By Sean Chaffin
Forget about the beer swilling, the foot stomping, the animated movements. Forget about the table talk – and occasional off-tune singing.
Forget about the chicken wing.
Whatever you think of Frank Stepuchin, and the game and antics he brings to the poker table, one thing is certain now – he’s a WPT champion after winning the final table of the WPT Gardens Poker Championship at HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas.
This player originally from Park City, Utah, and now living in Vegas may bring a chicken wing on a fork to the table, but also brings some big nerves and serious skills. Does the win validate his abilities beyond the fun-loving, crazy persona?
“Absolutely,” says Stepuchin, who wiped away tears after his win.
“People oftentimes think I’m a guy past middle age who’s hammering beers, and doesn’t look like he’s ever paying attention so they assume the wrong thing.
While many may not drink at the tables, Stepuchin sees a cold beverage as a way to break the ice and change his fortunes.
“The cat already came out of the bag a year ago,” he says. “Two and a half years ago, I started playing bigger tournaments instead of a $125 daily at the ARIA. I’ll start out trying not to have cold beverages, but if I’m card dead, which seems to happen too often, it’s amazing that the poker gods want me to have lots of cold beverages.”
“As soon as I order one, 85 percent of the time I instantly get King-Queen suited, win a pot, and start accumulating chips. Even if that doesn’t happen the 15 percent of the time, it makes it much more enjoyable to [makes motion shoving chips in].”
Being able to play in the Baccarat Crystal WPT Tournament of Champions now each year was also a major accomplishment, and he’s looking forward to the event in June.
“You can’t learn unless you play against better players,” he says. “I’ll admit there are players with much more knowledge and skill. I’ve read one poker book 17 years ago. I kind of just play by the seat of my pants. [Since I] started playing more substantial tournaments, I started learning because I was playing against a lot of good players and I watched what they do.
“Playing the TOC is going to be awesome because every single person in the tournament has won at least one WPT. It’s a learning experience.”
After coming into the final table as chip leader, Frank the Tank certainly rolled over the competition – eliminating four of the players remaining in the field. For Stepuchin, it was a dream come true to win a WPT event and top a field of so many great players.
He now takes home $548,825, a Hublot Big Bang Steel Watch, a $15,000 entry into the season-ending Baccarat Crystal WPT Tournament of Champions, and the Gardens championship belt.
For his part, Shannon Shorr takes home $355,885 after coming up just short of a WPT title. A well-respected player, Shorr’s live tournament winnings now total $7.1 million. Stepuchin noted that Shorr was a big challenge heads-up.
“Shannon is super tough,” he says. “Once we went heads-up I think he won seven or eight hands in a row.
Stepuchin had high praise for all the players at the table and has made plans to bring them out to Alabama so they can all drive the NASCAR experience at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
This marks the second win of Stepuchin’s career after winning a $375 event at the Hustler Casino for $149,220. The new title moves his lifetime winnings to more than $900,000. While some in the poker world were hesitant about the new WPT televised final table bringing players back to Las Vegas to play to a winner, Stepuchin wasn’t opposed and found it a positive.
“I was so happy,” he says. “People were coming up to me saying, ‘Oh Frank, you’re going to lose momentum.’ And I was like, ‘No absolutely not.’ It was great because you saw all the people here. Your friends have so much time to plan ahead, get off work, get a flight that’s less expensive as opposed to the last minute. I liked it it, it was the best.”
Born in Cheshire, Connecticut, Stepuchin served in the U.S. Navy and graduated from the University of Massachusetts. The 59-year-old spent much of his life working in residential real estate sales and enjoys skiing, surfing, and fishing in his free time. He also spoke to WPT.com this week about his love of heading out into the desert for some high-octane solitude.
Known for his “unique” personality at the tables, fun is a major part of his game and he brought plenty of that to the tables here at the Luxor Hotel and Casino. That included bringing back his lucky chicken wing, which was started at the World Series of Poker last summer. No word if it was spicy or mild.
The breaded bird probably had no bearing on this final table, but Stepuchin’s aggression and keen use of a big chip stack certainly did.
What’s next for Frank the Tank? In the coming months, Stepuchin plans to play more WPT events including the Venetian, Seminole Hard Rock, and Choctaw. A big party was already scheduled right after his win for his numerous friends and family who cheered him on in the arena – another way to keep some fun in the game.
“My Twitter says ‘I’m a professional at enjoying life,’” he says.
He’s certainly enjoying life tonight.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.
Photography by Joe Giron / PokerPhotoArchive
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