Brandon Welter: From Platinum Pass to $35,000 Cash

Brandon Welter, a regular in the Canterbury Park poker room, works as an actuary. He puts his knowledge of statistics and probability to use when he navigates the action on the felt.

Still, he probably didn’t want to calculate his odds of winning the PokerStars Players Championship, where he went up against some of the best players in the world.

During the Mid-States Poker Tour’s 2018 finale at Canterbury Park in December, Welter won a Platinum Pass to the PokerStars Players Championship, held in the Bahamas from Jan. 6-10. The Platinum Pass included the $25,000 buy-in, as well as travel and hotel accommodations.

“It was a really cool experience,” said Welter, 24. “It was a lot more money than I had ever played for.”

Despite going up against a tough lineup of players, Welter was able to cash in the event, busting out in 151st place for a $35,000 payday.

Playing the Best

Sitting down in a $25,000 buy-in event was a little different for Welter, who regularly plays tournaments here and cash games when he ventures to Las Vegas a few times a year.

At the outset of the tournament — with figures such as Chris Moneymaker, Daniel Negreanu and Steve O’Dwyer in the room — Welter said he was playing a bit too tight.

Brandon Welter Canterbury Park Poker Players Championship Poker Stars“It was nerve-wracking and I was anxious. I was definitely not playing my optimal game,” he said. “But I eventually got over that.”

Once he settled into the flow of the tournament, Welter said he realized that the game “wasn’t that much of a step up” from the quality of play in tournaments at Canterbury Park.

“The competition in Minnesota is really good too,” he said, adding that the players in the PokerStars Players Championship are “just more well-rounded.”

Overall, Welter said he thought he played well in the tourney. “That’s the best I could ask for.”

Memorable Hands, Payouts

On Day 2, with about 80,000 in chips, Welter found himself all in with QQ and ran into a player with AA who had him covered.

Fortunately, he spiked a queen on the turn, keeping him alive for the $5.1 million first-place prize, which was eventually taken down by fellow Platinum Pass player Ramon Colillas.

“That was a pretty pivotal hand for me,” Welter said.

As the money bubble approached, he found himself with about seven big blinds.

“It was pretty crazy. I felt nowhere near safe,” Welter said.

Making the money was “a huge relief,” he said, but he was also happy to reach the next pay jump, securing $35,000.

Welter eventually busted out when he ran his 44 into Q-10 and his opponent hit two pair.

Rather than disappointment, however, “it was nothing but excitement,” he said, and he was glad to be able to celebrate the cash with his brother, who came along for the trip. Welter said they celebrated a bit that evening at the bar and placed some sports bets in the casino.

Looking Back and Ahead

What does a 24-year-old who hit a five-figure cash plan to do with the money?

“Pay off some debts,” Welter said.

But he also plans to use some of the winnings for poker, as well as “something fun” that he hasn’t decided on yet.

Looking back at the experience as a whole, Welter said he felt lucky, from winning the Platinum Pass at Canterbury Park to battling on the felt with players he admires.


Canterbury Poker Dealer Wanted to Win MSPT Event ‘For the Home Team’

Tyree Johnson took eighth place, winning $11,000.

Tyree Johnson has been a poker dealer at Canterbury Park for more than three years.

Tyree Johnson poker MSPTAnd when he made the final table at during the September 2018 Mid-States Poker Tour $1,100 buy-in event, Johnson had the support of his fellow dealers.

“I was thinking, ‘Do it for the home team.’ Not just for me, but for us,” he said.

Johnson considers himself a part-time dealer and part-time player, and got into poker like so many others, following the Moneymaker boom.

His eighth-place finish at the MSPT event, which concluded Sept. 16, came against some of the more well-known players on the local poker scene. The state’s all-time money leader, Blake Bohn (a Minnesota Poker Hall of Famer), won the title and the $94,776 first prize.

“I fell a little short (of first),” Johnson said. “I wanted to bring it home, but they got me. … It was a stacked final table.”

Still, he can take solace in the fact that he came away with an $11,000 payday, though it’s not the biggest win of his poker career. Last April he won a World Series of Poker Circuit championship in Iowa for $25,000.

