Ben Saxton's profiles GCP's/Harrahs NOLA free seat Winners

Gulf Coast Poker Winners Week at WSOP Nola

As many of you probably know, Harrah’s New Orleans partnered with to get local poker enthusiasts into WSOP Circuit Event tournaments for free. Poker room manager Chase Haydel gave away over two hundred seats, and seven of them were part of GCP’s social media giveaway. After catching up with most of these recipients, I’m pleased to share a few of their stories.


Originally from Spokane, Washington, Todd Cowan moved to the Gulf South in 1997 on assignment as a locomotive engineer. In those early years, he often played 10/20 limit hold ‘em at the Isle of Capri in Lake Charles (not to be confused with the Pile of Debris on Lake Marl). After Chris Moneymaker lit the no-limit hold ‘em world on fire, Todd traveled to Las Vegas in 2005 and enjoyed the highlight of his poker career: a victory in the $1,000 Bellagio Weekly NLH Tournament for $45,396. This year, thanks to his free seat, Todd entered Event #1: $365 No-limit Hold ‘em Reentry and finished 57th for $1,342.

Todd plans to continue playing tournament poker when he can—especially in Biloxi, Metairie, and New Orleans—but most of his time is spent with his wife and son in Covington, where they recently bought a new house. “I just mowed the lawn for the first time,” Todd told me on Memorial Day. He also plans to take his family to Orange Beach for summer vacation.


Simi Mittal was born and raised in Mississippi and came to New Orleans in 2009 to attend Tulane University. While there, she met her husband Piyush—also a regular at the Harrah’s Weekly tournaments—and the couple moved back to Mississippi so that she could attend graduate school. When she first played poker at Ameristar in Vicksburg, she knew nothing about the game: “I was that girl who folded when it was free to check!” Nevertheless, poker offered Simi, Piyush, and Simi’s dad a fun bonding activity—and also some memorable encounters. 

“Very early on in my poker career, we were vacationing in St. Maarten and entered a nightly tournament,” Simi said. “Back then, I didn’t appreciate the value of 3-betting, check-raising, etc. To add to this, all of the players were speaking French! While I don’t think engaging in conversation is necessary for success on the felt, when everyone around you is speaking a foreign language, it certainly adds another element of uncertainty. I cracked someone’s aces with jacks and am fairly certain I had a few French expletives thrown my way! Somehow, I managed to finish in 4th place for a decent cash—all thanks to Lady Luck!”

Simi used her free seat for Event #11: $365 No-Limit Hold’em Single Re-Entry, where she finished 27th for $625. As she continues to work on her game, she looks to Samantha Abernathy, Maria Ho, and Natasha Barbour as inspirations. “It’s always very motivating to see women having success in something that is male-dominated,” she said. 

Outside poker, Simi works full-time at University Medical Center, teaches ESL to adult immigrants, and writes restaurant reviews on Yelp. Finally, in a recent bit of good news, she was accepted to the MD and MPH program at LSU’s School of Medicine. Congrats!


Jacque Gremillion has lived in the Gulf South his whole life. Originally from Harahan, he currently lives in Gonzales with his wife, Rebecca, who teaches in Ascension Parish. “I am definitely a family man who enjoys spending time with my wife and two sons,” Jacque told me. “Most of the time I am thinking of them when I am playing in a tournament. I always make it a point to share winnings with them because they know how much I love the game and are also pulling for me to succeed.”

Like many of us, Jacque started playing online poker around 2003, after Chris Moneymaker’s epic run inspired him to think: if this guy can do it, then so can I. His favorite poker accomplishment was in a 2014 WSOP Circuit Event at Harrah’s New Orleans, where he finished second for $11,217. During the first weekend of this year’s Circuit Event, after a late night at a concert in Biloxi, Jacque late-registered for Event #1. Eager to make up for lost time, he slowplayed a pair of aces and doubled up. Then he went card dead. With only ten big blinds, he pushed all-in with 4-4 and lost to king-jack offsuit. “I really do appreciate the free seat and enjoyed playing even though I didn’t cash in the event,” he said.

In the future, Jacque hopes to play about ten tournaments a year and to learn from local regulars like Ben Thomas, Walter Chambers, Robbie Matthews, Mike Flowers, Jason Bullock, and Captain Ron Hope. “These guys are excellent players and I learn a lot when I get the chance to play against them,” he said. 


Charlie Gelvin and Todd Skinner
Charlie Gelvin has been playing poker for most of his life. On July 29th, 1976—Charlie’s fifteenth birthday—his dad Russell gave him fifty bucks as a present. That evening, father and son went to Eads Tavern, a New Orleans bar where Russell liked to play five-card poker. Short on cash, he borrowed fifty from his son and lost it all. “I hope you learned a valuable lesson tonight,” Russell said. “Never gamble.”

Charlie, a retired car salesman and a father of four, has been gambling ever since. The Louisiana native lives in Meraux with his German Shepherd, Frieda, and enjoys tournament poker. Drawing on his experience as a body and fender man, Charlie also restores pedal cars, which I was fortunate enough to see for myself when I visited him in Meraux.[1]

 Although he didn’t cash in Event  #12: $365 Double Stack, I think it’s a safe bet that we’ll be seeing Charlie deep in another local tournament soon. At the moment he’s recovering from a nasty sinus infection, so please keep Charlie in your thoughts as he recovers this summer.


Rounding out the other GCP winners were Jamal Butler (pictured), George Bizub, and Todd Skinner, who all showed up to play with smiles and GCP patches.[2] Finally, one of the Circuit Event’s most interesting stories involved John Skinner, a regular at Boomtown’s 4/8 limit hold ‘em tables. As a limit hold ‘em player myself, I was naturally quite pleased to see a fellow 4/8 grinder make the most of his free seat. 

After he won a $135 Nightly tournament—which came with a $1675 Main Event s
eat that Chase Haydel added to the prize pool—Skinner promptly final-tabled the Main. According to the live reporting on, the beginning of the final table was all about Skinner. He showed a propensity to repeatedly move all-in and test his opponents for their entire stack, regardless of how big the pot was. During five-handed play, he ran a queen-high straight into Darren Martin’s king-high straight for a huge pot. Martin finished second to Jerry Monroe, who won his third WSOP Circuit ring and $208,184.  John Skinner finished in fourth place for $70,262—plenty of buy-ins when he returns to 4/8 Limitland. 


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