Although Harry Hearns was declared the first-place winner at last Saturday’s poker tournament, the real winners were the charities supported by the Hialeah/Miami Springs Rotary Club.
Seventy players donated $100 each to play Texas Hold ‘em in a tournament that lasted about seven hours at the Miami Springs Lions Club. For the buy-in, each player received $2,500 in chips and could purchase another $1,500 in chips before the first play. For another $100, players could re-buy for an additional $4,000 in chips, for the first four 20-minute rounds.
Additionally, people could receive $100 cash bounties for knocking out noted players. Among those was Mayor Zavier Garcia, who made the final table, former mayor Billy Bain and Gazette publisher Tom Curtis.
Poker Challenge of America, a company that brings in tabletops, poker chips, cards and professional dealers, provided the setup for the event.
“It’s all for charity because money isn’t allowed,” said PCOA owner Juan Carlos Mejia, who served as the dealer at the final table.
Although some players were serious about the game, it was an enjoyable social event. Drinks were for sale and Lions Club members, under the direction of chief cook Bob Jones, provided a complimentary pasta dinner.
Rotary Club President Nanette Carmody sponsored two players and acted as a cocktail waitress and served drinks.
“This is Rotary’s sixth year of having this tournament on the ‘No Football Saturday’ the week before the Super Bowl,” said Carmody. “It’s one of our biggest fundraisers.”
Sydney Garton, who placed second last year and ended up finishing fifth this year, said, “I enjoy playing cards and I always stay sober while I’m playing.”
Mayor Garcia, who went out just after Sydney, said he loves playing cards and plays card games with his wife as a pastime. “This is for a great cause,” he said.
Rotarian Margie Palmer said, “Our club is raising money for all the great things we do.”
Before the games began, publisher Curtis said he hoped to win because of his experience. “I’ve been playing poker since the fourth grade,” he said. “I made the final table last year and played in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas in 1996 but am not proud to say I finished 273rd out of 293.”
Sue Perez said, “We play at home but I haven’t played in six months. I’ve played in three Rotary tournaments and the first year I came in second.”
Last year, Roger Collette took the top prize of a trip to Las Vegas but was unable to go, so he took the cash. This year he was out fairly early in the game.
“Poker is my favorite hobby,” said Collette. “I play almost every day at different casinos or privately. This year I didn’t have any luck. Nobody ever won a poker tournament that didn’t get lucky.”
Hearns said he tries to play once or twice a week and he will use his first prize valued at $2,500 (including airfare and hotel) for a seat at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
Miami Springs dentist Dr. Francois Zayas, who took home $100 buy-ins at Hialeah Park Casino, Casino Miami Jai-Alai, Gulfstream Park Casino, and Magic City Casino won the second-place prize. Others at the final table included Jaime Glennon, Spencer Deno, Diane Devereau, and Daniel Navarette.
“I’m definitely going to Vegas this year,” said Hearns.