The 2016 Wisconsin State Poker Championship, hosted by the Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) at Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells, proved poker in the Badger State is alive and well. A massive 489 entrants – up from 463 in the inaugural event last year – ponied up the $1,100 buy-in to take their shot at poker glory.
That created a $489,000 prize pool, more than twice the advertised $200,000 guarantee, which was awarded to the top 45 finishers. On Day 2, 91 players returned looking for their slice of the pie – specifically the $120,808 first-place prize -- but three dozen of them left empty handed.
Among those to fall short of the money were MSPT Pro Matt Kirby; the last woman in the field Janel Englebert; MSPT Potawatomi champ Dan Goepel; World Series of Poker bracelet winner John Reading; and Grant Slayton, owner of Baraboo's popular Brothers On Oak tavern.
Slayton earned the distinction of finishing as bubble boy after falling in 46th place, the result of his ace-ten failing to get there against his opponent's pocket tens. From there, the in-the-money bust outs came quick as players like Michigan's Mark Johnson (43rd - $2,364); WSOP bracelet winner Nick Jivkov (41st - $2,364); Jason Bender (35th - $2,601), who was the MSPT Season 7 Player of the Year leader leading up to the stop; Day 1a chip leader Nick Pupillo (23rd - $2,932); Day 1b chip leader Nicola Ditrapani (15th - $4,728), and MSPT Pro Matt Alexander (14th - $4,728).
Several of the players at the final table had impressive résumés including Josh Reichard, who won the 2013 MSPT Ho-Chunk Main Event; MSPT champs Rich Alsup and Kou Vang; and Byron "MadisonAce29" Ziebell, who finished runner-up in the 2010 World Championship Of Online Poker (WCOOP) $215 Razz for $36,787.50.
Final table action was quick to say the least. Madison's Jason Reno was the first to go in 10th place for $6,147 after running pocket fives into the queens of Ziebill, and a short time later Iowa's Anthony Knepper followed him out the door in ninth place for $9,457.
Then, on a 7♦5♣8♠ flop, Scott Johnson checked from the big blind and Andrew Rubinberg bet 150,000 from the button. Johnson proceeded to check-raise all in holding the K♠9♣ for overs and a gutshot, and Rubinberg thought long and hard before making a good call with the 7♠4♠. The A♦ turn and 10♥ river failed to help Johnson, and he was out in eighth place for $13,172.
From there, Ramos' fell in seventh place for $17,968 when his A♦J♦ failed to get there against Ziebell's A♣K♦ in a monster pot, and then Reichard took his leave in sixth place for $22,454 when his A♠7♣ failed to hold against Vang's K♦6♦ after the board ran 3♥Q♠6♠4♦J♦.
In the very next hand Bruce Swart fell in fifth place for $26,951 when his ace-king failed to get there against Vang's pocket jacks, which left Alsup as the short man on the totem poll. He exited in fourth place for $34,280 two hands later when he shoved his last 231,000 under the gun holding ace-three, and Vang defended the big blind with jack-eight only to flop two pair and score his third elimination in a four-hand span.
The final three players were all sitting on big stacks but that didn't stop two of them from clashing. It happened when a preflop raising war saw Ziebill get his stack in holding pocket tens against the ace-queen of Vang to create a 6.2 million pot. Ziebill was just looking to hold, but he couldn't do it as Vang flopped two pair to score his fourth elimination in a row. Ziebill's elimination in third place for $42,555 ensured the Wisconsin State Poker Championship title would be leaving the state.
Despite Vang beginning heads-up play with a 2-1-chip lead, the match proved a long and grueling affair that last more than four hours. During that time the chip lead exchanged hands multiple times, but eventually the blinds caught up to force action. In what would be the final hand, Rubinberg flopped middle pair and called when Vang shoved a heart flush draw. Rubinberg's hand held, and Vang was vanquished in second place for $69,742.
As for Rubinberg, the win was extra special because it was his first. His tournament cashes date all the way back to 2007, but his win in the 2016 Wisconsin State Poker Championship marked his first-ever tournament victory. Accordingly, the $120,808 first-place prize was the largest of his career and was more than half the $220,585 in lifetime earnings he had entering the event.
It was also redemption for the 47-year-old computer consultant, who found himself in a similar spot two years ago when he finished runner-up in the 2014 MSPT Ho-Chunk Main Event.
The MSPT next heads to bestbet Jacksonville for a $350 Regional from Feb. 25-28 followed by a $1,100 Main Event from March 4-6. For more information visit msptpoker.com.