Preface: Jesse McEuen is the winner of the latest World Series of Poker event in Las Vegas. He won the $1,500 buy-in Ante Only No-Limit Hold’em tournament, defeating 714 players en route to his first gold bracelet victory. McEuen collected $212,093 in prize money. Those are the basics. Now for the rest of the story…
This is the unlikely story of a dream, a dog, and paying it forward.
This is the story of two men, both down on their luck, mere acquaintances, who came together and bonded at the world’s premier poker tournament.
This is the story of triumph and defeat, failure and success, and the magic of second chances.
This is the story of friendship and faith.
This is the story of how a relatively unknown poker player named Jesse McEuen, with the help of his pal John Kabbaj, arrived at this year’s World Series of Poker with broken spirits and almost no money, and somehow miraculously turned years of misery into a gold bracelet and a massive financial score.__________
Jesse McEuen was in a very good place three years ago. He was the master of his own destiny. He was living the high life. By the age of 30, he had achieved every poker player’s dream of success, including financial independence, investments that were paying off and performing well, and the optimism of a bright future.
Then one afternoon in April 2011, everything came crashing down. Black Friday hit, and millions of lives were changed overnight. For McEuen, day turned to night and light became darkness.
“I had $400,000 to my name and it was gone overnight,” McEuen said, recalling that infamous day for many poker players. “I went from being comfortable for seven years to being broke overnight.”
Over the next three years, everything that had gone right went wrong. McEuen lost a huge amount of money and perks at one online site where he had attained premier player status. His bankroll was the first to go. Next came the three houses he owned, sold off one by one in order to pay his bills and stay alive. Then, once those resources dried up, McEuen headed for Mexico, where he could return to playing poker again online legally. However, two years after the fact, the game and his skills perhaps weren’t the same. McEuen lost what he had left.
At the 2014 World Series of Poker, there was nothing to suggest this broke has-been, virtually out of action had any shot whatsoever to step into the limelight and win poker’s preeminent prize. And that’s exactly what happened. All thanks to a special friend.
John Kabbaj also knows a thing or two about having it all, and then losing it back, and then some. The gold bracelet winner seemed on the cusp of poker greatness when he stood at the Rio six years ago and won his first WSOP title. The years since were not nearly as kind.
Like McEuen, Kabbaj arrived at this year’s series with big dreams but a wounded heart to go along with a limited bankroll. All he needed was a break. He finally got it, winning $267,327 in the Omaha/Stud-Eight Mixed event held two weeks ago.
Kabbaj admitted he had people who helped him along the way. They were kind people who were there when it mattered the most. Kabbaj didn’t forget that, nor the lesson they instilled, profoundly exemplifying the bonding experience that makes the WSOP what it is for so many colleagues, comrades, and competitors.
After Kabbaj won his second WSOP title, he ran into a player he has played with only a few times before. Kabbaj saw McEuen standing in line at the Rio, waiting to check into the hotel. The two acquaintances talked a bit, and the more they conversed the greater the similarities between the two men became apparent to them both.
For one, both players loved dogs. Kabbaj left his dog back in England. However, McEuen brought his dog along with him to the Rio. He might not have had much money, but he had his best friend at his side.
Kabbaj learned that McEuen wasn’t doing well. In fact, he was struggling. McEuen needed help.
“I came here with a thousand bucks in my pocket,” McEuen said. “I basically came here with that, my dog, and my car – and that’s when I met my buddy John again, who really looked out for me. He gave me a shot to get back in the game.”
Kabbaj remembered that others had helped him. They had reached out, put their hands in their pockets and dig a little deeper to rescue a friend in need. So, Kabbaj reached out, dug in his pocket a little deeper, and came to the rescue of someone he really didn’t know very well, but who looked like he needed a break.
McEuen’s life has been a shambles the last several months. He’s lost 30 pounds. That’s not a healthy weight loss. That came from missing meals and stress. McEuen might have had everything a poker player could want three years ago, but even with Kabbaj’s backing, he seemed like a shell of his former self.
Poker tournaments can be both strange and funny. For they are far more than card games, or gambling events, or sporting competitions. For some, they are life changers. Not necessarily in terms of dollars and cash, but, more importantly, in terms of self-confidence and feeling alive again.
From the moment McEuen took a seat in the $1,500 buy-in Ante Up No-Limit Hold’em event, he knew he was playing for something far more than a backer, or a gold bracelet, or six- figures in prize money. McEuen was, in fact, playing a virtual last chance event of his poker life, knowing there weren’t many John Kabbaj’s around and the shot of getting backed in the often cutthroat world of poker wasn’t particularly good.
Somehow, McEuen dug down, deeper than ever before, and found the skills that had eluded him. He regained the confidence that had evaporated. McEuen survived the first day, and the second, and by the third, he was sitting at the final table – his first since last summer when he took third place in an event, his lone deep run at the WSOP since the disaster of Black Friday.
The magic was not lost. The cards came. When he picked up pocket aces on the final hand of the tournament, against an opponent who was all-in, this all seemed like manifest destiny, a payback from the poker gods that had once cruelly taken it all away, a fitting triumph for a player now way beyond capable of appreciating the highest highs for having experienced the lowest of lows.
“After three years, I can finally breath again,” McEuen said.
Jesse McEuen is a 34-year-old poker pro originally from Akron, OH now residing in Jacksonville, FL.
His win tonight at least temporarily stopped the onslaught of a breakout year enjoyed by German poker players. McEuen defeated a 22-year-old German player, Jonas Lauck head- up, denying Germany potentially its fifth gold bracelet of 2014.
With this victory, McEuen now has eight cashes and two final table appearances at the WSOP. His tournament highlights include cashing in the 2008 WSOP Main Event, finishing 169th.
McEuen overcame a heads-up chip disadvantage of about 3:2. Then, about an hour later, he won the final hand of the tournament holding pocket aces.
This the third year for this unique Ante Only format. The way the action works is there are no blinds. Instead, each player is required to ante every hand. Then, if a player wants to participate in the hand, they can call the bring in for a small amount, fold, or raise should they choose. The nature of the game means many flops are seen by multiple players, with seven-, eight-, and even nine-way action, as players tend to call the bring in and see a flop rather than raise. Even though there is little preflop raising, the speed of the event is still faster than a typical No-Limit Hold’em tournament, as the constant anteing keeps players quite active.The final table was no exception, as it featured several five and six-handed flops. The line-up for this final table included only one bracelet winner, Simeon Naydenov of Bulgaria, as well as three players with past final table experience, Arthur Pro (9th), Ryan D'Angelo (6th), and McEuen.This year’s event drew 714 players and generated a prize pool of $963,900. The top 72 finishers each earned a payday. Some of the notables who cashed include Dutch Boyd (68th), Erik Seidel (59th), George Danzer (48th), Phil Hellmuth (30th), Dan Kelly (27th), Daniel Negreanu (25th), Jason Somerville (21st), and Antoine Saout (11th).Here are the final table results for the $1,500 Ante Only No-Limit Hold’em event:1st: Jesse McEuen - $212,0932nd: Jonas Lauck - $130,9553rd: Rhys Jones - $85,1314th: Simeon Naydenov - $62,5285th: Adam Levy - $46,5756th: Ryan D’Angelo - $35,1437th: Herbert Yarbrough - $26,8258th: Jeremy Joseph - $20,7049th: Arthur Pro - $16,145