Andy Philachack is the champion of the $1,675 WSOP Circuit Main Event at Choctaw. Philachack defeated a field of 1,565 entries, winning $393,188 and his second gold ring. The victory also earned him an automatic entry into the invitation-only WSOP Global Casino Championship.

The champ is a 41-year-old chiropractor from Garland, Texas. His friends call him “Doc”. This is his second Circuit Main Event victory, eight years after his first win in New Orleans. The six-figure score also boosts his career tournament earnings past $2 million.

“Doc” almost skipped this Main Event, but he made a last-minute decision to fly home early from the Bahamas, arriving just in time to register for Day 1A. He bagged an above-average stack of 150,000 after the first day, then finished Day 2 with nearly a million chips and just 20 players remaining. The start of Day 3 was not particularly productive for him, reaching the final table of nine with the second-shortest stack in play. Patience is a virtue in tournament poker, though, as he explained:

“When I play cash games, I play every hand. But there’s a time to be a nit, and there’s a time to go. The thing about poker tournaments is you just have to keep yourself alive. I was short-stacked all day until we got down to one table. Then I went on a rush.”

Philachack eliminated Mel Lyons in eighth place when his ace-jack held against Lyons’ king-jack. Shortly thereafter, he picked up a huge knockout pot when his pocket kings flopped top set against Jim Carroll’s pocket aces. The money went in after the flop, and Carroll could not catch up, exiting in seventh place.

That put Philachack in contention with about 45 big blinds, but Andy Spears was still dominating the final table, as he had been doing for the bulk of the day. The chip leader was sitting with 120 big blinds and more than half the chips in play when he and Philachack played the crucial pot that changed the fate of both.

Spears opened the button with a raise, then called a three-bet from Philachack, who held pocket queens. The flop came ten-high with two hearts. After Philachack continued out with a bet, Spears moved in on the draw with ace-ten of hearts, and Philachack called to put himself at risk. The turn and river were both blanks, and Philachack suddenly had a commanding lead with about 70% of the chips in play.

“That’s a big dodge right there,” Philachack let out a big sigh as he recapped that pivotal hand. “That’s when I knew I could win this.” Spears hung on for a long while before dropping out in third place, leaving Philachack heads up against Jeff Landherr with a 2:1 chip advantage.

The tables were turned on the very first hand of the duel, though, when Philachack was dealt pocket threes against Landherr’s pocket jacks. They got it all in preflop, and a board full of blanks reversed the stacks. Philachack fought back furiously, quickly erasing the deficit to retake the chip lead. Thirty-four hands into the heads-up match, Landherr committed his remaining stack with ace-deuce of clubs, and Philachack woke up with pocket tens. The dealer kept the board clean, and the tournament was over with Philachack as the victor.

“Man, it just feels great,” he said after the win. “It was a battle. All these guys are wizards.”

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The term “rags to riches” is so often overused, but it seldom fits as well as it does in Philachack’s case. He certainly manifested that idiom at the final table, but it played out much more meaningfully in his life away from the felt. The champion’s backstory is as interesting and inspiring as you’ll find among poker players.

Born in Laos in 1974, Philachack and his family were forced to flee the country to escape tyranny when he was just a boy. “One morning,” he said, “my mom came in and just told us, ‘Get up. We’re leaving.’ My dad was the president of a bank, and they were arresting all the top officials the next morning.”

The family of five grabbed whatever clothes they could carry and snuck away from their home before sunrise, never to return. They had hired a guerrilla to smuggle them across the river into Thailand, but in the middle of the journey, the captain gave them what amounted to a shakedown, threatening to capsize their canoe if they didn’t pay him an exorbitant overage on the agreed price. With little choice, they complied.

“When we arrived at the refugee camp in Thailand, we had zero dollars,” Philachack recalled. His mother had been a successful doctor and his father a banker, but in the span of one night, they quite literally lost everything except the clothes on their backs. “They would give us one tuna fish per day for the whole family.”

The Philachacks eventually found a sponsor to bring them to the United States, but things didn’t come easily in the Land of the Free either. He remembered them having a total of $20 between them, living on bread and peanut butter for several weeks before finding a job in the fields. “My whole family would get in the truck at four in the morning and go pick blueberries all day,” he said. “Sixty dollars per day. Man, we felt rich.” They ended up in Texas a few years later, and Philachack worked as a janitor after school to help make ends meet. “I would clean toilets for four or five hours every night,” he said.

With persistence, the Philachacks eventually escaped the clutches of poverty. “We worked hard,” he said proudly, but without a hint of boasting. “I learned English, went to school, got my chiropractor’s license.” His two siblings are now similarly successful in the secular world, one as a medical doctor and the other an engineer. And their brother has earned more than $2 million playing poker.

“We made it,” he beamed. “We made the American Dream come true.”

When asked what he planned to do with his Choctaw earnings, Philachack just smiled and pointed to his fiancé, who had been with him on the rail all day. “We’ve been engaged for a year and a half,” he said. “So I guess we’re going to have a big wedding now. Her wedding list just got a lot longer.”