Pius Heinz is already a winner.
Regardless of what takes place come Tuesday night when he returns to the Penn and Teller Theatre in Las Vegas and joins the two other finalists in their quest for poker's world championship, there's no doubt that Heinz has already gone farther, accomplished more, and exceeded everyone's expections -- including his own.
During Sunday's exciting final table session -- which included nearly ten hours of action and the elimination of six players -- Heinz enjoyed the poker rush of a lifetime. He began play ranked seventh in chips. By the time it was over, the German poker pro ended the night as chip leader, which pretty much is the fairytale dream come true for every poker player in the universe. Indeed, just about everything went right for the man who could very well be destined to become Germany's first world poker champion.
The big question now becomes -- will it continue? At least two players hope not. Ben Lamb, the American poker pro widely-regarded as the game's best tournament player at the moment, also enjoyed a memorable day, bouncing back from the serious threat of elimination on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, Martin Staszko the Main Event final table's first-ever representative from the Czech Republic, endured a long see-saw battle filled with ups and downs. The early chip leader now ranks third with three players remaining and will be put to the test of his tournament life in what he now hopes will become a thrilling comeback victory.
Late Sunday night, as play was suspended until the grand finale, Heinz was interviewed on the ESPN stage. He revealed his thoughts and personal fears coming into Sunday's session and also conveyed his hopes and expections for Tuesday's course of events:
Question: Did Sunday go as planned?
Heinz: No. This day went much better than planned, obviously. I came in seventh and after the first break which was 30 minutes into the action, I had the least amount of chips of anyone. When I first sat down, I was really nervous. But then during the break, I realized that I still had 20 big blinds left and I was determined to play as good as a can and see what happens.
Question: The final table atmosphere, with all the lights, cameras, and big crowds was very different from back in July. How did that affect you?
Heinz: I honestly enjolyed it. It didn't make me nervous. The reason I was nervous during the first 30 minutes was not the crowd I don't think. It was just that I was finally sitting at the final table. But I enjoyed what happened. It was a lot of fun.
Question: You came into the final table as one of the shortest stacks. Now, you enter Tuesday's session as the chip leader, which is a complete reversal. How does that change the way you approach the finale?
Heinz: Obviously, being the chip leader is really, really good. It gives me the ability to be more creative. When you are playing with 25 big blinds, you are kind of handcuffed as to what you can do. You can't do as much, especially post-flop. Now with many more chips, you have a lot more room to manuever and can do a lot more creative things.
Question: When you are playing at this level, with so much deep thinking and pressure of everyone watching every move, is it fun?
Heinz: Yeah, it is. This is what makes it so much fun. The final table is really tough. Each player was very good and I respected each one of them. When you are playing against those kinds of players, it gets to be really fun. Obviously, it also gets a lot tougher. The mind game is a much bigger part of it than the cards actually are. Of course, it helps to have good cards. But the mental game is a big part of it.
Question: The mental part of poker seems to have taken a new twist this year because of the live coverage and the break. There is a whole lot more information out there. Is that something that was noticable to you as you played on Sunday?
Heinz: Yeah, definitely. You have to think about it. But I don't think it's the most important factor because whenever you play a pot you have a decent opinion about your opponent and his range (of hands). It really doesn't matter what particular (past results you consider) because you already have an idea of the range of hands he will play in that situation. You can always go back and see -- did he bluff me in that situation or not? But that can also mess with your confidence, as well. If you think the guy is never bluffing and he bluffed you on a hand (you find out later), that affects your confidence. On the other hand, if you think he always has the nuts here and he in fact had the nuts, you feel a lot better about your fold. So, this influences the decisions you make, but it's not the most important thing.
Question: What did you think of Ben Lamb's play, on Sunday?
Heinz: He played good -- as always. But today, I think I got the better of him because I just got better cards than he did. I respect his game a lot and respect him as a person, as well. It's going to be interesting to see what happens (on Tuesday).
Question: What about Martin Staszko's play, on Sunday?
Heinz: I think Martin was really card dead today. But the hands he played, he did not make any big mistakes. So, he is going to be tough to play against as well. I guess Ben and I are the favorites to play heads up. But you should definitely know that Martin will make it tough on us.
Question: What do you expect to happen on Tuesday night, playing the final session of poker's world championship?
Heinz: When I sat down to play today, like I said before -- I was really nervous. It was the only time in the entire three months we were off that I felt that way. I might feel the same way again when I first sit down on Tuesday. But when we start playing again and I get into my game, I am hoping things will go my way. All I can do is play the best I can, and hope for the best.
The remaining players and their chip counts are as follows:
PIUS HEINZ (Cologne, Germany) – 107,800,000 in chips
BEN LAMB (Tulsa, OK USA/Las Vegas, NV) -- 55,400,000 in chips
MARTIN STASZKO (Trinec, Czech Republic) – 42,700,000 in chips
On Tuesday, play resumes at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT live on ESPN and ESPN3.com. Heinz, Lamb, and Staszko will return to the same stage at the Rio, staring in the final act of poker’s world championship. The finale will be preceded by the official Poker Hall of Fame inductions, which will begin at 4:15. This year’s induction class includes Barry Greenstein and Linda Johnson.
For those who missed Sunday’s poker action, there’s still a chance to tune in and watch poker history unfold. For the first time in history, poker players and fans everywhere can tune in and watch all the action live. Comprehensive coverage with expert analysis also includes player hole cards being shown to viewers on ESPN – a WSOP first.
Note: The official report of the entire tournament, complete with statistics, historical information, records, and quotes from each of the nine players will be posted to WSOP.com at the conclusion of the tournament.