John Hesp. Michael Ruane. Mark Newhouse. Even William Kasouf.
Every year during the World Series of Poker thousands of new faces enter the halls of the Rio All Suite & Casino in hopes of earning a life-changing score. Sometimes though, along with the money, a player’s accomplishments and personality introduce them to poker fans around the world, helping them become the next emerging poker star.
In some cases, it may be a player who has been on the scene for a number of years and their expertise was able to shine in the summertime to elevate their profile to new heights.
In 2018, it was no different. Here are just some of the players who went from being a face in the crowd to one of the breakout stars of the World Series of Poker.
It should be no surprise that the Los Angeles cash game grinder turned Main Event champion is now known by just about every fan of the game of poker. John Cynn bested the second largest Main Event field in history en route to an $8.8 million payday all in front of the cameras of the Worldwide Leader in Sports, ESPN.
The achievement alone puts Cynn’s name in the history books. But it was his play and personality that truly turned him into a star. As the other players hit the rail, Cynn’s visibility on camera increased. Those who tuned in to the broadcast were treated to a poker player who was enjoying every second of the journey while not sacrificing a high level of play.
It remains to be seen if Cynn will expand his tournament schedule, being a cash game pro. However, if he does decide to hit the circuit he will command the attention of his fellow players and the media for many years to come.
John Cynn’s foil in the Main Event was runner-up Tony Miles. From early on during the ESPN coverage, it was clear that Miles was at ease both at the tables and in front of the camera. And it wasn’t just his play and the affable table talk of Miles that endeared him to fans. His backstory of overcoming adversity and his challenges with addiction was instantly relatable to many who watch and play the game.
On the final hand of the tournament, Cynn took his time making a call for it all. Miles seemed to step out of character and snub Cynn when it all over with an accusation of a slow roll. The very next day he took to Twitter, owned the moment and made a heartfelt apology. His very human side was on display and his authenticity only drew the public more on his side.
Whereas it’s less certain how often we’ll see Cynn on the circuit, there’s a high likelihood that Miles is ready to step into an ambassador-like role. In many interviews he proclaimed his love of poker and ambition to continue playing at the highest levels.
It’s true that Ben Yu was already known by his peers as being a world class player. Prior to the 2018 WSOP, he’d already earned two gold bracelets and $2.4 million in earnings. However, even though Yu already had an amazing ten year career, he’d never had a summer like the one in 2018.
Los Angeles, CA’s Yu cashed in 15 different events including picking up his third career bracelet by winning the final event of the series, Event #77: $50,000 No Limit High Roller for $1.650 million. He also had a runner-up finish in Event #42, for $866,000.
Yu played everything. From the $365 Pot Limit Omaha to the online bracelet events to the Main Event, where he finished in 150th place. When the six weeks were done, Yu’s grind paid off big time. He’d more than doubled his career lifetime earnings to $5.25 million and cracking the top 200 on the All-Time Money List.
One-time lawyer, Kelly Minkin was already known by those who follow poker as a fierce on-the-felt competitor. Though her poker roots began in 2013, she found greater notoriety in 2015 when she made the final table of a World Poker Tour event as well as making a super deep run in the 2015 WSOP Main Event, earning the media bestowed title of Last Woman Standing.
In 2018 Minkin’s Main Event run energized a community when deep in the tournament she found herself holding the overall chip lead. This landed Minkin on the feature table, multiple times, including pulling off big-time bluffs – one of which prompted commentator Nick Schulman to label her play “gangsta”, a term for her play which quickly caught fire.
Though Minkin didn’t make the final table, she finished in 50th place for over $156,000. Her score pushed her career total earnings over the $1 million mark. It was the second time in four years she was the Last Woman Standing.
Three, two, one.
Scott Bohlman finished in each of those places this summer. The Illinois native has been a longtime grinder who certainly stepped up his game in 2018.
Bohlman, who plays all the games, picked up his first gold bracelet by taking down Event #40: $2,500 Mixed Big Bet for $122,138. He followed that up four days later finishing in sixth in Event #49: $10K PLO Championship for another $157,097.
He notched two more six-figure scores late in the series. A runner-up finish in Event #64: $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Eight for $225,210 (a career-high cash) and Event #69: $3,000 PLO 6-Handed for $199,572. In total Bohlman earned over $739,000 over 11 summer cashes, good enough to land him in the top 5 on the WSOP Player of the Year race.
To put his summer in perspective, Bohlman’s results would have been good enough to land him as the sixth most productive player in the 25k Fantasy competition. That ranks above players like Justin Bonomo, Mike Leah, and John Racener. Unfortunately for those who drafted, no one picked Bohlman. Next year, that’s likely to change.