Garry Gates grew up and went to college in Pennsylvania, but he’s always been drawn to Las Vegas. He was also drawn to poker and has been an avid player ever since his father taught him how to play cards in his younger years. After attending Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, it only took Gates half a year to make the leap to Sin City.
That was in 2003. In 2011, Gates competed in the greatest poker tournament in the world, the World Series of Poker Main Event, and placed 173rd for $47,107. He also reached the money in the WSOP Main Event in 2015 and 2017, but none of those results came close to his run in 2019 when Gates finished fourth from a field of 8,569 entries to win $3,000,000.
With the score, Gates moved to ninth on Pennsylvania poker’s all-time money list, according to Hendon Mob, ahead of Aaron Mermelstein and behind Michael Martin.
Here are some of the key hands that helped land Gates at the 2019 WSOP Main Event final table and poker’s biggest stage, along with his thoughts on the moments he’ll likely never forget.
Day 5: Pocket Nines Crack Aces
On Day 5 of the 2019 WSOP Main Event, with just under 300 players remaining, Gates found himself involved in a four-way pot with Alex Dovzhenko, Chris Wynkoop, and Alex Greenblatt. Dovzhenko had raised to 60,000 from the hijack seat, Gates called on the button with the , Wynkoop called from the small blind, and Greenblatt came along out of the big bling.
The four players saw the flop come , giving Gates top set, and action checked to Dovzhenko. He bet 90,000, Gates called, and both Wynkoop and Greenblatt folded.
The turn was the and Dovzhenko checked. Gates took the initiative with a bet of 150,000 from his stack of 760,000. Dovzhenko check-raised all in and had Gates covered. Gates went into the tank.
“I certainly felt a lot more confident about my hand on the flop than I did on the turn, that’s for sure,” Gates told PocketFives. “I think I knew deep down I was probably never folding in this spot, but I took my time with the decision regardless. Whenever you’re facing a call for your tournament life in the WSOP Main Event, it’s important to be confident that you’re making the right decision. Alex played his hand fairly face up here, so once I’d made the decision to call, all I could think was, ‘Hold, please,’ and we did.”
Gates called with his set of nines. Dovzhenko turned over the for an overpaid and a heart flush draw.
The river was the and Gates held for the double.
Day 6: An Ace On the River To Never Forget
On Day 6, Gates called all in for his tournament life with the against Robert Heidorn. Gates had one of the better hands to get all in preflop with in tournament poker, but his German opponent turned up the to have Gates dominated.
“Obviously it’s never a good feeling to find out that you’re completed dominated with your tournament life on the line, but I did have an eery calm rush over me in that moment,” Gates said. “I was at peace with the result no matter what… I had already bested my previous top finish in the Main, so I was going to be happy regardless. After we completely bricked the flop, I remember thinking about Barry Greenstein’s book and saying to myself… ‘Ace on the river, maybe?'”
The flop didn’t give Gates much to be thrilled about. His had whiffed on hitting an ace and was left with just one card to help him make a Broadway straight. When the hit the turn, Gates was pushed further out the door as his chance of making a straight were no longer possible. The only card Gates could hit was an ace on the river.
Lo and behold, the dealer found the to put on fifth street and Gates came from behind in dramatic fashion to double up.
“When it hit, I shot out of my chair and ran over to my rail,” Gates said. “I couldn’t believe it. Anytime you attempt to navigate through a field of 8,500-plus, you’re going to need to get lucky every now and again. But man, that ace gave me new life. When you think about it, it was probably a $2.7 million card.”
Day 7: Cowboys Against the Chip Leader
On Day 7, with 13 players left in the field, Gates was involved in another kings-versus-ace-king confrontation. Again, Gates was at risk, but this time he was the one holding pocket kings – . Hossein Ensan, who was the big chip leader at the time, had the .
The preflop action started with Gates raising to 1.2 million from the hijack seat. Ensan three-bet to 3.75 million out of the small blind, and then Gates made it 10 million. Ensan shoved and Gates called off for 23.5 million total.
“The adrenaline was pumping, and I knew that if we held here, I would be very well positioned to make a run at the final table,” Gates said. “I remember walking over to Robert Heidorn, who made a terrific comeback after being on the losing hand of this same confrontation, and saying something like… ‘I know what you’re thinking right now, Robert, and I don’t want to experience your pain.’ Once all the money gets in though, the rest is up to the deck.”
The flop missed Ensan and kept Gates in the lead. The hit the turn, followed by the on the river, and Gates had doubled to fourth place on the leaderboard.
“Securing that double-up and celebrating with my rail was a moment I’ll remember for a long, long time,” Gates said.
Day 7: Trip Kings with 13 Players Left
Shortly after Gates’ double up through Ensan, a 20-minute break took place. On the sixth hand back, Gates tangled with Timothy Su in another pivotal hand.
Su raised to 1.3 million from the cutoff position to start the action. Gates three-bet to 3.9 million on the button, and Su called. Su then checked the flop. Gates kept his foot on the gas with a bet of 3.5 million, and Su called.
The turn was the , and both players checked to see the pair the board on the river. Su passed the action to Gates once again, and Gates fired 6.5 million. Su took a little time and then called, but he mucked his hand after seeing Gates’ for trip kings with a queen kicker.
This pot moved Gates ahead of Su in the chip counts and up to third place on the leaderboard with a stack of 118 big blinds.
Day 7: Out-Kicking Henry Lu for the Knockout
With 11 players left, Gates was on the main feature table that had five players seated at it. The blinds were up to 400,000-800,000 with an 800,000 big blind ante, and this is when Gates knocked out Henry Lu.
Lu raised to 1.8 million from the cutoff seat, Gates reraised to 7 million from the small blind, and Lu called. The dealer fanned the flop and Gates bet 4.5 million. Lu called to swell the pot to nearly 25 million.
After the fell on the turn, Gates slowed down with a check. Lu bet 7.8 million, leaving himself with 25.8 million behind, and Gates went into the tank. Eventually, Gates shoved all in to put Lu to the test. Lu tanked for a handful of minutes before calling all in with the for top pair. Gates had him out-kicked with the .
“Yeah, when you check-shove with top pair, top kicker on a board like this, I think you’re always happy with a fold,” Gates said. “He spent an awful long time in the tank, so my mind was racing a mile a minute. I tried to keep composed and not give anything away. Once he made the call and tabled his hand, I was mostly just happy to find out that my read was correct and knew the rest was out of my hands.”
Gates gave a slight fist pump when he saw Lu’s hand.
“It was one of those spots where my intuition allowed me to extract max value in a spot that a lot of pros probably play differently,” Gates said. “That, plus I got some phenomenal intel from a good friend who plays with Lu a lot in California, and said he’s capable of making the occasional sticky hero call, so in the end it was a case of things lining up just about perfectly for me. All that said, I’m pretty sure I lost a week’s worth of life expectancy, due to an increase in blood pressure and stress… I don’t know how these guys do this on a daily basis, but hats off to them (laughs).”
Gates finished Day 7 in second place in chips, behind only the event’s eventual winner, Hossein Ensan. Each of these hands played a pivotal role in propelling Gates to the 2019 WSOP Main Event final table. From there, the man from Titusville, home of John Heisman and the place where the first United States oil boom was sparked, went on to finish fourth for $3,000,000.