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Exequiel Fernando Wins Heartland Poker Tour Thunder Valley Casino Resort for $179,020

Exequiel Fernando

The first Heartland Poker Tour event of 2014 came to an end on Monday at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln, CA. The $1,650 buy-in Main Event attracted 537 entries and created a prize pool of $778,325. The tournament attracted quite a few notables, but it was 37-year-old engineer Exequiel Fernando of Elk Grove, CA who emerged victorious to capture the $179,020 first-place prize.

1stExequiel FernandoElk Grove, CA$179,020
2ndEd MillerGranite Bay, CA$109,434
3rdNgoc BuiSan Jose, CA$72,541
4thTony NguyenSacramento, CA$50,436
5thNeil BlumenfieldSan Francisco, CA$37,749
6thPhuoc NguyenSan Jose, CA$29,188
7thBen SarnoffSan Francisco, CA$23,739
8thJ.C. TranSacramento, CA$19,458
9thGrant HillmanOakland, CA$15,567

*Prize includes $3,000 HPT Championship package

Final table action kicked off with an elimination on just the second hand. It happened when a short-stacked Grant Hillman moved all in with {a-}{4-} and received a call from Neil Blumenfield, who held {a-}{j-}. Hillman failed to come from behind and the bioinformatics manager from Oakland, CA was bounced in ninth place for $15,567.

The next player to fall was none other than recent World Series of Poker November Niner J.C. Tran.

"To me, winning this thing here at home would mean something special," Tran said before the final day, but unfortunately things didn’t go the professional’s way. He doubled Neil Blumenfield early on, and then got his remaining chips in with {q-}{10-}. Phuoc Nguyen woke up with {10-}{10-}, and that was all she wrote for Tran, who hit the rail in eighth place for $19,458.

JC TRANThe best part about playing a tourney so close to home is that I get to go home and see my family each and every night. #priceless

Ben Sarnoff was the next to go when he got his short stack all in with {k-}{k-} only to run into the two pair of Ed Miller. The 55-year-old lawyer from San Francisco collected $23,739 for his seventh-place finish.

Not long after, Nguyen moved all in over the top of a Fernando raise. Fernando called with {a-}{j-}, and he was racing against Nguyen’s {3-}{3-}. The board ran out {a-}{j-}{10-}{q-}{j-} to give Fernando a full house, and Nguyen was eliminated in sixth place for $29,188.

The final table participants.
The final table participants.

From there, Blumenfield fell in fifth place for $37,749, and he was followed out the door in fourth by Tony Nguyen, who earned $50,436. Not long after, the life of the final table, Ngoc “Joey” Bui, ran his {a-}{2-} into the {a-}{k-} of Fernando. No deuce would be set loose and the 40-year-old from San Jose made his way to the payout desk in third place for $72,541.

On the final hand, Miller got his chips in holding {k-}{k-} and was well out in front of Fernando’s {5-}{5-}. Unfortunately for the 50-year-old car salesman from Granite Bay, CA, a five on the flop gave Fernando a set and a hammerlock on the hand. Neither the turn nor river changed a thing, and Miller had to settle for second place and $109,434 in prize money.

"I have been watching [the HPT] on TV for the last couple years," said Fernando, who qualified for the tournament for just $720. "It’s great that they have come to the Sacramento area. It gives someone like me a chance."

He went on to add: "$179,000 is a lot of money. I will be able to play a lot more tournaments and keep my family happy."

The HPT’s next event will take place from Jan. 31 through Feb. 9 at the California-Club One Casino. For a look at some other HPT stops in 2014, click here.

*Data and photo courtesy of Heartland Poker Tour.

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