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Third Time’s The Charm For U.S. Poker Open Champion Sean Winter

After Consecutive Runner-Up Finishes, Florida Poker Pro Finally Nabs Golden Eagle

by Erik Fast |  Published: May 04, 2022

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Sean Winter came agonizingly close to winning the last two U.S. Poker Opens, finishing runner-up in both 2019 and 2021 (the 2020 series was canceled during the pandemic).

Winter lost the Las Vegas high roller series by just 10 points back in 2019 when David Peters won the final event to edge him out by a score of 550 to 540. Incredibly, it was once again Peters who beat out Winter for the USPO Golden Eagle Trophy in 2021. Winter won the final event that time around but was unable to overtake Peters in the final points standings, once again finishing up in second place on the final leaderboard.

In 2022, it was Winter’s turn to seal the player of the series award with his own dramatic, last-minute victory at the PokerGO Studio at the Aria. Much like Peters did with his first title, Winter closed out the USPO with a win in the final (and biggest buy-in) event on the schedule.

The 31-year-old Jacksonville, Florida native had not registered any cashes in the first 10 events of the series but managed to emerge victorious in the last two tournaments to finally secure the Golden Eagle Trophy, and the $50,000 championship bonus that came with it.

“It means a lot,” Winter told PokerGO’s Jeff Platt in an on-air interview after securing the player of the series award. “I’m kind of speechless right now. I was just getting destroyed this series, obviously, and I was kind of grateful for that because it motivates me to do well, [right when] the buy-ins went up. I kind of just got lucky in that regard.”

Winter’s two victories came in two of the three largest events (by prize pool) held during the 12-event high roller festival. He earned $440,000 as the champion of event no. 11, a $25,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event. The following day he added another $756,000 for taking down the $50,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em finale, bringing his total earnings for the series to $1,196,000. He was the only player to surpass seven figures in total cashes during the series.

Winter ended with 718 total USPO rankings points, edging out runner-up Tamon Nakamura to secure the player of the series award. Like Winter, Nakamura also locked up two titles at the USPO, with both of his wins coming in smaller buy-in events earlier in the series. The Japanese player made a total of six cashes during the series, with nearly $670,000 in total earnings along the way.

“Everyone was having a phenomenal series,” said Winter after his win. “Hats off to [Tamon Nakamura]. At the start of yesterday’s tournament, I had to be one percent to win, less? I don’t know. I wasn’t even thinking about having a shot at all.”

Winter’s seven-figure success during this series saw him increase his lifetime tournament earnings to $21.2 million, which is currently good for no. 32 all time. In addition to the money, he also secured 930 Card Player Player of the Year points, enough to move him into fifth place in the 2022 race. He now has two titles, ten final-table finishes, and more than $1.85 million in year-to-date POY earnings.

Below is a look at how the 2022 USPO series played out.

Nakamura Breaks Out With Impressive First-Half Performance

The majority (roughly 73 percent) of Tamon Nakamura’s $914,428 in career tournament earnings were won during his run at the USPO. The 35-year-old started off with a comparatively modest showing, finishing 14th from a field of 93 entries in the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em kickoff event for $18,600.

That tournament was ultimately won by Shannon Shorr for $213,900. It was his second win inside the PokerGO Studio. Shorr’s first title run at the venue also came at the start of another series, event no. 1 of the 2021 Poker Masters.

“It was a blast. All of these events inside the PokerGO Studio are so much fun, and the names at the final table – Joseph Cheong, Erik Seidel, Daniel Negreanu – they speak for themselves. It was a blast to be here and I’m glad I could come out on top,” said Shorr.

A quarter of the USPO’s schedule this year was devoted to pot-limit Omaha events, the first of which featured a $10,000 buy-in. 42-year-old poker pro Justin Young outlasted a field of 77 entries to earn $200,200.

This was the fifth-largest score of the Henderson, NV resident’s live tournament career. The 2016 WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown main event champion now has more than $5.8 million in lifetime earnings to his name. Young defeated two-time WSOP PLO bracelet winner Tommy Le heads-up to secure the title.

The second of three $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em events on the schedule saw 88 entries build an $880,000 prize pool. After two days of action, Alaskan poker pro Adam Hendrix came away with the title and the top prize of $211,200.

The final day began with two-time WPT main event winner and Card Player contributor Jonathan Little in the chip lead and Hendrix on the short stack. Little ultimately finished as the runner-up, earning $149,600 to increase his career live earnings to more than $7.4 million. Reigning PokerGO Cup champion Jeremy Ausmus locked up his first cash of the series as the third-place finisher ($105,600). He was far from done making deep runs at the USPO, though.

