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Aaron Johnson Talks Winning MSPT & HPT POY Titles in Same Year

Aaron Johnson
  • In 2018, Aaron Johnson won both MSPT & HPT Player of the Year races. He spoke to PokerNews about it.

One of the best stories of 2018 that flew under the radar was the incredible year of Minnesota’s Aaron Johnson. Back in May, PokerNews spoke with Johnson about leading the Player of the Year races on both Season 9 of the Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) and Heartland Poker Tour (HPT) Season XIV.

Over the next seven months, Johnson maintained his lead on the MSPT, and while he lost the HPT lead for a bit, he ultimately ended with it thanks to a deep run in the season finale. That allowed Johnson to become the first player to ever win POY titles on two different tours in the same year.

For doing so, Johnson won a $10,000 prize package for each tour.

Running Away with MSPT POY

“It feels amazing,” Johnson told PokerNews. “Coming into the year I certainly wanted to make a run at MSPT POY (which has always been a goal of mine), but I never imagined that I’d be in contention for multiple POY titles. To actually achieve it is unreal.”

“My family is incredibly proud; friends have been super congratulatory; support on social media has been insane."

Regarding the MSPT POY, Johnson was a favorite the entire year. In fact, he had amassed more points midway through the season than any previous POY had the entire year. For a while, it looked like no one was going to catch him, and while no one came too close, both Blake Bohn and Kou Vang were mathematically alive headed into the season finale.

All three players made Day 2, but both Bohn and Vang fell early locking up the title for Johnson, who went on to finish in 32nd place for $4,163. Johnson wound up with 11 cashes during Season 9, including a win in the MSPT Grand Falls $360 Regional Event for $21,268.

He also final tabled three $1,100 Main Events including a fourth-place finish in February’s MSPT Canterbury Park for $34,183, second in the 2018 MSPT South Dakota State Poker Championship for $39,181, and runner-up in the MSPT Grand Falls for $33,834.

All told, Johnson has 28 MSPT Main Event and six Regional cashes for $255,144.

MSPT Season 9 POY Final Results

1Aaron Johnson5,967
2Blake Bohn4,600
3Kou Vang4,300
4Alex Winter3,850
5Rich Alsup3,700
6Ian Matakis3,375
7Sammy Aweida3,150
8Rob Wazwaz3,050
9Greg Himmelbrand2,750
10Ben Keeline2,542

HPT Tighter Race

Aaron Johnson Talks Winning MSPT & HPT POY Titles in Same Year 101
Aaron Johnson wins HPT Season XIV Player of the Year. (Image: HPT)

Given his lead on the MSPT, Johnson admitted the HPT POY was harder to claim.

“HPT was tougher due to the fact that many more players were in contention and I had to make a deep run in the $2,500 Championship to win. It was quite daunting knowing I needed eighth or better in a tough 400+ entry field to retake the lead, but things ultimately went my way and I was able to jump back into the lead by taking sixth place. Comparatively, MSPT was much easier. Once I got the lead I just kept putting up points and held on for the entire home stretch.”

Johnson continued: “I gave HPT a bit more precedence since I needed additional points and there were fewer events remaining. Fortunately, there was very little overlap between the two tours for the second half of the season so I didn’t have to miss many MSPTs. As soon as I took the lead in both back in May I knew I was going to be in full POY-grind mode. Most weekends after the WSOP were devoted to an HPT or MSPT event.”

Johnson finished the HPT Season XIV with four cashes, the first being a win in March’s HPT Belterra for $86,189. In May, he placed eighth in the HPT Chicago for $22,377 and in October took 41st in the HPT Daytona Beach for $2,189. Finally, he finished sixth in the HPT Championship for $37,043.

Johnson finished the HPT Season XIV with 261.40 points.

HPT Season XIV POY Final Results

1Aaron Johnson216.40
2Ossama Estafanous197.00
3Jake Baumgartner174.40
4Jim Kasputis Jr.174.00
5Josh Reichard150.00
6Alex Ziskin147.70
7Darryl Ronconi146.00
8Mike Kamenjarin145.70
9Mike Englert140.00
10Ben Brown140.00

Plans for the Future

Johnson’s accomplishment was truly unprecedented, and not only that, by winning the MSPT POY he also won his way into the MSPT Hall of Fame. He became just the third player to do so behind Kou Vang and Rich Alsup.

Unlike other Hall of Fames, the MSPT HoF doesn’t have a subjective induction process. Instead, players just have to meet the predetermined criteria to get in. For Johnson, his route was notching a minimum of 25 MSPT cashes (he has 28) and winning either a MSPT Main Event title or a POY win (he obviously got the latter).

“The reaction has been overwhelming,” Johnson said of his incredible 2018. “My family is incredibly proud; friends have been super congratulatory; support on social media has been insane. I sincerely appreciate every message, comment, handshake. Having that kind of support makes the grind worth it.”

“I can’t just win both one time and be content. I have to go for it again."

That said, Johnson isn’t resting on his laurels and is already ready to tear it up in 2019.

“More of the same. The MSPT and HPT are always at the core of my schedule,” he said of his plans for the New Year. “I mix in various bigger buy-in shots in various WPTs and such; and of course, a full summer schedule in Vegas. But the mid-major circuit is my home. I love the Midwest grind.”

It begs the question; can Johnson do what no one has ever done and repeat as either a MSPT or HPT POY.

“Without question,” Johnson claimed. “I can’t just win both one time and be content. I have to go for it again. Granted it’s totally unrealistic, as winning even one POY requires a ton of positive variance, but I’m always going to show up and get after it regardless.”

To follow Johnson’s grind be sure to follow him on Twitter @AyeGeeJay.

Lead image courtesy of MSPT.

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