Interview: MSPT FireKeepers Champ Dan Bekavac Talks Latest Win and Midway Poker Tour Aftermath

Written By Hill Kerby on May 27, 2022
Bekavac MSPT firekeepers

The Mid-States Poker Tour recently set a record for the largest prize pool of any Michigan poker tournament in history. 

MSPT FireKeepers ran May 12-15 in Battle Creek, and drew 2,3is30 entries over three starting flights to generate a prize pool of $2,258,600. Multi-time MSPT champion Dan Bekavac, also known in the poker world for his involvement in the 2020 Midway Poker Tour debacle, came out on top via a three-way deal in which he earned the top prize of $252,020.

Bekavac spoke with PlayMichigan earlier this week about both topics: his record-setting victory and coming full circle with the Midway Poker Tour event.

Clearing the air from Chicago

More than 18 months have passed since the inaugural Midway Poker Tour event ran in October 2020 in connection with the 4 KIDS Sake, Inc. charity. The event ran to its completion, though players were not initially paid out due to perceived legal complications that involved an attempt to pay out winnings in silver and provide an onsite cash buyer to exchange players’ metals for legal tender. Furthermore, those metals were to be recycled for all payout places in order to reduce the initial amount of money spent on said metals.

The poker world largely attributed the blunder to Bekavac, and outlets such as PokerNews and PlayIllinois made sure to document that he was still playing in tournaments such as MSPT events as early as three months after the fact.

Fast forward to March 2021: Bekavac won his third MSPT title at Riverside Casino in Iowa for $193K. Shortly after that, he publicly announced his intention to pay back all players who were due money from the fiasco.

Bekavac made good on his word prior to MSPT FireKeepers, paying out around $40,000 out of pocket to clear all debts before adding another $252K to his bankroll. In addition to the prize money, he now holds the record for most MSPT Main Event wins (four) and is third in all-time tour winnings, totaling $646K.

Taking advantage of a familiar venue

Before his win, Bekavac was no stranger to FireKeepers Casino as a venue, which is roughly three hours from his home in Chicagoland. 

“I had gone deep two other times (before),” said Bekavac of his history at the casino. Those deep runs happened in 2013, where he took 30th place, and two years later, when he reached the final two tables before bowing out in 15th.

“This time was just a little different,” he added. He was actually eliminated from play on the final level of the first starting flight, so he came back on Day 1B and experienced a day where he was consistently in the right place at the right time. 

When that day finished, he had more in chips than anybody else in his flight. It was also good for the fourth-largest stack of all advancing players.

Riding momentum on Sunday afternoon

Day 2 was more smooth sailing for Bekavac, who remained near the top of the leader board as the field continued to shrink. According to PokerNews live updates, he was again in fourth place when 27 players remained for the final three tables and in that same position once more with 15 left.

With 12 remaining, Bekavac went on a heater, knocking out three players in a row to reach the final table of nine with the chip lead.

“Every (MSPT) final table I’ve been to, I’ve won. So, there’s a little bit of added pressure there,” said Bekavac of his position and mindset at that point in the tournament. “But when I came into the final table, there was nobody notable.” 

Bekavac agreed he felt highly confident, especially as he surveyed his final table and did not recognize a single face he had played with in the past. With the chip lead, this meant Bekavac would likely not meet much resistance standing in the way of him and his fourth MSPT title.

Up and down to begin the final table

Despite entering the final table as chip leader, other action ensued early to see eventual runner-up CJ Peake take the chip lead. Bekavac hung around, thanks partly to knocking out seventh and sixth places. 

Bekavac then described five-handed play: “This time was just a little different. At the final table, we were five handed for over two hours with nobody busting.” 

Eventually, Jonathan Johnson shoved jack-10 into the pocket kings of Zinoviy Pelekh, whose hand remained best to eliminate Johnson in fifth place ($91,699). The pot also resulted in Pelekh and Bekavac having competing stacks for second place in the counts.

The biggest hand of the tournament

A few hands later, Bekavac took care of Pelekh in what was the most significant hand of the tournament when the two got stacks in preflop for at least half the total chips in play. Bekavac had pocket queens, and Pelekh had ace-king of clubs.

Both players were roughly 50% to win the hand until the queen of clubs appeared on the flop, giving Bekavac top set and a commanding lead. 

