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California blackjack dealer wins WSOP casino employees event

30 May 2012

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- The first World Series of Poker tournament of the year concluded at the tail end of a memorable Memorial Day weekend with the crowning of a new poker champion, whose victory was a surprise even to the winner.

Chiab “Chip” Saechao, from Visalia, Calif., won the Casino Employees Championship, which is a special competition limited exclusively to employees of the gaming industry. He collected $70,859 in prize money. Saechao was also presented with his first WSOP gold bracelet.

"I will pay off a lot of my debt," said Saechao. "And, I will give some of it to my wife so she can buy some nice things."

Upon gazing at the dazzling piece of jewelry he had just won, Saechoa was quite impressed. “I plan to wear it and show it off,” he said, moments after the victory. “Not too many can come over here to Las Vegas and go back home with this.”

Saechao is a 35-year-old blackjack dealer at the Tachi Casino, in Lemoore, Calif.

“I like working in the casino business," said Saechao. "It’s fast money and it sure beats working out in the hot sun.”

Chiab Saecao won his first WSOP bracelet in the Casino Employees Event on Monday.

Chiab Saecao won his first WSOP bracelet in the Casino Employees Event on Monday. (photo by World Series of Poker)

Saechao was born in Thailand and spent much of his early life in a refugee camp for displaced persons. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 15. After graduating from high school, Saechao attended college at College of the Sequoias, but did not graduate. Saechao was attracted to the casino business because of the excitement of the industry.

Saechao started playing poker about two years ago. He won a seat into the WSOP in the first tournament in which he participated. In fact, Saechao played in two Main Events prior to entering this tournament for the first time. Saechao says he plays mostly in low-stakes cash games, with an occasional low buy-in tournament on occasion. This marked his first time to cash in a major poker tournament.

"I won my seat into the WSOP Main Event a few years ago," said Saechao. "And then, I won a seat again the following year. I decided to myself then that maybe I really can play this game, after all."

The tournament was played over two consecutive days and nights, during a busy Memorial Day weekend.

The final hand was a thrilling conclusion to the hard-fought tourney, as Saochao spiked a 10 on the turn, which proved decisive, against his opponent's top pair and top kicker. Saochao ended up making a full house -- 10s over queens -- while the second-place finisher closed with three queens.

The runner-up was Patricia Baker, a poker dealer from Little Torch Key, Fla. She nearly broke the three-year consecutive string of all male gold bracelet winners by becoming the first female since Vanessa Selbst to win a gold bracelet in an event other than the Ladies World Championship. Instead, she accepted a nice consolation prize amounting to $43,754.

Just prior to the start of the Rio’s first event, WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel took the main stage and began things in grand style. Keeping with ritual that has become an annual tradition, all casino employees in the room were thanked for their dedication and professionalism. Next, longtime poker dealer Richard Turnbull, from Reno, Nev. was introduced. He is an 85-year-old veteran of World War II – during which he served proudly in the U.S. Navy. Turnbull started dealing poker 37 years ago and has since worked at the Fremont, Las Vegas Hilton, MGM, and Sahara. Effel jokingly introduced the honoree by saying, "Turnbull has dealt more bad beats than Mike Tyson." Then, Turnbull gave the crowd a rousing rendition of the customary announcement which begins all WSOP events. "Shuffle Up and Deal" boomed across the room at 12:10 p.m. and cards flew into the air for the first time on the tournament floor.

The Casino Employees Championship began with 732 players. Only 46 players survived the first day. Second day action took place on Memorial Day, lasting until well past midnight.

Some of the more notable names who cashed included WSOP Executive Ty Stewart, who oversees much of poker's biggest show on earth. Shattering the myth once and for all that poker is a game of skill, Stewart not only miraculously made the money, but was also within a pot or two of making the final table. He finished 19th. Also in the money was former PokerStars executive Dan Goldman, now a consultant to a Native-American casino in California. He took 22nd place.

The final table contained no former WSOP gold bracelet winners. The final table was comprised of nine players, including six casino dealers, a floorperson, a hotel manager and a server. Final table players were exclusively from the United States. Five different states were represented – including Florida (2), Washington (2), Illinois (1), Colorado (1), Georgia (1), Nevada (1), and New York (1). Final table participants ranged in age from 24 to 57.

The third-place finisher was James Routus, a dealer from Seattle, Wash. Routus collected $28,206 in prize money.

The fourth-place finisher was Ray Pulford, a 27-year-old dealer from Chicago, Ill., Nicolas Vaca, a 24-year-old originally from Bogata, Columbia, was fifth, Jay Pinkussohn of Denver, Colo., was sixth, Stephen Phan, originally from Vietnam and now living in Rento, Wash., was seventh, Matthew Wilmot from Hollywood, Fla., was eighth, and George Ivanov, who is originally from Bulgaria and now lives in Las Vegas, was ninth.

Attendance decreased slightly over the previous year, when there were 850 entries. The Casino Employees Championship is not considered an “open” event, since entry is restricted to workers in the gaming industry. This is one of just three non-open events on the 2012 WSOP schedule. The other non-open events are the Ladies Championship and the Seniors Championship. All the other 58 tournaments are open events, since anyone over the age of 21 is eligible to enter.

Modified from tournament recap provided by WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla.

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