Calvin Lee is the newest member of poker’s gold bracelet club.
The 28-year-old high-stakes professional poker player won the $3,000 buy-in Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em tournament, which was played over four days and three nights and just concluded on the ESPN main stage at the Rio in Las Vegas. An extra playing day was needed given the large field size and the grinding pace of action, which was the most cautious of any final table yet at this year’s series.
The wait was well worth it for Lee, however, who collected a whopping $531,577 in prize money, making this the biggest tournament win of his career. This was only the third time Lee has cashed in a WSOP event, although he admittedly doesn’t play many such events, preferring instead to focus much of his time and attention on some of the biggest games in the world which are often spread in Macau (Asia).
Lee won his victory by prevailing at a final table which included a mix of professional players and amateurs. While several of the finalists had come close to winning a WSOP title in the past, only one player had previously achieved victory. That player was Will Givens, who ended up finishing fourth.
On an unscheduled fourth day that extended into overtime, the ultimate moment of triumph came when Lee scooped the final pot of the tournament, with a pair of sevens and a better kicker. Lee had battled back from a steep chip disadvantage at one point in a zig-zag battle that could have gone either way.
“The way it went, going so long like it did, the blinds were so high that it became like a crap shoot,” Lee said afterward. “We only had about 15 big bets at the end; you would raise, then they’d move all in, and it was a race. It was very stressful. I got very lucky, and feel very fortunate.”
Lee had the chip lead during much of the finale, until Thompson seized the momentum late. However, the player from Costa Rica who was hoping to become only the second WSOP champion in history from that Central American nation (Humberto Brenes remains the only champion, a two-time winner) ended up finishing second. His consolation prize came to $328,487.
Lee was born in Korea and immigrated to the U.S. with his parents. He attended New York University and earned a B.A. in economics. Not exactly the conventional path of an economics graduate, Lee has nonetheless put his talents to good use as a poker pro over the last decade. While he rarely plays in major tournaments, he has been a steady figure in many of the most prestigious cash games in the world, many of which are held in Macau. Lee currently splits his time between the New York City area and his native hometown of Seoul.
“Growing up, I had the same story many people in my age bracket have – when I was in high school watching the World Series on TV on ESPN,” Lee said. “I dreamed that someday maybe I could get here and to have that chance and actually win the bracelet means so much to me.”
This tourney attracted 1,029 entrants which created a prize pool totaling $2,809,170. The top 155 finishers collected prize money. Attendance was up over last year, when this same event attracted 989 entries.
Aside from the winner, here’s a brief report of the other top finishers who made the final table:
Second Place: Steven Thompson, a 36-year-old poker player from San Jose, Costa Rica finished in second place. This was only his second time to cash in a WSOP event, after going deep in the other six-handed event, which was the $1,500 buy-in tourney. He added $328,487 to his poker bankroll for a fine effort.
Third Place: Mark Herm, from Royersford, PA survived three hours into Day Four, but then ran into trouble. He cashed for the 18th time at the series, duplicating his best previous effort which was also a third-place showing in tan event two years ago. Herm did pocket his biggest win in this event, which amounted to $224,805.
Fourth Place: Will Givens, from Centennial, CO and a graduate of Colorado State University, cashed for the 12th time in a WSOP event with this performance. He won a No-Limit Hold’em gold bracelet in 2014 and finished fourth in another. Givens certainly knows how to maneuver through large No-Limit fields given his recent resume. This time, he picked up $156,281 in prize money.
Fifth Place: Martin Kozlov, from Lysterfield, Victoria (Australia) now has 11 cashes at the series, which includes four final table appearances. He’s done well both in the Las Vegas events and the Asia-Pacific version of the series, held in Kozlov’s home country – Australia. This was his best financial score of any WSOP finish, which paid $110,389.
Sixth Place: Alex Queen, from Bethlehem, PA posted his 23rd series cash in this tournament. He collected $79,246 in prize money.
This was the 21st event on this year’s schedule. This leaves 48 gold bracelet events still to go in what promises to be the biggest and most exciting WSOP ever.