Then, fireworks flew as the jack of clubs came on the turn.

“To flop him dead … and then he just turns a royal flush draw,” Bekavac said. “I literally stood up and my chair fell, (yelling) like, ‘Get the f— out of here!’”

One card was then to come, and Bekavac said he knew in his heart that he was losing. Instead, a red four fell cleanly to complete the board and leave his set of queens best. It also eliminated Pelekh in fourth place ($119,706) and gave Bekavac the chip lead once more.

Chopping it up

Bekavac continued, “Then, we got three ways, and the short stack doubled up literally like four or five times. And that’s when I looked over at the other guy who I had a slight lead on.” 

The three began discussions leading to a chop that earned Bekavac the first-place title, trophy, and $252,090 prize. The other two players, Peake and Marquez Davis, took home $241K and $199K, respectively, from the deal as well. Quite the results for a weekend at the felt.

When asked if it feels less sweet to chop than to win outright, Bekavac said, “Yeah, it does. It doesn’t feel the same. I mean, I’ll take it nonetheless, but it was 80,000 real dollars difference,” further stating that Davis was running hot and consistently winning when his tournament life was on the line.

“But, I just looked over and, you know what, it’s 4 a.m. It’s been a long day, and I’m like, I can lock up a quarter-million and a title. Let’s go.”

Q&A about Midway with Dan Bekavac

By now, no further dirt or secrets exist regarding the details of how the Midway Poker Tour played out. Bekavac has been willing to speak about it on the record with news outlets, including PlayMichigan.

That section of our interview with him is below:

PlayMI: Did you feel any sense of responsibility for how everything played out regarding silver and the payout controversy?

Bekavac: Well, on Saturday, the state’s attorney didn’t come to us until 5 p.m. So, it almost feels like they kind of set us up a little bit because if they would have come early in the day, like 1 o’clock, then that would have given us ample time to secure (all of) the gold or silver that we needed (to pay out all players). They came to us when all the gold shops, all the coin shops were already closed for the weekend. They came to us at the 12th hour, basically, and said that you can’t do this, and you need to find enough supply.

PlayMI: Come Sunday, you had been given advance notice of the likely outcome and even informed the charity you would not be present as everything went down. Did you feel any responsibility as it happened, or did you just kind of know it would happen and feel there was nothing you could do about it?

Bekavac: Straight up, I’m like (to the charity), “This is a terrible decision (to pay out in metals which were bought at 70% of face value).’

(Side note: Bekavac offered an alternate solution of paying players their full prizes 24 hours after the completion of the event at another local gold store that agreed to do so)

I’m like, players are not gonna care about waiting one day. One day. They know it’s money in the bank and most of the players are local. I think there were maybe three players that wouldn’t have been able to come the next day to get their prize, and there’d still be a way to securely get it to them. That would have been the best solution to the problem, but it is what it is. It just compounded.

PlayMI: Between the event and the time you paid back, did you feel anything besides your expressed desire to pay everybody back? I know you said you didn’t like the idea of owing people money, but you also mentioned that people will still not look at you favorably when all is said and done.

Bekavac: No, I mean everyone’s paid off now. You’re still gonna have those people who are completely clueless to how businesses work and how much time and effort goes into setting everything up. I mean, the amount of money we paid for advertising alone far and away exceeds what most people make in a year. 

That was all out of my pocket, and even though everybody’s paid off now, people will still be like, “Oh, he only did well because he robbed all these people and had all these buy-ins.” But, it’s like, those people have no clue what they’re talking about. 

I still get messages from people like, “Oh, you’re still a scumbag!” But I also woke up to like four different messages from others saying, “Hey, congratulations! I’m proud of the way things worked out,” you know, and opportunity breeds opportunity, so things will come around … People will keep on hating, but as long as I keep putting chips in the bag and cashing big tournaments, it is what it is.

PlayMI: How does it feel to have paid everybody back. Do you feel this is all behind you now?

Bekavac: Uh, I feel like I have less money (smiles). But again, there’s nothing that anybody can say now. What are they gonna say next?

Photo by MSPT Twitter
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Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby comes from a background of poker, sports and psychology. He brings all of these areas into his writing, where he feels fortunate to be able to create value in the growing, legal betting industry.

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