A 23-year-old poker professional from Las Vegas by way of Michigan won the World Series of Poker main event late Tuesday, lasting roughly 3 1/2 hours in a dramatic card session to push past his last opponent for the $8.4 million title.
Ryan Riess emerged with the title after a session that proved a showcase for his skills amid the unpredictability of no-limit Texas Hold `em.
Riess put his final opponent Jay Farber all-in with an Ace-King.
Earlier, the men entered the 1,600-seat theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino off the Las Vegas Strip like prizefighters, with showgirls looking on and a UFC announcer introducing Riess as "Riess the beast" and Farber as "the panda".
The prize they competed for — a sparkling bracelet as well as the $8.4 million in cash — sat between them on the table.
Riess, Farber and seven other finalists beat out a field of 6,352 entrants in the no-limit Texas Hold `em tournament in July. On Monday night, Riess eliminated four competitors with a sly, steady playing style, and Farber took out the other three with more straightforward, aggressive plays.
A VIP club promoter with heavily tattooed forearms and a bouncer’s build, Farber has said he considers poker a hobby. Some are calling him a new-age Chris Moneymaker, after the amateur who famously won poker’s richest tournament in 2004, catapulting the championship into the mainstream and convincing every computer nerd with a pair of mirrored sunglasses that he could take on the pros.
Farber adopted the panda as his symbol, settling a mini-stuffed animal on the green felt and bringing along a plush mascot who was kicked out for disorderly behavior Monday but returned with a bit less swagger Tuesday.
The 29-year-old had left the brightly lit stage in the wee hours of Tuesday morning vowing to spend the rest of the night clubbing in triumph.
Reiss, a native of East Lansing, Mich., kept a lower profile at the final table. The youngest of the nine finalists, with a boyish manner and a mop of strawberry blond hair, he attributed his survival Monday to lucky cards.
"Everything played pretty standard. No one had a huge blow-up and bluffed off their whole stack. Everyone was playing really solid and the cards ran my way today," he said.
The two men took the lead early on, then sat around for several hours waiting for four weaker competitors to bust out. In the end, all four were eliminated within 15 hands, over the course of about 45 minutes.
Modest explanation aside, Reiss exposed few bad hands Monday, suggesting that he knew when to fold and when to play. He spent the night making small bets and raises to take down significantly bigger pots when his opponents didn’t seem interested in sparring.
Farber, by contrast, was not afraid to push all in, and he attempted to bully his opponents with raises, though he was also willing to fold when they pushed back.
"I’m really comfortable in the style that I play," he said. "I think everybody underestimated me. The odds on me were 9-to-1, even though I was fourth in chips."