The $1,100 MSPT Grand Falls Main Event attracted 226 runners to the luxury venue and golf resort in Larchwood, IA, near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The title came down to two players who’ve had their fair share of success in the area in two-time South Dakota State Poker champ Ryan Skluzak and MSPT Season 9 Grand Falls Regional Champ Aaron Johnson.
The duo engaged in an epic, 2.5 hour-long heads-up match during which each held a big chip lead. In the end, Skluzak prevailed to capture the title and $54,427 first-place prize.
“The whole time we were at the final table I was thinking it could come down to Aaron and I,” Skluzak said after the win. “That’s kind of what I wanted. I don’t get to play too many tournaments and I always like to play against the best. I feel like Aaron is definitely one of the best. This win is nice, really nice.”
Skluzak, a 43-year-old who works in agricultural retail sales, was rooted on by his wife of 14 years and mother of his three kids including Breanna Skluzak, who also played the event.
“I do,” Skluzak said when asked if he thinks he is the best poker player in South Dakota. “I’ve had that discussion with some of my buddies. Call it what you want, but I do. My name doesn’t get brought up much because I don’t play too much, but I’d play against anybody. I never play to sneak into the money, I play to win.”
It was Skluzak’s fourth victory in 26 months. Back in February, he won his first World Series of Poker Circuit gold ring for $41,888, and in April 2017 topped a field of 136 players to win the South Dakota State Poker Championship at Deadwood’s Silverado Casino for $37,500. He won that same event in 2016 for $25,000.
Day 2 saw 27 players return to action, but three of them left empty handed before the money was made. They included 2018 MSPT Iowa State Poker Champ Brian Soja, Scott Jamison, and bubble boy Tucker Hummel.
Among those to cash but fall short of the final table were Day 1A chip leader Luke Blindert (22nd - $2,090), Day 1B chip leader Pierce Acuff (19th - $2,417), Eric Eelkema (17th - $2,939), Corey Skogrand (13th - $3,266), and final table bubble boy Justin Saathoff (11th - $3,919).
Final table action kicked off in a big way thanks to back-to-back pocket aces. In the first hand, Jon Midler flopped top pair with ace-six and got it in against Johnson, who held pocket rockets. The bullets held and Midler was first to fall.
In the very next hand, Trevis Devericks got his short stack all in with nines only to run them smack dab into the aces of Henry Terwee. No nine came and Devericks, who finished 12th in the same event one year prior, had to settle for ninth place.
Mark Meeder was the next to go after three-betting all in with pocket threes and losing a flip to the ace-eight suited of Bruce Luick, who followed him out the door a short time later – the result of missing an open-ended straight draw against Skluzak’s flopped trips.
Terwee took his leave in sixth place after jamming ace-ten into Johnson’s pocket queens, and then Randy McQueen fell after running fours into Skluzak’s eights. A short-stacked Alex Winter then shoved with king-jack suited but failed to get there against Skluzak’s ace-seven, and James Girouard busted when his ace-seven was bested by Johnson’s king-queen.
Heads-up play began with Skluzak holding a lead over Johnson, but it changed hands over the course of the next 150 minutes. At one point, Johnson had a 14-1 lead over Skluzak, who proceeded to battle back into the chip lead.
In the final hand of the tournament, Johnson three-bet all in holding ace-king suited and Skluzak called with pocket nines. The board ran out ten high and Johnson had to settle for his second runner-up finish of the season (he took second in the 2018 MSPT South Dakota State Poker Championship in Deadwood) for $33,834.
It was the third Grand Falls stop in a row that Johnson struck it big. In 2017, he placed fourth in the Main Event for $34,183, and back in May won the MSPT Grand Falls $350 Regional Event for $21,268.
Johnson also received 1,000 Player of the Year points to extend his lead atop the Kimo Sabe Mezcal MSPT Season 9 POY leaderboard with 5,117 points.