The Mid-States Poker Tour invaded Northern Lights Casino in Walker, MN, May 12-20, for the third consecutive season since the MSPT Tour Launch in December, 2009. This year’s attendance at the Northern Lights stop rose dramatically, doubling in numbers for almost every single preliminary qualifier compared to the 2011 event.
“This has been a fantastic turnout for us,” stated Northern Lights’ Rob Premo. “To see a 100% increase is exciting for poker in this area. This is one of our best week’s ever for poker.”
The man who stole the show was MSPT faithful Matt Kirby. Kirby had the home crowd behind him as he soared to a quick victory. Kirby hails from Bemidji, just forty minutes from Walker. His friends and family packed the rail to cheer him on.
Kirby began playing poker seriously in 2009. He made his living playing primarily online poker prior to Black Friday and was known on the virtual felt as “CadillacMatt54”. He was ranked in Minnesota’s Top 10 when Full Tilt and PokerStars were forced to exclude U.S. customers.
Kirby played his first MSPT event at Northern Lights Casino back in 2010 where he final tabled 10th place. He’s been a loyal MSPT follower since. Matt is well-known for never missing a qualifier and racking up multiple Main Event seats at each stop…which made things stressful for him in the months leading up to the MSPT Northern Lights event.
Kirby’s first baby was expected to be born on May 20th, which was Main Event Day 2. He anticipated that he may have to skip this year’s tournament.
“Obviously there are very few things I would ever miss an MSPT event for,” said Kirby. “This was one of them. I had joked about several scenarios with my gal – if the baby was born the day prior, two days prior, and so on – feeling out what my range was to get here. She’s always been extremely supportive of me with my chosen profession so I’m lucky in that sense. She gets it.”
Fortunately for Kirby, his son was born early and healthy on April 23, so he was able to play on a clear conscience and a life-high.
Kirby held the chip lead after Day 1A and never looked back. He eliminated countless players throughout Day 2, often two at a time. He arrived at the final table with 1.65 Million chips which was half the chips in play.
Matt had been in a similar situation recently. Just nine months before – August, 2011 – Kirby held the chip lead entering the Final Table of the Arizona State Poker Championship. 1,053 players entered that $1,000 buy-in tournament, first place was over $200,000. After a couple bad breaks, Kirby busted in 8th place for $31,590.
“That event never really crossed my mind,” Matt said. “I’ve played so many tournaments and been in this situation so many times online that I know what I need to do. I try to close-out every tournament. I’m not here to take second place. I feel I have a big advantage once we get to six or seven-handed. Most live tournament players don’t get into short-handed situations often enough with money on the line to be good at it. They don’t know how to expand their hand-ranges.”
At no point during the final table did Kirby relinquish his chip lead or even allow anyone within 700K of him. He finished off the entire field in record time.
Kirby had to battle Mark Sandness of Minneapolis for the right to wear the RF Moeller Diamond Championship bracelet. Sandness has a strong poker resume as well. Mark won a $300 Fall Poker Classic event in 2007 by defeating a 368-player field and a stacked final table that included professionals Blake Bohn, Mike Carlson and Mike Schneider. That same year, Sandness also won a Heartland Poker Tour event at Northern Lights Casino for $53K.
Kirby & Sandness exchanged several small pots heads up for about 45 minutes. Then Kirby delivered the final blow.
With blinds at 10K/20K on a K-J-9 flop, Kirby opened for 60K. Sandness raised to 155K. Kirby then shoved all-in. Sandness tanked for a brief time and called with K-10. Kirby unveiled 10-8 of clubs. There was no waiting as Kirby turned the straight with a 7. Sandness’ runner-up finish earned him $23,535. Kirby’s win earned him $47,070.
Making another deep run was Lee Surma. Surma won the MSPT at Grand Casino Mille Lacs in November, 2011 and was looking to become the first ever two-time MSPT champ. On this weekend, six past MSPT champions would advance to Day 2 – Jeremy Dresch, Kou Vang, Lee Surma, Matt Hyland, Tom Stambaugh and Muneer Ahmed – but only Surma made the money. He would eventually be sent to the rail in seventh place for $6,276 after tangling in a four-way all-in pot with AK-suited.
Jeremy Ensrud accomplished an impressive feat as well. He has final tabled all three MSPT events at Northern Lights Casino. He’s not pictured in the final table photo on Page 14, he and Erick Wright busted at the same time during hand-for-hand action. Ensrud had more starting chips so was awarded 10th place. Jeremy placed 2nd in 2010, 10th in 2011 and 10th again in 2012.
The next Mid-States Poker Tour event will be at Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel in Tama, Iowa, July 21-29, 2012. That event is a $300,000 Guaranteed prize pool tournament. The last MSPT Meskwaki event in late March drew a 349-entrant field, won by Muneer Ahmed for $90K.