The fourth event at the USPO was the $10,000 buy-in big bet mix, which featured three variants: no-limit hold’em, pot-limit Omaha, and no-limit deuce-to-seven single draw lowball. After two days of action, Tamon Nakamura was the last one standing from a field of 53 total entries to bank his first PGT title and the top prize of $169,600.

He outlasted the likes of 2019 POY award winner Stephen Chidwick (4th – $53,000), six-time bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu (3rd – $74,200), and WPT champion Rok Gostisa (2nd – $111,300) on his way to the title. Nakamura backed up his victory with a seventh-place showing from a field of 66 entries in the following event, the third and final $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event of the series.

Jeremy Ausmus, who had also finished eighth in the big bet mix event, overcame a stacked final table that included a pair of POY award winners in David Peters and Ali Imsirovic, two-time bracelet winner Nick Petrangelo (who has more than $2.6 million in cashes this year), and Ren Lin, who was at his fourth high roller final table of the year.

Ausmus ultimately defeated 2021 breakout high roller performer Chris Brewer (2nd – $132,000) heads-up for the win. The three-time bracelet winner earned $178,200 as the champion of this event, while also securing his second title of 2022. This was already his 11th final-table finish of the year.

The first half of the schedule concluded with the $15,000 buy-in eight-game mix event, which features the classic H.O.R.S.E. lineup in addition to no-limit hold’em, pot-limit Omaha, and triple draw deuce-to-seven lowball. Just days removed from his victory in event four, Tamon Nakamura stormed through a 47-entry field, beating all-time bracelet leader Phil Hellmuth (2nd – $239,700) heads-up to secure his second title of the series.

Nakamura earned $239,700 for his most recent win, with four cashes through the first six events of the series. The impressive run was enough to put him atop the USPO points race heading into the second half. Jeremy Ausmus recorded his final cash of the series in this event, placing seventh for $28,200. With two titles, 12 final-table finishes, and more than $1.4 million in POY earnings, he is currently the outright leader in the 2022 POY race.

Raising The Stakes

The final six events of the 2022 USPO all featured buy-ins of $15,000 or higher, including three $25,000 buy-in events and the $50,000 no-limit hold’em that brought the festival to its exciting conclusion. Event no. 7 was the lone $15,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event of the series. A total of 70 entries were made, building the first seven-figure prize pool of the 2022 USPO.

Alex Foxen was the last player standing when all was said and done, earning $283,500 for the win. The score saw him surpass the $21 million mark in career tournament earnings. Foxen overcame three-time WPT main event winner Chino Rheem heads-up to secure the win. Rheem was awarded $210,000 as the runner-up finisher. This was his first six-figure live score since early 2020.

Rheem didn’t have to wait very long to secure another, though. The very next event saw him beat out a field of 67 entries in the $15,000 buy-in pot-limit Omaha tournament to add another $271,350 to his tally. Rheem now has more than $11.6 million in lifetime earnings to his name. The 42-year-old busted each of his final four opponents: Adam Hendrix, Phil Hellmuth, Isaac Kempton and runner-up Scott Seiver. The victory was enough to see Rheem supplant Nakamura atop the USPO points race leaderboard, although his time in the top spot was short-lived.

Nakamura soon surged back into the top spot thanks to a fifth-place showing in event no. 9, the first of two $25,000 no-limit hold’em tournaments on the agenda. Nakamura survived to the top five from a field of 63 entries, earning $126,000 for his fifth cash and fourth final-table finish of the series.

The final battle for the title in this event came down to a heads-up clash between two of the most accomplished and decorated tournament players in history. In the end, it was nine-time bracelet winner Erik Seidel who defeated 16-time bracelet leader Phil Hellmuth for the top prize of $472,500. The 62-year-old poker pro increased his lifetime tournament earnings to $40,309,595 with this victory, becoming just the fifth player in history to surpass $40 million in career tournament cashes.

“It’s pretty wild that the two of us got heads up. That’s the third time we’ve been heads up, so it was fun,” Seidel told PokerGO reporters after coming away with the win. In fact, Seidel has won on all three occasions. “I don’t think there’s any extra meaning to it that we were heads up, as I would’ve been happy to win against anybody. It’s just nice when things go your way for a few hours in a critical period like this. It’s great.”

