NBC “Ironman” Wins Poker Title after Reality Show Stardom

St. Louis, MO (April 15, 2012) – It was the largest poker tournament ever held in the state of Missouri.

More than one thousand poker players flooded into the Harrah’s St. Louis Riverboat Resort and Casino this weekend for what turned out to be a historic event.  The fourth tournament of the two-week poker festival attracted a door-smashing 1,066 entries.  This was the most players ever for any poker event held in Missouri.  The heavy turnout eclipsed last year’s number by more than 20 percent (there were 843 players for the same event last year).

Appropriately, the winner of the record-busting event was a real life “ironman.”  Roy Riley, a 26-year-old physical education teacher and star of a recently broadcast television reality show, won the tournament, which was a test of mental and physical stamina.  

Riley collected $57,139 in prize money.  He was also presented with his first WSOP Circuit gold ring.  

Indeed, just about everything seems to be going Riley’s way at the moment.

“I have the perfect life right now,” he said, moments after his victory.  “This was a great victory.”

Riley is currently a part-time poker player.  In his full-time job he works with disadvantaged youth in physical education and mental development.  Many of Riley’s students come from tough neighborhoods and broken homes.  They often took to Riley as a role model.

About a year ago, Riley and his extraordinary work with young people was discovered by television executives.  He was asked to appear on NBC’s “Ironman World Championship,” which was ultimately broadcast nationally last December.  Overnight, Riley’s life was transformed.  He was featured on local newscasts and appeared in local newspapers.  Riley became famous, for a short time.

Riley’s moment of glory as an ironman contestant may have faded in the months that have come and gone since his stardom, but he’s now stepped into a new spotlight.  By winning such a huge tournament and collecting his biggest career payout, he now has enough confidence to take a few months off during the summer and play poker full time.

“I am going to give it a shot,” Riley said.  “I planned to do this before I won this event.  But now, I really think I am ready to take the next step.”

Regardless of what happens in Riley’s aspiring poker career, he still plans to continue working with underprivileged youth.  

“I love poker,” he said.  “I really love to play the game.  But to me, it’s important to do something that’s really important and help other people.  I love my job just as much.”

Alas, if there is such a thing as good karma, it happened at Harrah’s St. Louis.  Sometimes good things happen to good people.  


The fourth of a dozen gold ring tournaments began on Saturday with Event #4 – a $355 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em competition.  The tournament attracted a record 1,066 entries.  The total prize pool came to $310,206.  The top 109 players were paid (two players split 108th place).  The top 108 players who cashed received WSOP Circuit National Championship ranking points.

A full list of all players who cashed in Event #4 can be seen here.

The tournament was played over two consecutive days – with two starting flights on Day One, played on Saturday.  Only 142 survivors took seats on the second day of action, played on Sunday.

Following nearly 11 hours of play on Day Two, the final table was finally set.  

Seat 1:  Roy Riley with 872,000 in chips
Seat 2:  Billy Diepenbrock with 413,000 in chips
Seat 3:  Doug Campbell with 2,079,000 in chips
Seat 4:  Matthew Clerk with 598,000 in chips
Seat 5:  Aaron Wilson with 2,495,000 in chips
Seat 6:  Javier Zarco with 1,361,000 in chips
Seat 7:  Bradley Lipsay with 666,000 in chips
Seat 8:  Kyle Speake with 815,000 in chips
Seat 9:  Matt Lawrence with 432,000 in chips
Seat 10:  Tripp Kirk with 730,000 in chips

The final table competition appeared to be a two-place race between top chip leaders Aaron Wilson and Doug Campbell.  There was only one former gold ring winner among the finalists – Tripp Kirk who won his title back last season.

The final playing session began at 11 pm local time.  Play finished at 2 am making the total duration about three hours.  The official order of finish was as follows:  

Kyle Speake, a 27-year-old electrician from Kansas City, MO finished in tenth place.

9th Place – Matthew Clerk was the ninth-place finisher.  He is a former coal miner from De Soto, IL who is now playing poker most of the time.  In fact, he won back to back events last year at a major event held in Tunica, MS (Gold Strike Casino).  This was Clerk’s deepest run in a WSOP-related tournament, which paid $5,634 in prize money.

8th Place – Bradley Lipsay finished in eighth place.  He is a 28-year-old poker pro from Nashville, TN.  This was Lipsay’s fourth time to cash on the WSOP Circuit this season, including a fourth-place finish at Horseshoe Hammond, last November.  Lipsay collected $7,073.  

7th Place – Billy Diepenbrock ended up in seventh place after taking a brutal beat on his final and with pocket aces.  He is a 43-year-old marketing representative for Nations Title.  He is also a frequent patron of “Blarney Stone Bar and Grill.”  This was Diepenbrock’s best showing in a WSOP event.  He has two previous cashes on the Heartland Poker Tour.  Seventh place paid $8,985.
6th Place – Matt Lawrence was the sixth place finisher.  He is a 28-year-old part-time poker player.  Lawrence cashed in this same event last year, and improved dramatically this time around with a final table appearance that paid $11,545.  
5th Place – Aaron Wilson came in fifth.  He is a 38-year-old warehouse manager from St. Charles, MO.  This marked his first time to cash in the WSOP Circuit.  He collected $15,007.
4th Place – Doug Campbell finished in fourth place.  He is the 47-year-old owner of a courier business.  Campbell cashed twice at this same Circuit stop last season (7th and 15th).  He also cashed in the 2009 WSOP Main Event Championship (476th).  Fourth place paid $19,736.

