The first stop of Heartland Poker Tour’s 10th season began at Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln, Calif., running Jan. 13-27 and culminating with a $1,650 main event. And no one was happier with this news than Exequiel Fernando of Elk Grove. The engineer and part-time poker player shipped the title for a whopping $179K after battling a tough final table. To top it off, Fernando only invested $720 into the tournament, a parlay any poker player can respect.
The HPT drew 537 entries to push the prize pool to $778K, paying the top 54 players.
When the final table began, all eyes were on 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event fifth-place finisher J.C. Tran of Sacramento. But Tran lost a big portion of his stack early and busted shortly after in eighth place for $19K. Tran seems to always put situations into perspective after busting a tournament, stating on Twitter, “The 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.”
Other members of the final table included Grant Hillman of Oakland (ninth, $15K), Ben Sarnoff of San Francisco (seventh, $23K), Phuoc Nguyen of San Jose (sixth, $29K), Neil Blumenfield of San Francisco (fifth, $37K), Tony Nguyen of Sacramento (fourth, $50K) and Ngoc Bui of San Jose (third, $72K).
When play reached heads-up, it was Fernando and Granite Bay’s Ed Miller. Both got it all-in preflop with a pair, but Fernando flopped a set of fives, defeating Miller’s kings and giving Miller a runner-up finish and $109K, not a bad commission for the poker-playing car salesman.
When asked about his run in the HPT main event, Fernando said, “It’s a grind. You just have to survive against these players. There were a lot of players from Bay 101 and they are all very aggressive, so I just tried to pick my spots carefully and be patient while they knocked each other out.”
Fernando made it clear when asked about what it means to win first prize and capture the HPT.
“I was only ever looking to get first place,” he said. “I will be able to play a lot more tournaments and keep my family happy.”
Fernando is a class-act player who stays quiet at the table while keeping focused. He’s cashed in tournaments all around the Bay Area. In 2012, he had a runner-up finish at Bay 101 for $65K and he’s planning on playing as many big tournaments as his can while staying close to home to spend time with his family.
— Email Garrett at email@example.com.