About a year ago, Ryan Riess decided to take his shot and play in the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event in Hammond. The former poker dealer and Michigan State University student defied the odds to navigate a field of 1,523 entries and end up heads-up with Joshua Williams for the ring and more than $385,000.
It felt like the accomplishment of a lifetime for Riess at the time, but fast forward just one year later and it pales in comparison with what he pulled off at the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino tonight—defeating Jay Farber to win the WSOP Main Event, the most coveted bracelet in the game, and $8,361,570.
For Riess, the win is a dream ten years in the making. "I've been dreaming about it for a long time, ever since I was 14 and saw [Chris] Moneymaker win it," Riess said shortly after his victory. In a year when Moneymaker drew a lot of attention for his win ten years ago, Riess' journey from poker dealer to Circuit grinder to Main Event Champion is particularly fitting.
It may sound like a Cinderella story, but if Ryan Riess’ path to poker’s World Champion is more aptly described as Beauty and the Beast. Riess the Beast that is. Surrounded by friends from Michigan State and fellow poker players from the Circuit like Loni Harwood, Jonathan Taylor, and Bryan Campanello, Riess navigated the final table beautifully to play his way to heads-up action against Las Vegas VIP host and poker amateur Jay Farber.
Riess came into the second day of final table play with a slight chip deficit to Farber, holding just under 87 million to Farber’s 105 million. It took less than two dozen hands of play for Riess to claim the chip lead though and just 91 total to play his way to the top spot, the glory, the money, and the honor of being poker’s new World Champion.
Riess had a hard time finding words to describe what it felt like winning over $8 million in front of a large crowd of friends and family. "I was so excited waiting 100 days or whatever it was to play this. I'm just speechless."
Riess summed up his excitement shortly before play resumed by quoting the lyrics of the American Authors song that served as the WSOP on ESPN anthem this year on Twitter:
Riess' best day was certainly an exciting one, as it included a back and forth heads-up battle with each player taking turns in the driver's seat as chip leader. Riess grinded Farber down to a short stack early in the match, but Farber doubled up and battled back to cut Riess's chip lead to a 2-1 margin. Riess rallied a second time though, systematically picking apart Farber's stack until the amateur shoved his last 12 million in holding to Riess' . The board ran out jack-high and Riess' supporters tumbled on to the stage, piling on top of the new World Champion.
This year’s WSOP Main Event drew 6,352 participants, generating a prize pool of $59,714,169. The biggest tournament of the year drew participants from 83 different countries who put up $10,000 with the hopes of winning the biggest title in the game.
The top 648 finishers each made the money this year with payouts ranging from $19,106 to $8,361,570. The elite group of November Niners each earned $733,224. The fraternity of finalists got ninth place money back in July when the final table was set, then had 110 days to rest up and prepare for the showdown at the Penn and Teller Theater in the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.
This year’s final nine was a particularly accomplished group featuring two-time bracelet winner JC Tran, bracelet winner Amir Lehavot, and WPT title holder Mark Newhouse. Throw in accomplished European pro Michiel Brummelhuis, French cash game player Sylvain Loosli, and WSOP Circuit grinder Riess and you had what many were calling the most talented crop of November Niners ever.
The final nine was also another internationally diverse crew, representing five nations (USA, Canada, Israel, Netherlands, and France). Michiel Brummelhuis generated a lot of national pride by becoming the first player from the Netherlands to ever final table the Main Event.
One player who just missed out on the final table was 2001 WSOP Main Event Champion Carlos Mortensen, whose elimination in 10th place concluded play back in July when he bubbled the final table. He was looking to be the first champ since Dan Harrington in 2004 to return to the final table, but came up just short of that goal.
When play paused this summer, it was Tran who held the chip lead with a 38 million-chip stack. Despite coming in with experience and chips on his side, Tran struggled to win pots at the final table and exited in fifth place. Meanwhile, the relatively inexperienced Farber and Riess managed to account for all of the knockouts at the final table. After 171 hands of action, they were the last two players left and play ceased on Monday night.
Riess was the youngest of this year's final tablists at 23 years of age. The Waterford, MI native joins fellow Michigan resident Joe Cada on the list of young poker pros that have claimed the World Championship since the inception of the November Nine in 2008. Last year's winner Greg Merson is the oldest of the bunch at 24, while Cada is the youngest at just 21 years of age. Riess is also the first Main Event Champ to be born in the 1990s.
At 22, Riess kick-started his poker career on the WSOP Circuit. A year later, he is World Champion. It is a whirlwind, a fairy tale, an underdog story, and what the World Series of Poker is all about.
Here are the final table results from the 2013 WSOP Main Event:
1st: Ryan Riess - USA - $8,361,570
2nd: Jay Farber - USA - $5,174,357
3rd: Amir Lehavot – Israel - $3,727,823
4th: Sylvain Loosli – France - $2,792,533
5th: JC Tran – USA - $2,106,893
6th: Marc-Etienne McLaughlin - $1,601,724
7th: Michiel Brummelhuis – Netherlands - $1,225,356
8th: David Benefield – USA - $944,650
9th: Mark Newhouse – USA - $733,224