welcome players and run down the rules.  That's because Mike Smith has left the building.

   Before he did though, he established a stellar reputation for the Isle as Florida's top poker room in the eyes of many.  Smith opened the 38-table cardroom shortly after the casino opened in 2007, then when the state relaxed its regulations in 2010 to allow larger buy-ins, he fashioned an annual four-event rotation that attracted most of the south's top players, in addition many nationally-known poker names from around the U.S.

    But while there is something to be said for long-term job security, many of the game's top management personnel are constantly looking for that next challenge, and Smith  found his at Maryland Live! outside Baltimore, getting the opportunity to plan and build a brand-new room from the ground up, leaving the Isle on March 21st. 

    Less than three weeks later another big name in the business, Stan Stickland, left his position as Director of Poker Operations at the Borgata in Atlantic City, a job he held since that prestigious room opened in 2006.  He stepped in seamlessly on April 8th in South Florida to a similar position at the Isle, bringing a wealth of experience and management skills with him from a long stint at the one Northeast's largest and highly-respected facilities.  Most of that area's poker players were shocked that Strickland would leave such a high-profile job, even if his new destination was in the growing poker scene in the Sunshine State.  Some speculated that with a possible decline in the popularity of Atlantic City on the horizon - thanks to new poker rooms opening soon in nearby Maryland and probably Massachusetts and New York as well - that Strickland saw the writing on the wall and was even asked to resign, an insinuation that he vehemently denied.  Strickland told me that it was simply a personal decision driven by a desire to move back to the South.  That, along with a constant motivation to take on the next challenge in life.  "I never lived in the same place for more than 4 years, until I got to Atlantic City and stayed there for 10," he told me, adding "and I knew that the Isle was the #1 room in South Florida as far as revenues, games spread, limits offered and great customer service, so it's a very attractive job and these positions don't open up often. So I guess you could say that Mike's good fortune was mine as well."

     It didn't take long for Strickland to implement some of his own ideas at the Isle, tweaking the daily tournament schedule by adding some more affordable options.  "I felt that the room wasn't marketing itself to all aspects of the community.  I think with some additional lower buy-in events, we are making it more accessible to people of all financial levels," said Strickland.  He added that he has a steep learning curve ahead of him when it comes to determining exactly what South Florida players want, saying, "It's like night and day comparing the expectations of New Jersey poker players to those here in South Florida."  For example, a new tournament in early June carried a $50,000 guarantee despite a low $65 buy-in, offering 6 different opening sessions which allowed players to play in as many of those as they desired.  Players were then allowed to carry their biggest chip stack to Day 2.

    Now Strickland approaches his first Florida State Poker Championship - an event Mike Smith used to call "Our Super Bowl" - which will be played from July 11 -30.  The FSPC grew from a seven-event schedule and a $500 buy-in main event in 2008 to a more ambitious 17 events last year, culminating in a $5,300 main event won by Brandon Barnes.  The highlight series came in 2011, when the main carried a million-dollar guarantee which that tourney eclipsed by over $400K.  Last year, the main kept its $5,300 buy-in, but the guarantee was dropped to $500K, although the prize pool was still an impressive $940K.

    This year's schedule calls for 18 events plus an additional 29 secondary events, comprised mostly of satellites. That makes 47 events in all (with satellites starting as low as $65) and among the 18 major events, the majority of those will call for buy-ins in the $200 to $230 range and offer opportunities for re-entry.   The main event, which will have three opening sessions on July 25th, 26th & 27th at 11 AM, will cost $2,500 to enter but will still carry a half-million dollar guarantee, providing great value for local players.  There are also several events in the $120 to $150 range, which matches Strickland's view that "nobody should be left out".

    Finally, with a history in the uber-competitive A.C. market, Strickland refuses to be overly concerned with what every other poker room here is doing.  "I am really going to focus on what we do, and that's provide great customer service, and offer a clean, fresh and friendly place to play poker."  He concluded by saying, "I think I bring a great deal of experience and knowledge to this room.  I love poker, I love managing the games and this job is a good fit for me.  I hope it continues to be a positive experience for both sides."


