Feature: Dragich’s MSPT Dominance



The first Minnesota State Poker Tour event of 2010 is less than three weeks away (February 13-21 at Grand Casino Mille Lacs). Two 20-year-olds battled heads up for the bracelet in December at Canterbury, although the battle lasted only one hand, with John Dragich’s pocket aces taking down Chase Wood.

Dragich is an interesting character with a unique gambling background, especially for someone so young. He sat down with Phil Mackey after the biggest win of his life to talk about what transpired.

From the January issue of Minnesota Poker Magazine:

Dragich Wins Inaugural MSPT Event

John Dragich, a calculating 20-year-old from St. Cloud, wins $34,765 and a diamond bracelet

By Phil Mackey

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After 19 hours of grinding spread across two days at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, MN, 20-year-old John Dragich became the first Minnesota State Poker Tour champion, knocking off fellow 20-year-old Chase Wood on the first hand of heads-up play.

For his effort, Dragich earned $34,765 and a diamond bracelet courtesy of Continental Diamond. He also earned the respect of his peers, who — after seeing him go deep in the Midwest Poker Classic Main Event, Fall Poker Classic Main Event, and now the MSPT launch tournament — now regard Dragich as one of the most dangerous players on the local scene.
Dragich is one of the most composed 20-year-olds you’ll find at a poker table. But despite his methodical demeanor on the felt, Dragich has plenty of gamble to him.

The action

130 players either qualified via $250 satellite or bought in directly for $1,100 to the inaugural Minnesota State Poker Tour two-day Main Event. When the final 18 players arrived back at Canterbury for the second day of action, with spectators abound, Dragich ranked fourth in chips behind publisher and president of Minnesota Poker Magazine Bryan Mileski, and young guns Kevin Reichel and Chase Wood.

It took less than 90 minutes to go from 18 down to a 10-man final table, where seven of the 10 remaining players had chip stacks between 200K and 290K, with two others short-stacked or crippled. After Rob Wazwaz busted in 10th, the action slowed to a crawl. Players played 9-handed for two hours before Reichel and Toan Pham were felted. Mileski exited in 7th after losing back-to-back coinflips.

Chip Counts (blinds $8/16K):
Tim Votava – $440K
Jeff Mowery – $400K

Todd Melander – $370K
John Dragich – $280K
Chase Wood – $240K
Chris Dolan – $190K

Upon reaching 6-handed play, business picked up. Todd Melander, who seemingly rode a never-ending chip stack rollercoaster the entire tournament, raised to $50K from under the gun. Chip leader Tim Votava pondered for a minute and re-raised to $150K from the button. Melander quickly moved all in with 9♠9 and Votava snap-called with K♣K.
Melander, knowing he made a colossal mistake, leaned back in his chair with a pained expression. But when the flop came A♠97, bringing a set for Melander, the gallery let out a collective gasp. The 9♣ give Melander quads on the river, but the damage was already done. Votava would exit in 6th just a few hands later.

With Dragich picking spots and laying in the weeds, Melander and Wood began mixing it up more and more, controlling the action at the table. Mowery ran A5 into Dragich’s JJ to bust out 5th. A short while later, Dolan, who won several coinflips to keep his short stack alive at the final table, ran A10 into Wood’s QQ to finish in 4th.

Chip Counts (blinds $15/30K):
Todd Melander – $750K
Chase Wood – $720K
John Dragich – $450K

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At this point, Dragich was almost entirely card-dead, but Melander and Wood had no qualms about battling each other. After Melander hit quad nines against Votava to own nearly half the chips in play, it appeared as if he may run away from the field. Ironically, however, it was trip nines that doomed Melander in back-to-back big pots.

On a 9, 10, K, 5, 9 board, Melander led out for $100K into a $140K pot with 44, but Wood insta-called with A9. Minutes later, Melander raised to 90K on the button and Dragich called. Dragich bet $100K on a flop of A, 5, 10 and Melander called. A 9 fell on the turn, and both men checked. When another 9 hit on the river, Dragich led out for $140K and Melander called. Dragich turned over J9, for runner-runner trips. Melander, who slipped back under $250K and was clearly annoyed, flashed an Ace.
Melander would build back up to $600K, but he eventually busted 3rd with A7 against Dragich’s QJ when a Q came on the flop.

Chip Counts (blinds $20/40K)
John Dragich – $1 million
Chase Wood – $950K

Heads-up play lasted all of one hand. On a flop of 9K8, the money went in, with Wood showing K♣2♣ and Dragich showing AA♣. The turn and river brought no help to Wood, making Dragich the first ever Minnesota State Poker Tour champion.

A 20-year-old prodigy?

At the poker tables, Dragich is as calculated and composed as 20-year-olds come. Dragich said he began playing poker around age 15, but only found out recently about larger tournaments such as the Fall Poker Classic, where he placed 11th out of 234 in the Main Event this year, and the Midwest Poker Classic, where he placed 4th out of 129.
Needless to say, he’s a quick study, and he’s begun to pick up on things at the table that many players, regardless of age, never do.

“Some of the guys are looking at their hands on the turn and stuff like that,” Dragich said. “When I’m looking at my hand, I’m also looking at everybody else. I’m not just sitting there staring at my cards. Some of these guys are just giving away way too much information.”

After the tournament was over, Dragich talked about his past as a successful blackjack player. He told a story about once being low on funds and turning $6,000 into $14,000 over a two-day period at a local casino.

dragichthumbsMost 20-year-olds who are low on funds would turn to a second part-time job. Heading to the blackjack tables would be considered irrational, arrogant, and irresponsible. But Dragich has a certain level of poise about him. He’s monotone, extremely level-headed, and he has very specific and detailed reasons for all of his actions, both mathematical and observational. He’s always in control.

“I think I’m just more street smart than anything,” Dragich said. “With school, it’s almost like I just memorized the stuff. Whenever we had to do tests for like Biology, or whatever, on the human bodies, I would just memorize it, and then two days later it’s all gone. I would just get a map of it (in my head), and if you asked me about it later, I’d have no idea. But on the tests I scored 100 percent.”
Dragich said he tried college for a while, but discovered it simply wasn’t his thing.

“I figured if I was going to go to college, it would have to be something worth going to college for. My dad’s a pharmacist, so I figured I should probably do that. But it got to the point where there was just no way I could do this.”

So, as of now, Dragich is essentially a professional gambler. Most of his money, at least recently, has come from playing poker. As is the case with many young poker players, Dragich tries to make sure his family understands exactly how good he is at poker, and why the college route may not be the best path. Surely a $34,000 cash at the MSPT helps his case. In fact, just seconds after his victory, Dragich picked up the phone and called his mother.
“Hey, I just won,”, Dragich said matter-of-factly on the phone, as dozens of onlookers waited for the bracelet presentation.

“Sometimes (parents) don’t understand how you can go sit down in a game, and let’s say on average I’m making $1,000, and just this night I lost $4,000. They’ll look at it and say, ‘Why do you keep sitting there taking your losses?’ and I say, ‘Well the table is really good, and I had reads on the guys. It was just their night.’ It’s kind of like if you have an opportunity, it’s not going to come very often. Sometimes you need to take a risk.”

If buying into the inaugural MSPT event was a risk for Dragich, it certainly was a risk that paid off huge.

The Minnesota State Poker Tour will hold six events in 2010, beginning with a stop at Grand Casino Mille Lacs, February 13-21. For more information, visit www.MinnesotaStatePokerTour.com.

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