The 2017 MSPT Indiana State Poker Championship at Tropicana Evansville drew 320 entrants (147 runners on Day 1A, 173 on 1B), and in the end, it all came down to “Big” Al Hedin, who was less than a month removed from finishing sixth in the MSPT Iowa State Poker Championship, and Michigan’s Satish Thakur.
After a lengthy heads-up battle where the chip lead changed hands multiple times, Thakur closed it out to win his first major tournament for $71,047. Thakur, 32, is an IT programmer for the state of Michigan, but he enjoys playing poker on the side.
“Feeling great, man, it’s a dream,” he said after the win. “I drove all the way from Michigan. I play the MSPT a lot, especially at FireKeepers/ I was really short at one point, big al had a huge chip stack, but patience paid off.”
It was the largest score of Thakur’s playing career, which has been comprised solely of MSPT events. He previously had three cashes on the tour, all at his home venue, FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Michigan. His previous best cash was $19,944 for finishing eighth in the 2016 MSPT Michigan State Poker Championship.
“I have my wife, she will be coming here from India this weekend,” Thakur said when asked what he’ll do to celebrate. He also said we can expect to see him at this year’s MSPT Michigan State Poker Championship come October.
With 65 players returning for Day 2 and only 36 of them getting paid, 29 would leave empty handed including MSPT Season 6 Tropicana Evansville champ Mike O’Neill, MSPT Season 5 Tropicana Evansville champ Charlie Dawson, and Henry Tran.
Once Jay Baggett exited as the bubble boy, the in-the-money finishes came quick and included World Series of Poker bracelet winner and MSPT champ Nick Jivkov (29th - $2,162), the last MSPT champ in the field Adam Thomas (27th - $2,255), MSPT first-timer Mike Reick (24th - $2,471), last woman standing Patricia Till (23rd -$2,471), three-time WSOP Circuit ring winner Bob Castoire (19th- $3,243), Day 1B chip leader and final table bubble boy Kevin Brenner (11th - $5,220).
The first final table elimination came when Aaron Gamino, who began the day second to last in chips (64th out of 65 player), got it in with ace-king against ace-jack only to fall to a one outer on the river. From there, Terrence Esparza fell when his king-queen failed to overcome the pocket jacks of Thakur, and then satellite winner Ross Bryant exited after getting his short stack in with seven-eight suited and failing to get there against the ace-jack of John Mingus.
After Craig Welko exited in seventh place, the result of his pocket fours losing a race, arguably the most experienced player at the final table followed him out the door. Kurt Jewell, who sat third on Kentucky’s all-time poker money list with $1,092,248 in live tournament earnings, is a five-time WSOP Circuit ring winner and also finished 32nd out of 3,273 entries in the 2017 MSPT Venetian for $10,906. He began the day as chip leader but bowed out when he failed to catch with ace-jack against Hedin’s pocket queens.
Charles Payne, who was second in chips at the time, was the next to go after shoving top pair into the overpair of Hedin. In the very next hand, Donnie Phan turned a king-high club flush but busted to the ace-high flush of Hedin, who took a massive chip lead into three-handed play.
Still, it wasn’t easy as both Thakur and Mingus put up a lengthy fight. Eventually the latter shoved with queen-ten and ran into the ace-jack of Hedin, and an ace on the flop spelt doom for Mingus. That set up a heads-up match with Hedin holding a nearly 3-1 chip lead over Thakur, but it was far from over.
The duo battled for nearly three hours, and eventually Thakur pulled out to a big lead of his own. It was then that he flopped top two pair while Hedin flopped top pair with a straight draw. The chips went in and Thakur held to become the 2017 MSPT Indiana State Poker Champion!