1 November 2016 (Las Vegas) – At the end of a grueling eight-hour heads up match, Qui Nguyen has written his name into poker's history books. Nguyen won the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event late Tuesday night, earning his first WSOP bracelet and $8,005,310 for his victory. And for the next year, he will be poker's reigning world champion.
It wasn't an easy path to the winner's circle for Nguyen. He held the chip lead for much of the final day of competition, but his heads-up opponent, Gordon Vayo, refused to make it easy for him. They fought a marathon battle, but Nguyen slowly built his chip lead, and eventually he sealed the victory in a decisive hand. Vayo earned $4,661,228 for his runner-up finish.
The final day of competition began at roughly 5:30 p.m. Tuesday evening. Nguyen held a big chip lead with 197,600,000. Vayo was in second with 89,000,000, and Josephy started the day with 50,000,000.
The fireworks started early. On the first hand of the night, Josephy doubled through Nguyen to pull into second place. Nguyen still had nearly 150 million in chips, well ahead of Josephy’s 100 million.
The wild action continued with another all in confrontation just four hands later. Gordon Vayo took the chip lead when he doubled through Josephy in a set-over-set cooler. This was the second day in a row Vayo got a big double up early on, and he’d hold onto the chip lead until heads-up play.
Josephy, on the other hand, was left severely short-stacked with less than 10 million in chips. He wouldn’t go quietly, though, and he doubled up on the very next hand to begin mounting a comeback. He doubled up again just four hands later, and suddenly he had nearly as many chips as he did to start the day. Then five hands later Nguyen took a bite out of Josephy’s stack, leaving him with just under 20 million in chips, and the following hand he was eliminated by Vayo. Josephy earned $3,453,035 for his third place performance, the largest cash of his already illustrious poker career.
Cliff Josephy (R) talks with ESPN host Kara Scott after his elimination
As heads-up play began, Vayo had about 60% of the chips in play with 200,300,000 to Nguyen’s 136,300,000. But within half an hour, Nguyen took over the chip lead. Vayo soon regained it, though, and the two players continued to battle back and forth for over 90 minutes without either gaining a sizeable lead.
Then Nguyen took control.
He moved all in on the river with about 80 million in chips already in the pot. Vayo thought about his decision for about seven minutes, but eventually folded, and Nguyen scored the first substantial blow of heads-up play. About an hour later, Nguyen took another bite from Vayo's stack. At that point he held over 80% of the chips in play. But just two hands later, Vayo doubled up to give himself a fighting chance.
The two players traded chips for over six hours, with Vayo never able to gain much momentum against Nguyen. Eventually it looked like Nguyen would put the final nail in the coffin. They got all in on a queen-flop, with Nguyen holding ace-queen against Vayo's queen-five. But Vayo made a runner-runner flush to double up and stay alive, and they played on.
Nguyen quickly regained the chips he lost after Vayo's unlikely double-up, and he continued to build his lead. A little over two hours later, Nguyen finally delivered the final blow. It took 182 hands of heads-up play to determine a winner. By comparison, the first seven players at the final table were eliminated over the course of 182 hands, spread out over three nights. Josephy had been eliminated at about 7:00 p.m. Vayo wasn't eliminated until 3:20 a.m.
Nguyen in many ways seems an unlikely champion. He lacked the experience of some of his competitors at the final table, most notably Josephy, who already has two WSOP bracelets and numerous other accomplishments. Nguyen, in contrast, had only one previous WSOP cash, and his biggest live tournament cash prior to this tournament was for $9,029. His victory today earned him near 900 times that amount.
The 2016 WSOP Main Event began back in July with 6,737 entrants, each of whom put up a $10,000 buy-in for a total prize pool of $63,340,268. The top 1,011 made the money, with 1,011th place earning $15,000. After playing for seven days, the field had been whittled down to nine players – the 2016 November Nine. The tournament was paused for about three months, and the final table officially began Sunday in the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, televised live on ESPN.
