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Best of Dan Podheiser

Gaming Guru

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Patience pays off for Baranowski

13 July 2014

LAS VEGAS -- When Casino City profiled Dallas chiropractor Dean Baranowski and his wife, Colleen, on Day 1C of the World Series of Poker Main Event, there was no hint of the potential media stars the two were about to become.

Dean Baranowski made it to Day 4 of the 2013 Main Event and cashed for $21,495. Baranowski and his wife came back for this year’s Main Event because they had so much fun last year. But there’s no way they could have expected the wild ride Dean went on this year.

Baranowski survived Day 1 this year with 57,025 chips. He made it through Day 2 and Day 3 as well. When Day 4 began Friday, just 53 knockouts away from the money bubble, Baranowski told Casino City he wasn't going to take any chances.

"I'm not going to play any hands," Baranowski said. "Even aces."

The strategy worked and Baranowski made it to the money for the second straight year. But he wasn't finished. He continued his ultra-tight play in an effort to keep moving up the pay ladder.

At one point on Day 4, with the blinds at 5,000/10,000 with a 1,000 ante, Baranowski was in the big blind with just 32,000 more chips in his stack. The player in the cutoff position made a raise to 22,000. Baranowski peeled back his cards slowly, one by one -- as he did for every hand -- and thought for a minute before open-folding pocket 6s.

His tablemates were stupefied.

"How could he fold that hand with that stack?" one player said aloud.

It was a questionable play, for sure. A pair of 6s is a monster against the entire range of hands the cutoff would theoretically raise with. And with Baranowski's stack, the "correct" move would be to go all-in.

But Baranowski chose to wait for a better spot. Two hands later, he tripled up with pocket Aces. By the end of Day 4, he had pushed all-in a total of 23 times in the tournament -- and hadn't lost a single one yet.

Day 5 began Saturday, and with 291 players remaining, Baranowski knew he was in for a minimum payday of $33,734. But if he could outlast nine more players in the field, he'd make another $4,900.

Baranowski waited patiently. And waited. The blinds and antes ate away at his already modest stack. But he didn't waiver. Eventually, Baranowski would find hands to shove all-in on. And he won every time. At one point, his stack reached 510,000 chips.

"As soon as I hit a new money level, I say, ‘OK, I've gotta double up,’" Baranowski said during the dinner break Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Colleen waited anxiously on the rail -- much like she did in 2013. In our interview for the initial story, Colleen said she hoped she and Dean would end up on ESPN's TV coverage, since Dean sat right next to the eventual 13th-place finisher Jackie Glazer throughout Day 4. But they didn't make the air.

This year, expect the Baranowskis to be part of the broadcast. The ESPN producers picked up the story of Dean's short-stack play. Every time Dean went all-in Friday, ESPN would send one camera to his table, and another to the rail to film Colleen's reaction. When Dean won the pot, he'd pump his fists and look in Colleen's direction -- Colleen would then shriek in joy.

"You know what -- if you can't scream and yell and have fun, then why even show up?" Colleen said.

Ironically, Dean didn't notice the attention.

"I'm so just focused on counting how many big blinds I have and when I can shove and when the next payout is," he said. "I'm oblivious to what's going on."

Shortly after the dinner break Saturday night, Baranowski's luck in the 2014 Main Event finally ran out. He pushed all-in for roughly 300,000 chips with J-J and was called by two different players, holding A-Q and K-Q. The board was clean on the flop and turn, but an Ace on the river sent Baranowski to the rail on his 29th all-in of the tournament.

In the end, Baranowski earned $52,141 for his 135th-place finish. Dean and Colleen had to cancel their flight Friday night, and it was already 9:30 p.m. in Las Vegas by the time the Baranowskis exited the Amazon Room at the Rio.

When we caught Dean and Colleen walking out the door for the final time, they both looked like they had been hit by a freight train. Fifty-two thousand dollars is a lot of money, but a missed chance to triple up for 900,000 chips is a reality that's hard to overcome.

Still, we expect to see the Baranowskis back at the Main Event next year. Maybe in 2015 Colleen will bring a folding chair.
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.