Search the Community
Showing results for tags 'WSOP Main Event'.
Every player travels to the World Series of Poker from a different road, and this year, thousands of people will make it to Las Vegas with dreams that were formed all around the world. One such player who has endured a harder journey than most, escaping war-torn Ukraine to evacuate his family to safety, is Eugene Katchalov. We spoke to him on the eve of his poker pilgrimage to Sin City. Escaping Ukraine "It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions, seeing things I never thought I’d see." Katchalov’s journey from the heart of his home country, Ukraine, to freedom on the other side of the border as bombs literally fell is one of the most incredible stories of the year. As the world reacted with shock at the war in Ukraine, Katchalov attempted to help his family escape to safety by driving through the country. This inspired Poker Twitter to reach out and help the former Team PokerStars Pro. He is immensely grateful for that support over two months on. “I’ve been in the Czech Republic ever since we left Ukraine,” he tells us. “We spent 10 days in Budapest then Leon Tsoukernik rented four different hotels and invited over 500 refugees to stay there. I didn’t need the help personally but many of my wife’s family and friends who left with us did. Leon settled everyone in those hotels, and we rented an apartment nearby.” [caption id="attachment_638203" align="alignright" width="300"] Katchalov saw at first hand the devastation that the bombing of his home country caused.[/caption] The time since that fateful journey has disappeared and Katchalov says that fleeing the city under attack and his subsequent efforts to raise funds for those still in Ukraine has altered his perception of time. “The first week or two was a rollercoaster ride of emotions, seeing things I never thought I’d see. Because I have an audience on Twitter, I thought it would be good to show what was really going on. Once I did enter Europe, people offered their homes from 16 different countries for free, it’s been incredible. We were able to connect a lot of people because so many people from the poker community reached out to help.” Clearly struck by the humanity of the relief effort, Katchalov is emotional as he says how ‘incredible’ the efforts of the wide poker world were in supporting refugees and those on the frontline. “I started raising money for different humanitarian needs and discovered a foundation to partner with me and Luca Pagano’s esports company Qlash, to raise money. At this point, we’ve raised over $200,000 which is quite amazing. I just want to keep that going.” Katchalov admits that he, like most of the world, has no idea how long the war will last or the devastation that will be left behind to repair. As he tells us, the kind of help that’s needed has shifted from helmets, drones and radios for soldiers in the early days of the invasion to logistics, with governmental aid focusing on the war. He hopes to raise money to help provide food and medical support for those still in Ukraine, the most affected of anyone during the conflict. “Money can go through many different hands, so a big portion of my effort has been trying to help people I know who are on the ground. I’ve been working with different kitchens who are cooking food for soldiers and people. There’s a lot of money pouring in, but its stuck and food and clothes aren’t coming in - it’s about logistics.” [caption id="attachment_638204" align="aligncenter" width="583"] Katchalov and his family were relived to arrive safe in Budapest.[/caption] Raising Money for Ukraine "It’s my favorite poker series bar none, nothing compares to it." Katchalov freely admits that his quest for glory at this year’s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas includes some motivation from him missing playing the game he loves. Over the last couple of years, he has been focused on Qlash, the esports team he runs with fellow poker pro Luca Pagano. This year, however, the opportunity to raise money was too good to miss the WSOP. “To play the game I’ve always loved and do it for a good cause is amazing,” he says. “It’s my favorite poker series bar none, nothing compares to it. I’ve always loved mixed games and limit games and the WSOP is pretty much the only place you can play those.” [caption id="attachment_638205" align="alignright" width="245"] Katchalov's memories of the WSOP are some of his fondest of an incredible poker career.[/caption] Everyone is excited about the potential growth that having the WSOP at Bally’s and Paris could provide this year. Katchalov is no different. “I feel it might break records,” he says. “I’m an ambassador for the largest online site in Ukraine, PokerMatch, and they’re going to be buying a significant piece of my events and donating to the same humanitarian charity I will.” Katchalov is hugely passionate about bringing money to the charity and has seen at first-hand the effect it can have on a country desperate for help from all corners of the globe. “My plan is to donate at least 10% to Ukrainian charities and PokerMatch will be donating their full share to the same charity. I feel like my poker game is up there and I’m ready for any result.” The Year Darvin Moon Busted Katchalov "He looked at his chips and he just nonchalantly took one stack and called." Back in 2009, the World Series of Poker welcomed a fresh-faced 28-year-old Katchalov as he ran deep in the Main Event. His memories of that event are clearly very special 13 years on. “It was the year Ivey made the final table. When there were 50 players left, I was chip leader. I was texting Phil as we kept going back and forth at the top. Then I lost 30 pots in a row and busted and was devastated. I’d love to have another deep run in the Main Event.” The magic of getting so close is still palpable to Katchalov after all these years. “There are four tables left, and first place is life-changing money. You’re like ‘Oh my god.’ This was during the boom of online poker, too, so you probably stood to make as much as first place from a sponsorship with one of the major sites.” Katchalov’s exit came at the hands of the man who would run all the way to second place, losing to Joe Cada in the hand that changed the young player’s life. “Darvin Moon busted me!” laughs Katchalov. “I remember it too. I was kinda short with 11 blinds and had ace-ten. I shoved and he had just arrived at the table and was sitting down. He looked at his chips and he just nonchalantly took one stack and called. I think he had kings. It’s a painful memory... but it was memorable!” Mixing It Up "I’m planning to play mostly limit games and some of the smaller No Limit events." Katchalov will focus mostly on mixed games in Las Vegas, and he has fond memories of winning his bracelet in Seven Card Stud, as well as plenty of other mixed game moments over the years. He feels that it is in those events where he has the biggest edge. “I still feel like my NLHE edge is good, but in terms of mixed games, the game hasn’t advanced as much. There isn’t [so much] popularity to them, so the level of the game is stable. I’m planning to play mostly limit games, some of the smaller NLHE events where the fields are comparatively soft and of course the Main, which is a special event. I think it could reach record numbers. Katchalov is selling some of his World Series of Poker action for events that he will play on Pocket Fives. His package is now on sale and can be found right here. “I think it’s great that there are platforms like Pocket Fives that allow you to ‘crowdfund’ your events. It’s great to be able to give fans another reason to root for you and also to support a great cause. I’ve never sold pieces in public before. I'm looking forward to it and, hopefully, I can make lots of people some money. I’ll be tweeting about the experience a lot, especially for people who are backing me!” After one of the hardest journeys anyone has had to make, Eugene Katchalov hopes to raise much-needed money and renew his love affair with poker in the capital of gambling, Las Vegas. There could hardly be a better player to root for at the World Series of Poker this summer... whether you’re lucky enough to get a piece of his action or not. [caption id="attachment_638206" align="aligncenter" width="581"] Eugene Katchalov (pictured left, hiking Red Rock with Dan 'Jungleman' Cates' can't wait for this year's WSOP adventure.[/caption]
Back in 2009, the youngest player to win the World Series of Poker Main Event triumphed on the biggest stage of all. Beating the logger and amateur poker player Darvin Moon to the title, 21-year-old Joe Cada captured the imagination of the poker world as he won over $8.5 million and the title of world champion. It was undoubtedly a monumental moment in the career of the now four-time WSOP bracelet winner, but more than that, it was the hand that changed Joe Cada’s life. The Teenage Busboy A year before the poker world changed and Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event, Joe Cada lived back in Michigan, where he was brought up and still resides. Aged 14, he was a bus-boy in restaurants, earning $15 an hour with tips. It gave him an early discipline and as the ‘super shy kid’ grew up, he found poker online. “I had mental health issues growing up as a teenager,” admits Cada. “I was a depressed kid and kept to myself. Poker was my outlet and it really opened me up as a person.” Depositing for the first time, Cada was only allowed to put down $50 on the site. He told his Mom that instead of heading out to parties and drinking, he saw this as his form of entertainment, a budget akin to heading to the cinema. “It was my $50 and I had a job. I'd started working at a really early age. I asked her to have trust in me that this wasn’t going to be a problem. Telling your Mom that you’re going to gamble online at a very young age especially when they’ve seen people go through struggles. I was lucky that my Mom trusted me.” Cada was given the go-ahead to play online and immediately treated poker very seriously. Within six months of that first deposit, he’d turned it into hundreds of thousands. A Piece of the Action “If you’d stayed in the league and won, we would have had a piece of you!” Cada knew he was going to play at the 2009 World Series of Poker when he was 18 years old in 2006 as Jamie Gold scooped up the $12 million top prize. Three years later, the young man had quit his job, moved into his own home and had one question - how much of his own action to take on. “I had a ton of success on Full Tilt Poker, winning almost every major, and was probably in profit by $550,000-$600,000. That gave notice to ‘Johnny Bax’, who went through the numbers.” Cliff Josephy, otherwise known as the aforementioned ‘Johnny Bax’, bought half of Cada’s action, but as Cada tells us, he very nearly gave half of his Main Event action away before he even arrived in Vegas. “My brother’s buddy got me to join this league back in 2009. After the first few tournaments, I was overall first. It was a 50/50 split if you won; you played for half of it and the rest of the league split the other 50%. I stopped going