The 2018 MSPT Denver Poker Open $1,100 Main Event began with 383 runners but on Sunday night it was 46-year-old dentist Mike Itoafa vanquishing the competition to win the title and $81,735 first-place prize.
“I’m feeling great, I’m excited,” said Itoafa, who back in August won the Colorado Poker Championship Main Event for $49,679. It marked his second major title at the venue in less than four months.
“This win feels even better because it’s a bigger prize,” added Itoafa, whose first MSPT cash was a victory. “The CPC was awesome, it was a home tournament here in Colorado that meant a lot to me. They’re equally great. There’s no better feeling than winning a tournament.”
Day 2 saw 57 players return to action, but with only 45 slated to get paid, a dozen of them left empty handed. They included Keith Wright, Kanat Ozturk, and bubble boy Mike Mounts, who fell when his pocket sixes lost a flip to Jason Vanstrom’s ace-jack.
Among those to make the money but fall short of the final table were Sammy Aweida (13th - $4,830), Nils Bardsley (16th - $4,087), Day 1B chip leader Tye Rogers (18th - $4,087), Bobby Sanoubane (23rd - $3,009), Phil Mader (27th - $2,601), WSOP bracelet winner John Beauprez (34th - $2,229), and Day 1C chip leader Matt Livingston (45th - $2,043).
The final table got off to a quick start with WSOP Colossus II champ Ben Keeline notching a trio of eliminations. First, he knocked out Hugh Rowe, who ran sixes into nines, and then Kent Biel followed him out the door when his ace-ten failed to get there against Keeline’s Big Slick.
Not long after, Keeline got lucky with ace-eight all in pre-flop against Josh Williamson’s pocket kings when an ace spiked on the flop. Williamson took home $9,659 for finishing in eighth place.
It was at that point Itoafa earned his first final table knockout sending Dapo Ajayi home in seventh place when his ace-queen held against jack-ten. Soon thereafter, Itoafa flopped an open-ended straight draw and got it in against Rob Baker, who had kings. Itoafa rivered the straight and took over the chip lead.
Day 1A chip leader Bobby Opila exited in fifth place after running pocket tens into HPT champ Richard Monroe’s kings, and Keeline fell when his aces were cracked by Itoafa’s pocket nines all in preflop. For Keeline, this marked his 11th MSPT Main Event cash and 4th final table giving him $127,515 in MSPT earnings.
After Shawn Kjetland dispatched Monroe in third place, he took a slight chip lead into heads-up play against Itoafa. However, things went Itoafa’s way right off the bat and he soon pulled out to a healthy lead.
In the final hand of the tournament, Itoafa jammed the button holding Big Slick and Kjetland called off with king-queen. Kjetland didn’t get so much as a sweat and had to settle for second place and a $50,525 consolation prize.
“There were a lot of great players at this final table,” Itoafa said after the win. “I know Ben Keeline won the Colossus, he’s an excellent player. The table was solid all around, a lot of respect there.”