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Best of Dan Podheiser

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Conoley follows in Baranowski's footsteps, notches first Main Event cash

11 July 2015

LAS VEGAS – They say don’t mess with Texas. At the very least, there's one Dallas-area home poker game you should probably stay away from.

Last year, Casino City profiled Dallas chiropractor Dean Baranowski and his wife, Colleen, on Day 1C of the World Series of Poker Main Event. Dean ended up making a deep run, winning $52,141 for his 135th place finish. He's since parlayed that win into more success at the tables; in the last year alone, he has more than $321,000 in live tournament earnings, according to the Hendon Mob database.

The Baranowskis' story was so interesting in 2014 not just because of Dean, but also because of Colleen's dedication on the rails. She stood beside her husband for hours, giving him words of encouragement and bringing him snacks whenever needed.

Kenny Conoley plays as the money bubble approaches during Day 3 of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event.

Kenny Conoley plays as the money bubble approaches during Day 3 of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event. (photo by Dan Podheiser/Casino City)

Flash forward to the 2015 Main Event, and the Baranowskis are back. And even though Dean busted on Day 1C, he and Colleen still stood in the Amazon Room at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino on Day 3. That's because their good friend, Kenny Conoley, was still in the tournament, looking to make it through the money bubble.

Conoley, a realtor in the Dallas area, has played in a home game with Dean for the past three years. He came out to the Rio to play the Main Event last year, ended up busting on Day 2 and proceeded to stand by Dean's side as he made a run all the way to the last level of Day 5.

Now the roles are reversed.

Conoley was one of 1,000 players to cash in the 2015 Main Event, making it to the money bubble with only about 11,000 in chips. The min-cash is good for $15,000, but the experience has been worth more for Conoley.

"I have nothing to lose,” Conoley said during the final break of the night on Friday. “This was a bucket list dream to cash in the World Series, and I did. So now we'll just keep going up the money levels and see what happens."

Conoley folded his way to the money by laying down a few big hands. He folded ace-king of hearts with 27,000 chips to a guy who had pocket aces and laid down ace-jack suited, when another player's pocket queens would have won the pot. And he took his time on every decision, milking every second he could in order to surpass the rest of the field and reach the money.

But when the bubble burst, Conoley chipped up quickly. He made it to 30,000 when his pocket nines won a race against ace-king. Then he vaulted to 85,000 when his pocket jacks held strong against an opponent's pocket sixes. And in the last level of the night, Conoley went all-in with a set of sevens on the flop against the nut flush. The river paired the board, giving Conoley a full house and 160,000 chips.

"It's been such a roller coaster," Conoley said.

Conoley says it's surreal to have Dean and Colleen on his rail, one year after he watched Dean navigate his way through a 6,683-player field. He says he has learned patience watching Dean play.

"Dean's the most patient player I know and he's a great player," Conoley said. "In our home game we all hate him (laughs)."

Now that Conoley has made the money, that marks three straight cashes for the Dallas home game, as Dean cashed in 2013, too. The game is rounded out by a few other friends, as well as Conoley's father, who Conoley says is the greatest poker player he's ever known.

"We are super close," an emotional Conoley said. "My early memories are of me sitting in my dad's lap playing poker, and him whispering in my ear what chips to put in the pot, or what he was going to do. He's been my best friend, and he's the reason why I'm here. This cash is dedicated to Bill Conoley."

Conoley says he's been communicating via text with his father, along with his wife, three sisters and three kids. He's having the time of his life. But there's also a lot of pressure to come home with a big score.

"My eight-year-old daughter told me that I needed to win enough money to buy a really nice RV," Conoley said with a chuckle. "But it would be a dream to make six figures. I'm just going to take it one level at a time, now that I do have chips and can play my style."

Conoley isn't taking this experience for granted. Having learned from his father and having watched Dean make a deep run last year, he knows that it takes patience, skill and a little luck to advance in the Main Event.

"It's kind of surreal," Conoley said. "Between my dad and Dean, those are the two best poker players I know. I really thought it would be me watching Dean, like I typically am. But he hasn't moved. He's been on the rail all day long. Just to have his support is so much fun."

By the end of Day 3, Conoley had bagged 108,500 chips. He'll enter Day 4 in prime position to ladder up a few more pay levels. The first place prize for the 2015 Main Event champion is $7.68 million.

That should buy a pretty nice RV.
Conoley follows in Baranowski's footsteps, notches first Main Event cash is republished from CasinoVendors.com.
Dan Podheiser

Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.
Dan Podheiser
Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.