and played bigger, it was more a thing to get together with friends. I didn’t take the league that seriously. I ended up going out there and winning it! They were a little bitter, like ‘If you’d stayed in the league and won, we would have had a piece of you!’” Everyone around his home town knew of Cada’s success at the game and expectations were thought the roof, apart from his own. “I wasn’t as optimistic,” he laughs. “I knew what tournaments were like and thought I may win the Main Event one in 1,000 shots.” Cada travelled to Vegas and felt the responsible thing to do was to give back and accept Josephy’s offer. “At the World Series alone, the variance is a lot. I could afford it, but it would have been a big hit. I felt like if I won, what was the difference between $8m and $4m. It was never a concern to me. I always treated poker with a big responsibility and never put my back against the wall.” During the World Series, Cada went out to eat with Josephy and a bunch of other players. “He singled me out, saying something like ‘Hey Joe, you better win something otherwise we’re in for a bunch of money, I got the most faith in you of anyone here.’ I couldn’t believe he said that out loud. I’d been with him a month leading up to that event. He really is a legend.” The Hand That Made Poker History “I thought he had pocket queens - it was hard to see across the table.” As Cada made his way through to the final table, he took all before him. All except a logger called Darvin Moon. “Before the final started, he said something I’ll never forget. He said he didn’t want to take last place, but he didn’t want to take first place either. He didn’t want the million-dollar sponsorship deal with PokerStars and that resonated me in a way. He didn’t want the attention and it felt like he played the heads up like he didn’t care if he lost.” Cada had played with Darvin for a few days leading up to that final table. His mental notes were to play very fundamentally and let his opponent make mistakes, not getting too tricky or three-betting light. Heading into the final duel, Cada was confident of victory. He puts that down to the fortune he’d enjoyed in reaching that stage, combined with his experience with playing heads-up at the time, and the 2:1 chip lead he began the final battle with. “I couldn’t have been more wrong. I played the heads-up match like it was a cheap sit ‘n’ go and I didn’t make the adjustments I would normally make. Starting our match, he outplayed me, bloating the pots real big and putting me in tough spots. Before I knew it, he was a 2:1 chip leader.” Cada fought his way back into contention and before the final hand took place, felt like he had the momentum, having worked a deficit of 2:1 into a similar chip lead. With all the money piled on the table in bricks of dollars, Cada felt Moon wasn’t in it to play a long game. Pre-flop: Joe Cada: [poker card="9d"][poker card="9c"] Darvin Moon: [poker card="Qd"][poker card="Jd"] “When I opened nines on the button and he re-raised me, I thought it was the aggression factor. Nines is a good hand heads-up. I made it 3 million and he made it 8 million. He’s playing about 60 million effective. I could call, but nines are very exposed and there could be overcards and you could be guessing. If he folds, he chips down a bunch, I chip up. It’s more hand protection.” Darvin Moon was going nowhere and made the call. When he did so, he surprised Cada. “I thought he was going to fold,” he says. “Once he called quickly, I thought he had pocket queens - it was hard to see across the table. It took me a second to realise that he had called with queen-jack. If you wait for a better spot, sometimes you can blind down and never get that shot.” As the famous commentary from Lon McEachern declared: “Phil Hellmuth’s record as youngest Main Event champion stood for 19 years. Peter Eastgate’s record could be wiped out in one.” Flop: [poker card="8c"][poker card="2c"][poker card="7s"] As the flop fell, Cada jumped out of his seat, and was enveloped by his support group on the rail, with Josephy front and center. Darvin Moon was the polar opposite, stoic in his seat with his gigantic arms folded across his barrel chest. Josephy told Cada ‘Relax, relax’ as Cada’s supporters chanted ‘Joey, Joey’ around the Thunderdome. Turn: [poker card="Kh"] Cada was one card away and Josephy told him that he was going to be the ‘Main Event champion’. Cada was overwhelmed. “Poker was my career and that spot was a cumulation of the whole build-up, thinking ‘It can be all over, I don’t have to stress any more’. But Moon looked the opposite of bothered. “He didn’t care. He was so happy, we both were. I didn’t like attention but nor did he.” Time seemed to stand still. As Cada’s rail leaned closer to the table, the river card confirmed victory. River: [poker card="7c"] Sharing an exultant moment in the face of Josephy, Cada’s rail jumped towards him, but overcome with relief, Cada pulled away, wanting to speak with Moon instead while his supporters went wild in the stand. [caption id="attachment_638137" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Joe Cada's moment of glory under the lights at the Rio will live in WSOP fans memories forever.