Gavin Smith has won the inaugural World Pro-Am Challenge TV tournament following a 149-hand, four-hour game of intense Speed Poker at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the temporary home of the Poker Dome Challenge.
Smith was crowned World Pro-Am Champion and was awarded $500,000 for his efforts.
"It was really cool to win in my first experience of Speed Poker. The format was unbelievable and allowed for excellent poker while still able to produce a great television show." said Smith.
The World Pro-Am Challenge was a televised, Texas Hold'em tournament that saw three online qualifiers battle three top pros for a $1 million prize pool. In a unique twist, amateurs were given more starting chips than the pros ($70,000 to the pros' $50,000) and each was paired with a pro poker player coach who tutored them before and during the match.
The online qualifiers were Joe Isaacson from Wisconsin, Andrew Stoll from Ohio, and Scott Gardner from England. Isaacson was paired with Michael Gracz. As part of the deal, each coach was to receive a percentage of the amateur's payout if he finished in the money.
Each qualifier and his coach were allotted a single one-minute timeout to discuss strategy during the event. The coaches were seated in the audience for the duration of play, and thus had the ability to see everyone's hole cards and to call their timeout, when a hand wasn't in play, to counsel their pupils on anything they saw, such as tells, patterns of play, and strategy. Once a time-out button was hit, the coach and player met in a private room where their conversation was filmed for the audience.
Aside from Smith, pro players competing in the even included Todd Brunson, who finished fourth, and John Gale, who finished third and collected $200,000. Second place was won by Gardner. He received $270,000 for his efforts, $30,000 of which was awarded to Gracz for his expert coaching.
"The excellent coaching of Mike Gracz, Kenna James, and Tony G, will have given all three of these players an unbelievable experience and the basis to build a very strong poker game," enthused Smith.
"Mike Gracz has taught me a lot during poker school that will always stay with me, and the fact that I made it to heads-up with Gavin Smith amongst three of the world's best players surely has to go down to him. He is a great guy, and has become an even greater friend," said Gardner.
"I'm 29, now mortgage free and it didn't cost me a penny...I would love to pick up a sponsorship and turn professional," he added.
Gracz, who serves as an analyst on the Poker Dome Challenge, spent the three days mentoring Gardner on the intricacies of the popular Speed Poker format prior to the World Pro-Am Challenge. The tournament aired on FSN July 12.