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“I have always said San Jose has the greatest poker fans in the world.” Matt Savage has called San Jose’s Bay 101 Casino home since he took a job dealing there back in 1994. This week, after its much-discussed one-year absence from the poker tournament calendar, Savage announced that the casino’s premier event, the Shooting Star, will return in 2019. Savage is one of Bay 101's key Tournament Directors in addition to his position as the Executive Tour Director for the World Poker Tour. “We have been working on the Shooting Stars and it has been championed by new Casino Manager Samuel Quinto to bring it back,” Savage said. “To be honest, we are not happy that it skipped a year but we are truly thrilled that the Shooting Star will return in 2019.” So while the Shooting Star is back, it’s not the same tournament as the one that left. Some slight tweaks to the structure, a single starting day and, perhaps most notably, it will not be a World Poker Tour event in 2019. “I have always said this is the most unique tournament in poker and many of the things that make this a one-of-a-kind event will return,” Savage said when talking about the resurrection of the Shooting Star. “It will have a $5,200 buy-in, 30 Shooting Stars that are worth $2,000 if you claim their last chips. The tournament will have a one day start and feature an excellent structure that will have 40,60 and 90-minute levels and play six-handed at 36 players. The 30 Stars will not only be poker greats but also some non-poker personalities and social media influencers.” The absence of the tournament in 2018 coincided with a venue shift for Bay 101. The old card room, which had its opening back in 1993, was a fixture of the Northern California poker landscape. It was a broad open space with high ceilings and an old-school card room vibe. The new location, located directly across the 101 freeway from the now-defunct card room, has adopted a more modern approach for their environment. When the new Bay 101 opened in September of 2017, the casino was slow to re-introduce daily tournaments. It quickly became apparent that the Shooting Star tournament would not be able to be incorporated into the casino’s plans in 2018. For many in the industry, the Shooting Star has always felt like a unique tournament on the schedule. Its ability to attract big names, award bounties and t-shirts for knockouts and drop to six-handed in the late stages of the tournament made it a favorite for pros and recs alike. The legendary rabid San Jose poker fanbase had made the event a can’t-miss tour stop. So, when it was dropped from the WPT schedule in 2018, its absence was felt by locals and pros alike. But for many of the players, including the locals that make up that legendary fan base, the lack of WPT affiliation won't stop them from registering. “I can tell by the messages I have already received that the event was sorely missed,” Savage said. Bay 101’s day-to-day Tournament Director Quoc Pham echoed Savage's sentiment. The local players are ready to have their Shooting Star back in the fold. “[The locals] were ecstatic, they couldn’t be happier,” Pham said. “A lot of people dream of playing the Shooting Star, the prestige of playing in a big buy-in tournament. They have a chance of playing for life-changing money.” One of the questions that will be answered soon will be who the Shooting Stars will be. In the past they’ve been some of the biggest names in the game, Savage promises that the bounties of 2019 will be just as impressive but give the tournament a brand new look. “Invites are just being sent out now and contracts need to be signed before we can release names but I can tell you that this year’s list of Stars will look entirely different than years past,” Savage said. Even without the WPT branding behind it, the Shooting Star is likely to be an appetizing event for big-name pros, if only for the number of qualifiers it is expected to bring in. The venue has 26 satellites on the schedule. “The satellite schedule is really aggressive and the Shooting Star is always strongly supported by our Bay Area locals making our field one of the best in poker,” Savage said. “We are hoping that we will give away about 200 seats into the event,” Pham added. ”Roughly half of the field will be from satellites.” Even though the Shooting Star is not an official WPT event, the 2019 scheduling of it makes it obvious that Savage kept the WPT Main Tour, and his own duties, in mind, placing the tournament in its traditional March timeslot. The World Poker Tour has both the Los Angeles Poker Classic and WPT Rolling Thunder taking place earlier in March, allowing the Shooting Star to, perhaps, capture some of the pros that make their way to California for those events. “It is important in the current tournament poker climate that dates, especially in the same region in the world, work in tandem. Fortunately, our relationship with the WPT made that easy and it will fit right between two of their events on the West Coast making it easy and convenient for traveling players.” When asked if the Shooting Star would return to the World Poker Tour, both Savage and Pham couldn’t say. There is a sentiment that they would be trying again to make that happen in 2020. The Bay 101 Shooting Star takes place from March 19-22 at the Bay 101 Casino in San Jose.
