For many, the Super Bowl was the weekend's big event, but for four ESPN Poker Club winners, the best highlights came on Saturday night. The four winners, Ken Eurell, Lee Hew, Dexter Diaz and Tom McGregor, played a grueling four and a half hours, beating out 396 other players. And they're now getting their passports ready and heading overseas to Howard Lederer's and Annie Duke's All-In Poker Camp.
Even after the tournament was over, the winners still had their toughest decision to make: "Which camp should I attend?" The All-In Poker Camp will be holding two camps over the course of the year. The first will be held in May in Austria at the beautiful Casino Baden and will feature not only Lederer and Duke, but Marcel Luske and Thomas Bihl as well. The second camp will be held in Australia later on this year, with the date still to be announced. The winners are still deliberating where they would like to go.
Eurell, a retired police officer that currently resides in Florida, won the tournament.
Coming in as the short stack with six players left, Eurell couldn't let the pressure get to him.
"With the position I was in, I had to push. I couldn't sit back," Eurell said. "Everyone wanted to be that fourth player.
Eurell didn't want to come in fourth place; he wanted to win. Eurell raised in position, he made smart raises and knew that nobody would go up against him if they wanted to finish in the top four and win the grand prize.
Looking back on the final hands, Eurell happily said, "Everything just went right."
Eurell has always been interested in visiting Australia, and he is extremely excited to go, but has also contemplated Austria.
"I'm going to make it an extended vacation," he said. "I'd like to make an informed choice."
McGregor, the second-place finisher from Wolcottville, Ind., is looking forward to his trip Down Under.
"It was awesome. Unbelievable," he said.
McGregor, a UPS driver, had lots of support during the final tournament. But it wasn't until he reached the final table and held the chip lead when he thought he could actually win.
And he wasn't the only skeptic in his family.
"My son Trent didn't think I was going to win then when it got down to the final 20, he couldn't sleep -- he was pacing the floor and making me nervous," McGregor said.
Trent quickly became a believer.
"When I made it, that's when I lost it," McGregor said. "My son was going crazy next to me. He went over and woke up my wife, who said, 'He didn't win,' and went back to sleep."
It wasn't until the next morning when his wife finally knew that he was heading to the camp.
Although playing in the ESPN Poker Club since it opened, this was McGregor's first final tournament and he was sure to make it count.
"I'm still in shock," he said. "This is going to be amazing."
Finishing in third place was someone who truly needed a break. Lee Hew, a native of Metairie, La., is still trying to get his life back together after Hurricane Katrina.
"I lost my place, my clothes, everything," Hew said. "It's been a tough time and very frustrating to live down here."
Although there was no garbage pickup for weeks, no place to go get food after 7 p.m., and no power at times, Hew found time to play on ESPN Poker to help take his mind off things.
"I've made four final tournaments already, but had never made it past the top 100," Hew said. "That was my goal."
As the tournament progressed, Hew's goals changed.
"I wanted to make the top 10 and win the chip set, then I wanted to make the final four," he said.
During the early hands of the final table, Hew's dream of winning almost ended. Coming in as a medium stack with 10 players left, Hew was dealt Q-Q in the small blind. One player, "Bleacher Bum," raised to put the decision on Hew. After thinking about it and knowing that he was covered, Hew pushed all-in and "Bleacher Bum" called with A-K offsuit.
The better hand held up and Hew was on his way to victory.
"After that hand, I thought I had a shot," Hew recalled. "I didn't think it was in the bag because I didn't have 25 percent of the chips yet, but I felt better with a bigger stack."
When it was all said and done, Hew was ecstatic to share the victory with his parents.
"I ended up playing at my parents' house, and it was nice to have someone around when you win," he said. "They heard me when I won, I kind of yelled. I was giving my mom the updates, counting the spots down. Then my cousin from Houston called and asked me if I had won since he knew my screen name. It was great.
"It's going to be good to get away for a bit. It's going to be a long time until we get back to normalcy down here."
The trip will also be a breath of fresh air for Diaz, another Louisiana native.
Diaz, a supervisor for a cable company, made it through Katrina with minimal damage, if any, but still understands the difficulties many people face. His home town, Thibodaux, La., has been flooded with people still trying to settle down again.
"We got lucky that we were unharmed," Diaz said, "but it's disheartening to see 90 percent of homes with 6 feet of water in them. It's terrible."
Diaz also got lucky at the poker table, but his great calls are what propelled him to victory. With pocket jacks and a board of A-Q-3, he made a great call as his opponent, with pocket 10s, tried to steal the pot with a large bet. Diaz's jacks held up and he felt this was the turning point he needed.
"I was just saying to myself, 'I've got this,'" he said. "I was hoping someone would knock out the short stack. I was playing tight. I didn't want to make the mistake."
He didn't want to make the mistake, and his wife and son were hoping the same.
"I think what really won it for me was my wife and my little boy," Diaz said. "They were telling me not to do anything crazy because I was getting really excited.
"My son shouted out, 'Don't holla until the fat lady sings!' then, when it was finally over, he said, 'The fat lady has sung!' and we celebrated."
Diaz got the right cards when he needed them, and he's ready to go to Austria to play with the pros and have a great time.
"I'm so excited, I just can't believe it," he said.
Want to be the next ESPN Poker Club winner and have Daniel Negreanu teach you everything he knows? Join the ESPN Poker Club today and win your shot to become Daniel Negreanu's protégé! These four winners proved they have what it takes to win at the ESPN Poker Club. Do you? Join the ESPN Poker Club today.
Andrew Feldman is the ESPN Poker Club's columnist, producer and tournament director. To contact Andrew, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.