The MSPT Potawatomi Hotel & Casino $1,100 buy-in Main Event attracted 596 entrants (269 Day 1a & 327 1b), which made it the second-largest major poker tournament ($1,000+ buy-in) in Wisconsin history behind the Spring 2015 MSPT Potawatomi, which drew 635 entrants.
After three days of play, Chicago’s Alex Aqel, 32, emerged victorious to capture a $138,385 first-place prize. Aqel began Day 2 second in chips, and it didn’t take him long to assume the chip lead. Amazingly, he held it all the day and used it to navigate all the way to the end.
“I want to say I played amazing, but it wasn’t that hard to play,” said Aqel, who is engaged to be married this summer. “Tournament poker is swingy. Anything can happen. I just got really fortunate in a lot of spots. Deserving to win the tournament, no I don’t buy into that. Everyone else who played this tournament deserved to win it just as much as I did.”
Prior to the win, Aqel, who plays poker part time while being invested in a tech firm with his brother, had $51,642 in tournament earnings with his prior best cash being $11,989 for a runner-up finish to tour regular Ron Kruk in the 2013 World Series of Poker Circuit Horseshoe Hammond $365 NLH Turbo. The victory in Milwaukee marked Aqel’s first MSPT cash.
Day 2 saw 111 players return to action, each looking to claim their portion of the $596,000 total prize pool, which was nearly triple the advertised $200K GTD. However, with just 54 players slated to get paid, more than half the field would leave empty handed including Wisconsin State Poker champ Andy Rubinberg, Iowa State Poker champ John Sun, and poker pro Kou Vang, just to name a few.
Once Gabriele Patti fell as the bubble boy in 55th place, the in-the-money eliminations came at a steady pace. Among those to leave with a payday were 2016 WSOP 12th-place finisher Mike Shin (48th - $2,306), author of Positively Fifth Street Jim McManus (44th - $2,595), two-time MSPT champ Jeremy Dresch (41st - $2,595), and MSPT Season 6 champ Rich Alsup (40th - $2,595).
The weekend before, Alsup finished runner-up to Carl Carodenuto in the MSPT Golden Gates Main Event. As such, Carodenuto took over the top spot on the MSPT Season 7 Player of the Year leaderboard with 3,800 points while Alsup was close behind with 3,600.
Alsup could have tied Carodenuto here in Milwaukee had he finished 28th-36th place, but unfortunately he was ousted in 40th for 100 POY points. That cut the gap separating them in half with one stop to go in the season.
Others who cashed but ultimately fell short of the final table were Tom Hammers (33rd - $3114), MSPT Potawatomi Regional champ Vinh Tran (26th - $3,979), WSOP bracelet winner John Reading (24th - $3,979), and the last two Minnesotans in the field Jason Seitz (12th - $9,226) and Rob Wazwaz (11th - $9,226).
Aqel began the final table as chip leader, and in the very first hand he eliminated Randy Perkins, who had been second in chips. Perkins tried to bluff Aqel, but it didn’t work as the eventual champ called down with pocket queens.
“He just fired. I thought he had at least tens or jacks,” said Aqel of the hand. “I was really surprised to see king-jack. I was really fortunate to win that.”
That gave Aqel a huge chip lead, and to make things even sweeter he ran pure, especially when he picked up aces twice at the same time Dan Stickel and Scott Obst held kings and tens respectively. That resulted in two eliminations and even more chips.
In between, Colorado’s Eric Maier exited in eighth place after losing ace-four to Kyle Kramer’s ace-eight. A short time later, the most accomplished player at the final table, World Poker Tour champ Ravi Raghavan, also busted to Kramer in similar fashion.
Aqel would go on to bust three of his remaining four opponents including Jill Bryant, who began the day as the overall chip leader but had to settle for third place. Aqel began heads-up play with a big chip lead over Derek Dunifer, and it proved to be a lengthy affair. In the end, Dunifer was never able to capture the chip lead and ended up finishing as runner-up for $82,168.