Youth and online skills dominated as the final table of World Series of Poker was set, but it was an experienced grinder who carried the day.
As Monday night bled into Tuesday morning, the most veteran player of the final 10 gamblers competing for a seat at the nine-person final table worth $8.4 million for the winner was defeated by the second-most respected player.
Deep into the 14th hour of play on the seventh day of the world’s biggest no-limit Texas Hold ‘em competition, well-known Sacramento, Calif., grinder J.C. Tran went head to head with Carlos Mortensen, a Spanish pro known as “El Matador,” who won the main event in 2001 and was making a second run.
Tran was holding a seven and an eight, while Mortensen had an ace and a nine.
The flop, the first three common cards, came down 10, six, three. Tran went all in on the turn, the fourth card, and Mortensen called, pushing all his chips in.
The turn was a nine, giving Tran a straight. Mortensen would have needed a club on the river, or fifth card, to make a flush but got a two of diamonds instead, costing him his spot in the championship.
As that card was dealt, whoops went up from the increasingly swaying and song-prone crowds in the bleachers of the makeshift ESPN stage at the Rio casino off the Strip.
“The guy that I respected the most was the one guy that I just busted,” said Tran, 36, grinning and bleary-eyed moments after Mortensen busted out. “It’s kind of sad to see him go. But at the same time, I’m happy he’s gone because he’s the one I respected most.”
Tran, who holds first place in the chip count, might have reason to think he can beat the other finalists to take the diamond-encrusted bracelet. After all, many of them are newbies.
Jay Farber, 28, fourth in the chip count, has a lifetime poker winning of just over $2,000. That’s the smallest lifetime earnings of any of the “November nine” since 2008.
The Las Vegas club host acknowledged he was flagging as the tournament entered its 70th hour Monday, despite the steady cheering from a horde of his club friends in the stands that chanted “Oh, Jay” to the tune of an Italian soccer song as 3 a.m. Tuesday neared.
“I’m not a tournament player. It’s frustrating coming from being a cash-game player to playing 12 to 14 hours a day,” he said. “But I really enjoyed the main event because it’s like playing a deep stack cash game.”
As the field narrowed to 11 and then to 10, some players hoping to avoid bad beats and roller-coaster chip swings simply refused to gamble.
The conservative play seemed to annoy tired fans who began urging players in heavily accented English to “double down” and bet all their chips or, once players went all in, yelling out the card that would ensure a loss.
The youngest of the six 20-somthings who make up the final table is Ryan Riess, 23, of Las Vegas, who was playing in his first world series.
He reflected on his coming celebrity as he took in the ESPN cameras swooping and diving above the tables where the field of 27 was whittled to nine.
“Not only is it a ton of money, which is obviously life changing, but I feel like so many people know of me that did not know me.” he said, adding, “I’ll still be the same person.”
Also new to the ranks of the tournament champions was Sylvain Loosli, 26, who dubs himself an “online poker cash game specialist” but had never made the money at the world series.
“I’m quite impressed I didn’t feel any pressure,” the Frenchman said, still wearing the gray hoodie he’d used to hide his eyes during play.
Among those coming back in November are tattoo artist Marc McLaughlin, of Brossard, Quebec, and Columbia University student David Benefield, of Fort Worth, Texas. The rest of the finalists are pros, including Amir Lehavot, of Israel, Michiel Brummelhuis, of Amsterdam, and Marc Newhouse of Chapel Hill, N.C.
The $10,000 buy-in competition, which began July 6 with 6,352 entrants, now takes a break until Nov. 4, when the gamblers will reconvene to determine a champion on live television. Each player is already guaranteed at least a $700,000 payout.
For Tran, the final table could confirm his hopes that tournament poker is not only a young man’s game.
“The past couple years, I’ve been really distracted with a lot of things going on I became a family man, married, I have a son,” he said. “I came to the world series not really having that fire that I used to have. And when I looked back on the past couple years, I said, look, these results are not so good.”
Tran said he is expecting a daughter and hopes that his shot at the final table may help him realize a long-held dream before retiring.
“I’m going to set one last goal, and that is to win this thing, and then I’m going to take a nice little break, enjoy my wife and my kids and watch them grow up. Poker should be for fun from here on out.”
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