Since its inception in 2011, the South Dakota State Poker Championship has been a standalone event at Deadwood’s Silverado-Franklin Casino. In seven years, the fields fluctuated from 82 to 136 entries, but in 2018 the field jumped to 286 runners (132 entries on Day 1A, 154 on 1B) thanks in part to partnering with the Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) for the first time.
It marked the first time in nearly a decade since a major poker tour has hosted an event in Deadwood, and it wound up setting the major tournament ($1K+ buy-in) record for both attendance and prize pool in state history by surpassing the 2009 HPT Lucky Nugget Gambling Hall (176 entries/$250,230 prize pool).
After a full weekend of play, local car salesman Rick Burleson walked away defeated Minnesota’s Aaron Johnson in heads-up play to win $63,462 and keep the title on home turf. It marked Burleson’s first-ever documented tournament cash.
“I feel amazing, it’s life-changing,” said the 29-year-old Burleson, who was staked in the tournament by a friend. “It’s the biggest tournament in South Dakota state history, so it’s awesome. You just have to be patient in these big tournaments.”
Burleson revealed that he had to work first thing in the morning but was going to take some time to soak in the win.
“I used to play a lot more, but now that I work six days a week and have a one-and-a-half-year-old boy at home with my wife, so I don’t have as much time to play poker.”
Day 2 saw 54 players return to action with Burleson as a big chip leader. With only 36 slated to get pair, 18 walked away empty handed including Minnesota players Alan Carty, Brian Berthiaume, and Steve Belland, as well as 2012 South Dakota State Poker Champ Cal Dardis and bubble boy Rich Dixon, who lost a race with ace-queen against pocket eights.
Among those to leave with a cash in Deadwood were Henry Gingerich (11th - $4,663), Rollie Tescher (18th - $3,173), Gary Germann (20th - $2,897), Ken Lybeck (28th - $1,931), Rick Wells (30th - $1,931), and back-to-back champ (2016 & 2017) Ryan Skluzak (31st - $1,931).
The first elimination of the final table came when Jon Wurden got his stack all in holding the against the of local pro Michael Campbell. The board ran out and Wurden finished in tenth place for $4,663.
Not long after, the last woman standing in the 2018 MSPT South Dakota State Poker Championship, Rosie Paules, bowed out in ninth place after her was outdrawn by the of Eric Eelkema, who made a full house on a run out.
Burleson then claimed his first final table knockout when Evans, who began the final table as chip leader, three-bet all in holding pocket nines only to run them smack dab into Burleson’s pocket kings. Evans earned $7,450 for finishing in eighth place.
From there, Mark Larson busted after failing to win a flip with ace-king against Larry Christensen’s nines, and then Christensen, a farmer from nearby Kennebec, lost ace-ten to the ace-jack of Johnson.
After a short-stacked Campbell took his leave in fifth place for $15,727, four-time World Series of Poker Circuit ring winner Mark Fink followed him out the door in fourth. First Fink lost a big one when his pocket aces were out flopped by Burleson, who made jacks and tens. Two hands later, Fink got his remaining stack in with the only to run it into Burleson’s . The board ran out and Burleson made a straight to send Fink home in fourth place for $20,970.
From there, Eelkema three-bet jammed holding the and was called by Johnson’s , which held on an run out. That set up a heads-up match between Burleson and Johnson with the former holding 3.6 million to the latter’s 2.11 million.
Burleson soon pulled out to a big chip lead and in the final hand of the tournament, Johnson limped holding the and then moved all in after Burleson had raised with . Burleson called and turned the best hand on the run out.
“Wish I would have played as well as I ran,” Johnson tweeted afterward. “Several significant errors. Lots of room to improve. Absolutely awesome venue/location. Hope this is a yearly event!”
In addition to winning $39,181 for finishing runner-up, Johnson took the lead in the Kimo Sabe Mezcal MSPT Season 9 Player of the Year race with 2,600 points.
“I definitely learned a lot from these guys,” Burleson reflected. “There wasn’t a bad guy at the final table, that’s for sure. Michael Campbell is one of my best friends, he’s an unbelievable player. Aaron has proven he’s a great player on your tour alone. The rest of the guys are great too, but those two guys were the ones I was most nervous about at the final table.”