The first $1,100 Main Event of the Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) Season 8 took place this weekend at bestbet Jacksonville. The tournament, which drew 392 entrants (164 on Day 1A, 28 Day 1B) and created a $380,240 prize pool, was the culmination of a 10-event series that began the week before.
After two long days of play, which included one of the longest and toughest final tables in tour history, 39-year-old hometown hero Jermaine “Lion” Gerlin emerged victorious to capture the trophy and a $94,310 first-place prize.
Amazingly, Lion’s win came one year after he finished fourth in the same event for $32,062. In that tournament, Lion held the chip lead four handed only to see the title slip through his hands.
“Last year I came here and got fourth place,” Lion recalled after 16 hours of play on Day 2. “It feels good to come back this year and take it all.”
A regular at both the bestbet Orange Park and Jacksonville properties, Lion plays poker to support his family, which includes two daughters – Ziza (3) and Shaniya (7).
“Those two poker rooms are among the best in Florida,” he said of his stomping grounds. “I definitely recommend people come check them out.”
Prior to the win, Lion had $278,445 in live lifetime earnings including a career-best $106,732 for finishing first in the 2016 Heartland Poker Tour Daytona Beach Main Event. In May of the same year, he also took down a bestbet $350 Recurring Tournament for $25,907.
With 74 players returning for Day 2 action, more than half the field needed to fall for the money to be made. Among those to leave empty handed were the short-stacked Nghia Le, who didn’t even show up and let his four-big-blind stack be blinded out, and Jeffrey Flaschen, who fell as the bubble boy after shoving his short stack with jack-nine and running into both aces and queens.
Once in the money, the pace of eliminations increased. Some of the players to walk away with a payday were MSPT bestbet Jacksonville Regional Event runner-up Jonathan Cronin (31st - $2,377), WPTDeepstacks champ Anthony Astarita (20th - $3,018), 2015 MSPT bestbet runner-up Jeff Klein (18th – $3,772), and 2016 Wisconsin State Poker champ Andy Rubinberg (16th - $3,772).
The final table kicked off with a double elimination after Lion’s Big Slick rivered a pair of aces after getting it in preflop against Day 1B chip leader Robert Woodward and Georgia’s Pete Theodocion, who held pocket threes and tens respectively.
Not long after, Davian Santana fell after he called off holding pocket sevens on a queen-high flop. Unfortunately for him, Chris Fabozzi had flopped top pair. He was soon joined on the rail by Minnesota transplant Dusty Nelson, who lost pocket tens to Fabozzi’s ace-queen.
Jose Delacruz bowed out in sixth after his ace-king failed to win a race against Ryan Dunn, who followed him out the door in fifth when his queen-jack didn’t get there against Hans Brown’s ace-ten.
That set up a tough final four where no players gave up ground easy. Eventually the blinds forced the action, and John O’Neal, who the year before finished fifth, picked the wrong time to shove with his queen-ten as Brown held pocket queens.
Three-handed play was an epic affair, truly one for the ages. Brown, Fabozzi, and Gerlin each took turns holding the chip lead over many hours. At one point, Gerlin doubled huge with ace-king over Fabozzi’s deuces, and that gave him an overwhelming chip lead. It looked like he was about to close it out, but amazingly both Brown and Fabozzi whittled away at him.
Gerlin lost a couple of big pots, and instead of working a stack of over 60 big blinds, he was left with four. It looked as if history was going to repeat itself, and Lion was clearly dejected.
“I was upset a little, I guess maybe I was frustrated a little,” Lion admitted. “I knew through all these years to just be patient and get it in the best you can.”
After Brown was bounced in third place, the result of running ace-jack into Fabozzi’s ace-queen, Lion found himself in heads-up play, albeit at a big chip disadvantage. Still, he held strong, exchanged the lead with Fabozzi several times, and finally, at 3 a.m. in the morning, he finished off his opponent.
In the final hand of the tournament, Fabozzi raised to 500,000 with the QdJd and then called off for 3 million after Lion jammed with the Ah9d. The board ran out Ac7d6hkcqh and Fabozzi had to settle for runner-up and a $56,586 consolation prize.
As for Lion, he took down the second-largest cash of his burgeoning career.
“I’m going to the bank and talk to them about getting me a crib,” he said when asked if he has any plans for the money.
In addition to the regular prize pool distribution, Stephen Strout was awarded $2,000 and Woodward $1,000 for finishing as the Day 1A and 1B chip leaders respectively.
Season 8 of the MSPT continues on Thursday with the $1,100 buy-in, $300,000 guaranteed “Poker Bowl” at The Venetian in Las Vegas. That tournament will run Thursday through Saturday, ensuring players are finished by Sunday so that can enjoy the Super Bowl.