[/caption] The Late, Great Darvin Moon “He was a champion in everyone’s eyes.” Approaching Moon, Cada embraced him and congratulated him on how he played. “I felt he deserved to be where he was at.” Says Cada of his heads-up opponent in 2009. “It’s a tough moment for anyone to come that close. I put myself in his shoes for a second and realised the tournament wasn’t all about me or him. I never want to be the person celebrating in someone’s face. It’s hard not to get excited at that time, but that’s not who I was as a person, and I wanted to pay respect to Darvin. “You played a hell of a match, seriously, all the props in the world.” Said Cada to his opponent. Moon hugged him and raised the arm of the new world champion, still the youngest ever to achieve it. Cada let Moon hail his victory, but when his arm was released, grabbed Moon’s arm and raised it aloft too. When we ask him why, there is a moment’s pause. “He was a champion in everyone’s eyes, so he deserved to have his hand raised too.” Says Cada simply. Moon, tragically, passed away in September 2020 after complications following surgery. He was just 56 years old. “It’s super sad,” says Cada. “It’s so tragic. I went out with him a few times after the [Main Event]. We did this thing in Pittsburgh for Poker Night in America and after the streamed session, we went out to a Penguins game, got to go out on the ice and went drinking. He was a super friendly, nice guy. It was hard to hear about the surgery and the complications and how awful it was.” After Moon’s tragic death, Cada admits to feeling lost at what to do, not knowing the right way to reach out to his family or even knowing how to do so. He felt sad about his one-time opponent’s passing and wishes he’d paid his respects at the time. [caption id="attachment_638140" align="aligncenter" width="1158"] Darvin Moon (left) was just as much of a champion in Joe Cada's eyes (right).[/caption] A Lifetime of Change “I didn’t play poker to get rich, I played it to have fun and compete.” After winning the Main Event, Cada felt that it hindered his ability. Before it, he had worked all hours studying and playing the game. That all changed after November 2009. “I was battling every day non-stop. After winning it, though, the greatest thing it gave me was a sense of balance. I realized I didn’t have to play 90-100 hours a week, I wanted to see the world.” If you asked anyone about Joe Cada before the 2009 Main Event, Cada admits they’d have called him ‘The quietest kid in the world’. Now, he is approached by strangers and has spoken about the game on TV. “From when I was 21 compared to now, I’m a much better poker player, but I don’t feel as confident playing the biggest games now. When I was a kid, I was willing to play anyone for any stakes. I don’t have that same mindset now. I don’t want to risk what I have or get in over my head chasing giant buy-ins. I can play the stakes I like and be comfortable the rest of my life.” Cada regularly takes long breaks from poker, a month or two away from anything to do with the game. But then he’ll jump back in and loves the competitive edge the game provides him. While he’s played in high roller events, he prefers the social elements that more accessible tournaments provide. “I love meeting all sorts of different people, and I’ve always had fun with poker. I’ve realized that when it stops being fun, I’m not in the right spot. With the WSOP launching online in Michigan, it’s really become fun again. That’s what poker has always been to me. I didn’t play poker to get rich, I played it to have fun and compete.” Cada achieved both when he won the biggest tournament in poker 13 years ago. The World Series has since left the Rio, and this year, thousands more poker players will take on the greatest Main Event in the world at Bally’s and Paris on the Las Vegas Strip, many of trying to eclipse Cada as the youngest-ever winner. Cada says he hopes to spend time in the broadcasting booth this summer and at WSOP events in the future. This year, as every year, however, he’ll be back in Vegas playing the tournament where he made his name. At multiple stages, a young 21-year-old is bound to tell Cada what he once told Peter Eastgate over a decade ago, that his record as the youngest ever winner is going to be beaten ‘this year’. One day, just like it did for Joe Cada in the hand that changed his life back in 2009, that declaration will be transformed into truth. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SXTois83Xc
Poker is a game that is enjoyed by millions worldwide. In this series, we’ve featured players who play the game of poker for their profession, have made fortunes by doing so and become legends of the sport. However, poker’s all-encompassing nature appeals to people from all walks of life. One player who has trodden many different paths over two decades of success on national television is Robert Mariano, better known as 'Boston Rob'. Back in 2004, having just appeared on Survivor for the first time, Mariano met his now wife and then-fiancée Amber on the show. They were invited to Hawaii to take part in a charity game to raise money for the U.S. military. Mariano would leave the island with a new found and lifelong passion for poker that has remained ever since. From Penny Games to the Main Event "Once you get better than your opponent, it’s a lot more fun!" Rob Mariano played poker for pennies long before he would do so for thousands of dollars. When he first learned the game, it was at his grandfather’s knee. It immediately got him hooked on the notion of gambling and this quickly led to an understanding of a need to get better. “I’ve always loved action,” says Mariano. “From pitching quarters in the schoolyard to gambling on tennis, I went broke a hundred times as a kid. The first hand that got me hooked [on poker] was a penny game of five card stud that my grandfather taught me how to play. I figured out that the same people always win, and they have an