Paradise Poker Million Dollar Freeroll 3
2006 Randy Saylor  

The “Guy Next Door” won a million dollars playing poker. He’s not literally “next door” to me, but it’s close enough, as we live about fifty miles apart. On the global scale of online poker, 50 miles is pretty close.

The source of the million bucks is Paradise Poker, and 28-year-old Jason Benanzer of Greenville, OH, is the lucky winner. He took down the top prize in the Paradise Poker Million Dollar Freeroll 3, which was completed August 19.

The Million Dollar Freeroll promotion at Paradise Poker consists of a long series of qualifier Multi Table Tournaments. Entry into the (three daily) MTTs is available to players every time they earn 100 Player’s Club Points. The top nine finishers in each tournament (out of approximately 2000 entries) make it to the final. The online final for the PPMDF4 will be held January 20, 2007, and will likely have about 8500 players.

The County Fair

Greenville, OH is a rural farming town in Western Ohio. One of the more exciting annual events is the Darke County Fair. This year, a minor celebrity was manning one booth. Jason was working the crowds at the booth featuring his family’s construction business, Benanzer Custom Homes, only one week after taking home the million-dollar prize.

If you’ve never attended a county fair in a farming community, just imagine a huge fairgrounds focusing on livestock and tractors. Clearly, dreams of celebrity treatments haven’t entered this guy’s head. He has promised to pay all of his taxes on the winnings. One gets the sense that he will do as he says, and the money will be intact years from now. It’s also likely he won’t be sued for half the winnings like WSOP winner Jamie Gold. Every indication is that this money will not change our hero.

Costa Rica

One interesting feature of the Million Dollar Freeroll is the trip given to the ten final table participants. The online final plays down to the final table, when play is paused. The ten players (and a guest) are then flown to a tropical “Paradise”, where the final table is played live. Each is guaranteed $10,000, with first place paying a cool million. Not bad for a freeroll.

When Benanzer arrived at the final table, it was to the smiles of the others. As the shortest stack, he certainly didn’t garner much respect. His flip-flops and old T-shirt suggested a day at the beach rather than serious poker. As the shortest stack, he certainly needed some luck, so why not be comfortable while at it?

His T-shirt featured Bob Ross, the giant-afro painter of the American Public Television series The Joy of Painting. If you’ve never seen the show, think of an aging flower child painting “happy little trees.” Benanzer wore the shirt for good luck, since it was the shirt worn during the online portion of the final.

The Desperate Short Stack

The hero arrived at the final table dead last in chips. His stack of 173,000 was half on the ninth place stack. The leaders were in the millions. His plan was to get all-in on five of the first ten hands to garner some chips. Some calls were close, but he always caught perfect cards when he needed them. Eventually his stack was enough to take the first player out, when his AK beat a QQ all-in preflop.

The chip leader eliminated the next two players, and then it was Benanzer’s turn again. He brought the tournament down to five players when a ten on the turn gave him the nut straight. His opponent had top pair, and all the chips went in. He was no longer desperate. His 3.4 Million chips were enough for second place.

A big pot against the chip leader increased his stack, and then he knocked out another player. Jason and a short stack got their chips all-in preflop. Benanzer QT dominated Q9. Both players paired on the flop, and the QT held up. The short-stacked player in the old hippie T-shirt was now the chip leader.

The Paradise Poker personnel noted Benanzer as a big talker. This was a strategy decision to put pressure on the other internet players. While he had been playing competitive poker for only a year, he has a lot of background with home poker games.

Taking the Huge Chip Lead

A big pot occurred when the two big stacks tangled. Benanzer raised and was called preflop. The A 2 4 flop saw a bet and a call. The K on the turn prompted him to challenge, “I don’t think you hit your flush,” followed by a bet and call. After the 4 completed the board, both players checked. The opponent asks if he can beat the 6-high flush. Jason turned over the 7 for a big win. This huge pot gave him more than five times the chips of any other player, and more than two-thirds of the total in play.

Jason took out another player when he called an all-in preflop. His A7 beat a KT, and the poker tournament was down to three players.

Not long afterwards, he raised preflop without checking his hole cards. One player pushed, and Benanzer had odds to call with any two cards. His T6 was a 53-47 underdog to 55, but he rivered a 6 to knock another out. It was then heads-up with the hero having more than ninety per cent of the chips in play.


The heads-up battle was over quickly. On the first hand, runner up “Mr. Roberto” pushed all-in preflop. Benanzer’s AT was good enough for a call, especially against Q9. The flop was 6 K 3, followed by the turn card of 4. Neither player held a heart, so there were no flush draws, and it was down to six outs for Mr. Roberto. The river was the 5, and the tournament was over.

Jason Benanzer took down the Million Dollar first prize in truly amazing fashion. After starting with only one per cent of the chips, he built his stack (with a little luck) and knocked out seven of the other nine players. When he was the big stack, he bullied the table relentlessly, often raising without checking his hole cards. His big stack hands held up, and the farming community was one million dollars richer.

Million Dollar Freeroll winner Jason Benanzer (after changing his shirt)

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