A UCSB senior will return from Las Vegas nearly a half million dollars richer after taking fourth in the most lucrative poker tournament in history.

Richard Grijalva, 22, won $457,408 at the World Poker Tour Championship held at the Bellagio Hotel last week. Three hundred forty-three players, including several professionals, participated in the Texas hold ’em tournament, which had a total prize pool of $8,342,200. Grijalva competed for five days, for about eight hours a day, before being eliminated by eventual champion Martin Deknijff of Sweden, who won $2.7 million. The final will be televised June 30 on the Travel Channel.

The buy-in for the tournament was $25,300, which Grijalva said he raised by gambling on www.pokerstars.com.

“I parlayed $86 in to the $25,000, then parlayed that into the prize,” Grijalva, a senior geography major, said.

Grijalva said he has been playing serious poker since 1999 and has won numerous tournaments at Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez and at various web sites. He said his previous experience helped him against the pros in Vegas.

“Any big name you could think of was there: Phil Hellmuth Jr., Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey,” Grijalva said. “It was a little intimidating, but I’ve had a little experience playing with them before. On my 21st birthday, I made the final of a tournament with some top pros.”

Deknijff eliminated Grijalva by catching a club flush on the “river,” the last card turned over in Texas hold ’em. Grijalva was holding two pair, aces and sevens, on the hand, which had a final pot of around 6 million dollars.

“It was a little heartbreaking,” Grijalva said. “He got lucky on the last card and got the club he needed. With the river to go, I was a 4 1/2-to-one favorite.”

UCSB graduate Jonathan Kalinski, Grijalva’s roommate, was among the spectators at the final table.

“We were holding each other,” Kalinski said. “The last hand was hard, but I guess he can only be so disappointed when he walked out of there with half a million dollars.”

Grijalva said he first felt like a contender on the tournament’s second day, when he upped his chip count from $80,000 to $376,000.

“I came in knowing I was capable of doing well,” he said. “I had a decent first day, but my second day was out of control – I built up a huge stack. At that point, I realized I could be a contender to win the thing.”

Poker professional Hassan Habib, of Downey, took second in the tournament, earning $1,372,223. College student Matt Matros of Bronxville, N.Y., took third, earning $706,903.

When asked what he would do with the prize money, Grijalva said, “Play bigger games. It’s not what I want to do with my life, but for the short term, it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

He said when he returned to UCSB, he would withdraw from his classes this quarter.

“The past couple years I’ve been playing a lot more poker than going to class.”