edge. Once you get better than your opponent, it’s a lot more fun!” Flashing forward two decades, Mariano struck fame on the eighth series of the hit television show, Survivor. For the uninitiated, the show centers around contestants who are stranded on a remote island. Mariano made it all the way to the final challenge, where he lost out to Amber, who he proposed to just before the decisive vote. She said yes, of course, and the couple have since become TV legends thanks to the fame they gained during the show and subsequent on-screen appearances together. One year after meeting, the couple were engaged and took what turned out to be an important phone call. “Online poker was all the rage in the States and like a lot of people, I watched Chris Moneymaker win the World Series of Poker Main Event. Since then, we’ve become friends as an ironic side effect of being on television, but what a great guy. Paradise Poker reached out to Amber to see if she wanted to play poker and sponsor her in one of the events.” Amber didn’t play the game, but both Mariano and Amber's father were fans, with the latter teaching his future son-in-law the game. The pair of them were taken to Las Vegas and put into the 2004 WSOP Main Event, the last to be held on the Strip until this coming summer. “I’ll be honest - I didn’t know what the hell I was doing!” laughs Mariano. “I was sitting there with Sammy Farha, Marcel Luske and all these legends at my table. I made two pair, aces up, and I was outclassed, the other guy had a set. My first introduction was on the biggest stage.” Mariano may not have won any money, but the seed had been sown. A short time later, the game was about to truly get him hooked. [caption id="attachment_638178" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Rob Mariano cut his teeth playing poker for the first time in the WSOP Main Event (photo credit: Hayley Hochstetler).[/caption] Bringing the Party to Hawaii "I loved the camaraderie, strategy and psychology of it... and the gamble." After his Main Event exertions, Mariano was on the radar of online poker sites as they popped up everywhere. One of those sites, Bodog, invited both Rob and Amber to Hawaii and an exclusive charity event. “They had comedians, Colin Farrell, Wanda Sykes and Cheryl Hines,” says Mariano. “Josh Arieh was there too. He had just finished third in the WSOP Main Event and David Williams was there too having just finished second.” Mariano’s meeting with Arieh in particular lit a fire that still burns to this day. After watching a concert featuring Snoop Dogg, the party went into the night and the cards came out. “We played $50 Sit N Gos from late night into the early morning,” says Mariano. “Playing all night long until the sun came up, I loved the camaraderie, strategy and psychology of it... and the gamble. That’s when I became fascinated with the game.” It was a landmark moment for Mariano, who realized at that moment that the game he’d always sought was right there in front of him. It appealed to his nature as a competitive person who danced between adventurous situations like the light from fires lit during those Hawaii nights. “The original intention of going to Hawaii was to raise money at the concert. The poker was a bonus on top of it all, but I feel like poker has embraced and accepted me into the community for what I want out of it; to play competitively but also recreationally. I love to play but at the end of the day, this is a passion of mine, not my life’s work.” The Competitive Edge of a New Father "I love being in a situation where I don’t know what’s going to happen; a lot of opportunities have come from it." Mariano freely admits that he’s not a good loser. He was born not only to win, but to pursue victory, to adapt, improve, to get the top and be ‘relentless’ in his pursuit of the summit. If he was to play poker, however, it would need to fit in around becoming a Dad. “Survivor aired on television in 2004 and we married in 2005,” says Mariano. “We had four kids in five years. In the beginning, it was madness, but it’s so great and they’re so close... and Daddy’s girls!” The Mariano’s were clearly made for each other and celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary last month, but back in the day, having caught the poker bug, Boston Rob headed online mostly. “I played poker pretty seriously when my kids were really young,” he says. “I started to play cash games and grind, playing the local circuits from Biloxi to Jacksonville [as well as] the World Series.” One of the most important traits Mariano has got is his ability to adapt to any situation. He passes this lesson onto his own children, four girls he adores now aged between eight and 12. “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how you get up. Even if you don’t get the desired result, you’re learning what not to do again. I love being in a situation where I don’t know what’s going to happen; a lot of opportunities have come from it. A person living their whole life on a train gets from A to B. I’d rather ride the rollercoaster, but we get to the same place. My wife reels me in when I’m too far and likewise I think I bring a bit of adventure.” [caption id="attachment_638179" align="aligncenter" width="886"] Rob and Amber Mariano have grown up on television as they've built a life together (photo credit: Hayley Hochstetler).