The 2017 MSPT Wisconsin State Poker Championship, which for the first time was held at Milwaukee’s Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, drew 701 entries (311 on Day 1A, 390 on 1B). That surpassed February’s 677 entries from the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event to become the largest major poker tournament ($1,000+ buy-in) in Wisconsin history.
It also became the largest MSPT Potawatomi in history surpassing the previous record of 635 entries set back in the Spring of 2016. After a weekend full of play, Illinois’ Rich Bai emerged victorious to capture a career-high $139,086 first-place prize.
The fourth time was the charm for the 29-year-old Bai, who had previously made three final tables at the MSPT Potawatomi. In Season 6, he finished in fourth place for $42,397, and in 2016 he final tabled both events finishing ninth and sixth respectively. The win is also part of a recent heater for Bai, who back in October won the World Series of Poker Circuit Horseshoe Hammond Event #8: $1,125 NLHE for $38,919 and his first gold ring.
“This is cooler than a ring,” Bai said while posing with his new MSPT trophy. “I’ve been running so good lately. Feeling great. It’s nice to final table four times and finally win one. You hear it all the time, but it just rings true, you just win flips and run good when it counts. That’s really it.”
Bai, who says he dabbles in crypto, spends about 90 percent of his time playing high-stakes mixed and no-limit hold’em cash games in Chicago and Vegas, though he admits he’ll be working a bunch more local tournaments into his schedule.
On Day 2, 105 players returned to action, each looking to make the money at the top 72. Among those to fall short of a cash were inaugural MSPT Wisconsin State Poker Champ Ben Wiora, the boisterous Reggie Mims, and World Poker Tour champ Kevin "BeL0WaB0Ve" Saul, just to name a few.
After Robert Peppe busted as the bubble boy, the result of his pocket queens failing to hold against Big Slick after king spiked on the river, the in-the-money finishes came quick. One player to exit early was Chris Meyers, who won the 2017 MSPT Michigan State Poker Championship and finished fifth in the MSPT FireKeepers before that.
He began the penultimate event of Season 8 as the Kimo Sabe Mezcal Player of the Year points leader. Thanks to a 64th-place finish, he has extended that lead to 3,350 points, ahead of Keith Heine’s 2,967 and Mike Shanahan’s 2,700 points with one stop left to go.
Others to earn a payday were Mikiyo Aoki (55th - $2,375), 2016 MSPT Michigan State Poker Champion Brett Blackwood (52nd - $2,510), defending MSPT Wisconsin State Poker Champion Andy Rubinberg (51st - $2,510), former MSPT Players of the Year Rich Alsup (33rd - $2,985) and Mark Hodge (27th - $3,935), World Series of Poker bracelet winner Nick Jivkov (22nd - $4,885), Howard Hankin (13th - $8,142), and World Poker Tour champ Ravi Raghavan (11th - $10,177).
At the final table, the short-stacked Paul “Big Daddy” Elfelt doubled straight out of the gate, and then he got a boost when he shoved under the gun with pocket jacks. David Harth called off with tens, and he was sent packing when the flop delivered two more jacks to give Elfelt quads.
Start-of-the-day chip leader Adam Dembowski was the next to go, the result of running pocket tens into Bai’s queens, and he was followed out the door by both Adam Westell and Ahmed Taleb.
In regards to the latter, he was the last MSPT champ remaining in the field. Earlier this season, he won the MSPT Grand Falls for $54,089. By finishing in seventh place, the result of running pocket sixes into Bai’s aces, he earned 1,000 POY points and moved into a two-way tie in fifth place.
WSOP Circuit Harveys Lake Tahoe Main Event champ Max Young bowed out in sixth after running nines into aces, and then a rare double elimination took place in Level 29 (40,000/80,000/10,000). It began when Paul Flynn raised to 200,000 from the cutoff with the J♣J♠ and David Kowal three-bet to 740,000 holding the A♦K♥ on the button.
Elfelt then jammed for roughly 2 million with the Q♥Q♣ in the small blind, Flynn called off for 1.3 million, and Kowal called to put both players at risk. The board ran out 3♥5♦6♣A♠7♠ and the ace on the turn gave Kowal the double elimination and a massive chip lead.
The short-stacked Richard Rosas fell shortly thereafter, and that set up a deep heads-up match between Kowal (9 million) and Bai (5 million). Despite the stacks being so deep in relation to the blinds, it didn’t take long for a winner to emerge.
First, Bai doubled with pocket aces against jacks to take the lead, and a few hands later things came to a head. Bai raised to 225,000 from the button with the A♦K♦ and Kowal three-bet to 570,000 with the 10♠10♥. Not to be outdone, Bai popped it to 1.5 million and then snap-called when Kowal moved all in for 4.5 million.
It was another big heads-up hand, and the 7♥8♦6♦ flop made things interesting by giving Bai a flush draw to go with his overs. The 9♠ turn improved Kowal to a straight, but then the 10♦ spiked on the river to give Bai a flush and the win. Kowal had to settle for second place and an $84,809 consolation prize.