When the final table began on Sunday, Cliff Josephy held the chip lead. But Qui Nguyen took over the lead on the very first hand. The two of them traded the lead several times over the next few hours, setting the stage for the battles to come.
The short stack when the final table began was Fernando Pons from Palma, Spain. His stack dwindled a bit, and he ended up being the first player eliminated on the 16th hand on Sunday.
Pons was the only true amateur at this year’s final table. He makes his living as an account manager for a retail company. Before the Main Event, his biggest live tournament cash was for just under $4,000. He’s never played a WSOP tournament, and said in July when the Main Event started it was his first ever trip to Vegas. But now he’s a poker millionaire, having earned $1,000,000 for his ninth-place finish.
After Pons was eliminated, Jerry Wong was left as the shortest stack at the table. Wong – a professional poker player originally from Brooklyn – started the final table eighth in chips. But Griffin Benger (who had started seventh in chips) continually trended downward. He and Wong traded the bottom spot a few times, but neither was able to gain much momentum. A little less than two hours after Pons busted out, Wong ended up finishing in eighth place, earning $1,100,076.
Benger was eliminated in seventh place just half an hour later. Benger is a former world-champion video game player, and in 2012 was the world’s top-ranked online poker player. This is his second deep run in the WSOP Main Event. In 2014 he finished in 90th place, and this year he bested that by 83 spots.
Play continued for about another two hours Sunday night. On the last hand of the night, Kenny Hallaert was eliminated by Qui Nguyen. Hallaert hails from Belgium, and this is the second consecutive year the country has been represented at the final table. A year ago, Pierre Neuville was the country’s final tablist in the Main Event. (He finished in seventh place.) Hallaert bested his countryman’s performance, finishing in sixth place for $1,464,258.
The hand against Hallaert gave Nguyen a big lead heading into Monday. He had over 128 million in chips, more than twice Cliff Josephy, who came into the Day in second place.
The action got off to a fast start Monday. On just the fourth hand of the night, Michael Ruane doubled up through Nguyen. Ruane had started the night as the short stack, but the big hand gave him some breathing room. The action really heated up just three hands later. Vojtech Ruzicka and Gordon Vayo played a big pot that ended with Ruzicka moving all in on the river. Vayo called, and it turned out Ruzicka was bluffing. Vayo took over the chip lead, and Ruzicka was left running on fumes. He was eliminated the following hand. Ruzicka – the first Czech player at the Main Event final table since Martin Staszko in 2011 – earned finishing in fifth place for $1,935,388.
Over the following two and a half hours, Ruane’s stack slowly dwindled. Eventually, he was eliminated in fourth place ($2,576,003). Qui Nguyen extended his already substantial lead when he eliminated Ruane. Play continued for about another half an hour Monday night, and Nguyen made the most of the time to build his stack even further. When play concluded for the day, Nguyen once again had more than twice his closest competitor, setting the stage for Tuesday's lengthy final day of competition.
And of course, Nguyen was once again on top a day later, this time with all the chips, the bracelet, and first-place prize money.
He joins a select few players in poker history - Johnny Moss, Sailor Roberts, Doyle Brunson, Stu Ungar, Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, Scotty Nguyen, Carlos Mortensen, and Martin Jacobson, just to name a few - players who have won poker's world championship. Nguyen's name is etched alongside theirs in poker history, and next summer his banner will beside theirs in the Amazon room when the next World Series of Poker begins.
Here are the final table results from the 2016 WSOP Main Event. Full results are available here.
1 – Qui Nguyen – $8,005,310
2 – Gordon Vayo – $4,661,228
3 – Cliff Josephy – $3,453,035
4 – Michael Ruane – $2,576,003
5 – Vojtech Ruzicka – $1,935,388
6 – Kenny Hallaert – $1,464,258
7 – Griffin Benger – $1,250,190
8 – Jerry Wong – $1,100,076
9 – Fernando Pons - $1,000,000
2016 WSOP Main Event Final Table Chip Chart