The Mid-States Poker Tour Potawatomi Hotel & Casino began with 556 entrants (246 Day 1a; 292 Day 1b), and on Sunday 113 returned to battle down to a winner. It took a full day of action, but in the end 38-year-old Travis Lauson who emerged victorious to capture his first MSPT title and a $129,077 first-place prize.
It was an unbelievable story of redemption for Lauson, who finished runner-up to Dan Goepel back in September, which was the last time the MSPT visited the property.
"Amazing," Lauson said when asked how winning felt. "I needed redemption from that second place. It's simply amazing. If I would have lost heads-up back-to-back I would have gone crazy."
Prior to the win, Lauson, who hails from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, only had four cashes on his poker résumé, three of which are on the MSPT. Now he had a fourth, this one being his first-ever six-figure score.
Lauson, who owns four bars, including one called Shoot the Bull, plans to use the money to pad his poker bankroll while setting some aside for his three-year-old daughter's college fund.
At the start of the day, just 54 players were slated to earn a portion of the $556,000 total prize pool – which crushed the advertised $200,000 guarantee – and that meant 59 needed to leave empty handed. Among those to fall early were reigning Wisconsin State Poker Champion Andy Rubinberg, MSPT Pro Blake Bohn, and Luke Arora, who was a week removed from winning the MSPT Running Aces Main Event.
Once the bubble burst – poker pro Darryl Ronconi was the unfortunate bubble boy – the in-the-money finishes began to mount. Among those to go home with some cash were Adam Lamphere (54th - $2,151), Anselmo Villarreal (38th - $2,420), reigning MSPT Player of the Year Mark Hodge (33rd - $2,904), Nick Jivkov (20th - $3,711), and defending champ Dan Goepel (14th - $6,508), who saw his title defense come to an end when his pocket fives failed to hold against the king-ten of start-of-the-day chip leader Abe Montenegro.
With a dozen players remaining, a big hand saw both John Zawaski and Jonathan DiMatteo fall to Lauson, who picked up pocket aces against the former's ace-queen and the latter's pocket kings. The aces held and Lauson advanced to the final table nearly tied for the chip lead with Hao Sun.
Those two proceeded to attack the table, but while Sun faltered, Lauson only continued to rise. Eventually Sun bowed out in third place, and that set up an entertaining heads-up match against fellow Wisconsinite Brandon Byrne.
"I went into heads-up play with the big chip lead, so I wanted to play big," explained Lauson. "He started fighting back so I had to adapt right away."
Lauson lost his 2-1 chip lead, but with both players willing to put chips in the middle, it didn't take long for him to get it back. Still, he admits he had flashbacks to his match against Goepel when he blew an 8-1 lead.
Fortunately for Lauson, victory wouldn't slip through his fingers this time as he looked down at pocket kings after Byrne had shoved with ace-five. No ace appeared, and Lauson took down the MSPT Potawatomi Casino title and the accompanying $129,077 first-place prize.