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Previous Month's Article: 

Seminole Hard Rock Set to Host Ground-Breaking Tourney with $10-million Guaranteed Prize Pool


     The Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida electrified the poker world at their WPT event in April by announcing that they will host a tournament with a $10-million prize pool August 22-29.  That main event will be part of a 33-event series called the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open beginning on August 8th.  Buy-in for the main event is $5,300 and will feature unlimited re-entries, which means that the event will need 2,000 entries to cover the guarantee.  The South Florida facility is calling it the largest guaranteed payout in the world, and outside of the WSOP Main Event and the $2-million buy-in One Drop charity event (neither of which offeres a guarantee), this prize pool will be at least 3 times higher than any live poker event ever hosted in the U.S.

    As I sat down with the property's Chief Operating Officer Larry Mullin to discuss the event, I thought of several F-words associated with such an unprecedented, bold move: (intestinal) fortitude and more likely, fear of failure. But Mullin came back at me with the only F-word on his mind: FUN.  "We asked ourselves 'What was the customer missing?' The answer kept coming back to 'a big game' so how do you raise your game other than to put big money out there and have players come and have fun with it," said Mullin, adding, "As a global brand, we need to put on global events that will draw people to come from far away to experience what we are doing here, so that is another objective, but at the same time, locals are welcome first."

     Mullin continued, "Poker is just one of the great things we have here - we want to be a  destination for people to come visit, so it's using poker in a different way than what the property was used to in the past.  Our job is to think of as many ways as we can to make the Seminole Hard Rock as fresh and interesting as we can make it.”

    Outsiders looking in may try to find many reasons for the Seminoles to fail by falling short of the guarantee, such as catastrophic weather or stiff competition, but Mullin says they've looked at all the possibilities.  "Sure, we know it's a weather season, but that's the best time to try and get people to come here, when things are slower," he told me, and as for the competition: "We aren't naive... we looked at the possible competition and the dates, but felt that this is the best time for us to do this."

    One positive aspect the Seminoles have going for them is the five other properties they own in Florida, three of which have large poker rooms that will host satellite events all summer: Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa, Seminole Casino Coconut Creek and Seminole Casino Immokalee.  "We're going to offer guaranteed tournaments for over 100 satellite seats, more than we've ever done - CoCo should be running them simultaneously with us and Tampa is a key to our success, some great poker players up there, a solid base." said William Mason, Seminole Hard Rock director of poker, who went on to explain why the satellites were a win-win situation for everyone involved.  "Pros like to see the recreational players get in and see the satellites grow.  Florida poker is a little different than anywhere else - players here are willing to take a chance and that's why the action is the best down here," said Mason.

   He went on to address my earlier comment about some people wanting to see failure in their future: "Anyone in Florida should not want to see us fail - this makes the Florida market the best in the world and Floridians should want this to be the best in the world."

    And while poker players always like an overlay - they usually don't mind seeing the poker room have to reach into their pockets and come up with a shortfall - most smart players realize that a successful event of this magnitude makes the future considerably brighter.  "We want them to succeed, so that they will come back and do it again,' said David Tuthill, a Florida State student who finished 8th in the L.A. Poker Classic earlier this year He went on, "I couldn't be more excited, but when I heard about it I was absolutely shocked  This has always been a great stop on the WPT, but this @10-million event could be one of the best tournaments ever held in live poker history."  Ravi Ravaghan - who put his name on the WPT Champions Cup at the WPT 5 Diamond Classic at the Bellagio during Season XI - agreed and felt that the time frame was perfect. "There's not much happening at that time in the poker world and players will welcome a huge event in August,' said Ravaghan.

    Mullin feels sees this event getting bigger and better, though he cautions that future plans will be contingent on the success of this event.  "Let's make it successful, then we can make it even bigger..." said Mullin, but added with the confident bravado that is obviously a part of his make-up, "If the tournament does as well as I think it can, I'd like to double it."


   Exciting words for poker pros around the world, and for South Florida locals looking to grab the brass ring.  Larry Mullin concluded our conversation by inviting people to watch closely for more announcements about what may be involved with this ground-breaking event, and that brings us back to the all-important F-word: "I believe that  will be a lot of things coming out over the next couple of months that will give people a flavor of what our tolerance for fun is."

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