By Sean Chaffin
Brady Holiman always knew he could do it. Winning a major poker tournament had always been a dream, but he just felt he had it in him. He played well in some friends’ home games near his home in East Texas, but traveling the poker road wasn’t in the cards. The father of four needed a steadier paycheck to support his family. But deep down, he just knew there was a good player waiting to shine.
That day came on Tuesday. After taking a big chip lead into the final table of six at Choctaw Casino & Resort, the 37-year-old from Athens, Texas, eliminated four of his five opponents to win the WPT Choctaw Championship, the second event in Season XVII. Holiman topped a field of 755 entries to take home $469,185 and a seat in the season-ending WPT Tournament of Champions. His name will also be forever etched on the prestigious WPT Champions Cup.
“It feels amazing,” Holiman said after the victory. “For anybody that plays poker, to win [a WPT title] or a bracelet is the ultimate dream. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Words can’t describe it. It’s pretty nice.”
With only about $42,000 in live tournament winnings ahead of the event, Holiman faced some tough competition at the final table including WPT champions Anthony Zinno and Tony Ruberto. Zinno is a three-time WPT winner. In the end, Holiman found himself heads-up against fellow Texan Viet Vo, who has plenty of major tournament experience and entered the WPT Choctaw event with than $1 million in winnings to his credit. But Holiman, who works as a general sales manager at a car dealership back home, made excellent use of his big stack and never seemed to slow down.
As play approached the final table on Monday, Holiman said he felt comfortable with some of the players he squared off against in the finale. He showed a few bluffs and mixed up his play. He was determined to not play passive, get run over, or be intimidated.
“I knew who they were and I knew I was the relatively unknown coming into this table,” Holiman said. “But I just wanted to let them know I wasn’t going to back down or be an easy target. I had to play back at them. For a guy like me, sixth place or first – it’s just an amazing feeling. So I was happy with the outcome.”
As he looked back on the tournament, one hand at the final table really stood out to Holiman. On a flop of , he was tangled in a hand against fourth-place finisher Ruberto. Holiman held the and led out with a bet of 450,000. Ruberto then raised to 1.5 million.
“I was running pretty hot and my table image was really solid at that point,” Holiman said. “I shipped over the top of him. He mucked and at that point it just started clicking. It just seemed to be the turning point in the tournament for me.”
Holiman’s previous best cash came in a preliminary event at WPT Choctaw in Season XV. In the $350 No-Limit Hold’em Monster Stack event, he won $18,782. As of now, he’s not quite sure what he’ll do with the nearly $470,000 he just won but planned to set some aside for his children’s college fund after the IRS takes its cut.
“I’m just going to kind of wait it out and be smart with my decision making,” Holiman said. “This definitely gives some options for me. I feel completely blessed.”
A poker player for 16 years, Holiman was introduced to the game by a friend in high school. When he was younger, he played more regularly live and online, but had to step away from the game as his family expanded.
Holiman grew up with tournament pro Jordan Smith ($2.3 million in live tournament winnings), and the two have stayed in touch.
“He took a leap of faith and I stayed and got a real job,” Holiman said. “But it’s always been in the back of my mind, that whole ‘What if? What would have happened?’ I’ve always felt like I was a really solid player and nobody really intimidated me. This just kind of solidifies to myself what I’ve really been wanting to do all along – just take one of these big titles down.”
Growing up, Holiman spent time playing sports and competing in rodeo. When not playing poker or working, he loves spending time with his kids – from little league games to just hanging out at home.
“That’s my main hobby,” Holiman said. “This is just a backup.”
After his big win, the Texan may try and work in one more event before the WPT Tournament of Champions, depending on his work schedule. This was only his second-ever WPT tournament. He played the same event last year at the Choctaw but didn’t have great results. However, he finished ninth for $18,782 in a tournament at Choctaw two years ago that featured 4,009 entries.
“I played pretty horribly, actually,” Holiman said of his previous WPT appearance. “I made a lot mistakes. I don’t know if it was nerves or whatever, but I always knew I could make it to one of these.”
As he neared the final table, Holiman’s phone blew up from friends and family following the action at home and cheering him on. Several poker buddies and co-workers made the trip to Durant.
In the end, Holiman said some luck helped out here and there, including his heads-up call when Viet Vu moved all in with the . Holiman held the . Two Jacks hit right on the flop and it was all but over.
“You’ve got to have luck,” Holiman said. “Obviously that hand shows it. He very well could be standing here right now, but it just all clicked. I got lucky when I needed it. All my bluffs and my calls worked. Everything just kind of came together this weekend. I’m very fortunate and happy.”
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and host of the True Gambling Stories podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @PokerTraditions.
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