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PartyPoker Million V: 22-Year-Old Mike Schneider Becomes Youngest PartyPoker Million Champion Ever

by Scott Huff |  Published: May 16, 2006

A bird’s-eye view of the final table
A bird's-eye view of the final table

On Sunday, March 12, Holland America's MS Westerdam pulled up its gangplank and set sail on a Caribbean cruise for the PartyPoker Million V. Old men in leisure suits playing shuffleboard, ping-pong, and bridge were replaced by people of all ages, wearing baseball hats and sunglasses, ready to enjoy poker, poker, and more poker.

The trip itinerary included stops in Grand Cayman, and Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and of course was highlighted by five days of high-stakes tournament action with a guaranteed first prize of $1 million.

Perhaps the most popular of all the "destination tournaments," the PPM is without question the most prestigious. This yearly event counts big-name pros Kathy Liebert, Howard Lederer, Erick Lindgren, and Michael Gracz among its champions.

Perhaps that is why some passengers were still scrambling for their buy-ins through satellite play and good old-fashioned railbird begging up until the night before play began.

The newly crowned millionaire is showered in confetti.

Day One – Halfway to Jamaica
The fifth installment of the largest limit hold'em tournament in the world got under way with 523 players split into two day-one heats. Each heat represented roughly half the field.

The first day-one heat boasted name players Dustin "Neverwin" Woolf, Paul Darden, Mark Gregorich, Karina Jett, Kenna James, Aaron Kanter, David Levy, Victor Ramdin, Joe Sebok, Barry Shulman, and Allyn Jaffrey Shulman among its competitors.

The second day-one heat countered with Barry Greenstein, J.J. Liu, Chris Bell, Chip Jett, Jesse Jones, Mel Judah, Casey Kastle, Morgan Machina, Gavin Smith, Amir Vahedi, Fabrice Soulier, Steve Zolotow, and, of course, defending champion Michael Gracz.

The nature of limit hold'em generally equates to a slow start, but a domino effect of eliminations as the blinds increase. All of the day-one starters managed to last the first three levels, but when the eliminations started to come in, the names of the departed were not those that you would expect. Shannon Shorr, Barry Shulman, and PPM IV fifth-place finisher Paul Darden all bowed out early from the first heat.

Competitors in the second heat made quick work of Barry Greenstein, Mel Judah, and Chip Jett.

After two days of day-one play, and despite the 24-hour pizza buffet, the field was trimmed down to less than half the starting size. Henrik Witt of Denmark led all players with $84,000 in chips. Witt went on to finish in 15th place, earning $28,500 and the distinction of being the last non-U.S. citizen standing.

Holland America’s MS Westerdam

Day Two – Ja'Makin

the Money
Breaks in the action at most major poker tournaments are spent waiting in long lines for a urinal or wolfing down below-average pizza in a carbon monoxide fog. Not so on the PPM.

The first major break in the action took place when the MS Westerdam dropped anchor in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. The Dunn's River Falls and Dolphin Cove offered the players some fun, and a tranquil escape from the stresses of the felt. But it was back to business when the 207 survivors from day one returned for the official start of day two.

The goal for many – make the money.

With the majority of players qualifying online for a fraction of the actual $10,000 buy-in – some even earning their buy-ins through freerolls – the money clearly meant more to most of the participants.

Allyn Jaffrey Shulman was one of only two women to cash at this year’s Million.

As the money bubble of 99 players approached, the interest of the spectators swelled, as well. With all of the action consolidated to a small tournament area, there just wasn't enough room for all of them, so the "deckbird" was created. Friends and family of the competitors stepped outside onto the cruise ship's decks and peeked at the remaining players through the ship's windows – trying to catch a glimpse of their loved ones' shining poker moments.

At 11:26 p.m., the money bubble burst. A survivor's celebration is nothing new, but the excitement aboard the Westerdam eclipsed that of most other major tournaments. All of the remaining players were guaranteed at least $16,000 – a substantial win if you got on the ship for a buck.

Day two also saw the end of many of the big-name poker pros, including defending champion Michael Gracz. Gracz did his best to defend his title, and surviving day one in the top 50 was a good start. He started day two in 38th place with $41,000 in chips, but was out before the money.

Gavin Smith's run ended in a 53rd-place finish, earning him $19,000 for his efforts.