[/caption] Running It Up Mariano’s poker career has run parallel to his record-breaking six appearances on Survivor and presence on other shows such as The Amazing Race, which he entered with his wife. His passion for poker has sustained many gaps in his results purely through children being born or his participation in TV shows. He is a huge fan of tours such as the Run Good series. "I got to be really good friends with Tana Karn, who Runs the Run Good events, a super great guy and what a group of people. I feel like that’s where I fit in best. I want to play five or six different competitive events a year. I love the [WSOP] Main Event." Mariano's experience of Survivor has stood him in great stead for the game of poker, with many skills transferring from the island to the felt. "I’ve played more Survivor than anyone else on the planet, playing six times in 20 years. In that time, the game of Survivor has evolved and changed. In the beginning, your ability to do well in challenges, how you provided around camp and if you were a good teammate mattered a lot. Now the game is more social than anything else; your ability to perceive how you’re perceived by others is paramount.” Mariano can’t wait for the next live poker game these days, and post-pandemic, is excited for an ‘explosion’ of live poker that he assimilates to the poker boom that followed Moneymaker’s legendary success in 2003. “The game is growing again like it was in the early 2000s,” he claims. “There’s a sense of family between not only the Run Good people but among the community at large. Everyone’s going back to a 9-5 on Monday morning but for a weekend, they’re going to do whatever and those are my people.” Adapting to the Game “You can’t play too fast too early, or you get marked and you’re out.” Poker has changed and Mariano has been part of the game for long enough to understand that his ability to adapt and compete has been called upon in multiple eras at the felt. “You used to have a good hand, then it became not what you have but what they have, then they converted to small ball then it became an all-in festival!” laughs Mariano. “It’s changed a lot and you see at the different levels how much its changed. There are similarities between poker and Survivor. You can’t play too fast too early, or you get marked and you’re out. At the same time, you can do everything right and still not win because you get unlucky.” According to the former Survivor winner, you have to be able to fade the variance, maintain your focus and not let it affect your mental wellbeing in both games and it’s that changing dynamic that Mariano loves. “Its constantly changing and so hard - that’s what intrigues me to it. I want to sit down and have a social experience with other people at the table - that’s what I love about poker. We’re getting back to that and away from the hoodies and sunglasses.” Mariano has signed up to host home games for PokerGO and admits the draw of the PokerGO Tour is ‘huge’. He’ll join in with some live events, but don’t expect him to be taking a seat in the nosebleeds. “I’m not going to be playing the super high rollers, but hopefully I can bring another audience to the game. I couldn’t sit down and play a $250,000 tournament, I wouldn’t be comfortable with it. But if we grow the game the way the smaller tours are doing it, it will flourish again. When everyone sees poker as I do, it becomes fun for a lot of people!” Mariano may be a household name to many from his work in television but his background before Survivor catapulted him to fame was as a construction worker and stonemason. He remains humble to his roots and with a bunch of friends in poker, is an asset to the game which only now is poker starting to tap. The motto of Survivor is ‘Outwit, outplay, outlast’. ‘Boston Rob’ Mariano has proven that he has been able to adapt to the games presented to him in his life with flair and style. Boston Rob's future in poker looks set to bring even more exciting challenges for his many fans to enjoy.
Nine years ago, a 22-year-old Michigan State graduate called Ryan Riess won the World Series of Poker Main Event for over $8.3 million. At the time, he was six months out of college, having spent the last months of his studies alternating between poker dealer. Just a few weeks later, the final hand of the 2013 WSOP Main Event saw the Riess' life change forever. Between winning a World Series bankroll with the last money to his name and today, a decade of growth, fatherhood and memories have seen ‘Riess the Beast’ become one of the most well-respected poker players on the planet. This is the story of the hand that changed Ryan Riess’ young life. Coming into the WSOP With Momentum “It was all the money I had to my name. I chopped it three ways and won $270,000.” Having momentum in poker is something that is spoken about often, and it was one of the main contributions to Riess’ success at the Rio nine years ago in November. After graduating in business at Michigan State, Riess decided to play a WSOP Circuit event in Hammond in October 2012. The cost was not only out of his usual bankroll, but everything he had. “It was a $1,675 buy-in and it was all the money I had to my name,” the 2013 world champion told us. “I chopped it three ways and won $270,000. That was my first ever live tournament cash and how my poker career started.” Two months earlier, Riess had started playing poker full-time. After winning some small cashes in tournaments around Los Angeles, Riess took that momentum into a World Series where he played everything he could afford. “I had a bunch of smaller cashes and was about breakeven - expenses are high - then played the Main Event. I sold pieces to family and friends and swapped pieces. I had a little over 50%, which was good. I had a lot of momentum but was still relatively new