Unquestionably, the most successful and accomplished of the recent spate of poker game-shows is the PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge. The show is fronted by Daniel Negreanu and sees competent amateur players face off against a series of celebrities, Team PokerStars pros, and eventually Daniel himself. Yesterday evening, the grand finale aired and saw the four most successful performers compete for the chance to win $1 million.
Two of the quartet had fully won their way through their heats, picking up $100,000 in the process. Savvy TV producers cleverly chose Father Andrew Trapp to star in episode 1. If a poker-playing clergyman wasn’t intriguing enough, the young pastor managed to leap over every hurdle placed in front of him – finally beating Daniel Negreanu and winning $100,000. Brian Barboza was similarly successful in his heat, unlike Denny Luna, an ex-serviceman who qualified as the best loser in his episode.
Former New York cop Mike Kosowski endured the most tortuous route to the final. In episode 4, no one could make it further than the first round – Mike himself failing to beat model Joanna Krupa. However, one player from that show had to go through to the final, so an emergency Sit and Go was convened. The former law enforcer picked up his game and emerged victorious against three opponents.
Mike was nearly not on the show at all. He was only selected as an alternate and flew into LA with his fingers crossed. In fact, a few years ago he was lucky to be alive, having come very close to losing his life during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As one of the first of the police force into Ground Zero, he was busy rescuing survivors when the South Tower collapsed around him. He received serious burns to his neck and back and contracted asthma. Thanks to his injuries, he was forced to prematurely retire in 2004.
Back in the present, the four finalists gathered around the felt in front of a live studio audience to face off in the Challenge of Champions. It was a simple NLHE S&G, with Daniel Negreanu dealing the cards. From the start, Kosowski seemed fated to progress. First he eliminated Denny Luna after his pocket 5’s held up against Luna’s A-6. Heat winner Brian Barboza was next in line, all-in preflop with A-8 against Kosowski’s 8-8. An A-5-3 flop seemed to have saved Brian’s blushes, but a miracle case 8 on the river ended his run in 3rd place. Father Andrew Trapp had little hope of surmounting Mike’s huge chip lead, and soon fell away after his straight draw all-in failed to catch the required cards.
It was then time for the biggest poker game of Mike Kosowki’s life, facing off against the all-time leader in tournament winnings to win $1 million. There was more than pride at stake for Daniel, a win for him would mean $100k for the Lili Claire Foundation. Mike had the best of an early back and forth and eventually Negreanu decided to push all-in with K-2. With a shrug of his shoulders, Mike called and flipped over 5-7. A 6-9-K flop seemed to put Kid Poker back in the game, with Kosowski hoping for another lucky 8 to complete his gutshot. Incredibly, an 8 is just what came, eliminating Daniel and earning the 9/11 hero a $1 million payday.
“When you think about the odds, I have to consider myself to be one of the luckiest guys in the world. I survived 9/11 and the odds of me getting out of there that day were tremendous. Then, I won the show,” he told Poker News Daily. Surviving America’s worst day in recent memory, being picked only as an alternate but getting a shot to play, falling at the first hurdle but grasping his second shot at glory, coming through a tough 4-man S&G and then defeating one of the game’s top pros – Mike Kosowski evidently has some poker skills and a heavy helping of luck on his side.
Before too long, another lucky contestant could be following in Mike’s deserving footsteps. The PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge has already had a second series green-lit. The show’s staff will shortly begin the process of hosting qualifying tournaments and sifting through audition videos. Keep an eye out for the announcement of the first batch of qualifying freerolls on PokerStars.com.