The Heartland Poker Tour Black Hawk Golden Gates Main Event drew 787 entrants for a $1.15 million prize pool for the top 81 finishers. Returning for the final day of play are defending champion Lance Cord Garcia, chip leader Zo Karim and Ben Keeline – three friends that have been coast-to-coast together on some of poker’s biggest stages.

They’ve earned $21,634 for pulling up a seat to the HPT TV table, but they’re all eyeing the $248,732 first-place prize.

“Playing with friends is such a bitter sweet feeling for me,” Garcia said. “I love competition, growing I played basketball competing against friends, so it was an easy transition for me. I want to stay friendly, but compete.”

Karim’s social nature lends himself to be talkative. “I’m friends with so many people, so it’s just whatever at this point,” he said.

 “I imagine the table will be pretty chatty,” Keeline said. “I may join in or shut it down – it really depends on the situation.”

“I know how some guys play so maybe that may or may not affect my plays. I’m the big stack now, but may not be all the way through,” said Karim. “So I just have to play my best. I ‘d rather play against eight random players, but I love seeing my boys like Lance thrive.”

Keeline has a contrary view, “It’s always cut throat. I try not let friendship come into play,” he said. “We are all here to win and maximize our EV. No chop to the top.”

“There are pros and cons (to playing friends), I know where my friends are at more than random players and random players tend to take insane lines against me where as my friends tend to respect and take lower variance lines against me,” said Garcia.

“At this point, I only get nervous at final tables when I am short. When I am deeper I can control the table how I want, when I want,” Garcia said. “I’m ready for today, going back-to-back like the Rockets of 94-95.” 

Final Table Chip Counts

1. Zo Karim – 5,745,000
2. Cord Garcia – 5,385,000
3. Dan O’Brien – 4,240,000
4. Andrew Dean – 2,200,000
5. Saad Vasquez – 2,200,000
6. Ben Keeline – 1,185,000
7. Justin Enger – 1,150,000
8. Ed Sebesta – 910,000
9. Torii Beeding – 620,000