The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Fla., hosted the World Poker Tour's inaugural Lucky Hearts Poker Open in mid-February. Instead of being shown on TV, the final table was streamed online with a 30-minute delay, and commentary for the event was my responsibility -- giving me a convenient professional excuse to be out of town on the sentimentally precarious corporate holiday known as Valentine's Day. It's always great to be able to simultaneously avoid and fulfill responsibility.
Once the tournament played down to six, we were left with a rather unfamiliar final table: four unknown players with modest experience, and two young guns who spent years honing their skills online. One of the young guns was Keith Ferrera, who was considered the favorite going in but was eliminated in sixth place. The other was eventual winner Matt Juttelstad, a polite 24-year-old from Clarksville, Tenn. I'd have an easier time writing nice things about Juttelstad had he not eliminated me at the end of Day One.
Clearwater, Fla., whose only prior cash tournament experience came in the 2010 World Series of Poker ladies event. The WPT has never had a female champion for an open event, but Gagne was positioned to become the first, going to the final table with a substantial chip lead.
Even more compelling than the possibility of Gagne making history at the Lucky Hearts Poker Open was, appropriately enough, the romantic angle: Just days before the event, Gagne began a whirlwind romance with a man she'd just met. He had given her a good-luck pendant for the tournament that Gagne felt had helped carry her with such fortuitous momentum to the final table.
Unfortunately for Gagne, a fairy-tale ending was not to be. Juttelstad slowly chipped away at Gagne's stack until the two entered a crucial hand.
With blinds at $40,000-$80,000 Juttelstad opened the action by limping with 6h 4c, and Gagne checked holding 10h 4d. The flop came 5c 3s 2h, giving Juttelstad the nuts but also giving Gagne an alluring open-ended straight draw, which caused her to make one of her first aggressive plays and lead out for $300,000 -- an unnecessarily large bet into a pot containing a little more than half that. She had the right idea of applying pressure, but she picked the wrong time for it, and Juttelstad disguised the strength of his hand by just calling.
The turn brought the As, which ostensibly was the exact card Gagne was looking for. But an ace was probably the only card that would cause her to lose her stack, since her freshly made straight was inferior to Juttelstad's. Not surprisingly, turning the straight inspired Gagne to move all in, leading to an instant call from Juttelstad that would make him the champion after the river came 8s. Gagne was doomed when the ace hit the board, and the only real strategic question is what's the best method of getting her money in. (Some would say she should check and give Juttelstad an opportunity to bluff, since he is almost never calling an all-in with a worse hand.)
But just because the story's ending wasn't quite perfect doesn't mean it wasn't happy: A few days after the tournament, Gagne went abroad with her new boyfriend and the two were married.
Then again, if you're a cold, cynical realist like me, you watch a couple who get married after a week of dating with a sense of trepidation. Such is the gamble.
(Tony Dunst is a poker professional who hosts the "Raw Deal" segment on World Poker Tour telecasts. Catch him every Sunday night on FSN.)