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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

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With her father on the rail, Minkin falls short at WSOP Main Event

11 Jul 2018

By Gary Trask
Kelly Minkin poses with her father, Jeff, during a break in the WSOP Main Event action on Tuesday.

Kelly Minkin poses with her father, Jeff, during a break in the WSOP Main Event action on Tuesday. (photo by Gary Trask)

LAS VEGAS -- Weary-eyed and with a stubble beard, Jeff Minkin sat alone and exhausted in the back row of seats surrounding the World Series of Poker Main Event featured table on Tuesday afternoon at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. Rather than resisting the urge to doze off, the 62-year-old from Arizona was alert and attentive, with a genuine smile pasted across his face.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now,” he said as he glanced across the room and pointed at his daughter, Kelly Minkin. “This is so much fun. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Of course, when your daughter is literally making and chasing history right in front of your eyes, who needs a double espresso from the Starbucks down the hall to keep you awake?

After clinching “Last Woman Standing” bragging rights at the WSOP Main Event for the second time in four years on Monday, becoming the fourth woman — along with Annie Duke, Gaelle Baumann and Maria Ho — to earn that honor, the 31-year-old Kelly was mounting another spirited charge during Day 6 play. Jeff flew in early Monday morning from Florida after getting a call from his excited daughter at 4:30 a.m. about her repeated success in the world’s most prestigious poker tournament, where at one point on Monday she was the overall chip leader. He was working on very little sleep, but was back on the rail watching his daughter’s every move.

Any time Kelly was in a pot, Jeff would get up on the rail and lean in to get a closer look at the action. During down times, he would keep an eye on the delayed PokerGO coverage on his iPhone, and return calls and texts to family and friends looking for updates.

A few hours later, Kelly would ultimately fall short in her bid to become just the second woman to make the final table (the first was Barbara Enright, in 1995), eliminated in 50th place out of a near-record 7,874 Main Event entries, which was good for $156,265. But that couldn’t take away from the excitement she created throughout the Rio, or the charge it gave her father to be here in support.

“She’s attractive. She’s articulate and she’s intelligent,” he said with a deep sense of pride. “I’m sorry to sound like I’m bragging, but look at her. I mean, she’s got all of the attributes that make a successful poker player. This is a perfect environment for her to be successful. And on top of it all, she enjoys it.”

To be fair, when you look at Kelly’s career arc, you get the feeling that if she wanted to be an elite Tiddlywinks player and put her mind to it, she would do it. After graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in molecular and cellular biology, she went on to earn a law degree from Arizona Summit Law School in 2014.

Jeff Minkin keeps a close eye on his daughter, Kelly, during WSOP Main Event action on Tuesday.

Jeff Minkin keeps a close eye on his daughter, Kelly, during WSOP Main Event action on Tuesday.

Her father explained that Kelly, whose parents divorced about 10 years ago, started playing poker in her spare time at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale as a way to “blow off steam.”

“She’s not a partier, so to get away from studying she started playing poker,” said Jeff. “That’s when she started to realize she was pretty damn good at this game.”

Kelly’s first big score came in a women’s event. Then her father posted the $1,000 entry fee in the 2013 Arizona State Poker Championship and she was the runner-up, cashing in for $151,983. Jeff deflected any kind of credit.

“Big deal. I gave her the thousand bucks to enter the tournament,” he said with a laugh. “She’s my only daughter. I’ve ‘sponsored’ her for a lot of other things over the years, just like any father would do for his kid. She’s the one who almost won the thing. Not me.”

Kelly’s success on the felt came as no surprise to her old man.

“She’s always been very regimented and extremely unforgiving,” said Jeff, a Milwaukee native who has lived in Arizona for more than 30 years and works for his family’s development company, along with Kelly’s younger brother Ron. “She’ll tell you the rules of the sandbox and if you don’t abide by them, you better get out of the sandbox. At the same time, she’s a very sweet kid. I can honestly say that I’ve never had to raise my voice at her. Ever.”

Despite working as a medical malpractice defense lawyer, Kelly has made a nice living out of her poker hobby. She has more than $1.1 million in live earnings, including that 29th place finish at the 2015 Main Event ($211,821), a third place at the 2015 WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open Championship in Florida ($262,912) and a third place at a WSOP Circuit Event in 2017 in Los Angeles ($95,880).

There was some talk that Kelly was aiming to start her own law firm, but her father wasn’t so sure.

“She loves poker so much, if she keep doing what she’s doing, I don’t see why she wouldn’t give it a go as a full-time player,” he said. “She’s only been playing for five years. Imagine what she’d be like in another five years if she played full-time.”

During a break in the action on Tuesday, Kelly posed with pictures with her growing fan base and talked shop with her father. She told Casino City she was thrilled to have her father by her side.

“He’s been my No. 1 fan since Day 1 so to have him here to see me make another deep run in the Main Event is just great,” she said.

Was she getting sick of answering questions about being the “Last Woman Standing”?

“No, I think it’s awesome,” she said in a serious tone. “Any time you can distinguish yourself from the rest of a group, it’s something you should be proud of. It doesn’t matter if I’m the last woman standing, or the last person standing, whatever it is, it’s an accomplishment, so I’m grateful for the attention.”

When told that she looked calmer at the table than her father did on the rail during big moments, she explained that’s a big part of her success.

“To be a successful poker player, you have to understand that losing — whether it's a single pot or an entire tournament — is just part of the game,” said Kelly, who aptly refers to herself as The Chillest (@The_Illest) on Twitter. “Once you accept that, it makes everything else a lot easier.”

With that, her father gave her a fist pump and whispered in her ear, “Light it up, kid.” Kelly laughed and took her seat back at the feature table under the hot ESPN lights.

Two hours later, Kelly’s words about understanding that losing is “part of the game” were put to the test when she pushed all in with ace-ten and didn’t get the help she needed against Frederik Jensen’s ace-king.

The dream ride for both Kelly and her overjoyed father was over, but both walked out of the Rio looking like winners.

“At the end of the day, I busted in a situation that I’m never getting away from,” she said with a shrug and another smile. “So, I can’t beat myself up. I’m happy with the result.”
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