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Bill Byrnes Wins HPT St. Louis Main Event for $148,587; Craig Welko Wins Three Side Events

Bill Byrnes

The Heartland Poker Tour (HPT) was visiting the Hollywood Casino St. Louis for the first time, and the $1,650 Main Event drew 444 entries, which created a $646,020 prize pool.

In the end, 47-year-old criminal defense attorney Bill Byrnes emerged victorious to claim a $148,587 first-place prize.

“It was awesome,” Byrnes said after the win. “I was pretty comfortable the whole time. I came in third in chips today, which I felt good about. The guy that came in second, I’d been playing with the past couple of days, he was a hell of a player. I was definitely worried about him. There was a number of good players at the table but I felt comfortable going in. I’m going to take my wife to Europe, not sure what else to do with the rest.”

Byrnes pledged to donate some of his winnings to the charity First Descents, which offers young adults living with and surviving cancer a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them.

Interestingly, Byrnes almost didn’t get the chance to compete at the final table as he had a court meeting Monday morning that had the potential to keep him preoccupied.

“I had a case set for jury trial this morning. If it was going to go I would’ve had to be blinded down,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t have made it back here. I was pretty far down the list so didn’t think they’d get to me but I was holding my breath.

Prior to the win, Byrnes had $429,719 in career tournament earnings including a previous best of $55,968 for finishing 11th in the 2015 World Series of Poker Colossus.

HPT St. Louis Final Table Results

1Bill Brynes$148,587
2Keith Heine$91,735
3Stephen Green$61,049
4Dave Simon$42,314
5Kou Vang$31,978
6Andy Echele$24,872
7Tim Burden$20,673
8Joe Landazzi$17,120
9Greg Wood$14,471

Others to cash the tournament included Day 1b chip leader Josh Mullins (13th - $8,334), Shawn “Reginald” Roberts (19th - $5,168), Allen Kessler (30th - $4,199), Mary Sturges (31st - $4,199), Day 1a chip leader Ryan Gregor (32nd - $4,199), and Ryan Tepen (40th - $3,553).

Final Table Action

The first final table elimination came about an hour into play when Greg Wood jammed ace-jack only to run it smack dab into Steve Green’s two black aces. Wood didn’t get so much as a sweat and was sent packing in ninth place.

Not long after, Joe Landazzi fell when his pocket aces were cracked by Kou Vang, who had flopped a set of fives, and Tim Burden followed him out the door in seventh place. Burden, the 2018 MSPT Indiana State Poker Champion, began the final table with a big chip lead but nothing seemed to go his way. Eventually, he was whittled down before four-betting all in with pocket four. Dave Simon, who had three-bet with nine-seven suited, called and turned a straight to eliminate Burden.

With six players remaining, Andy Echele had pocket aces and flopped two pair. Unfortunately for him, Keith Heine flopped trips and turned a boat, which is when the chips went in. The river wasn’t an ace and Echele headed for the payout desk to collect $24,872.

Keith Heine
Keith Heine

Vang bowed out in fifth place after shoving his short stack from the small blind with ace-deuce and getting called by Simon, who held six-three in the big. A six on the turn was the final nail in the coffin for the MSPT Hall of Famer, who took home $24,872 for his fifth-place finish.

Simon was the next to go after running a bluff against Heine, who had flopped a full house, and then Green took his leave in third place after losing a flip with deuces to Bill Byrnes’ ace-queen.
Byrne entered heads-up play with 6.33 million to Heine’s 6.975 million and immediately set about chipping up.

Eventually, he had Heine on the ropes when the final hand developed. Byrnes slow played pocket aces and flopped a set while Heine flopped a flush draw. The chips went in on the turn and Heine failed to find a fifth heart to fall in second place for $91,735. It was one spot better than last year when he finished third in the HPT St. Louis for $48,042.

Welko Wins Trio of Side Events

Byrnes wasn’t the only one to find success at the HPT St. Louis. A series of side events played out leading up to the Main Event and amazingly Craig Welko managed to win three of them.

Craig Welko
Craig Welko captures his third prelim title.

His heater began in Event #1: $350 No-Limit Hold’em, a tournament that drew a Missouri state record 1,283 entries. There was a six-way deal worked and Welko was not only deemed the champion but took the most prize money with $37,402. It marked the biggest score of his aspiring career.

Then in Event #6: $200 NLH Bounty ($50 bounties), he bested a 191-entry field to win his second title. While he wasn’t able to get anything going in the Main Event, Welko closed out the stop strong by topping a 189-entry to win Event #12: $300 NLH Bounty ($100 bounties) for $5,200 after a three-way deal.

Prior to the HPT St. Louis, Welko had $164,612 in live tournament earnings including a prior career-best of $33,000 for finishing third in a $550 NLH event at last year’s Wynn summer Classic.

The HPT’s next stop will be a $1,100 buy-in Main Event from March 28-April 1 at Hollywood Casino Lawrenceburg, which is situated just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. Once again PokerNews will be on hand to bring you updates from that event.

  • Bill Byrnes tops 444 entries to win @HPTpoker @StLouisPokerHC for $148K; @CraigWelko wins 3 prelims.

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