The 2016 Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) Michigan State Poker Championship at FireKeepers Casino was once again a record-breaking affair. At the final table, all eyes were on poker pro Aaron Massey, who was looking to go back-to-back in MSPT FireKeepers Main Events (the two largest tournaments in state history). However, at the end of a long day it was 27-year-old Brett Blackwood who captured the title and a $188,314 first-place prize
“It feels fake right now, right now it just feels like a dream,” Blackwell said after the win. “I was all in 14 or 15 times, often behind, and just ran spectacular. Heads-up I hit the river twice to stay alive. It feels great. I like the trophy. I’ll put it next to my alarm clock so I’ll see it first thing in the morning, and I’ll put the money in the bank. The PLO bankroll was alright, but it just got a whole lot healthier, you know what I’m saying.”
Blackwood, who was playing in just his eighth tournament ever, is a painter by trade but spends much of his free time playing $5/$10 pot-limit Omaha in Detroit. He decided to play three $250 satellites for the Michigan State Poker Championship and managed to win a seat. From there, the story was survival as time and again Blackwell was on the ropes, but nary an opponent could finish him off.
The $1,100 buy-in Main Event, which began on Thursday, attracted 884 entrants (195 on Day 1a; 338 Day 1b; and 351 Day 1c), which not only made it the largest tournament in Michigan history – it surpassed the 820 runners from May’s event -- but also became the largest event the MSPT has ever held in the Midwest. The $300,000 advertised guarantee was shattered as an $884,000 total prize pool was generated, and on Sunday 179 survivors returned looking to claim their share.
However, with only 81 spots paid, 98 of them would leave empty handed. Among those to fall were MSPT Season 5 Player of the Year Mike Deis, MSPT Meskwaki champ Keith Heine, and the man who finished runner-up to Massey back in May, Ron Kruk.
Once the money bubble burst with the elimination of Leonard Gojcaj, the in-the-money eliminations came fast and furious. Among those to fall were defending Michigan State Poker champ Michael Ferrarotti (80th - $2,226), inaugural Michigan State Poker champ Ryan Dykhouse (78th - $2,226), MSPT Season 4 Player of the Year Pat Steele (34th - $4,365), Day 1b chip leader Parris Collins (18th - $6,848), Day 1a chip leader Casey Carroll (15th - $9,330), and Bill Rogers (14th - $9,330), who finished runner-up in the same tournament one year prior.
The final table was comprised of all Michigan players with the exception of Jimmy Ray and Massey, who hailed from Indiana and Chicago respectively. Nevada Saad, who began the day as chip leader, was the first to fall after running his pocket sixes into the nines of Ray, and then Josh Marvin ran king-queen into aces to fall in ninth.
After a short-stacked Satish Thakur failed to win a race for his tournament life, Massey’s run at history ended in seventh place. In his final hand, Massey shoved a queen-high flop holding pocket jacks only to be snapped off by Lars Cole’s two pair. Cole followed him out the door in sixth place after his pocket sixes failed to hold up in a race against Blackwood.
The elimination of Ray in fifth place ensured the title would stay on home soil as the final four was comprised of all Michigan natives. Of them, Vinh Ho was the first to go after running into Church’s pocket aces, and two hands later Blackwell dispatched Griff Woodman in third place.
Church began heads-up play with a slight chip lead and the two battled back and forth until Blackwell got it in with ace-jack against ace-king. Church was one card away from winning the tournament, but Blackwell found a jack on the river to take a commanding lead. Amazingly, Church battled back and a few doubles later was back in the lead. Blackwell then got it in again, this time with ace-nine, and was up against Church’s pocket sevens. Church survived the flop and turn, but Blackwell once again hit the river when a nine spiked. Church was eliminated in second place for $114,314 on the very next hand.