Thunder Valley Champ Banks $180K

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Thunder Valley Champ Banks $180K

Lincoln, CA - There are few second chances in life, but Mel Weiner got one Monday at Heartland Poker Tour’s televised Final Table.  Just one week after his third-place finish at HPT’s stop at The Commerce Casino, the real estate investor from Calabasas, California found himself playing heads up for over $180k at Thunder Valley Casino Resort.  Surviving through a massive field over two days of play and a Final Table that stretched into Tuesday, just one opponent stood between him and the championship title.  Michael Rosenbach, a pro player from Berkeley, California, announced, “I’m here to win.”  After 25 hands heads up and a straight on the turn, Rosenbach came out on top and collected $180,696.

The heads-up battle was mainly one-sided with Rosenbach holding the lead throughout. Weiner would not go quietly however, at one point cracking Rosenbach's pocket aces to double up.

Weiner collected $110,457 and moves into second place in the Gold Rush standings behind Shawn Motameni. "I don't know how I made back-to-back Final Tables,” he said, “I was on another planet; the cards were just hitting me.”

Capturing the title was a test of endurance for Rosenbach.  The champ had to survive 171 hands dealt at the Final Table and persevere for over ten hours in front of HPT’s cameras.  The Final Table followed two full days of play against some of the top players in the area and beyond.  This year’s chip leader of the WSOP November Nine, JC Tran, advanced to Day 2 but didn’t cash.  World Series of Poker commentator Lon McEachern also advanced but was eliminated early on the second day.

Before play began at Monday’s Final Table, Joe Fernandez, a poker room owner from Trulack, California proclaimed, "The luckiest guy in town will win this tournament because we are all good poker players."

After a quick elimination to get the Final Table started, a rash of double-ups meant play was eight-handed for fifty hands.  Finally, Fernandez moved all-in and was called by Kirby Nunn, a retired air traffic controller from Cutten, California.  Fernandez needed some help with his queen-six against Nunn's ace-king. The queen-high flop gave Fernandez a pair of queens, but Nunn was the one collecting chips when the board finished with a king.  Her pair of kings eliminated Fernandez in eighth place for $19,640.

A total of 542 entries were sold in the nationally-televised Main Event, exceeding all projections for HPT’s first visit to Northern California. Players praised the Thunder Valley staff for not turning away a single player who wanted a shot at fame and fortune.  "I'm very impressed with Thunder Valley as a venue for poker,” said Nunn, “They worked very, very hard to accommodate the players." 

Nunn’s run became the Cinderella story of the tournament when she turned $80 into a seventh-place finish worth $23,961.  "When I came to play, my intention was just to play sit-n-go's to get used to the bigger venues,” she said. “I played an $80 satellite…and turned it into this."

Play stalled again when the table was four-handed with a couple of double-ups before the elimination of William Chao. The professional poker player from El Sobrante, California moved all-in with two callers. By the end of the hand, it was the rivered straight for Rosenbach that eliminated Chao.  He collected $50,908 for his fourth-place finish.

Just a couple of hands later, Yotam Schmuelov of San Francisco moved all-in into Rosenbach's rivered full house. Schmuelov, who co-owns a moving company, packed up $73,219 for his third-place effort.

Kevin O'Donnell of Berkeley, California became the fifth-place finisher when he shoved all-in into the pocket aces of Weiner. The retiree-turned-poker-pro was unable to catch his cards to stave off elimination. For his effort over the weekend, he collected $38,102.

The sixth-place finisher was Lori Bare, a preschool teacher from Santa Cruz, California who collected $29,460.  Bare flopped a flush but ran into the larger flush of Chao. She had a draw for the straight flush but the turn did not keep her alive.   "I'm really happy to be here in Sacramento playing an HPT tournament…it has been an amazing experience," she said. 

CEO Andrew Higgins of Sacramento echoed Bare’s sentiments, “Now that they’re coming to the West Coast, I plan to play more."

Ninth place was determined on the ninth hand of the Final Table when Higgins moved all-in with pocket jacks.   Unable to catch a jack against the pocket queens of Fernandez, Higgins banked $15,712.
HPT will wrap up the California swing with a nationally-televised event this weekend at Club One Casino in Fresno.  The tour will return to Thunder Valley Casino Resort January 17-26, 2014.

"Thunder Valley has been great,” said the champ, “I'm looking forward to playing more."  



All Paid Players Listed at HPTpoker.com

Thunder Valley Casino Resort

Lincoln, CA

September 30, 2013

Buy-in:  $1650

Main Event: 542

Total Prize Pool:  $785,610


1st: Michael Rosenbach (Berkeley, CA) - $180,689 + $3,000 HPT Championship Package

2nd: Mel Weiner (Calabasas, CA) - $110,457

3rd: Yotam Schmuelov (San Francisco, CA) - $73,219

4th: William Chao (El Sobrante) - $50,908

5th: Kevin O'Donnell (Scottsdale, CA) - $38,102

6th: Lori Bare (Santa Cruz, CA) - $29,460

7th: Kirby Nunn (Cutten, CA) - $23,961

8th: Joe Fernandez (Turlock, CA) - $19,640

9th: Andrew Higgins (Sacramento, CA) - $15,712

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