Poker's Mid-Major circuits are home to some of poker's brightest up-and-coming stars. Each month, PocketFives breaks down the big winners from the WSOP Circuit, WPT DeepStacks, Heartland Poker Tour, and Mid-States Poker. Viet Vo Conquers Rio Las Vegas WSOP Circuit Main Event The Las Vegas WSOP Circuit events are usually the biggest and arguably the toughest fields of the season. Viet Vo beat out 951 other players to win the first Circuit ring of his career. "It feels good. I’ve been wanting this for a long time. I got second in the Main Event in Chicago three years and a half ago. I got 11th last year in the Main Event at the Bicycle Casino. I bubbled the final table. To finally be able to close it out today, it feels good," Vo said after his win. The victory earned him $274,030 and pushed his career earnings to just shy of $1.7 million. The final table included Jared Jaffee, Cylus Watson, Nick Pupillo and eventual runner-up Sohale Khalili. Ali Imsirovic picked up the first WSOP Circuit ring of his career in the $2,200 High Roller event by beating a final table that included Asher Conniff, Upeshka De Silva, Barry Hutter, and Aaron Massey. Zachary Donovan Wins Second Career WSOPC Ring at Coconut Creek Nearly six years after winning a $365 buy-in WSOP Circuit event at Foxwoods, Zachary Donovan won the $1,700 Main Event at Coconut Creek in Florida to win his second ring and $243,916. Donovan started the final table with the chip lead and started heads up play with the lead over runner up Sokchheka Pho. Jason Young finished third for $110,859. Mike Hudson Wins WSOPC Potawatomi Main Event WSOP Circuit stops are usually full of players who grind their way through all 12 events before moving on to the next stop. Mike Hudson is apparently the exception to the rule. Hudson beat out 666 other players to win the Main Event at Potawatomi after not playing any other events at that stop. The final table included Eric Wasylenko, Brett Apter, former #1 PocketFiver Kevin Saul, and second place finisher Joshua Turner. The win was the first time Hudson cashed in a WSOP Circuit Main Event and his first live cash since April 2015. Nick Pupillo Takes Heartland Poker Tour Title in Black Hawk Just a week before finishing fourth at the WSOP Circuit event at the Rio, Nick Pupillo beat out 587 other players to win the Heartland Poker Tour event in Black Hawk, Colorado for $194,478. The win moved Pupillo into a tie with Nick Davidson for HPT Season XV Player of the Year. Brian Wilson Tops Star-Studded MSPT Poker Bowl III Final Table Canadian Brian Wilson arrived in Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend and left with $143,929 and the title of Mid-States Poker Tour Poker Bowl III champion. Wilson, runner-up Pedro Mendes and third place finisher Eli Ross agreed to a three-way deal to wrap things up. Mendes and Ross each left with just a touch over $119,000. The final table also included Vegas locals Eddy Sabat, Shannon Shorr, and Eric Baldwin. Martin Gaudreault Wins WPT DeepStacks Montreal Martin Gaudreault worked his way through an all-Canadian final table at the WPT DeepStacks Montreal Main Event to pick up the first live win of his career and $ 139,311. Gaudreault's only other live cash came in a $1,500 No Limit Hold'em event at the 2011 World Series of Poker. “It’s awesome obviously, I have no words, it’s just incredible. I don’t play too many tournaments, and just going out and binking one of the biggest ones I play is awesome,” said Gaudreault. The $1,650 CDN ($1,110 US) buy-in event drew out 686 players to push the total prize pool to $760,712. Mike Leah finished 36th for $3,670. Mohamed Abdou Takes Down WPT DeepStacks Brussels The Grand Casino in Brussels played host to the WPT DeepStacks €1,200 Main Event and 584 players. Mohamed Abdou outlasted all of them on his way to the first live win of his career and $ 136,217. All of Abdou's previous eight cashes came in his native France and his biggest score was $17,171. Michael Mizrachi finished 27th for $4,143 while Triple Crown holder Davidi Kitai picked up $2,724 for finishing 56th. Matt Kirby Wins MSPT Canterbury Park for Third MSPT Win Matt Kirby became the third three-time Mid-States Poker Tour champion after beating 478 other players to win the $1,100 buy-in MSPT Canterbury Park Main Event. Kirby, who picked up $99,573 for the win, had previously won MSPT Walker and MSPT Onamia in 2012. The only other players with three MSPT titles are Blake Bohn and Carl Carodenuto.