Texas Hold ‘em is a game that requires guile, luck and talent all mixed together. On Tuesday night, Ryan Riess used all of those attributes to obtain poker’s biggest prize.
In the final round of the World Series of Poker at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Riess, whose career earnings totaled less than $400,000 before this event, won $8.4 million in prize money.
"I’m overwhelmed with joy,” said Riess. “I’ve been dreaming about [this] since I was 14 and saw (Chris) Moneymaker win it. The table was tough, but I just had a good feeling about everything.”
Moneymaker was an amateur who won the event back in 2003. The underdog helped catapult the WSOP onto the world stage with his win 10 years ago.
The event started back in July, when 6,352 players posted the $10,000 buy-in price to achieve poker’s biggest prize. The field was whittled down to just nine players over seven nights.
At the end of play on Monday, only two remained—Riess and challenger Jay Farber, a 29-year-old amateur employed as a club promoter in Las Vegas.
At the start of play on Tuesday, it was Farber who held the advantage, with a lead of approximately 19 million in chips.
But Farber was soon on the defensive, and when Riess won a $58.5 million pot with pocket-jacks about two hours later, the tide had clearly turned in Riess’ favor.
At that time, Riess decided that his best play was to be aggressive for the rest of the night in forcing Farber’s hand.
"I just decided to turn the pace up and drive him down," Riess said.
That’s exactly what happened, as Riess repeatedly challenged Farber. All too often, Farber drew hands that simply couldn’t compete as Riess steadily built a chip lead that was daunting.
On the last hand, Riess held $176 million in chips and Farber had just $14 million remaining. When the cards were dealt, Farber was holding a queen and five of spades. With nothing left to lose, Farber elected to go all-in without seeing any community cards.
Riess, sensing that Farber was bluffing, quickly called, holding an ace and king of hearts.
Riess later revealed that it was an easy call because Farber had bluffed his way into a huge pot earlier in the evening when he was holding a six-high hand.
"I was picking up on his body language and facial tells. When everybody was screaming then, he did the exact same thing," Riess said.
When Riess revealed his hole cards, a collective gasp could be heard from Farber’s cheering section, a collection of club kids who had taunted Riess for much of the night with derisive barbs about the city of Detroit.
Farber still walked away with $5.2 million despite the loss, and he plans to use part of the money to help promote his club business.
For Riess, it was the validation of a goal that he set years ago, and at such a young age, it’s certainly inspiration for many aspiring young poker stars who are working toward the same goal.
Andrew Feldman of ESPN.com said it best:
“Many of his (Riess’) friends are Circuit grinders who aspire to accomplish what Riess has just done. He wasn't just playing for himself Tuesday night at that final table, but for a group of players who put their heart and soul into the game for their "one time." He represented the thousands of dreamers who play the professional game at a lower financial level and gave a face to a tour that needed a true icon.”
Those fans not only have a hero they can look up to, but also a reason to continue on their own journeys as well, knowing that there’s a chance that they too can achieve what they witnessed on Tuesday night.