Mike Cordell came into this year’s World Series of Poker with a heavy heart.
Just one week before the annual Las Vegas poker series was to begin, his mother passed away. Blind since her birth, Elizabeth Cordell was certainly used to overcoming challenges in a big way. She was largely self-sufficient and lived life to the fullest, despite her disability. However, that became increasingly difficult when her husband, Mike’s father, passed away in 2010. She was left with no one to care for her.
Cordell reconfigured his schedule and began to serve as her caretaker. Dedicated for six years of his life to her needs, he took her to church regularly. He spent time with her and made sure she got out in the world and stayed physically and mentally active. He ran errands. He took her to the beauty shop weekly. He wasn’t just a faithful son. He was a friend and confidant.
When Cordell lost his mother, he came to a decision. From that moment forward, he was determined to make this WSOP one for the ages. Sure, he’d been to the annual poker spectacle many times before dating back more than a decade. He’d entered some 30 tournament events over the years, posting four previous cashes. He played in the Main Event three times.
That said, Cordell failed to make much of an impact in poker, at least not until the warm evening of June 10, 2016 when he bore down, reached into the depths of his soul, and managed to play the best poker of his life for three consecutive days. His decisions turned out to be right more often than not. Cards that might have been beat in previous tourneys held up this time. Of course, the payoff of a WSOP victory turned out to be bittersweet. He remains burdened with loss, yet can also take great satisfaction from having reached a personal and professional milestone.
His mother, the late Elizabeth Cordell would have been proud.
“She was always proud of anything I ever did,” Cordell said – finding words tough to come by just moments after his victory.
The 46-year-old poker player from Little Rock, AR won the $1,500 buy-in Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em tournament, which was played over three days and nights and just concluded on the ESPN main stage at the Rio in Las Vegas.
The Arkansan collected $346,088 in prize money, making this the biggest win of his career. This was also his first gold bracelet victory. Cordell previously won a WSOP Circuit gold ring back in 2008 at Caesars Indiana – which was also a Six-Handed No-Limit event.
Cordell has spent much of his adult life in pool halls and underground cardrooms.
“Sure, I played a lot of poker, and I played a lot of pool – I still play a lot of pool,” Cordell said. “I’ve been a gambler my whole life. It’s odd, because my parents weren’t into that. I just fell into the gambling crowd, you know.”
Cordell won his victory by outlasting yet another big field and conquering a final table which included some formidable opponents, including three strong European notables – Pierre Neuville (Belgium), Lutz Klinkhammer (Austria), and Javier Garcirreynaldos (Spain).
Garcirreynaldos, from Madrid, started out as the chip leader, but ended up going out in fifth place. After that happened, Cordell stepped forward and assumed control of the finale, although the crowd favorite, Pierre Neuville, made things quite interesting. Neuville, who finished seventh in last year’s $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event Championship, hit a number of cards late in the tourney to extend play longer than might have been expected, postponing the poker celebration for Cordell, at least temporarily.
“I struggled all day to bust Pierre, but couldn’t,” Cordell said. “Even one hand when I had quads and he had a full house, I couldn’t get his whole stack. He made a full house on the river and just flat called. How did he not go broke on that hand? He was sure tough. I guess I must have a lot of tells, or something.”
Neuville was low on chips during several stages of Day Three, but managed to survive long enough to double-up when three-handed, which catapulted the Belgian into the chip lead for a brief moment. However, Cordell reclaimed the lead and by the time Robert Hankins was eliminated in third place, Cordell has accumulated nearly a 15 to 1 chip advantage. The final moment of triumph came when Cordell scooped the final pot of the tournament, hitting two pair -- kings and queens -- against Neuville, holding pocket fours, who finished as the runner up. Second place paid out $213,837.
“I had to win a race to do it, but I finally busted him,” Cordell said with a smile. Then, in a more reflective moment, Cordell became quiet again and was reminded of the mixed blessing of this ultimately fulfilling victory and the dichotomy of such triumph experienced amidst a devastating personal loss.
This tourney attracted 1,477 entrants, which created a prize pool totaling nearly $2 million. The top 222 finishers collected prize money.
Here’s a short report on each of the finalists, aside from Cordell, the champion:
Second Place: Pierre Neuville, from Knokke-Heist, Belgium charmed the poker world at last year’s series. The 73-year-old poker player who’s been playing like someone in his 20s over the past 12 months posted yet another impressive showing, by coming in second – his best WSOP finish to date. Neuville added $213,088 to a resume that lists more than $1.9 million in earnings at the series.
Third Place: Robert Hankins, a poker pro from Nashville, TN enjoyed his best showing yet in a WSOP event, after busting up the Circuit for years, during which he has posted 40 cashes and four gold rings. Hankins collected $148,885 in prize money for outlasting more than 1,400 opponents.
Fourth Place: Lutz Klinkhammer, from Vienna, Austria ended up as the fourth-place finisher. This marked the first cash ever at the WSOP for the college student. Klinkhammer collected $105,063 in prize money.
Fifth Place: Javier Garcirreynaldos, from Madrid, Spain was the chip leader for a while, but ended up losing a race on his final hand. The Spaniard collected $75,154 for three days of poker playing. Garcirreynaldos also cashed in last year’s WSOP Main Event Championship.
Sixth Place: Timothy Cha, from Los Angeles, CA cashed for the first time in a WSOP event by finishing in sixth place. On his final hand, he lost a race holding pocket 8s to A-Q, which made a straight. Cha pocketed $54,507.