The MSPT first-ever visit to New York attracted 264 entrants to Seneca Niagara Casino, and after a full weekend of play, it was 22-year-old Veerab Zakarian of Ontario, Canada that walked away as champion for $63,340.
“I feel pretty good, I didn’t expect to win,” Zakaran said. “It feels pretty good, you know. I just know I ran really good today. I’m just thankful.”
It was a career-high score for the Toronto poker pro. Prior to the win, he had $227,514 in live tournament earnings including a prior best of $40,000 for finishing runner-up in the 2014 Seneca Niagara Fall Poker Classic Main Event. Other highlights on his poker résumé include $29,394 for finishing third in the 2016 Seneca Niagara Fall Poker Classic Main Event, $25,000 for winning the 2017 Empire State Hold’em Championships Event #1: $570 NLH, and $21,960 for taking second in the 2018 Lucky Hearts Poker Open Event #6: $1,150 Purple Chip Bounty.
Interestingly, Zakarian is good friends with MSPT Season 8 Player of the Year Chris Meyers. In fact, Meyers credits Zakarian for keeping him in the game by encouraging him to stay on the grind during a rough patch. That led to Meyers winning the 2017 MSPT Michigan State Poker Championship.
“I’m happy he won and I get to do something he did,” Zakarian said of his win. “He’s talked very nice about me in interviews so now I get to do the same thing.”
On Day 2, 51 players returned to action, but with only 27 of them slated to get paid, nearly half the field walked away empty handed including Scotty Gaddi, Henry Zou, Buck Ramsay, Greg Ostrander, Andy Spears, Dan Wagner, Frank Lagodich, 2017 MNPokerMag POY Todd Melander, and bubble boy Darwin Smith, who fell after a two-hour long bubble.
Among those to finish in the money but fall short of the final table were Day 1B chip leader Maria Parlatore (11th - $4,654), MSPT Season 8 Player of the Year Chris Meyers (14th - $3,878), MSPT Season 5 Majestic Star champ Ken Baime (24th - $2,379), and Day 1A chip leader Ilan Kandiah (27th - $2,172).
The final table got off to a quick start with 2018 MSPT Iowa State Poker Champion Brian Soja bowing out when his pocket queens lost a race to ace-king. Not long after, Thomas Smolinski lost his short stack with ace-five to Zakarian’s pocket kings. For Soja, this was his 5th MSPT main event cash and 4th final table (finishing 2nd, 10th, 1st, 10th).
In the very next hand, Zakarian picked up pocket rockets to send Derrick Brown, who got it in with king-ten, out in eighth place. This was Brown’s 2nd MSPT main event cash and 1st final table. Budwey Salhab - earning his 1st mspt cash - followed him out the door in seventh when his ace-jack failed to win a flip against Adam Foster’s pocket nines.
Michigan’s Steve Anderson, the last MSPT regular in the field, was the next to go after shoving king-jack only to have Zakarian once again wake up with aces. That allowed Zakarian to chip up to over half the chips in play. For Anderson, this was his 8th MSPT main event cash and his 4th final table (finishing 5th, 7th, 7th, 6th).
Zakarian then used Big Slick to dispatch Matt Dziomba, who held king-queen, before Paul Butski took care of Day 1C chip leader Aaron Olshan, the result of the former’s ace-queen holding against the latter’s king-queen.
After the elimination of Adam Foster, Zakarian began heads-up play with a 2-1 chip lead over Butski. The duo jostled for a bit before Butski called off holding ace-ten offsuit against Zakarian’s king-queen. Butski held through the flop and turn, but a king on the river put the final nail in his coffin.
Season 9 of the MSPT continues October 6-14 with the 2018 Michigan State Poker Championship at FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Michigan. That stop’s $1,100 Main Event, which will run from Thursday, October 11 through Sunday, October 14, is looking to eclipse a million-dollar prize pool for the fourth straight time.