The Seminole Hard Rock is So Hot Right Now

When I started out in the poker industry eleven years ago, I thought Las Vegas was the end-all, be-all of gambling. It essentially was and essentially still is, and boy, getting to spend two summers covering the World Series of Poker was one hell of a way to break into a career. (Career?) Then I got to cover a big tourney – remember the United States Poker Championship? – and co-host an event in Atlantic City and holy shit, was I living the life. Never did I think during all this cross-country jet setting* that Florida, a state where even the most mundane news headline sounds like it came from The Onion, would become the epicenter of the poker world, even if just for a couple weeks. That is exactly what it is right now, as the World Poker Tour (WPT) is concluding its fourteenth season at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino with [infomercial voice] with not one…not two…but THREE major events.

When I first heard that the season-ending WPT Tournament of Champions was going to be at Seminole Hard Rock, I thought it was a stupid idea. It was bad enough when the WPT World Championship moved to the Borgata in Atlantic City from the famed Bellagio in Las Vegas, but now the money tourney is going to Florida? Come on.

But then I thought about it some more and decided, “Eh, what the hell?”

I mean, interest in the WPT World Championship had been sagging. It’s not like Atlantic City revived it. Why not try something different and in a state and casino where poker is growing quickly? And the cool part to me is that the WPT stacked three overlapping tourneys at the Seminole Hard Rock to make it a mini-festival: the $3,500 WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown, the $10,000 WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Finale, and the $15,000 WPT Tournament of Champions. I’m not there, but I would imagine it has been a fun atmosphere, especially with players who have never won a WPT title trying to capture that eleventh-hour crown in order to qualify for the Tournament of Champions.

Cate Hall Makes Late Push, but Mike Shariati Wins POY Race

Mike Shariati Image credit: Joe Giron/WPT

Mike Shariati
Image credit: Joe Giron/WPT

One of the potentially huge stories in Florida this week was the appearance of Cate Hall at the Showdown’s final table. While it is not necessary unusual to see a woman at a WPT final table in a game dominated by men, as readers of this site likely know, no woman has ever won a WPT open event. On top of her quest to make history in that regard, Hall also had a chance to overtake Mike Shariati in the WPT Player of the Year race. By virtue of a top fifty finish (and cash) in the Finale, Hall could grab the top spot with a third place or better finish. Unfortunately, she busted out in ninth place, so both runs at history are over. She still had a wonderful WPT season, though, and will end up in the top five in the POY standings.

Thus, because of how things unfolded in the Showdown and Finale, Mike Shariati has clinched the WPT Player of the Year title. He started his charge for the honor with a victory at the WPT Legends of Poker at the Bike in September, winning $675,942. Then, in March, he came agonizingly close to another win, having to settle for a runner-up finish at the WPT L.A. Poker Classic; he won nearly as much money there as he did in September. Then, just this week, he placed 21st at the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown to earn 50 more points and put the capper on his season.

The WPT will award Shariati with a custom watch from Hublot as well as hotel accommodations and ground transportation at all WPT events next season.

Chino Rheem Wins the Finale

The other story coming out of the Seminole this week was Chino Rheem winning his third career WPT title, as he collected all of the chips in the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Finale. He becomes the fourth player to accomplish a trifecta, joining Gus Hansen, Carlos Mortensen, and Anthony Zinno.

His victory will likely evoke mixed reaction in the poker community. While people are generally happy for those who win, Rheem will be an exception, as he is infamous in the poker world for having reportedly owed fellow players at least $100,000 several years ago. Now, that sort of thing can happen in poker, but at the time the allegations came out, it appeared as if Rheem had little intention to make good on his debts.

Rheem won the 2013 WPT World Championship and 1.15 million dollars; word was that he had been paying some people back, but it is unknown if he is debt-free at this time.

If he has made good on his debts and isn’t playing fast and loose with his money today, then good for him, though he is not doing himself any favors by opening his mouth. In his post-tournament interview, he said, “For the years that I’ve been playing, I have created an image that is priceless. The good thing is I can, for the most part, take advantage of that image.”

I hope he was talking about his image at the poker table.

*To be read sarcastically.

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