After navigating an enormous field which saw 1,460 entries and reentries recorded over three starting flights, Arizona's Robert Tanita captured the crown in his home state’s premier poker tournament. Tanita’s only recorded cash prior to his big win was a $694 haul in 2012 — with that sum representing just over half of the $1,100 buy-in needed to compete in the Arizona State Poker Championship — and his $257,690 payday proved once again that tournament poker provides every participant with a genuine chance at gold and glory.
Final Table Results
|2||Jerry “Wolf” Sanchez||$175,200|
|7||Huy “Spike” Le||$54,750|
Hosted by the dedicated staff of Casino Arizona’s Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, the 10th incarnation of the Arizona State Poker Championship exceeded all expectations in terms of turnout. Boasting a $1.1 million guaranteed prize pool, the event attracted more than enough interest from regulars and touring pros alike, with the final tally creating a total kitty of $1.46 million to be claimed by the 150 players fortunate enough to make the money.
Among the notable names to deal their way to a few dollars in the desert were Dylan Hortin (11th - $7,884), Leif Force (22nd - $4,745), Thomas “Thunder” Keller (23rd - $4,745), Jimmy “Gobboboy” Fricke (35th - $4,380), Karina Jett (41st - $4,015), Mike Wattel (51st - $3,650), the son of 1993 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Jim Bechtel, James Bechtel Jr. (61st - $3,577), and Max Steinberg (74th - $3,431). With none other than the “Poker Brat” himself on hand, as 13-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth took a shot before sticking around to emcee the proceedings, what began as a local event held in a dusty tent 10 years ago secured its spot on the national tournament schedule.
When the final table reconvened on Tuesday morning — following three starting flights and a full Day 2 play down — Tanita found himself rubbing elbows with a trio of highly-trained tournament assassins. David Williams — who nearly won the WSOP Main Event in 2004, finishing as the runner-up to Greg Raymer — was lying in wait hoping to snag his biggest score in more than four years. Another WSOP Main Event mainstay in attendance was Matt Affleck, a young pro who has accumulated more than $1.3 million in live earnings thus far in his career. Rounding out the professional ranks was “Cowboy” Kenna James, a member of poker’s “old school” who has been chasing cashes to the tune of $3.5 million in live earnings during nearly two decades on the felt. In the end though, it was the local boy who made his home state proud, as the young Tanita topped the talented final table and defeated Jerry “Wolf” Sanchez heads-up to earn a truly impressive score.
The action at the final table began in earnest and the first elimination occurred just 15 minutes after cards were in the air, when a short-stacked Pierce McKeller made his stand with pocket tens before succumbing in 10th place ($18,250). It was a “Cowboy” who hit the old dusty trail next after James’ was ran down by Affleck’s when the latter made a Broadway straight on the turn. James pocketed $25,550 for his ninth-place run. Only a few minutes later, Affleck was at it again, wielding to dispatch fellow pro Williams in eighth place ($40,150). The chips were all in before the flop and Affleck’s big slick bested Williams’ on an runout. Despite entering the final table with the third largest stack in play, Williams lost a big chunk on a busted bluff against chip leader Steve Buell early on before sending the rest to Affleck.
Only 20 minutes later and Huy “Spike” Le became the next casualty, exiting in seventh place for $54,750 after losing a big flip to Mark Atanovich. Le’s was safe through the turn against Atanovich’s , but the river brought the dreaded ace from space to stack Le. The remaining six players elected to take a 10-minute break after Le’s departure, and at that point Tanita was sitting in dead last with his 1.5 million-chip stack good for just six big blinds at the time.
Coming back from break Tanita quickly doubled through Sanchez when his held against the latter’s , and just an orbit later he turned the trick again, doubling through Sanchez when his flopped a set on the to down . Atanovich went broke in the meantime (sixth place for $69,350), while Tanita continued to tear through the table while mounting an impressive comeback. All comebacks are created with a combination of fortitude and fortune, and in Tanita’s case the run good came after he semi-bluff jammed with the on a two-club board of . Buell correctly hero-called with the to find himself in great shape, but an offsuit eight dropped on the river to give Tanita the winning pair — and 15 million of the 38 million chips in play.
Soon afterward, Affleck hit the rail in fifth place ($83,950), losing a flip when his fell to Brayden Quackenbush’s on the runout. Buell’s run came to end in fourth place ($98,550) when his was outraced by Tanita’s after the latter flopped a set.
Armed with the chip lead, Tanita continued to crush, and he sent Quackenbush to the rail in third place ($131,400) when pocket kings prevailed over eights in the hole.
Beginning heads-up play with a 3-1 chip lead, Tanita made short work of a short-stacked Sanchez, and after just 10 minutes of play a champion was crowned. Sanchez shoved with only to run into Tanita’s dominating , and the final board came to preserve the pocket pair. Sanchez earned $175,200 for the runner-up result — not a bad payday considering he began the final table ninth out of 10 in terms of chips.
Tanita’s victory marked the 10th time Arizona has crowned its state poker champion, and after pro Joe Kuether took down the title last year, his accomplishment gives amateurs across the Southwest region plenty of reason to remain hopeful.