Smith will return to the main event of the World Series of Poker – Wadena Pioneer Journal

Smith will return to the main event of the World Series of Poker – Wadena Pioneer Journal

HENNING — Joel Smith walked into the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada as one of more than 200 players in the Free Poker Network (FPN) Texas Hold ’em tournament. He walked away with a championship bracelet and a paid seat to the World Series of Poker Main Event ($10,000 value).

The Henning resident flew to Las Vegas and entered all four FPN tournaments that were held before the showdown.

“I qualified in three out of four and missed fourth by one spot,” he said, noting that each qualifying win provided chips to start the championship tournament. “Myself and another player started with 50,000 chips.”

In the game of poker, chips come and go. To maintain a steady increase in chips, Smith played with calculated aggression. When it came to hedging his bets, he relied heavily on reading other players.

For example, after the players were dealt two cards, an opponent dropped what Smith felt was a half-raise. His gut told him that if the other player had a strong hand, he would have bet more, so he backed into his opponent with a big re-raise.

“I had a two and a four of diamonds,” Smith said. “I went all in.”

His opponent folded like a towel on laundry day. Often, players who fold do not show their cards. However, because the event was broadcast live


Smith was able to return and watch the tournament.

Joel Smith has won the Free Poker Network Texas Hold ’em Tournament in the past, earning a paid seat at the World Series of Poker event in 2015.

Screenshot / Free Poker Network

“The other player had a couple of sets,” he recalled. “That was a great hand because it could have been out.”

The 1989 Perham High School graduate continued to make the right calls and was one of three players from Minnesota to earn a seat at the final table. There were also three players from Illinois, one from North Dakota and one from Delaware.

“Of the nine, I knew four through the league and tournaments,” he said. “It was like a reunion.”

Playing with familiar faces meant adjusting his play style, while also taking into account table trends, hand percentages and chip leaders. Sticking to his game plan proved fruitful as he found himself in head-to-head action for the championship bracelet. Smith faced another Minnesota player, Greg Larson, who is in an FPN league in Fridley, Minnesota.

The two went all-in when Smith had 2.2 million in chips and his opponent had 1.6 million. Smith turned up his two cards to see a queen and three of clubs. Bets were made. When the first three community cards fell on the green board, Smith’s high card matched. He was greeted by his opponent throwing chips into the pot. Instead of eagerly fulfilling the bet, Smith had a thoughtful look on his face. After a few moments, he stood up. His opponent quickly called.

When the next community card came up, there was a five, six, seven and queen on the board. Larson shoved all-in. Without hesitation, Smith called. The player has discarded his cards. Smith showed his queen pair and a three as a low kicker. Larson showed a pair of sixes with a kicker.

There was one community card left and both players held their breath. When an eight came on the river, Smith was declared the winner of the tournament.

“I got a bracelet this time,” he said. “The last time I won (the FPN championship) they gave me a four-foot-tall trophy. They’re both cool.”

Joel Smith, Henning, recently won a Las Vegas Texas Hold ’em Championship tournament hosted by the Free Poker Network. Plays in bar leagues in Perham, Vergas and Dent and hopes to start one in Wadena.

Screenshot / Free Poker Network

Smith is already registered for the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event tournament in July at the Horseshoe Hotel and Casino and Paris Las Vegas. In 2022, the international Texas Hold ’em tournament had 198,429 participants, generating $346 million in prize money. Last year, first place took home $10 million, while second through eighth place took home more than $1 million each. The payouts continued until 128th place, who walked away with $15,000.

Smith’s first appearance at the WSOP was in 2015. He was eliminated by the eventual winner of the tournament, finishing in 776th place. He said the WSOP has included 12 hours of play each day until the final table is created.

“Keeping my mind in the game was the biggest challenge,” he said. “My wife (Nikki) came with me and helped me focus.”

In addition to being a sounding board about the hands that left waste in his mind, Smith said his wife also made sure he was fed and hydrated.

The journey to the most recognized international Texas Hold ’em tournament began when he found a flyer in 2007. The piece of paper invited people to join a free poker league at a bar. The idea sounded fun, so he tried it and has been “hooked ever since.”

Over the years, Smith has played at various bars and venues that host games and tournaments for the Free Poker Network.

The son of Mary Orvik of Perham disclosed that his favorite league spots include Playtime in Perham (Thursday), Billy’s in Vergas (Monday) and Dugout in Dent (Tuesday), all of which start at 7 p.m. Smith said he hopes the fun, free. the league continues to grow and a new one forms “a little closer to home” in Wadena.

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