John Verhaeghe Wins Wisconsin Championship

The 24th seat for the Fall Spectacular National Championship was awarded on Sunday, March 7th at the conclusion of the Wisconsin State Championship held at Pitchers Pub in Madison, WI. Of the 50 poker players who qualified, 43 participants were ready for some poker tournament action as registration began at 12 pm.  Each qualifier in attendance was hoping to be the one to win the trip to Las Vegas and play in the coveted National Championship Invitational where once again the Free Poker Network will set the standard by awarding more than $12,000 in World Series of Poker Circuit Event buy-ins including a $5,000 main event buy-in. 

At 1 pm sharp the action began and the cards went in the air. A few early favorites stood out among the 43 players, including Dale Hjelmgren (Outer Limits), a six-time Wisconsin State Championship qualifier and an FPN Grand Prize Winner for the Party at the Palms promotion. Also on the prowl was Wes Adams (Tippy Canoes), a regular in the Minnesota Poker League who has made a few state championship events himself. Of course, there were also the 12 players from Don’s Market in Franksville who made up 28 percent of the field.

Early on in the action, some of the biggest chip leaders were Shawn Olsen (JJ’s Outpost), Kevin Newville (Outer Limits) and Roger Holm (Birchwood Grill). But after a few hours had passed, we had our first casualty—Dale Hjelmgren.  Dale’s out was a huge surprise to almost all of us even though he is known for making aggressive moves early in tournaments. After a pre-flop raise was called by two players, the flop brought top pair for Dale and got 2 calls and was a huge favorite to triple-up early in the tournament. He only needed to dodge four cards in the deck, but unfortunately for him it didn’t happen. The turn delivered a 5 and the river was empty, leaving Frank Bilotta’s (Don’s Market) pocket 5s crushing Dale’s hopes at becoming the first back-to-back Wisconsin Champion. Luckily Tournament Host Robb Butcher was quickly on the scene with some delicious adult “refreshments” in FPN shot glasses to help ease his pain.

Soon after the “Dale casualty” we lost even more players, including Shawn Libersky (Tippy Canoes,) or SMLIB on FullTilt, whose war attire seemed entirely appropriate considering the battle.  Right before dinner break we also saw our first pair of Aces cracked when Joe McClain decided to take them to the river only to be beat by a straight.  And last but not least, short-stacked Laura Dalton (JJ’s Outpost) was on the edge of her seat just trying to “win one of these hands!”

By dinner break we were down to 17 players, with everyone—and we mean everyone—hanging around for the freeroll to start. At that point, our chip leaders were John Verhaeghe (Don’s Market) with 56k, Ron Pottebaum (Outer Limits) with 54k and Matt Poeschel (JJ’s Outpost) with 49k.

Soon after the action resumed, multiple championship qualifiers Henry Pojanowski (Tippy Canoes), another regular in the Minnesota Poker League, and Sue Moniz (Don’s Market) were both eliminated as their full houses ran into quads.  And by 8 pm we had our final nine players after the last female standing, Ann Richardson (Pitchers Pub), ground out in 10th place.

Making up the final table, the final nine players were as follows:

In Seat 1 Matt Poeschel (JJ’s Outpost) 61.5k
In Seat 2 Brian Haagensen (Don’s Market) 20.5k
In Seat 3 Wes Adams (Tippy Canoes) 20.5k
In Seat 4 Ryan Nelson (Pitchers Pub) 45k
In Seat 5 Bill Donatelle (Outer Limits) 39.5k
In Seat 6 Turner Ferrand (Don's Market) 30.5k
In Seat 7 Ron Pottebaum (Outer Limits) 105k Chip Leader
In Seat 8 John Verhaeghe (Don’s Market) 68k
In Seat 9 Dan Rodenkirch (Don’s Market) 44k

At the final table blinds began at 2k-4k and the players were off and flying with an all-in and a call no more than three hands in. Wes Adams (Tippy Canoes) soon found himself in bad shape when he moved all-in with an A-7 on a flop of 8-9-10 due to Ryan Nelson’s (Pitchers Pub) A-Q. The turn was a Jack giving both players straights, and with the river air balling, we were down to eight. A few hands later the classic A-K vs. A-Q on a flop of A-J-7 sent about 60k one way as John Verhaeghe (Don’s Market) eliminated Matt Poeschel (JJ’s Outpost).  John then took the lead with more than 130k in chips, leaving seven players remaining. 

