By JAMIE POTE
TEWKSBURY -The two Wilmington residents were the final two people standing at 1:00 a.m., playing over eight hours of poker during the fourth annual Wahlberg Foundation Celebrity Poker tournament, which began Saturday afternoon and ended in the wee hours of Sunday morning at the Tewksbury Country Club.
Just about 300 people from all over the country, and beyond, came to Tewksbury to participate in this yearly event and helped the Wahlberg Foundation raise over $75,000 for its charity, which will send at least 150 kids from the inner-city of Boston to a summer camp in Maine. There were all kinds of local players at this tournament, with four making it to the final table, while there were all kinds of celebrities on hand as well. Boston Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers, sideline reporter Willie Maye and player Carlos Arroyo made the trip. So did Boston Bruins’ players Shawn Thornton, Tyler Seguin and Steve Kampfer, as did Winthrop’s own Mike Eruzione, the hero of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team. New England Patriots’ cornerback Kyle Arrington participated, and other celebrities included Ken Casey of the Drop Kick Murphy’s, comedian Tony V, actor Jamie Hector of ‘The Wire’ as well as three Wahlbergs including well know actor Donnie, and two of his brothers Bobby and Jimmy, the latter who organized the entire event.
All of them, including the top two place finishers, were there to have fun, and most of all to help children have a chance to be a kid.
“This was amazing, just amazing,” said Jimmy Wahlberg. “If you noticed the people that came, to them it was more than the tournament, it’s more than the money and it’s more than seeing the celebrities. It’s the whole thing and it’s the whole environment.”
As a result of last year’s tournament, Wahlberg said that the Foundation raised about $75,000 and sent about 150 kids to the summer camp in Sebago, Maine. This year, the Foundation did a little bit better and will send at least 150 kids to camp, which is an incredible accomplishment.
“The Wahlberg Foundation is excellent,” said Krasnyansky, who had yet to decide on his prize, either a $7,000 poker seat to a Mohegan Sun tournament, or a bracelet (an exceptional piece of bling). ”I’ve played in this a few years in a row now, and I know Donnie and his brother, and this is a great tournament. I’d play every year.”
Krasnyansky, a 2002 WHS graduate, was one of the ten people at the final table. Among the others included several other locals, Shawn Johnson and Mark McIntire from Tewksbury, and the eventual winner Kavanaugh. The ten players battled for quite some time, and slowly a few started to get knocked out. Each one of them received a terrific prize, whether it was Callaway Golf Clubs, exotic car rentals, dinners for 10 or 12 people and so on.
Eventually it was down to five players - the four locals and one other - and that’s when both Johnson and McIntire were eliminated on the same hand ... a crazy one at that.
Johnson made an early all-in move, and McIntire followed, as did the player behind him. Johnson showed Ace-Eight, McIntire had pocket Tens and the other player had pocket Kings. The flop came out, Ace-King-King, giving the one player quad Kings and sending Johnson and McIntire out of the tournament in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
“This is great and I had a blast,” said Johnson, a 1990 TMHS graduate, who won a pair of courtside seats at a future Celtics game with the fourth place finish. “I had never done anything like this before. I was a lot of fun. It was probably just my third time playing live. I had no clue I’d get this far. It was such a surprise.”
McIntire ended up with a free car - a Mazda on a lease for two years.
“You have to get lucky once you get down to the end,” he said. “But this is a good deal, and it’s for a great charity. Playing here is much different than playing in Vegas or at a Casino because you are pressured a lot more because the blinds get so high so fast, but this tournament is great - the prizes are excellent and this is a good take.”
That brought the field down to three, and again after quite some time, it went to two with Kavanaugh and Krasnyansky playing heads-up. But they weren’t going to have a chance to play all that long, as the game had to stop by 1:00 am, so just about 12:57 is when Krasnyansky made the move with his nines.
“I thought I had a good chance to win,” he said. “I had pocket Nines, against Ace-Three and he caught an ace on the river so what are you going to do? But I have no regrets. This was a great tournament, a great tournament.
“About an hour ago, I had (pocket) Kings and I went up against (pocket) aces and I lost and then I had about 30,000 left (in chips) and I grinded it out to get back to where I ended up. I played well, so I have no regrets.”
Kavanaugh was humbled and reserved about winning the entire tournament. A 1984 WHS graduate, he admitted that he didn’t even have a plan once he reached the final table.
“I just waited for my cards,” said Kavanaugh. “I tried to have some patience, and then I had no choice but to go all-in at one time and then you need to get lucky at some point. I did (on that final hand). I thought I was all done.”
With the win, Kavanaugh will now be able to play in the 42nd annual World Series of Poker tournament to be held in Las Vegas starting on May 31. The entry fee for that tournament is $10,000 - the entry fee for Saturday was $250.
“I don’t even know when it is, but I’ll be there though,” said Kavanaugh, while holding up the giant ten thousand dollar check. “But this tournament was great - it’s for a great charity and that’s why we are all here.”
Besides the locals at the final table, there were plenty of other residents from Wilmington and Tewksbury who competed including Wilmington residents Mike Senarian (23rd overall) and Frank Haubner (in top 50), brother-and sister Jay and Kelly Gillis and Anthony Vitale, among others.
“This was my first time playing in a tournament,” said Vitale, the 1990 WHS graduate. “It’s interesting to see how it goes. It’s intimidating at first. You sit down with a couple of real poker players and you can tell they work the circuit and they are all saying ‘hi’ to each other. Then I saw a couple of guys get knocked out by a couple of white belts and no one saw that coming. Once I saw that, I got a little more confident. But I had so much fun coming here, and this is for such a great cause.”
Tewksbury Police Lieutenant Tom Casey poses with brothers Donnie (left) and Jimmy Wahlberg (third from left) and Boston Celtics point guard Carlos Arroyo during Saturday's annual Wahlberg Foundation Charity Poker Tournament. (photo by JoeBrown)