The WinStar River Poker Series (WRPS) Main Event may not have been the biggest tournament poker story of the week (that honor likely goes to the $10 million guaranteed event at the Seminole Hard Rock in Florida), but it was a highly anticipated tournament nonetheless. With a $2.5 million guarantee and well over 1,000 entries, it was no surprise when it attracted a field filled with both pros and amateurs looking to take down a seven-figure score.
In the end, the WRPS Main Event title went to poker pro Jason Helder, who hails from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Helder topped a field of 1,323 entrants to take home a prize of $1 million, a prize the likes of which he had never won before.
“It’s my biggest score by five times, ever,” Helder told PokerNews. “I didn’t make any big mistakes and chipped up early.”
At the start of the final day of play at the WinStar World Casino and Resort in Oklahoma, there were 10 players vying for nine spots at the final table. The first player to go was almost certainly the biggest name remaining in the field: David “ODB” Baker, who ran into pocket queens to exit the tournament and set the final table field.
Early on in final table play, Helder battled with Khoa Nguyen for the chip lead. But the two found themselves in a major pot with eight players remaining that would shape the rest of the tournament. Nguyen flopped trips, but Helder managed to stay in the pot until the river, when he made a straight that earned him a huge pot and a formidable chip lead over the field.
Chris Drake was able to build up a threatening stack of his own by winning a three-way all in that also eliminated Nguyen in fifth place. But that threat went to the wayside when Drake lost a flip to none other than Helder, whose pocket tens held up against Drake’s ace-king to further push his advantage over the remaining competitors.
With just three players left in the tournament, it seemed inevitable that Helder would walk away with the title, and it didn’t take him long to get there. The other two players still alive, Travis Rice and Kevin Eyster, soon found themselves in a coin flip situation. Rice’s jacks held up against the ace-king of Eyster, putting Rice in position to face Helder in heads-up play.
But that wasn’t much of a battle, as the winner was decided in just three hands. On the final hand, the money went into the pot with Helder holding ace-nine against rice’s ace-four. The dominant hand held up, and Helder was able to claim his first major poker title.
As Helder said, this win was easily the largest of his career, particularly when only looking at his live cashes. Before winning the WRPS Main Event, Helder’s largest live cash had come in a $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event at the 2009 World Series of Poker, where he made the final table before finishing eighth and winning $86,702. Prior to his victory, Helder had just under $325,000 in live tournament winnings. He also had significant winnings online, including a cash for over $200,000 when he won a PokerStars Sunday Million tournament in 2012.