Play then began to slow a bit as Brian Haagensen (Don’s Market), Turner Ferrand (Don’s Market), and Bill Donatelle (Outer Limits) waited to decide which hands to move in on. Soon Ryan Nelson called Turner Ferrand’s all-in pre-flop move and showed K-K. Turner reluctantly showed A-Q and the flop delivered a King, pushing Turner out of the final table. We were then down to six players, with three playing out of the same bar (Don's Market). Blinds soon moved to 3k-6k and in an unseen hand we lost Dan Rodenkirch, leaving us with the final five.

During the final table action, our crowd of freerollers gathered for a chance to win some cash and prizes with the highlights as follows: Kevin Newville (Outer Limits) took 4th and received a FPN Key Chain, Shot Glass and $10 in cash; Laura Dalton (JJ’s Outpost) finally got the chips moving in her direction as she finished 3rd, taking home a FPN Shirt and $30 in cash; Jason Birkenmeyer took 2nd, taking home a FPN Key Chain, a FPN Shirt and $50 in cash: and last but not least was Brian Umble in 1st place, winning an FPN Shirt and $70 in cash.

Back at the final table, Bill Donatelle was essentially ground out as he fought for any playable hand against huge chip stacks, leaving in 5th place. Soon John Verhaeghe’s stack began to creep up on Ron Pottebaum's, and Brian Haagensen moved all-in on the flop. John snap called it, and it was clear that we weren’t going to have any three-way action with two players from the same bar. Brian then showed A-J and John showed K-J on a flop of J-8-2. The turn was blank and the river delivered a King—who would have thought! The room erupted, and we were down to three players standing.

Blinds then moved to 4k-8k with antes on the horizon. John and Ron had a lot of action at this final table while Ryan slowly moved his stack to positive while maintaining his distance from all-in decisions. But it wasn’t long and we were down to two thanks to one of the strangest hands we’ve seen at an FPN championship final table. The play looked like this: John and Ron were in a hand post-flop with some betting. Ron took his time to call but finally does.  John fires on the turn and Ron makes the call. On the river Ron moves all-in and was crushed when John quickly called and said, "I have it to the king—a straight to the king.”  Ron looked in amazement and shook his head, only showing an Ace and mucked. Maybe he had another and got them cracked? Maybe he had a pair with it as his kicker and bluffed? Who knows?! But what we do know is that Ron left in 3rd place and received a nice FPN Sweatshirt as a consolation prize.

During the final table heads-up action, the button went back and forth about 15 times  with no real stack changes, but we had a little action with a flop of 10-Q-A with Ryan betting it out and John calling. The turn showed a Jack and both players checked slowly. The river was blank and Ryan moved all-in to hear another snap call from John. Ryan showed K-4 for the straight and John showed A-K also for the straight and a chopped pot.  As the blinds reached the heights, Ryan decided to move all-in on a 10-Q-K flop.  John, with a 4-1 advantage, called as Ryan showed K-2 for top pair. John then showed his Q-J for middle pair and a draw. The turn showed an Ace, delivering another straight to John. The river was a 4 and Ryan congratulates John in his own special way by saying, “Your No. 1 John !” But of course, John laughed it off and said, “I’m going to Vegas baby!”

It was a great day of poker tournament action—thanks to all of you for coming out to play and join in on the fun! And an extra big THANK YOU to Bob and the crew at Pitcher’s Pub for hosting—your staff did a marvelous job ensuring we all had enough to eat and drink! 


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