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'Miami' John viable candidate for Poker HOF

Apr 3, 2019 3:00 AM

James Woods may have found the real ace.

"Miami” John Cernuto has been coaching the legendary actor and he credits much of his tournament success to Cernuto.

“I certainly wouldn’t have been sitting in front of my second Remington, if it weren’t for Miami John,” said Woods, who wondered why Cernuto isn’t in the Poker Hall of Fame.

“John is the Cal Ripken of poker," Woods said. "Let’s start with his unbelievable tournament record — No. 1 in the world with tournament cashes. That alone should seal the deal.

"He’s the most honorable guy in the business, bar none. His handshake is stronger than the doors at Fort Knox. He’s beloved by everybody in the poker community and rightfully feared at the tables.

"He’s a great father, and a wonderful friend," Woods continued. "And he even has a cool nickname. If Miami John Cernuto doesn’t belong in the Poker Hall of Fame, then who does?”

At 75, Cernuto has shown no signs of slowing down. At the L.A. Poker Classic at Commerce Casino this winter, he has cashed in seven events, including reaching three final tables and winning the 2-7 Triple Draw event.

How did this former air traffic controller end up as the winningest tournament poker player of all time? He can “blame” Ronald Reagan for that.

As Cernuto tells it, “In 1979 I fell in love with Las Vegas at the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) convention at Caesars Palace. I never intended to leave my ATC career, but when the 1981 PATCO strike happened, I was thrilled about the opportunity to come to Las Vegas in January of 1982."

Reagan would fire all the air traffic controllers for going out on strike. For Cernuto, it helped launch a new career.

"Little did I know that all of my home game experience would fall far short in preparing me for a life of professional poker.”

He goes on to say: “As a graduate of Florida State University, I can claim that the best decade for my Seminoles in football was the '90s, so went my poker career. We both soared back then. Nothing can overshadow winning three bracelets and two seconds at the WSOP, but there are a few other events worth mentioning.

"Another thing that would be rare, to say the least, happened on Nov 7, 2010 at the US Poker Championships in Atlantic City. I played two final tables simultaneously. I made Day 2 in a No-Limit event, and on that day I entered the 7 Stud event just to support the game, I played stud only on 10-minute breaks and an hour dinner break.

"I bet or raised every street until I amassed a stack of 10 times the average. The Taj Mahal Casino staff had moved the final table right next to my other final table. After winning the NL, I rejoined my stack with five players left and won that event also. What a day for me.”

I met Cernuto in 1982 at the Stardust Casino in Las Vegas. What stood out about him was he was a gentleman respected by all, on and off the felt. He endured his fair share of ups and downs as we all do in our poker careers, but he stuck it out and has three gold WSOP bracelets to his name. My money is on him to win his fourth bracelet at the WSOP in Las Vegas this summer.

Cernuto told me a poker story that made me laugh so hard. The tournament director at the Commerce Casino years ago decided to seat the players in a major tournament in alphabetical order by their first name. Cernuto explains, “I walked to my table, and John Juanda said,”’You must be here with Johns Hennigan, Chan, Esposito.’ I said nope and kept going because they actually seated me by Miami. I played with all of the Mikes. Trust me, playing with Mikes sure beats playing with Johns!”

You can meet Miami John and Woods along with other celebrity guests on Sunday, May 26 at a charity tournament called “Home of the Brave” at Binion’s in Las Vegas to benefit homeless vets who proudly served. Registration opens at 11 a.m. and cards are in the air at noon. The $120 buy-in tournament includes 5,000 starting chips. $50 from each paid entry plus $30 from every re-buy and add-on will be donated to the charity fund.

Call Jerry Bennett, Binion’s Poker Manager, at 702-366-7361 for more information. 

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