Verona, New York-Heartland Poker Tour (HPT) events are beginning to attract national attention. This small but growing televised poker tour emerged from the Midwest three years ago, has steadily grown in popularity nationwide, and televised HPT events continue to gain a wider viewing audience.
Although HPT events produce comparatively smaller prize pools than the World Poker Tour or the World Series of Poker, they can be just as exciting because local players have a chance to end up at a televised final table. The average total prize pool for an HPT event is slightly over $250,000. Recently, Verona, New York's Turning Stone Resort and Casino became the first east coast property to host a HPT event with eight events scheduled throughout the week of June 10-16th, culminating in the weekend's two televised final events.
Saturday's $1,000 buy-in event drew a field of 164 players and the interest of dozens of young internet players who experienced live poker action for the first time in their lives. By contrast, Sunday's $2,500 event created an opportunity for seasoned east coast veterans of the game to test their knowledge and skills, along with an opportunity to mix it up with some of the areas best young players. The final event consisted of a field of 111 players and provided a prize pool of $260,850. Turning Stone is one of the few casinos in the country with a minimum age limit of 18 for players. This lowered age limit captured the attention of dozens of internet pros who are too young to play in most traditional casinos. It allows them to test their skills in live tournament action. Tyler Reiman, a 19-yearold online professional playing in his very first live poker event was the last man standing. Reiman netted $48,335 for his effort, besting fellow online pro Jason Somerville, a business student and full time poker player from Miller Place, New York. Reiman, originally from Peoria, Illinois, has been spending his time on a beach in South Carolina, playing poker on-line. When he heard about the HPT event scheduled on the east coast, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to try his hand at live tournament play. His recent $100,000 win in an online tournament made the decision easier. This young player made the often-difficult transition from mouse pad to felt look smooth and easy.
Sunday brought the $2,500 final event and a chance for the seasoned veterans to shine. Mike Baran, a 57-year-old retiree from Binghamton, New York emerged from a field of 111 players to take first and a prize of $88,442. Baran entered the final table with an average chip count, but was confident that his 45 years of playing experience would carry him to the finish. As the day wore on, his experience showed as he slowly worked his way to the championship with some timely bluffs and great lay downs. When he was heads-up with Bill Kontaratos, Quebec native and sports bar owner, Baran picked up a pair of pockets queens and ended the match by flopping a full house. Baran plans to donate a major portion of his winnings to charity.
Although the top two places in this event were won by veterans, Jeff Schnettler, an 18-year-old high school student from St. Cloud, MN took third place in his first attempt at live tournament play.
The next stop for HPT is at the Majestic Star Casino, located in Buffington Harbor in Chicagoland, and will take place later in July. This event has the potential to draw a record-breaking prize pool of $1 million dollars. HPT also has plans to head west to Arizona, and back to Chicagoland's Majestic Star before the end of the year.