- Andrew Feldman, ESPN.com
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There's no better way to start a new year than to win a poker tournament. Just ask Gregg Hansen, Michael Brunner, Herb Nelson and Bobby Boyette, the newest ESPN Poker Club winners. For these four, their new year's celebrations lasted an extra 24 hours with their victory in the Camp Hellmuth promotion.
The four top finishers in Sunday's tournament will head out to Camp Hellmuth in Las Vegas on Feb. 9 for a weekend filled with lectures, poker and parties with some of the top pros in the world. Although each of the winners are truly unique individuals, they all had one reaction: "I can't wait."
After all was said and done, Hansen, an import car handler from Richmond, Calif., was the one on top. Hansen, a
50-year-old playing under the name "TheRightStuff4U," battled through the tournament knowing that he didn't play perfect poker.
"I made lots of mistakes, but I was able to come back from the blunders," he said. "I didn't go on tilt and I didn't get too discouraged when I made the mistakes."
There was no mistake made when his K-10 held up against Brunner's 10-9 to end the tournament. Hansen, who dedicated his victory to Cailyn, who he calls "the love of his life," was also the most admired of the three other finalists after he knocked out "DeadlyDave" to put all of them in the winner's circle.
"I never thought I could win until I really won," Hansen said when asked about his play. "You are playing against people that have gone through hundreds of people. Your chances are slim to none. I just waited until I had the cards that I thought would win and I play them. It took a lot of patience."
Patience and a little luck. The same blueprint applied for Boyette, or "BobbyBigs," who finished third.
Boyette was on life support with six players remaining. Everyone else had a healthy stack, but he was the short stack after losing a crucial pot. With the blinds at 5K/10K, Boyette pushed all-in with J-10 offsuit. After two players called, Nelson, who was second in chips to start the hand, pushed all-in. Everyone else folded and Nelson flipped over his K-K, making him an 84 percent favorite to win the hand.
Not so fast.
The flop came 8c-Qc-9c and Boyette flopped a straight and a gutshot straight-flush draw. Nelson's kings quickly shrunk in size and he would need a club on the turn or river (just not the jack of clubs), to win the hand. The last two cards were blanks and Boyette was back in the game.
"I got lucky, very lucky there," Boyette said.
The rest of the tournament is history for the 36-year-old Marine staff sergeant. Living in Albany, Ga., Boyette plays on the ESPN Poker Club as often as he can and will be making his first trip to Vegas for Camp Hellmuth.
"I was down to 65 chips at one point and was almost out, but I doubled up, and doubled up, and I was back in it," Boyette said. "When it was over I told my wife Julie, who was sleeping and wasn't too happy to be woken up. Now she thinks that all that time was worth it, it's paid off."
Boyette isn't the only military man to celebrate. Brunner, a 36-year lieutenant commander known as "full_tilt_91," was able to bring pride to the Navy and win from Aiea, Hawaii. Brunner was so dedicated to winning, he sent his hungry wife and kids out to dinner while he finished the tournament.
"After the tournament ended I went to the restaurant and they all thought I was faking," Brunner said. "I brought them back to the room and showed them the final finishes. Finally they believed me."
Believe it kids; your father is a good poker player.
"I'm just excited to see everyone else and Phil [Hellmuth] and stuff like that," Brunner said. "It will be a good time."
Brunner who has played socially for years, took advantage of his first final tournament in the ESPN Poker Club.
"My wife told me that I cant quit my day job yet," said Brunner.
Fourth place went to a man nobody wanted to tangle with at the final table. Nelson's tight-aggressive style led him to the final table and will lead him to success in Vegas.
Known as "no3putts," this golf aficionado was playing in his second final tournament in the ESPN Poker Club and was about ready to call it quits after the first hour.
"I was down to 645 chips and was ready to check what was on TV," Nelson admitted. "I wasn't getting any cards. Eventually I was able to double up twice. I started to play position poker. I raised the blinds and defended my own. Through all of that I was able to hang in there."
Nelson, currently studying to be a medical laboratory technician, lives in West Virginia, where he plays poker when he is off from school. Not only does he play poker, but also solitaire while hands are being played out.
"If I pay attention to the hands that I don't play then I start double guessing myself," Nelson said. "Maybe I could have won that hand. You never know. I usually just wait for the screen to come up and check my hand out. It was around 11:30 p.m. and I was up around the chip lead and I thought, well, this might be interesting, I should pay attention."
Nelson will have to pay lots of attention at Camp Hellmuth when he plays against hundreds of other poker players for a chance to win thousands of dollars.
These four winners proved they have what it takes to win at the ESPN Poker Club. Do you? Join the ESPN Poker Club today.
Andrew Feldman is the ESPN Poker Club's columnist, producer and tournament director. To contact Andrew, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our four Camp Hellmuth 2 winners are ready for Vegas.