South Australia’s poker boom

South Australia’s very own Jon “The Poker Shark” Stark takes a closer look at the poker boom currently underway in the Festival State!

If you saw the recent Stacked Poker Championship in Adelaide and its $100,000 Guaranteed prize for first, you would know that poker in South Australia is experiencing a boom.

The Stacked Poker Championship Main Event drew an astonishing 181 entries at $2,200 per entry, creating a prize pool of $362,000 for the Main Event alone. Local 32-year-old Joe Sandaev took out first prize with another local, Joe D’Apollonio coming in second and yet another local, Adam Cusenza, in third. This was in spite of a number of interstate visitors attending the series, including Australian Poker Hall of Famer Billy “The Croc” Argyros, the event’s ambassador.

With a host of events with cheaper entry levels ranging from a $350 Accumulator and 5-card PLO through to a $550 Monster Stack and a Terminator event, the series smashed through the $500,000 barrier for total prize pool. Not bad for little old Adelaide.

Stacked’s next series is scheduled for September and promises to be just as big. So what is behind the poker boom in South Australia?

Well, one of the key features behind it is that 4fourof the major players in poker in SA are working together!

Stacked Poker, MatchrooM Poker, the Southern Poker Tour and Gambier Poker (based in Mt Gambier) are the four poker groups taking a combined approach. Stacked Poker, aka Stacked Social, is a boutique poker room and cocktail bar in North Adelaide, only a few minutes from the CBD. It has been operating for two and a half years.

MatchrooM is a bar, pool room and poker venue located in Shannon Place in the CBD and has been conducting three major series a year, as well as four tournaments a week, for over four years. It has been at the forefront of poker in Adelaide during that time. Occupying a large space for a CBD venue, the MatchrooM team has continued to offer big prize guarantees at their series and also for their regular weekly tournaments.

The Southern Poker Tour was established in 2020 to provide quality poker tournaments for players outside metropolitan Adelaide. Their growth has been phenomenal and they now attract plenty of players from Adelaide, country areas and even across the border. With venues such as Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, Victor Harbor and the Barossa Valley, they provide a fantastic offering of low (as little as $60) to mid-range tournaments up to a “super high roller” event. They also offer a great way for couples, families and groups to combine poker with sightseeing.

Gambier Poker in Mt Gambier is a regional group of very keen poker players. They support the SA series events and run weekly tournaments in Mt Gambier near the Victorian border. They host the Johnnie Walker Classic ($20,000 Guaranteed for first) over the June Long Weekend as well as two smaller “Little Blues” during the year. 

Like many states in Australia and around the world, the major poker operators were often working against each other rather than with each other. Dates would clash. Players would have to decide which of two, or even three venues, they would attend for their poker fix. So that is when the groups decided to meet and plan together.

Early in 2021, a meeting between the major players was arranged. Over a friendly lunch they worked on a poker calendar and discussed other issues and concepts. The meeting was fruitful, with a group chat set up and regular meetings taking place ever since. A calendar of events was locked in for the rest of 2021.

A Facebook page (SA Poker Team) was set up to advertise the calendar, including all series and special events. This already has approximately 600 poker playing followers.

In 2022, the SA Poker Team has developed things even further.

In January, an SA Poker Awards and Hall of Fame night was held with eight SA players were inducted into the SA Poker Hall of Fame. Four of these – Jonathan Karamalikis, Jeffrey Rossiter, James Obst and Jarred Graham – are young poker millionaires from South Australia. David Galpin ran the poker room at Adelaide casino for more than 20 years, hosted the ANZPT when it was in Adelaide and has trained a generation of dealers and tournament directors. Sadly, David passed away just before the event. The remaining three players – Lindsay Thompson, George Vassilopoulos and Joe Reina – have all played high level poker in South Australia for more than 40 years.

Another couple of concepts have also been developed by the SA Poker Team, including a South Australian Player of the Year. This title will be awarded to the player who collects the most points across 13 SA Poker Team series events during the year. They will win a minimum of $5,000 plus a sponsorship package. 

All winners of SA Poker Team series events in 2022 will also receive automatic entry into the “Champion of Champions” event on 3 December 2022 at MatchrooM, where they will compete for an estimated $20,000 prize pool, including an estimated $10,000 for first.

These two concepts are funded by taking 1% from the prize pool of SA Poker Team series events.

With 80+ players qualifying for this event, the 13th and final SA Poker Team series of the year will be built around this tournament. It will draw participants from all over Australia and is one not to be missed.

A designated wall at MatchrooM has been set up. The wall already features photos of the inaugural eight members of the Hall of Fame. Sections of the wall are also devoted to the Players of the Year and the Champion of Champions beginning this year.

A final piece of the puzzle is the SA Poker comedy nights. Each year, poker players from around the state gather at MatchrooM for a poker comedy night. Poker players tell funny poker stories, with a gong in place for those who go over (or aren’t funny!?) All of the SA Poker groups host tables and it is another night when SA poker players can gather together and share a laugh and a drink, with the evening culminating in a poker tournament.

With almost the entire calendar for 2022 already locked in, it promises to be an exciting year for SA poker players and any interstate visitors who want to have a crack at some SA money.

Visit the SA Poker Team page on facebook for more information.

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