By Sean Chaffin
A chicken wing and a championship. That’s what stood out last year after Frank Stepuchin (pictured) rolled to the chip lead in the WPT Gardens Poker Championship and then closed the show at HyperX Esports Arena at Luxor in Las Vegas. For Frank the Tank, it was a dream come true and he wiped away tears as he posed for winner’s photos.
“I feel very fortunate and blessed to have won a WPT title at my first final table,” Stepuchin says. “Some of my friends on the final table had been in that position three or four times before and not reached their goal. No matter how good a player may be, without some sun shining down from above – victory won’t happen.”
Players will once again have an opportunity to live out a poker dream when the WPT returns to Southern California from January 9-13. The Gardens has become a popular property with a comfortable environment, excellent dining options, and a packed schedule of side events.
Looking back on his win at Gardens, Stepuchin remembers a few key hands that helped propel him to the title. Near the end of Day 3, he was on the right side of a cooler – a pivotal hand in the tournament. After the flop, Adam Geyer held an open-end straight draw with a flush draw as well. Stepuchin held the nut flush draw, which hit on the turn.
Another huge hand he remembers came against Toby Lewis with seven players left in the tournament. Stepuchin held and made a set when the flop brought . The turn brought the and then they both got all the chips in on the on the river when Lewis turned over . The pot gave Stepuchin a massive chip lead.
“That fortuitous run out took Toby out and we were down to the final six,” he remembers.
That final six included some tough opponents including runner-up Shannon Shorr, Steve Sung, WPT DeepStacks champion Brent Roberts, and Ray Qartomy. Stepuchin went on to his title run in Vegas and took home $548,825 and a new Hublot Big Bang steel watch.
“I was not the best player on the table,” Stepuchin says, “but I did have the biggest loudest rail of friends leading me to victory. I am honored and proud to be a member of the [WPT] Champions Club. What made my win extra special was having so many of my closest friends in the audience cheering me on to the finish. Many of my friends still talk about the great time they had being there to fully experience a WPT show. I’m hungrier than ever to get to another WPT final table and win again.”
Once again, those making the final table will head to Las Vegas on March 31 to play in front of the cameras at HyperX Esports Arena. The episode will then be aired on FOX Sports Regional Networks as part of the national WPT show.
As the championship event approaches, there are still several nice events on the Gardens schedule. Some highlights include:
WPT500 Los Angeles – The Gardens has been running qualifiers for several weeks and that continues through Saturday, Jan. 4. The official Day 2 plays out Jan. 5 and features a $1 million guaranteed prize pool.
$250 Seniors Championship, January 6 – This is for those 50 and over and features a $25,000 guarantee.
$275 NLHE Progressive Bounty ($50 to $100), January 7 – This fun event features a $30,000 guarantee.
$25,000 High Roller Bounty, January 7 – Some high-stakes action for those heading to SoCal for the WPT festivities. Bounties are $5,000 each and players who pre-register will play rake-free
$5,000 NLHE DeepStack, January 11 – This two-day event should make for a nice prize pool.
Satellite action – The Gardens offers numerous satellite opportunities to get into the WPT championship event as well as some of its other tournaments. The popular Satellite Spectacular returns January 12 with three $10,000 WPT Passports up for grabs. For a complete satellite picture, check out the Gardens Poker Championship schedule.
The fun-loving Stepuchin looks back fondly on his time at the Gardens and can’t wait to be back in the field.
“The Gardens Casino is such a great venue for holding WPT events,” he says. “The property was rebuilt about three years ago so it’s still shiny and new. The entire staff at the property are first-rate and show their professionalism every day. A great little twist is the dim sum cart that comes rolling right to your table.
“My chicken and I are looking forward to next week to defend our title. Bring your best game and a smile.”
For more on the WPT Gardens Poker Championship, click here. For a complete schedule, click here.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.