to tournament poker. I was starting to become friends with people on the circuit; we were all young at the time and learning together.” Kicking off his Main Event on Day1a, Riess had players such as Mike Matusow and T.J. Cloutier at his table. Despite this, he bagged up plenty of chips, more than double that which he started with. “I was very naïve, which was a good thing. I put my head down; I wasn’t following the other tables or live updates and never thought about how much money I was playing for, so was never scared.” Believing He Could Win “Looking back, I don’t think I was the best player in the world.” Riess may have been a long way off from winning, but that was all to change. In the middle period of the Main Event, he admits that he sat on less than 30 big blinds for “two or three days” but a pivotal coinflip went his way when his pocket nines survived against Rep Porter’s suited king-jack. “The atmosphere was electric,” laughs Riess. “Others might have thought I was trying to run the table over, but I wasn’t; I kept getting good hands. If I lose that hand, I have nine big blinds left. I won the flip and that propelled me to having 50 big blinds and I had a lot more flexibility with my stack.” After Riess won the Main Event, he would state that he was ‘the best player in the world’, but he concedes this wasn’t actually the truth. It was more about the belief he needed to have in order to accomplish his dream. “I think in order to win something, you have to believe it before and then work tirelessly,” he says. “Looking back, I don’t think I was the best player in the world. I wasn’t even in the top 1,000. But I truly believed I was at the time and I think that gave me a chance to win. If I didn’t believe I was the best, I probably shouldn’t even have registered the tournament in the first place.” Winning that hand against Porter would see Riess make the final table, but he was far from the chip leader, who was JC Tran. A host of other more experienced pros were at the final table. “Tran was really unlucky at the final table after coming in as the chip leader and not being able to get much going. I thought the best player at the table was Marc Etienne McLaughlin,” says Riess. “He was very good, very aggressive and I tried to bluff him in a hand on TV when I turned two jacks into a bluff and fours spades almost counterfeited his two spades. He eventually got coolered and that gave me energy because I found it hard winning pots against him. David Benefield is a world class player and he got short and was handcuffed, too.” Benefield and Riess were the only two not to wear sponsorship patches at the final table. “I’ve never accepted any sponsorship deal or worn patches. I turned down a lot of money, but I didn’t want them to say you have to do this interview at this time, wear this shirt, do this social media post. I didn’t want anything to cloud my judgement. I thought the responsibility of what I’ve have to do would be greater than the value of what they were offering me. Maybe if I’d worn a patch, I’d have had to have done other stuff, wouldn’t have studied as much and not won.” Taking on Farber for the Win “As a poker player, that’s the dream. It’s the Super Bowl of our sport.” Riess had never played against Jay Farber before that year’s Main Event, nor did he feel they’d played any significant pots against each other until they were the only two players left. Suddenly, though, one of them was going to win $5.1 million and the other would take $8.3m and become champion of the world. “We started with around the same chips and I just decided to be aggressive. We played around 90 hands and I was raised all 45 buttons. I was very inexperienced. Looking back, I’d fold or limp some hands, but I wanted to put pressure on him. He was only three-betting me with really good hands.” Riess was forcing the action, but admits that while he wanted to raise in order to see flops in position with almost his entire range, he was also getting the run of the deck. “In heads up poker, so much comes down to hand distribution,” he says. “If Jay had my hands and I had his, if it was switched, he probably would have won.” Pre-flop: Ryan Riess: [Ah][poker card="Kh"] Jay Farber: [poker card="Qs"][poker card="5s"] Before the flop, riess raised his 45th and final button, and almost immediately got raised all-in by Farber. Riess snap-called and one of the fastest final all-in and calls in Main Event history saw the two men on their feet. Riess admits that he was surprised to see what Farber had shoved with. “I was surprised to see that hand specifically. Maybe if the hand happened again, he might just call, but I was raising every button and I just happened to have it. He might have thought he was getting run over at the table, but I was just getting the cards. Heads up, if you’re losing it can be demoralising. I’ve lost to people heads-up, I actually played Koray Aldemir, our newest world champion - and I was losing pots, got frustrated and ended up doing things out of character. It’s emotionally draining to lose hands heads-up.” Headint to the embrace of his friends and family, Riess was ‘pretty confident’ but knew that anything could happen. He was a 65% chance to become the world champion and the moment was catching up with him. Flop: [poker card="4c"][poker card="Jd"][poker card="Td"] “The flop was really good for me,” Riess says. “He couldn’t hit his queen any more, because it would give me a straight so it was the best flop I could have asked for without flopping a pair. After the flop, having all my friends and family around me gave me such good vibes.” Turn: [poker card="3c"] “Tears already in the eyes of Ryan Riess.” Said the commentary team as the moment that would change Riess’ life played out. The emotion of the achievement that he was about to claim was monumental. [caption id="attachment_638157" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Hunched on the floor of the Rio, Ryan Riess is hit by the emotion of what he might be about to achieve.