Hand Highlight

Johnson’s MSPT run got off to a fast start. He recalled a hand during the early levels that helped swell his chip stack.

In the small blind with AK of diamonds, the action quickly built around the table, and Johnson ended up facing two all-ins. He studied the players and opted to make the call.

Both players held QQ. An ace fell and the board ran out clean as Johnson nearly tripled up.

“That’s what started the run right there, for sure,” he said.

Dealing and Playing

Johnson said being a poker dealer has helped his game in several ways:

• Picking up on live reads
• Recognizing betting patterns
• Identifying player tendencies
• Focusing at the table

“Dealing — it really helps me out in the long run,” he said.
Tyree Johnson Poker dealer MSPT blog
As a dealer, he said he has an accurate read on hands about 80 percent of the time, and running a game helps him focus on the action and the players.

Plus, he said, “I take my craft seriously,” and recalled a rare misdealt card. “That hurt.”

Hole Cards Camera and Busting Out

After being near the top of the leaderboard throughout the MSPT event, Johnson found himself playing at a final table with several strong players, including Bohn and local pro Kou Vang.

But he said playing with hole cards cameras for the first time (the MSPT broadcasts the final table action) may have had an impact on his play. Looking back on the hand in which he busted out, Johnson said that in retrospect he could have tried to jump up in pay levels.

With A4 in the small blind and Bohn with a big stack in the big, Johnson said he knew he was ahead but his opponent would likely call him light, given the chip stacks. He opted to put it all in the middle, and Bohn called with A3. A trey hit and Johnson was out in eighth place.

He said the fact that the final table was being broadcast might have affected his decision — he may have found a fold and tried to find a way to level up.

“But my mind told me to go for the win,” Johnson said.

Looking Ahead

Johnson said he has found sustained success at the poker tables over the past two years, but he plans to continue dealing at Canterbury Park.

Even after his second MSPT cash, he was back dealing the next day.

“Bright and early, too,” Johnson said.


Max Havlish Makes Run at MSPT Player of the Year

A regular in the poker room at Canterbury Park, Max Havlish is gearing up for the Mid-States Poker Tour’s season finale.

And playing (and running) well in the $1,100 buy-in Main Event could mean much more than a nice payday.

Havlish, 30, currently stands at No. 4 in the MSPT Player of the Year rankings. A strong showing could vault him to the top spot.

“It would mean a lot,” he said of potentially winning Player of the Year. “I’ve developed a lot of poker friends and we’re all working really hard at it. … To get Player of the Year would just be unreal.”

The Main Event at Canterbury Park and caps off the MSPT season. There are several satellite tournaments before the Day 1A and Day 1B players hit the felt on Dec. 8-9.

MSPT Main Event Details

Havlish started playing poker like so many others, following the boom created by Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event win over Sammy Farha. He said he started playing home games, as well as “bar poker five nights a week.”

“I didn’t learn a damn thing playing those,” Havlish said.

The Coon Rapids resident eventually started playing at Canterbury Park, which he calls his “home casino,” and saw success, building up his bankroll and regularly playing in the $235 Wednesday night No-Limit Hold’em tournaments.

Havlish said he has enjoyed meeting friends at the poker tables, and the competition of battling it out on the felt. Not one to offer a chop during the late stages of tournaments, he said he’s drawn to the strategy of the game.

“A lot of thinking involved, and I enjoy that,” Havlish said, noting that there is also the “glory that comes with winning.”

Havlish primarily plays tournament poker, but will occasionally play cash games at Canterbury Park or when traveling to Las Vegas. When it comes to MSPT events, he will play in Minnesota, Iowa and sometimes Chicago, and said he’s looking forward to having more MSPT tournaments at Canterbury Park next year.

Despite the higher buy-in for the MSPT Main Event, Havlish said he won’t change his strategy.

“Tight is right,” he said. “ABC poker. I don’t try to get out of line too often. Play patient and look for my spots.”

When it comes to his playing style, Havlish said he doesn’t focus on taking a game-theory optimal approach, but some of his favorite players do, so his game will often reflect GTO principles.

Havlish does have a day job, but he considers himself as skilled as people who only play poker for a living. He spends much of his time watching the game online.

“I have an obsession with poker,” Havlish said.

-By Kris Janisch