By Dan Ross
Blair Hinkle turned three solid days of play into a cash of more than $223,000 and the Heartland Poker Tour Season XII Championship at Thunder Valley Resort in October.
The HPT Season Championship was held in California for the first time, and this was only the second time in the 12-year history of the HPT that a $2,500 buy-in was held. The event drew 439 entries and a prize pool just shy of $1 million.
There were some interesting Day 1 Main Event tables. On Day 1 it was WPT Rolling Thunder (and two-time WSOP bracelet winner) J.C. Tran and 2004 WSOP Main Event champ Greg Raymer sitting side-by-side. That’s more than $20,000,000 in career earnings just at two seats.
Day 1C saw two third place finishers in the WSOP Main Event— Neil Blumenfield (2015) and Amir Lehavot (2013, when Tran finished fifth) at the same table. Lehavot is Blumenfield’s poker coach, so it was student vs. coach time for a while.
The big field size and hour-long levels meant 178 players returned for Day 2, taking more than eight hours on Day 2 just to reach the money, with 18 players coming back for the final day of play. Close to four hours of play was needed on Day 3 to get to the TV table of nine.
Hinkle began dominating final table play five handed, chipping down opponents, often without playing big pots against them. He kept that same strategy going once he was heads up against Novato’s John Sheehan.
Heads-up play began with Hinkle holding almost a three-to-one chip lead, and while Sheehan occasionally pulled to within two-to-one, he rarely came closer for the first three levels. But stacks eventually evened and one hand made the difference.
Some nine hours after final table play began, Hinkle moved in for 6.8 million and Sheehan called off his 6 million chip stack. Hinkle’s 8-7 outdrew Sheehan’s A-10. Hinkle hit trips against “Johnny Trips” and took the title. Hinkle won the $223,411 top prize and a $3,600 2017 HPT Championship Event package.
Derrick Geliberte, Saurabh Patel, Daniel Maor, Lance Donnell, Marty Verdegaal, Hoang Vang and Ian Kalman rounded out the final table cashes.
The Season XII HPT Player of the Year race was also decided at Thunder Valley, with Kansas City champ Ryan Gregor holding off 2015 WSOP Colossus winner Cord Garcia for the POY title and entries into six HPT Main Events next season.
Garcia took 14th in the Championship Event held at Thunder Valley. Other notables cashing included Roger Campbell (10th), Julie Cornelius (13th), Aaron Thomas (18th), Jay Friedman (19th), Duke Lee (20th), Tyler Patterson (26th), Casey Carroll (27th), and Jermaine Gerlin (30th).
Players who came for the Championship Event and made Day 2 but did not cash included 2013/2014 WSOP Main Event ninth place finisher Mark Newhouse, Raymer, Tran, Blumenfield, Lehavot, Kathy Liebert, Ryan D’Angelo, Aditya Prasetyo, Allen Kessler, Craig Casino, Stan Jablonski, Loren Klein, Lee Markholt, Chan Pelton and Darren Rabinowitz.
The full series featured $1.475 million in payouts, including a $337,000-plus prize pool for the opening event, the $425 Monolith with a $250,000 guarantee.
Jasthi Kumar, 58th place in this year’s WSOP Main Event and winner of the WPTDeepStacks Main Event at Thunder Valley, took down the Monolith for $60,000, including an HPT Main Event entry.