The worst recession since The Great Depression came to an abrupt end for Matt Mason and Jackie Wright on Sunday night, as Mason hit the biggest river card of his life during the latest Heartland Poker Tour event at the Golden Gates Casino in Blackhawk, Colorado. The two-day event saw 419 runners, 7 shy of the record field from the previous year’s event, and a prize pool of over $629,000. The almost $189,000 first place prize, billed as “unreal money” by the Tour, gives the “real” couple the opportunity to catch up, financially, and finally plan their wedding, which has been on hold since Wright lost her job about a year ago.
It all started about 20 poker hours ago, when Mason’s Day 1 – Flight B kicked off at 9am on Saturday morning. His self-proclaimed timely aggressive game helped him navigate the flight of 150 players for about 8 hours, when Day 1 ended with his stack just short of 55,000, about 14 Big Blinds. Only 3 months prior, Mason had made his first HPT Main Event Day 2 at their season 6 opening event in Las Vegas, with a chip stack about half that size, only to miss the money by 12 spots. This time would ultimately be different, and “truly special,” Mason said.
As Day 2 kicked off, bringing all three Day 1 flights together, about 80 players, Mason said his strategy was to simply “patiently pick (his) spots to chip up, until I could play some real poker.” Towards the end of the day’s first orbit, Mason saw his first opportunity, and stole a pot pre-flop worth over 14k, bringing him up to over 65k total. He would pick up another pot the same size a few hands later, which pushed his stack over 75k and the race was on. That patient aggression would slowly pay off for the amateur poker player, as he saw his stack jump to almost 150k, then 250k, and later almost 450k over the course of a few levels. As the money bubble approached, Mason had a healthy stack around half a million chips while he watched as the other players tangled with each other and knocked the field down to the 42 paid spots and a min-cash of a little more than $2,000.
Having now guaranteed himself his largest poker “cash” of his life, he quickly set a new course to make the final table of 10, worth over $10,000. Picking on the shorter stacks, and sticking to his strategy, Mason would zigzag through the next 30 players seeing his stack reach a high of a little more than 2.75 million (a little more than 6.7 million total chips in play). Enough to suffer a couple bad beats which would take him down to around 1.25 million as the tournament wound down to the televised table of 6 players, and reaching a guaranteed prize of almost $20,000 to that point. It would take almost 2 hrs to eliminate the 8th player, and almost another hour to finally set the final TV table, which Mason handled when his pocket Jacks in the Big Blind held up against the Small Blind’s shove with a medium Ace. That hand put Mason in the chip lead heading into the televised final table with a little more than 1.6 million, and guaranteed him no less than $31,000 in prize money. “It’s been an unbelievable run today. My reads have been dead on and I really feel like I’ve been able to play every since hand and situation absolutely perfectly,” Mason said, as he grabbed something to eat before the poker picked up again.
It took almost 2 hours for the Heartland Crew to get their interviews and legalities for all 6 players taken care of. At about 9pm on Sunday night, the cameras started rolling, and Mason began the last leg of his “life-changing” run to stardom, at least within his circle of family and friends. Mason would eliminate 3 of the 4 players over the next 2 ½ hours to raise his stack over 4.5 million and guarantee himself just less than $100,000 heading into the heads-up match for the tournament championship and huge prize. In less than 25 minutes, Mason called his opponent’s all-in with an up and down straight draw against a pair of 9s, Jack-kicker. “The next two cards took forever to drop,” Mason said later, “I knew I had 11 outs with any King or 8 making my straight, and a 10 to best his pair.”
And then it happened. The dealer peeled off “the sweetest King I’d ever seen,” and Mason practically hit his head on the ceiling with his celebratory “high ten” with his brother, Darrell, in the crowd. “The hug with Jackie says it all,” Mason later remembers, “we’ve been through a lot in the last year and that King followed by that hug was the culmination of way more emotions than either of us could ever have imagined possible. This changes EVERYTHING for us!”
When asked how it all happen, Mason looked back: “I started the Main Event feeling pretty good with the play that qualified me (for $360), and knew that if I could stick to that – play as perfect poker as I knew I could – then I’d be ok and everything would work out. The biggest hand I had the whole tournament was the rivered straight on the last hand of the tournament, which amazes me. Usually runs like mine are the result of A LOT of luck and/or getting “hit over the head with the deck” as they say, but that wasn’t the case with this one. I played my game the whole way, trusted my gut and my reads, and here I am – unbelievable!”
As Matt and Jackie were congratulated on their good fortune, several spectators and even Heartland Crew made it known that Mason had just played some of, if not THE best, poker they’d ever seen on a final table. “I guess I was supposed to be nervous, and maybe choke my chips away,” Mason said, “but I was so focused and had the support of my family in the crowd, as well as strangers to keep my head straight that it all worked out…I mean, it’s not easy to take the chip lead into the final table and still come out on top.”
Over 100 million homes will get to see the last 5 casualties of Mason’s incredible run, and play, when the Heartland Poker Tour’s Season 6 begins airing in September – poker players of all levels won’t want to miss this one!
You can follow Matt on his personal poker blog, “Under the Gun with MyTmase at http://utgmytmase.blogspot.com/.
Official tournament results and recap can be found at http://www.heartlandpokertour.com/eventinfo.php?yid=2010&eid=7