[/caption] “That’s when it really became real for me. It was the weight of having everyone support me. We’re that close and it was a very surreal moment. I’m glad I won, because if the river was a five, it might have been very hard for me mentally for me to sit back at the table and play my best, because in my head I’d already won.” As Jay Farber commiserated with his coaches, two men Riess himself now counts among his poker friends, Shaun Deeb and Chance Kornuth, tie seemed to stand still. “I’m friends with both of them and we talk frequently. They’re both great - he had great coaches and it’s hard to beat someone with those coaches. I just had better cards on the day. River: [poker card="4d"] Riess collapsed to the ground, his poker ambitions coming true in glorious reality. Nine years on, Riess says he doesn’t watch it back as much as he should. “It brings back such great memories. As a poker player, that’s the dream. It’s the Super Bowl of our sport. To reach the pinnacle of the game that you love is the ultimate dream as a poker player.” Pining for the November Nine Amid a wild atmosphere in the Thunderdome, Riess now believes part of that excitement came down to players returning some time after they’d reached the final table to play it down to a winner. “It was the penultimate year of the November Nine. ESPN flew out a camera crew to my home town. I thought the November Nine was awesome. I’m blessed and honored to have taken part in that. Now they don’t give the players any time at all, family doesn’t even time to fly in and players can’t get sponsorship deals or even get their hair cut!” Riess believes that if the WSOP gave players a week between reaching the final table and playing it out, it would be perfect. “I don’t think a week is too much at all. Four months was really cool, but it’s a long time, and someone’s game could do a 180 in that time with coaching and solvers these days.” Apart from the length of time, however, Riess believes that the November Nine is a concept that could do with a comeback. “I think they should give them a week. It’s the biggest event in our game, so the more hype around it the better.” A decade after he graduated, Ryan Riess is now a name synonymous with poker success and in particular, the WSOP Main Event. He came close to winning the WSOP Europe Main Event too, but despite finishing fourth, calls it ‘the tournament that haunts me most’. [caption id="attachment_638158" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Ryan Riess is now one of the most respected former world champions still playing the game. (Photo: King's Casino)[/caption] “I was chip leader with nine and six left. The moment got to me a little bit; I made a lot of mistakes. I wanted to win for the legacy of winning both [Main Events] not the money but I focused too much on how cool that would be, and I let the opportunity slip between my fingertips. If Riess had lost with pocket aces to a pair of tens, he admits he wouldn’t have minded, not being a results-oriented person at all. The fact that it wasn’t luck that he perceives was to blame is what hurt. “I make a mistake, I’m the hardest critic of myself. Martin Jacobson said ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’. You almost don’t deserve to win if you’re not trying your hardest.” A Poker Career Without Regret “My focus is my kids and spending as much time with my family as I can.” Nine years after his greatest moment, Riess looks back on his victory as a platform for sustained success and of all the many world champions there have been, few could argue he has been one of the most positive. Aside from that WSOPE near-miss, he has no regrets. His diamond encrusted 2013 WSOP Main Event bracelet sits in a bank in a safety deposit box. “It’s worth a lot of money, so I don’t want it in the house,” Reiss says with a smile. “It’s locked away and I go and look at it now and then. To be honest, I should make a replica of it with cubic zirconia instead of diamonds, but I haven’t got around to it. I have no regrets about my career. I guess I could have grinded harder if I wanted too, but I travelled to a lot of cool places pretty much up to when COVID started and now my focus is my kids and spending as much time with my family as I can.” This year will see the WSOP move from the Rio to Bally’s (soon to be the Horseshoe) and Paris, but Riess holds no fear about the event leaving the venue where he made his name. In fact, quite the opposite. “I won it the first time I played it at the Rio, so maybe it will happen again,” he says. “I’m optimistic about it - I’m sure it’ll be fun. I’ll be playing pretty much all the NLHE tournaments, $25,000 and lower. I don’t feel the need to play the $100,000 buy-ins; the bubbles are stressful, and kids are expensive!” Nine years is a long time in any poker player’s life, but from being a precocious 22-year-old winner of the biggest event on the poker calendar to a family man almost a decade later, it has been some ride for Ryan Riess. Happily, for poker fans, that ride is not finished yet. You can watch the hand that changed Ryan Riess’ life right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MAbaJ9W7Q8