3rd Place – Tripp Kirk was the third-place finisher.  He is a 27-year-old poker player from Atlanta, GA.  Kirk now has nine WSOP Circuit cashes, including a gold ring victory at Harrah’s Tunica in 2010.  He now has four cashes this season, as well as two cashes at the WSOP in Las Vegas.

2nd Place – Javier Zarco was the runner up.  He is a 21-year-old student from Madrid, Spain.  He is currently studying in the U.S.  Zarco was cheered on by a large gathering of Spanish-speaking friends.  He has previously achieved success in Europe, winning a major tournament held in his native Spain.  Zarco collected $35,327 in prize money for a fine effort.

When heads-up play began, the two finalists were close to equal in chips.  But over the next hour Riley increased his advantage to the point where he was up by about a 3 to 1 margin.  The final hand came proceeded as follows:


Zarco flopped a small pair and an inside straight draw.  He moved all-in hoping to take the pot.  Riley called with second pair.  The pair of sevens held up and Riley was declared the new champion.

1st Place – Roy Riley became the fourth WSOP Circuit champion crowned this year at Harrah’s St. Louis.  He won his biggest payout ever – totaling $57,139 for the victory.  He was also presented with his first gold ring.

With his victory, Riley moves close to the top spot in this WSOP Circuit’s “Best All-Around Player” standings.  Shain Matthews is the current leader in points.

The player who accumulates the most overall points in Harrah’s St. Louis’ twelve combined gold ring tournaments receives a pre-paid entry into the $1 million 2011-2012 WSOP Circuit National Championship.  At least two players from this tournament series will qualify for the WSOP Circuit National Championship, which is classified as a WSOP gold bracelet event.  The other automatic qualifier will be the winner of Main Event championship (to be held April 21-23).

Here is the list of gold ring winners at Harrah’s St. Louis, so far:

Event #1 – Shain Matthews (Marysville, CA) won $29,306 in $355 NLHE
Event #2 – Jerry Ard (Monticello, MS) won $32,147 in $565 NLHE
Event #3 – Kevin Balsman (St. Louis, MO) won $11,844 in $355 PLO
Event #4 – Roy Riley won $57,139 in $355 NLHE(Re-Entry)

With the first four tournaments now wrapped up, there are still eight more gold ring events remaining in what is being billed as a “12 rings in 12 days” poker series.  The WSOP Circuit at Harrah’s St. Louis continues through April 23rd.  This year’s schedule includes not only all the gold ring events, but multiple second-chance tournaments, single table and mega satellites, plus cash games going around the clock inside the action-packed poker room



Harrah’s St. Louis is a casino-resort located in Maryland Heights, MO -- about a 35-minute drive from Downtown St. Louis.  The international airport is even closer, just 15-minutes by car or shuttle.  In fact, the shuttle bus is free for hotel guests.  For poker players residing throughout the Midwest, the casino can be reached easily, which is located right off Interstate-70.

Harrah’s St. Louis is the 15th (of 17) WSOP Circuit host properties.  The 2011-2012 season is rapidly winding down, with only three more stops remaining on the schedule.  Harrah’s St. Louis is the Midwest’s final destination this season.  The other two remaining WSOP Circuit stops are at Harrah’s Chester (Philadelphia) – April 26 to May 7 and Harrah’s New Orleans – May 10 to May 21.

This marks the third straight season that the WSOP Circuit has visited Harrah’s St. Louis.  Previous tournaments played here drew large turnouts and generated big prize pools.  This year’s series appears to be no different based on heavy registration for the first few events.

Harrah’s St. Louis first opened in 1997 and has been one of gaming’s flagship properties in the Midwest ever since.  The hotel offers 455 deluxe rooms and 47 luxury suites.  Special hotel rates for players are available.  The property also has several fine restaurants at all price levels.  See for more information.

Harrah’s St. Louis’ “12 Rings in 12 Days” series is taking place April 12-23.  All the poker action takes place right on the main casino floor.  The final table is stationed right in the center of the floor, a highly-anticipated destination for every poker player.  

There's a lot at stake for poker players who will make their way to Harrah’s St. Louis over the next two weeks.  Not only are a dozen gold rings up for grabs, lots of prize money will also be awarded to those who cash.  All players who finish in the money will also earn ranking points, which are used to determine finalists for the season-ending WSOP Circuit National Championship.

Since the season began in September, all tournament players have been in the running for 100 guaranteed pre-paid seats in the $1 million WSOP Circuit National Championship finale – which will be a WSOP gold bracelet event to be played in Las Vegas, around the time of the World Series of Poker Main Event.

To see the complete Harrah’s St. Louis tournament schedule, please visit here.