Fritz Barnes says that, to him, the big surprise wasn’t that he won the second annual Bar Poker Open National Championship, the surprise was that he made it to the final table in the first place.
The invitation-only national championship tournament was held at the Borgata in Atlantic City, N.J., from Dec. 5-7. Barnes outlasted a field of 682 entrants, all of whom qualified by winning seats through their local pub leagues, to take home the title. He started play on day 1B on Sunday, Dec. 6, and says he struggled throughout his opening day.
“I was just surviving all day,” said Barnes, who along with his wife is a regular player at the Riverchasers tour, which hosts events in New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. “At the end of the day I was down to about four big blinds and I caught a couple of hands when I needed them. I went into day 2 with a little below average stack, and it felt like I was card dead the whole day. I won just enough hands to hang in there.”
Card Dead to Chip Leader
Barnes’ luck changed when he made it to the final table. Sitting in sixth place of the 10 players remaining, Barnes got a huge double up on the first hand when he had pocket 3s and flopped a set. He got all his chips in on the turn, held on for the win, and, just like that he was the chip leader.
A few rounds later, still in the chip lead, Barnes wiped out 2014 champ Ryan Chua, who was second in chips at the time. With J-7 in the big blind, Barnes hesitated before calling Chua’s pre-flop raise. Barnes says he shouldn’t have called the pre-flop raise but felt the pot odds were simply too good to ignore. He was rewarded with a J-7-3 flop.
Chua, who had K-J, shoved Barnes’ post-flop bet, and Barnes went into the tank for nearly two minutes before calling. He survived the runout to up his chip count to nearly 7 million, more than three times the total for second-place. Speaking a few days after the event, Barnes said he was a bit embarrassed that he took so long to call.
“I’m sitting here thinking about whether or not I should call with top two pair,” he said. “I kind of knew I had to call, but I had to talk myself into it.”
After taking such a commanding chip lead, Barnes says he again went card dead. By the time the field had been whittled down to three, he was last in chips. When the heads up duel with fellow Riverschasers player Ron Lemmerman began, he was facing a 4:1 deficit, but he was able to overcome being short stacked to take home the $22,982 first prize.
Dreams of the Main Event
The cash was his biggest prize to date. He has played extensively in the Riverchasers tour but had played only a few tourneys and about 100 hours of cash in casinos. Prior to winning the BPO National Title, his biggest cash in a casino was for about $1,800.
Like most Pub Poker players, Barnes dreams of playing in the World Series of Poker Main Event, to rub elbows with the pros and chase a multi-million dollar first prize. His wife nodded her head vigorously in the background when I asked if he was thinking of playing the Main Event in 2016.
“I’ve been dreaming about the Main Event for three years,” he said. “Before this weekend, if you had asked me if I had won, what would I do? I would have snap said, ‘I’m going to the Main Event.’ But now that I have the money, I’m thinking about some bills that need to be paid, moving expenses, and I may or may not play the Main Event next year.“
The Family That Plays Together
Barnes’ wife, who is also an avid poker player, has just taken a job in Scotland County, N.C., and the family is moving from Pennsylvania in early 2016. Scotland County is a rural county that borders South Carolina. The nearest casino will be a five-hour drive, but he says he and his wife will continue to play as much as possible.
“I can drive five hours west to Cherokee or five hours north to Maryland Live,” he said. “I’ll be looking for some home games and maybe playing with the Atlantic Poker Tour (in Raleigh, N.C.). We’ll be looking for ways to play, because we love the game.
“It’s something we can do together. It is better than sitting at home and watching reality TV.”
Barnes said the cash prize was awesome, but what made the win even more special was that his entire family was cheering him on through the live webcast.
“On the live stream, all five of my children were on there, my brother-in-law was on there, my stepdaughter was on there, my ex-wife was on there, and I knew that they were making comments, watching and cheering for me,” he said. “That was worth more to me than the money. It was a proud moment for all of us.”