California - Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa Recap

CA Man Turns $200 into $74k on HPT

First Leg of Gold Rush Series is Complete

Rancho Mirage, CA (September 8, 2014) – Monday morning, Raffi Der Gregorian listed his total career poker earnings at $0. By the end of the day, the Glendale, California man outlasted the field in the Heartland Poker Tour Main Event at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa to join the elite club of HPT Champions. He can now adjust his earnings total to $74,276.

Der Gregorian found himself among the final nine playing under the lights after winning his seat through a $200 qualifier last week. He had the third smallest stack when play began, but a combination of luck and smart play left him with just one opponent standing between him and the HPT title. That man was professional poker player Michael Rocco of Tustin, California. In the last hand of the tournament, Rocco went all in with two overs and a straight draw. None of his outs came and he was sent to the rail in second place with $45,803.

“This is my first experience with HPT,” said the new champ. “I like it.” The electric contractor plans to put most of his winnings into savings but says he’ll use some to play more tournaments and go on a vacation.

The event was the first of four California stops that make up the 2nd annual Gold Rush Series. Players participating in the series battle it out for points and cash in tournaments ranging from $125 to $1650 televised events. Whoever tops the leaderboard wins a sponsorship package to the November HPT Main Event in Las Vegas. For a look at the current Gold Rush standings, click here.

It didn't take long for the sparks to fly at Agua Caliente. The first hand of the day brought two eliminations. HPT veteran Stan Jablonski was one of the casualties. Jablonski is no stranger to the lights and cameras. This was his second trip to a nationally-televised Final Table in three weeks after a runner-up finish in East Chicago last month. Overall, the Bullhead City, Arizona business owner has made six Final Table appearances, but he is still chasing that elusive HPT title. He earned $8,046 for his ninth-place finish.

The other player eliminated in the first hand was Alex Madriaga of Holtville, California. The concrete contractor plans to use his $9,749 in winnings to buy supplies for the children at the school where his wife teaches. Both Madriaga and Jablonski were eliminated by pro poker player Allen Cunningham.

Cunningham came into the day with the largest chip stack. After the first hand, he had a massive lead on the competition and looked poised to cruise to victory. The Marina del Rey man wasn’t able to get much traction after that, however, and found himself hitting the rail in fourth place to Der Gregorian’s aces. Cunningham can add the $21,973 payday to his career earnings total of over 12 million dollars.

Just three hands later, Chris Tolone was knocked out in third place when his pocket twos were unable to hold against Rocco’s ace-ten. “It’s a big deal. This is a lot of money,” said the Anaheim, California engineer. He’ll take home $30,948 for his efforts.

In impressive fashion, Bob McMillan found himself at the nationally-televised Final Table on an investment of only $185. The Prescott, Arizona native made the best of his small starting stack, parlaying the $185 into a fifth-place finish for a score of $17,021. “I might take my family on a vacation next summer in Maine for my 50th high school reunion,” said the retiree.

General contractor Ronald Segni knew he would have to get lucky to make a run at the coveted HPT title. He had the least amount of chips when play began. He managed to make the most of his stack and climbed the pay ladder a few spots to finish in sixth place to the tune of $13,927. Segni, of Lakeside, California, enjoyed his time at Agua Caliente. “It’s fantastic,” he said. “The staff’s been really nice to me… It’s exceeded my expectations.”

Brent Thompson voiced the same sentiment on the property just outside of Palm Springs. “I like the site…. Very gracious people. Very accommodating to the players,” he said. Thompson found himself all-in before the flop with pocket jacks against Tolone’s pocket kings. The board failed to produce another jack and the attorney from La Quinta, California was eliminated. He earned $11,606 for the seventh-place finish.

From here, HPT will make its way to Black Hawk, Colorado for an anticipated million-dollar prize pool event. The tour then returns to California to complete the final three stops of the Gold Rush Series. For a full list of upcoming events, visit HPTpoker.com.

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