Posted On 02 Oct 2014
By :
Comment: Off

AZ State '14 Champ Tanita w-Phil Hellmuth

By Phil Scudella


Winner beats 1,459 opponents at Talking Stick Resort and takes home $257, 690 cash prize

A new poker champion was crowned at Talking Stick Resort on Tuesday, August19 during the 10th annual Arizona State Poker Championship. A showdown full of surprise plays and twists ensued for nearly seven hours during the final day of play, until just one man was left standing. When the final hand was dealt Phoenix native Robert Tanita was named the 2014 Arizona State Poker Champion, securing the victory with pocket eights!

Pocket 8’s seemed to be the most popular winning hand thru the final day of play, as that hand was lucky enough to win every time. Earlier at about 3pm, Robert was dealt pocket 8’s and Steve Buell was holding Ace / Jack. The flop was 8,6,10 “rainbow” – Robert went all-in, Steve called and caught a Jack on the river but not enough to beat Robert’s trip 8’s – Steve was eliminated and took home $98,550 and finished in 4th place.

Next out was Brayden Quackenbush less than 30 minutes later, the 23 year old was playing in his first big tournament. He went up against the chip leader Robert Tanita as Jerry mucked his hand. The flop was 8,Q,7.

Robert raised and Brayden called. The turn card was a 3 – and Robert went all-in, Brayden called with K,8 but Robert showed pocket Kings. A deuce was the river card and Brayden was out of the tournament with 3rd place money of $131,400 and a beautiful trophy to take home – Not bad for his first major tournament!

Now we were down to the Arena poker room regulars; Jerry “Wolf” Sanchez and the chip leader Robert Tanita.

Jerry had been short stacked earlier at the final table until a very dramatic hand put him back in the hunt. He slow played his pocket 4’s after the other two 4’s hit on the flop! No one had any idea what he had and he took so long trying to decide to call a big bet that most people were convinced he did not hit anything on the flop. He took even longer on the call bet to Robert on the turn card. So when Robert checked on the river card, Jerry hesitated, then went all-in. There was an immediate call by Robert as Jerry showed his poker 4’s for QUADS!

Phil Hellmuth shook his head in disbelief; I turned to Phil and asked “Did you see that coming?” He just shook his head side to side. What a great play to get him back in contention.

On the final hand – as luck would have it, Robert was dealt Pocket 8’s against Jerry’s Jack of Spades and 8 of Spades – Robert goes all-in with $27,000,000 – Jerry “Wolf” Sanchez calls with $10,000,000 – Jerry’s only hope was to avoid a 8 and catch a Jack or 3 more spades The flop was 10d, 6c, 6s, turn was Kh and river was 9s, Once again pocket 8’s held up and Robert was the new Arizona State Poker Champion!

Jerry “Wolf” Sanchez finished next to the very best you could do in this tournament and was rewarded with a beautiful trophy that poker room director Thomas Young presented to him along with $175,200 in cash – not bad for about 5 day’s work!

“It all feels pretty surreal because this is my local casino,” said 30 year old Tanita “I’ve been playing here for 10 years so it feels good to bring a win home, especially a win from Talking Stick Resort.”

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the 2014 tournament surpassed the previous year with 160 more players. In total, more than 1,400 participants battled it out over the course of the five-day tournament which kicked off on August 15th. Each player was looking to win their share of the $1.1 million prize pool.

The semi-finals of the tournament began on August 18, with 181 contenders vying for the final 10 spots in the competition. The final table commenced on Tuesday August 19 with 13-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth serving as emcee. His colorful commentary kept spectators laughing and engaged as the six plus hour showdown ensued.

One of the really hilarious moments occurred during what turned out to be the last break at the final table. As the players moved away from the table to see friends and take a bathroom break Phil Hellmuth noticed that a friend of his and final table pro Kenna James was holding a small Chi Wawa in his arms – Phil could not resist this opportunity – He walked over with a microphone and said to Kenna “You brought a DOG to the tournament?” “Yes, I did” said Kenna, “this is TANK he goes everywhere with me!”

Phil was in awe and questioned him…”He goes to poker tournaments with you?” Kenna replied…”Yes he does!” The laughs were coming from the whole room as Phil walked back to the media table, shaking his head.

I took this opportunity to prank Phil. I said to him “He used to bring TANK to the poker table, but he had to stop doing it.” Phil bit and said “Why, what happened?” he asked. As he pushed the mic toward me – I paused and replied “Well, TANK would sit on his lap at the poker table and when Kenna would get pocket pairs or Ace / King suited TANK would start wagging his tail violently giving away Kenna’s great hand!” A roar of laughter ensued and Phil smiled and grabbed the mic and said…”Good One!”

In addition to bragging rights, Tanita won $257,690, a trophy and bracelet designed by prominent Scottsdale jeweler, Scott Gauthier of Jewelry by Gauthier.  Hand crafted with 14-carat white gold, the bracelet features a customized 2014 closure and touts more than two and a half carats of rubies and black diamonds.

“We had a nice turn out for our 10th anniversary of 1,460 players,” said Tom Young, director of poker at The ARENA Poker Room at Talking Stick Resort. “We had multiple poker pros participate this year, but the game’s outcome shows that poker is truly anyone’s game.  No matter their skill level or background, any player can win.”

Several poker household names competed in the 2014 tournament including Tiffany Michelle, Joe Cada, Dennis Phillips, Dan Hiemiller, Thomas Keller, Chip & Karina Jett and 2013 WSOP Main Event Champ Ryan Riess Professional Poker Players Matt Affleck, Kenna James and one-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner David Williams made it to the event’s final table, all placing in the top 10.

For more details about the ARENA Poker Room at Talking Stick Resort and upcoming tournaments, visit or call (480) 850-8693.

Here’s a list of the top 10 players in the Arizona State Poker Championship and their winnings;

  1. Robert Tanita                                           $257,690
  2. Jerry “Wolf” Sanchez                               $175,200
  3. Brayden Quackenbush                            $131,400
  4. Steve Buell                                               $98,550
  5. Matt Affleck                                              $83,950
  6. Mark Atanovich                                        $69,350
  7. Huy “Spike” Le                                         $54,750
  8. David Williams                                         $40,150
  9. Kenna James                                           $25,550
  10. Pierce McKellar                                        $18,250

More players cashed this year than ever before – even 50th place paid over $4,000!

A special “thank you” goes out to Victoria Gundersen with Talking Stick Resort’s marketing department for her assistance during this poker tournament – by keeping me informed about anything I may have missed during this event – She was a pleasure to work with!

Phil Scudella

Arizona Player

About the Author