Hellmuth was nearly eliminated in fifth place when he made an interesting play which went viral online. Alex Foxen had raised pocket nines from the button and Hellmuth three-bet with Q-4 offsuit out of the big blind. Foxen four-bet shoved for nine big blinds more and Hellmuth went into the tank.

“You caught me making a move,” said Hellmuth as he considered the call. He eventually stuck in the rest of his chips, saying, “I guess I better play to win.” He flopped a queen and rivered trips to double up. He earned $315,000 as the runner-up, while Foxen ultimately finished third for $220,500.

As previously mentioned, this year’s USPO featured three pot-limit Omaha events. Dylan Weisman made the final table in all three, capping off his impressive run by taking down the biggest buy-in PLO event on the schedule. Weisman overcame a field of 49 entries in the $25,000 PLO tournament to earn his second career live event title and the top prize of $416,500.

This was the largest tournament score of his career, blowing away the $166,461 he secured along with his first WSOP bracelet in the 2021 $1,000 PLO event at the series. The 30-year-old also final tabled the big bet mix event in addition to his trio of PLO deep runs. All told, he has cashed for $580,800 at the USPO.

Winter Is Coming

As Winter said in his post-win interview, he hadn’t had much success in the early going at the USPO. With no cashes through the first 10 events, he really only had one path to winning the player of the series: back-to-back wins in the final two events on the schedule.

Prior to this series, Winter’s most recent live tournament title came in the final event of the 2021 USPO. He had found plenty of success in the interim, accumulating more than $2.9 million across 18 cashes, but he kept falling just short of the top spot. 286 days after that last win, Winter outlasted the field of 55 entries to take down the final $25,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament for $440,000.

“It feels good to close one out,” said Winter after the first win. “There were several final tables in a row when I got third or fifth after coming in in reasonable spots. So yeah, it definitely feels good to get the monkey off the back and close one out.”

After Tamon Nakamura extended his lead with a sixth-place showing in the same tournament, Winter had to contend with a murderer’s row of high-stakes tournament pros: David Peters (5th – $110,000), Nick Schulman (4th – ​​$137,500), and Jake Schindler (3rd – $192,500), before tangling with reigning Card Player and PGT Player of the Year award winner Ali Imsirovic. Winter overcame a slight chip deficit early to steal the win, while Imsirovic earned $288,750 for his 12th final-table finish of 2022. He now sits in second place in both of the POY races he is attempting to defend his title in.

Winter’s win in this event was just good enough to put him in 12th place in the USPO points race. He technically had a mathematical chance to come away with the player of the series award, but there were still a lot of things that would have to go his way in the final event for that result to come about.

“I think I need a lot of luck to win. Even if I win, I need to fade a lot of people, I’d imagine,” he said. “I’m just excited to have the opportunity to play it and whatever happens, happens. I wasn’t really thinking that I had a sweat because this is the most tournaments I’ve bricked in a row live ever this week. I’m not really expecting to win the trophy but glad to have won an event and not bricked everything.”

The $50,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em finale attracted 42 entries, building a prize pool of $2,100,000 that would be paid out among the top six finishers. Day 1 action was halted with seven remaining, which meant the final table live stream would showcase one player being eliminated on a six-figure money bubble.

Jake Schindler was the last player in the event eliminated outside the money. Dan Smith (6th – $105,000) and Shannon Shorr (5th – $168,000) followed, leaving Winter just three eliminations away from completing his last-second victory in the series-long points race. He took one step closer to the finish line when his A-6 suited outran the pocket sevens of short stacked Vikenty Shegal (4th – $231,000). Zhuang Ruan’s run in this event came to an end when his multi-street bluff was picked off by Masashi Oya. Ruan earned $336,000 as the third-place finisher, while Oya took a slight lead into heads-up play.

Winter took the lead when his turned two pair beat the pocket queens of Oya. The Japanese player, who would have ensured his countryman Nakamura’s victory if he were to win the heads-up battle, picked up pocket queens again in what was the final hand of the series.

Winter defended his big blind with ASpade Suit 6Club Suit and flopped trips on a 6Heart Suit 6Diamond Suit 3Spade Suit board. Winter check-raised Oya’s continuation bet and received a call. The 10Club Suit on the turn saw Winter bet again, only to have Oya move all-in. Winter made the call and was well ahead with one card to come and both the title and USPO player of the series award on the line. The 3Heart Suit on the river gave Winter sixes full of threes for the win. Oya earned $504,000 as the runner-up finisher, the largest score of his career. ♠