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Mohegan Sun NAPT poker tourneys yield big winners

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – A 25-year-old Yale University law school student is $750,000 richer after steamrolling a pro-heavy field of poker players in a tournament at Mohegan Sun, and a 23-year-old Florida man won $475,000 in a high roller buy-in tournament.

Vanessa Selbst, a New Haven resident, was crowned the 2010 PokerStars.net North American Poker Tour Mohegan Sun Main Event champion.

The five-day, $5,000 buy-in championship tournament took place April 9 – 13 and attracted 716 players from more than 20 countries. But Selbst’s home in New Haven is only 50 minutes away from Mohegan Sun, making her win a classic “Local woman succeeds” story since few things are sweeter in professional sports than winning the biggest game of your career on home turf.

“It feels awesome (winning close to home),” Selbst said. “The most meaningful part of this for me was definitely having a lot of my friends that don’t play poker and a lot of my friends from law school see this, and my girlfriend was able to come. It was just really great to have everybody here and to see this. This is the hugest moment that I’ve had in poker so far, so it was really nice to have everybody so close.”

The five-day event broke records both for attendance and total prize pool – $3,264,244 – for a poker tournament at Mohegan Sun.

Selbst is working toward a law degree in civil rights at Yale University where she earned her undergraduate degree. Despite her $750,000 win, Selbst intends to finish law school.

Asked how her poker win ranks among her past poker accomplishments, she said, “This is at the top. I mean, I know that a bracelet is supposed to be prestigious, but let’s be honest. That was $230 grand, and this is $750 grand, so. … You can’t argue with the dollar signs.”

Selbst’s total winnings have been more than $1.6 million since 2008.

Her opponents at the Mohegan Sun Main Event included runner-up Michael Beasley, $428,000; Scott Seiver, $190,000; Derek Raymond, $115,000; Cliff “Johnny Bax” Josephy, $85,000 and Jonathan “Fatal Error” Aguiar, $60,244.

Pro poker players can be as famously superstitious as baseball players. One well-known player always has a little plastic shark nearby; another is known for the fossil he places on the table.

For Team PokerStars.net pro Jason Mercier, it’s clothes.

Two years ago, Mercier wore a particular shirt and won a spectacular $1.3 million in the European Poker Tour San Remo event.

Mercier wore the same shirt in April and won $475,000 in the 2010 PokerStars.net NAPT Mohegan Sun High Roller Bounty Shootout.

The win marks Mercier’s second High Roller title in as many years. The 23-year-old pro from Davie, Fla., also won the 2008 EPT London High Roller Event (£516,000) and came close to winning a third High Roller title back in February at the L.A. Poker Classic (3rd – $141,780).

His total winnings now exceed $5 million.

The buy-in for a seat at the shootout event was $25,000. The format of the game was as follows: Each player in the shootout was seated with an equal number of players with multiple tables going at the same time. Each player won $5,000 for every other player he or she eliminated from the game/table, and each table continued until there was a winner. The winner from each table was then seated at another table and again won $5,000 for each player he or she eliminated with the remaining prize pool going to the sole surviving player in a winner-take-all event.

The final table payouts were Mercier $475,000; Stein, $75,000; Faraz Jaka, $80,000; Matt Glantz, $70,000; Shawn Buchanan, $80,000; and Luis Vazquez, $70,000.

The NAPT Mohegan Sun HRBSO attracted 35 players.

Both the HRBSO and the Main Event were broadcast on ESPN2.

Selbst and Mercier are members of a team of pro poker players sponsored by PokerStars.net, one of the largest poker sites on the Internet. The site provides free poker lessons and hundreds of free games, and sponsors dozens of tournaments, but players use “play money,” not cash. The site is distinct from PokerStars.com, where people can gamble for real money or fake money.

“We hosted and ran the poker tournament here at the Mohegan Sun and PokerStars.net was a sponsor of the tournament and promoted it on their Web site. They also helped sponsor some of the world’s best poker players that came and played here at Mohegan Sun, but our relationship was not with PokerStars.com,” said Chuck Bunnell, Mohegan chief of staff.

Online gaming is still illegal in the U.S., although there are proposed bills by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and others to legalize and tax online poker.

Internet gaming was a hot topic at the National Indian Gaming Association’s recent annual meeting where tribal delegates voted 27-6 with one abstention to table a resolution opposing and suggesting changes to the proposed federal legislation to legalize online poker.

Some facilities have Internet sites where people can come and play for hats and shirts and play money. Mohegan Sun does not operate such a site, but the nation is studying the pros and cons of online gaming.

“We are examining the industry quite in depth,” Bunnell said. “The tribal council has directed their executives to gather as much information as possible and provide it to them so they can make a strategic and educated decision about the potential industry here if it’s ever legalized.”