Out of the 523-player field, only 21 women started. Allyn Jaffrey Shulman and Gloria Fontana were the only two to cash, earning $16,000 and $19,000, respectively.

Day Three – What's in a Name?
Grand Cayman was the backdrop for day three, with play once again halted during the daylight hours so that players and their guests could enjoy some sun, shopping, and Cuban cigars.

When the tournament resumed, 35 players remained, with only two recognizable faces from the tournament circuit, Kenna James and Victor Ramdin, among them. James went on to make the final table, while Ramdin was eliminated in ninth place after surviving much of the day on a short stack.

But being a "name" player doesn't mean as much in this day and age of Internet poker, and day three was further proof that the cards don't care if railbirds want your autograph.

Mike Schneider and Devon Miller may have yet to appear on ESPN or the Travel Channel, but that didn't stop them from quickly becoming two of the most feared players in the field.

Chip Jett

Miller, a 21-year-old cash-game pro from Los Angeles, started the day in 29th place with $76,000 in chips, but had his chip stack up to $700,000 in just two hours and 45 minutes. He continued his romp throughout the evening, becoming the first player to make it to the million-dollar mark in chips.

Miller's competitors made note of his dominance, as was evidenced when James, a player who would generally be an unwelcome sight to his opponents, was instead welcomed with open arms during a redraw. His opponents were far more concerned with the young man with all the chips. "Just leave Devon (Miller) over there," one of the players at James' new table said.

Miller relinquished his chip lead during the late-night hours, but still survived to the final table.

Instead, Schneider, a 22-year-old journalism major at the University of Minnesota, and poker pro, took the big stack with him to the final six.

Schneider, a cash-game player who plays anywhere from $100-$200 to $400-$800, may not lend his face to a video game or have an instructional DVD out, but he probably should.

"I do pretty well for myself with the game, and for the last few years I've earned more money than most people in America make working," Schneider said.

His play on day three was marked by incredible poise, even in the face of a few tough beats.

Defending Champ Michael Gracz made it through day one, but could not put together back-to-back Million victories.

The Final Table

Five days and two countries after the MS Westerdam left Port Everglades, the final six players were on stage in the Vista Lounge, ready to take their shot at the $1 million first prize.

Chip counts heading into the final table were as follows:

Mike Schneider $1,280,000 (Seat 5)
Kenna James $1,090,000 (Seat 4)
Andrew Chitiea $840,000 (Seat 3)
Scott Buller $810,000 (Seat 6)
Richard Joel $740,000 (Seat 1)
Devon Miller $470,000 (Seat 2)

While the largest limit hold'em tournament in the world may have been missing some of the top-flight poker pros this year, there was no shortage of talent at the final table. Out of the final six, four bought into the event on their own dime. Only Richard Joel and Andrew Chitiea were online qualifiers.

Although day three ended with blinds of $20,000-$40,000 and limits of $40,000-$80,000, play at the final table began with blinds of $20,000-$30,000 and limits of $30,000-$60,000 in order to give the competitors more play.

Devon Miller Out First

It didn't take long for the first elimination to come. Miller's short stack and the high blinds caught up with him quickly. He was eliminated during the first hour of play when he ran into Joel's nut flush. Miller took home $175,000 in prize money for his impressive run. Just barely old enough to play live, and already a successful $400-$800 limit player, Miller certainly solidified himself as one of the up-and-coming players in the game with his sixth-place finish.

Kenna James and Mike Schneider go heads up.

Richard Joel Out in Fifth Place

Joel, a retired casket salesman from Atlanta, Georgia, may have buried Miller, but it wouldn't be long until his own burial at sea. His run ended with a fifth-place finish when his pocket eights ran into Scott Buller's pocket kings.

Nonetheless, Joel's run was impressive. An amateur by his own admission, Joel turned a huge profit, bringing home $225,000 after qualifying for the event on for only $34.

Fourth Place for Andrew Chitiea

The last qualifier standing was Andrew Chitiea. Chitiea, a pilot examiner, flight instructor, and corporate pilot from Centennial, Colorado, found himselfin a tough situation on day three, needing one of three kings or one of two queens with one card to come to stay alive, as he was all in with K-Q against his opponent's pocket aces. A spiked king on the river rejuvenated Chitiea, and propelled him to the final table, where his luck continued for a short time.

