Four of the 12 rings and the lone bracelet were won by Southern California players, but native North Carolinian takes home Casino Champion title. 

August 15, 2017 (Cherokee, NC) - The first stop of the 2017/2018 World Series of Poker Circuit season got underway at the beginning of this month in the mountains of North Carolina at Harrah’s Cherokee. A good chunk of the money won and WSOP titles will be taking a cross country flight back to California, however.

Many Circuit stops have a regional feel to them, but this stop had players travel to Cherokee, NC from all over the Global Casino Championship highlighting the first stop of the season.

In what proved to be somewhat of a trend throughout the entire stop, Los Angeles’ Sean Yu took down the GCC to win $296,941 and the only WSOP bracelet awarded at a Circuit stop. Last season’s Planet Hollywood main event champion defeated an elite field of 124 players to take down the title.

Four of the 12 rings won in Cherokee were by California players, including a couple of Yu’s close friends. Nikhil Gera won $40,534 in the $365 no-limit hold’em turbo event and Harry Arutyunyan took down the main event for $283,597. With Arutyunyan’s win in the main event he becomes one of the first two players to secure themselves a seat in the 2018 Global Casino Championship.

Scott Stewart won his fifth ring and $63,399 in the $2,200 no-limit hold’em high-roller event and Gregory Armand took down the $365 no-limit hold’em single day event for $33,156 to round out the four Southern California ring winners.

The most impressive performance of the series, however, probably goes to a native North Carolinian. Todd Mercer (pictured) secured five cashes, made two final tables and won the massive re-entry event that opened the series for $121,495. His second final table came with a third place finish in the stacked field of the $2,200 no-limit hold’em high roller.

He won over $152,000 over the two-week span and won the Casino Champion crown for the stop with 90 points. The title of Casino Champion gives him a seat into next year’s Global Casino Championship and joins Arutyunyan as the first two players with automatic seats into the event.

After Mercer won the first event, he earned 50 points towards the race. He immediately grabbed the top spot on the leaderboard and never looked back. The player who accumulates the most overall points during the 12 ring events at and Circuit stop earns the title of Casino Champion and receives automatic entry into the WSOP Global Casino Championship.

Additionally, all players who cash in ring events earn points that apply toward the season-long race to claim one of the limited at-large bids. More information on the points system is available on

Mercer never lost the lead, but had to sweat a few players that were coming up on his tail. Trey Walton, was one of the main threats to unseating Mercer, had a successful series in his own right. Walton cashed four times, made two final tables and won his second career ring in the $365 pot-limit Omaha event. Thanks to a deep run in the main event, Walton had a chance to overcome Mercer’s lead, but he finished in 44th place for $5,289 and ultimately fell just five points shy of Mercer.

The most heartwarming story of the series came with Jordan Meltzer’s ring win in the $580 no-limit hold’em event. Meltzer, a well-respected pro from Florida, won $36,072 after defeating a field of 307 entries, but dedicated the ring to Jonathan Abla. Abla was a two-time ring winner, a fellow poker pro and a good friend of Meltzer. He passed away suddenly last August.

As a tribute to his late friend, Meltzer took his winner photo with pocket jacks instead of the pocket tens that he ended the tournament with.

Ryan McAllister quietly had a breakout series of his own and hopes that his ring win in the $365 no-limit hold’em six-max event can propel him to bigger things. The poker dealer from South Carolina won $40,793 and then made a deep run in the main event the following weekend. On the final day of the event, McAllister actually had an outside shot at winning the Casino Champion crown.

Thanks to a slightly different scoring system in the main event, if McAllister finished second or third, he would have overtaken Mercer. Unfortunately for McAllister, he finished 13th place. These were his first two WSOP cashes and they netted him just over $59,000.

Robert Messer won his first ring in the $365 no-limit hold’em monster stack. He defeated a massive field of 1,186 entries to earn $63,101 in the second tournament he’s ever played. Messer makes his living playing cash games in Tennessee.

Steven Ruighaver and Collin Wilson won the final two preliminary events of the stop. Ruighaver won $33,792 in the second $365 no-limit hold’em turbo event and Wilson took down a $365 no-limit hold’em single day event to win $24,429.

The Circuit only takes a break for a couple of days before its next stop gets underway in Connecticut. The Foxwoods stop kicks off on August 15 and will award another 12 rings and secure two more seats into next year’s Global Casino Championship.