Prior to Sunday night, Ervin Bjerga of Motley, Minnesota had $41,834 in live tournament earnings, most of which ($30,305) came from finishing third in the Mid-States Poker Tour Running Aces Harness Park back in September. Evidently, he spent the next five months working on his game and it paid off as he didn't fall short of the finish line at the property's latest stop, topping a field of 354 to take down a $91,941 first-place prize at the tour's second event of 2015.
The Minnesota native, whose only other with was in a $100 no-limit hold'em bounty tournament in Walker, Minnesota, for $1,300, emerged victorious after one of the fastest final tables in tour history, clocking in at just over three hours.
Seventy-one runners from the two starting flights took the felt for Day 2 with Bjerga beginning the day 12th in chips. Recognizable players such asTodd Breyfogle, Tony Lazar, Kou Vang, Mark Sandness, Jeremy Dresch, Nick Pupillo and Jeff Fielder fell before the money bubble, which approached after just three hours of play. That is when Derek Crooks' A♦A♥ held in a three-way all-in hand against his opponents' Q♦10♥ and Kx10x, which secured the remaining players a payout.
From there the in-the-money finishes began to mount and included Darren Ficek (35th), Crooks (34th), "East Coast" Mike Ross (28th), "Wild" Bill Romer (26th), Day 1b chip leader Joe Ford (24th), and Dennis Stevermer (13th), who fell just shy of joining Bjerga as a back-to-back MSPT Running Aces final table participant as he finished runner-up last September to Ken Pates.
As the final table bubble loomed, Bjerga sat on a stack of 379,000 at Level 24 (12,000/24,000/4,000). He opened for 162,000 in the small blind and then called the big-blind shove of reigning MSPT Canterbury Park champ Peixin Liu, who tried forcing Bjerga out with the J♠8♠. Liu was in decent shape though as he was racing against Bjerga's 4♥4♠. A run out of 3♣A♠5♦9♦A♣ kept Bjerga in business, while Liu bubbled out a few hands later in 11th.
Bjerga went to the final table fifth in chips, and action blazed right off the bat as James Gibson busted in 10th. Bjerga then doubled up with kings against the tens of Ken Heathcote before eliminating David Mandt in a flip. John Reading (8th), Ernest Garrett (7th), and Heathcote (6th) were eliminated in quick succession before another monster pot went Bjerga's way — he sent Day 1a chip leader Mark Hodge and Terry Ring packing in fourth and fifth place respectively — when each got all in with ace-nine suited against the 7♥7♣ of Bjerga, who faded the shared overcards for a double knockout. The score marked Hodge's third straight MSPT final table.
Famed limit player Mike "Schneids" Schneider bowed out in third place when he jammed the A♥6♠ over a button raise from James Maxey and a call from Bjerga, only to be looked up by Maxey's 8♥8♦. Maxey flopped a set and that was all she wrote for Schneider.
Heads-up play began with both players holding more than sixty big blinds at Level 27 (25,000/50,000/5,000), but things escalated quickly as both players approached the match aggressively. Maxey bet 150,000 on a board of 3♦J♠K♥8♦ after Bjerga checked back the flop, and Bjerga raised to 400,000. Maxey called and then bet out 550,000 on the K♦ river, and he tank-called Bjerga's shove only to be shown K♠3♠ for kings full.
The MSPT will be back in a couple of weeks for another stop at tour mainstay Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells for the Wisconsin State Poker Championship. Visit mspt.com for more information.