During the $20,000-$40,000 blinds, $40,000-$80,000 limits level, Chitiea found himself all in, and trailing yet again. This time, his K-5 was up against Mike Schneider's pocket sevens before the flop. Chitiea bought a lot of outs after a flop of Aspade Qspade 10spade. Chitiea could catch a jack, a king, or something runner-runner for a chop to stay alive. The situation got more precarious for Schneider when the turn brought the Adiamond. The river brought a queen, and Chitiea stayed alive.

His lucky hand against Schneider turned out to be only a stay of execution for Chitiea. He survived until the $25,000-$50,000 blinds, $50,000-$100,000 limits, where he eventually got trapped by Kenna James' trip kings.

Chitiea took home $300,000 for his fourth-place finish.

Long Trips Home for Scott Buller
Scott Buller has a lot of history at the PartyPoker Million. Buller, a train conductor from Lincoln, Nebraska, is the only player to make two final tables at the event. He has gone on the cruise every year and cashed four times in his five total appearances.

The third time might be a charm if Buller makes it back to the final table next year, but three certainly wasn't a lucky number for him at this final table. In a pivotal pot for Buller, Schneider raised to $120,000 preflop and Buller called. The flop came Jheart 6club 4heart. Schneider led out for $60,000, and Buller made it two bets. Schneider repopped it to $180,000, and Buller called. The turn brought the Jdiamond, and again Schneider led out, this time for $120,000. Buller raised to $240,000 and Schneider called. The river brought the 5spade. Now, Schneider checked, and Buller bet $120,000. Schneider called. Buller showed J-2 for trip jacks. Schneider showed trip jacks, too, but the 7 kicker in his hand played and left Buller crippled.

The very next hand, Buller was all in for the rest of his chips before the flop. James' A-8 made a pair, and Buller's K-Q never caught up. His third-place finish was worth $500,000.

Heads-Up – James Vs. Schneider

Buller's exit in third place left two very talented poker players to play heads up for the $1 million first prize, along with the prestige of being a PartyPoker Million champion.

James is a well-known poker pro from Southern California whose runner-up finish at the 2005 WPT Legends of Poker event re-established him as one of the biggest names and personalities in the game.

He was consistent throughout the event, seemingly always in a comfortable position – so comfortable that he even burst into song a number of times. That comfort level remained until he ran into Schneider.

Schneider didn't belt out any ballads. Instead, his poker experience was on display at the final table, as he taught the crowd the art of the value bet. He "took people to value town," as his cheering section – a group of young college kids who gained notoriety on the ship for their rambunctious (often drunken) support of him – put it.

Although he considers himself "a cash-game player first and foremost," Schneider also showed an astute knowledge of tournament strategy. To start the final table, Schneider was rockier than the bottom of the Atlantic. He sat on his chip lead, letting his competitors go to war, while stealing his share of blinds to maintain a healthy stack. But as the blinds increased, Schneider opened up and administered punishment to his competitors.

All of the extra value that Schneider extracted certainly added up. When he finally found himself heads up with James, he had him out-chipped $4,480,000 to $760,000. Schneider then made quick work of James.

Runner-up Kenna James

In the final hand of the event, James raised the rest of his chips, good for approximately a two-bet, and was called by Schneider. Schneider showed the Qspade 10club and James showed the Jheart 6diamond. The flop came Qheart 5heart 2diamond, pairing Schneider's queen and leaving James dead to runner-runner straight, flush, jacks, or sixes. The turn brought the 2club, and James was drawing dead. The river was the meaningless 4heart, and the Vista Lounge erupted for the champion.

James' runner-up finish was worth $700,000 in prize money.

Schneider's cheering section rushed the stage, and from atop their shoulders he accepted a trophy and a check for $1 million from The youngest winner in PartyPoker Million history seemed to take his victory in stride. Asked what he was going to do to celebrate his victory, he replied, "Probably go drink with my buds," a response befitting a champion crowned on St. Patrick's Day.

Schneider's win proved once again that in poker, youth and experience are not mutually exclusive.

Here are the payouts for the final-table finishers:

Mike Schneider
Kenna James $700,000
Scott Buller $500,000
Andrew Chitiea $300,000
Richard Joel $225,000
Devon Miller $175,000