You may not think Ryan Riess and Jay Farber have much common ground outside of this WSOP Main Event final table. One is a poker pro from Michigan who spent the past year grinding the WSOP Circuit. The other is a self-admitted amateur from Las Vegas who is more accustomed to spending time at the night club tables than the poker tables.
But, as the media talked to these ast two, the last two players left in this year's $10,000 buy-in Main Event are more alike than you might expect.
First, consider that, despite a 112-day pause in the action, neither player did much in the way of preparation for this final table. Both certainly had friends they could bounce hands off of as the final table drew closer. Riess enlisted the help of bracelet winners and Circuit regulars Loni Harwood, Bryan Campanello, and Jonathan Taylor along with several others, while Farber had a rail that included the 2011 WSOP Main Event third place finisher Ben Lamb, the 2012 WSOP Main Event runner-up Jesse Sylvia, and bracelet winner Chance Kornuth.
Even with these resources though, both players came into yesterday with a philosophy that amounted to, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Judging by the Farber dominated the action, you would think he spent plenty of time preparing, as numerous pros on Twitter noted how well he was playing. However, Farber was quick to admit that wasn't the case.
"Honestly, not very much at all," Farber said when asked about his level of preparation. "We talked strategy, we talked game plan, and we talked certain situations that might come up, but I felt like the way I played got me to where I was and we weren't going to try to change anything."
It certainly worked for Farber, who has both the chip lead and the momentum heading into the heads-up battle, where he will sit with 105 million to Riess' 85,675,000. It is an unusual circumstance for the VIP Vegas host, whose status as the lone amateur at the table had many people writing off his chances at the bracelet from the jump. That didn't bother Farber though.
"I said coming in that I'm happy to be the underdog and I thought everyone was underestimating me. Just because I haven't had a lot of tournament success doesn't make me a poor poker player.
Riess got similar criticism, with some suggesting that his Circuit accomplishments weren't up to snuff compared to his fellow final tablemates with bracelets and other major titles. Riess never strayed from his roots though, both with his selection of coaches and his approach to the game. The 23-year-old, who was the youngster in this year's November Nine line-up, tried to come into the first day of final table play with a laid back approach to the action. Like Farber, he didn't want to tinker with an approach that had worked so well so far.
"I will be preparing for the heads-up match. I didn't prepare for anything else because I didn't want to be overprepared and throw myself off, but I will be preparing tomorrow afternoon," Riess explained. The Michigan native was confident going into today, proclaiming that he thought he was the best player at the table. He still has that confidence, but as he notes, he is not going to underestimate his opponent and his opponent's chip lead.
"I thought [Jay] played great. He got a couple of good hands and good spots. He made a great five-bet against JC and got JC to fold ace-queen when Jay had sixes...I thought he played really solid all day," Riess admitted.
Tonight though, both players have the same idea in mind: a little celebrating. Even though it was after 1am when play ended Monday night, both players were keen to get out on the Las Vegas strip. In fact, when reporters questioned Farber's plan for the night, he got a little jokingly indignant about the situation.
"I'm out every night! What am I supposed to do? Sit at home and dwell on the final table? No, I'm going to go out and enjoy myself."
When Riess was asked if he had celebrating on the brain, he gave a similar response.
"Yup, going to the club. We're partying tonight."
Both of these players understand that simply making it this far is a poker player's dream come true. These guys were labeled the underdogs, seen as less experienced than most of the line-up. However, now they are two left playing for the most coveted bracelet of the year and that $8.3 million payday.
Farber, who has a chance to be the first amateur to win the Main Event title since Jerry Yang in 2007, summed it up rather nicely.
"I'm going to enjoy the next year of my life, regardless. I'm not nervous, I just came here to play poker, no one expected me to do well at all...It is nice to prove people wrong."
These two players may seem like the odd couple, but both exemplified what makes the Main Event the best poker tournament in the world. It offers an opportunity for anyone to take on the best in the game and prove themselves to be much more than may initially meet the eye.