Fri, Nov 4, 8:51am by Jonathan Zaun
Qui Nguyen entered the realm of poker immortality in the late hours of Tuesday night, emerging from a field of 6,737 players to win the 2016 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. Along with claiming poker’s World Championship, Nguyen took home the most prestigious WSOP bracelet of them all – not to mention more than USD$8 million in prize money.
But when the 39-year old Las Vegas baccarat aficionado took his seat in the Main Event back on July 10, the nail salon owner and professional gambler by way of Vietnam may have been in a bit over his head.
Although Nguyen had amassed 28 cashes for USD$52,986, only USD$9,029 of his earnings came on the WSOP stage – with his last cash in a bracelet event coming way back in 2009.
The price of a Main Event seat alone is USD$10,000, and among Nguyen’s previous 28 tournament cashes, 14 came in events with a buy-in of $235 or lower.
Chris Moneymaker was said to be ‘dead money’ back in 2003 though, and every poker player on the planet knows how that Main Event turned out.
So after Nguyen lived the dream back in July, playing and running well enough to secure a seat at the ‘November Nine’ final table, it wasn’t all that surprising to see him storm through his last eight opponents en route to a historic win.
Nguyen entered the final table on Sunday night sitting in second place, with his 67,295,000-chip stack outpaced by veteran pro Cliff ‘JohnnyBax’ Josephy (74,600,000). The rest of the final table lineup stood as follows:
The severely short-stacked Pons was the first to exit, after shoving his eight big blinds into Josephy’s big stack holding A-6 offsuit. Josephy had K-J offsuit, but a King on the flop was enough to send Pons packing with a ninth-place finish (USD$1 million).
After play slowed down a bit over the next few orbits, Wong found J-J in the hole and got into a raising war with Ruzicka, who wound up tabling Q-Q. The ladies held up and Wong headed home in eighth place ($1,100,076).
Benger could get nothing going during the final table’s first day of play, winning only a single hand before shoving a short stack in holding A-9 suited. Vayo called him down with 10-10 though, and the pocket pair prevailed to bust Benger in seventh place (USD$ 1,250,190).
Hallaert then decided to get frisky with the A-Q suited, opening to 2.3 million chips with the blinds at 500,000/1,000,000. Nguyen looked down at the prettiest sight in all of poker, pocket aces, and he went with a three-bet to 5.7 million. With 35 blinds or so left to work with, Hallaert elected to make his stand with a four-bet shove, but Nguyen snapped him off holding the bullets.
The flop brought a Queen on board for the requisite sweat, but Hallaert could catch up no further and he was eliminated in sixth place (USD$1,464,258).
From there, final table play was suspended for the night, before the final five players returned on Monday evening to play until only three contenders remained. Heading into Monday’s session, Nguyen had built a huge chip lead with 128,625,000, double that of his closest competitors in Josephy (63,850,000) and Ruzicka (62,250,000), while Vayo (58,200,000) and Ruane (23,700,000) brought up the rear.
Ruzicka was the first to bow out on Monday night, running a spectacular three-barrel bluff holding an A-K that missed the flop, turn, and river. Vayo was lying in wait with a flopped set of eights, and Ruzicka fired away until his entire stack (save a blind or two) was in the middle. Vayo made the easy call with his set and essentially absorbed Ruzicka’s entire stack to move himself into Nguyen’s rarified air with a nine-figure stack.
Ruzicka, meanwhile, earned USD$1,935,288 for the fifth-place run.
Ruane was the next to go, losing a chunk of his stack after whiffing on a monster combination draw against Josephy, before eventually moving his last 25 blinds forward holding K-Q suited. Nguyen woke up with A-J offsuit, however, and after calling Ruane down, claimed the pot when the board ran out with all bricks. For the fourth-place result, Ruane pocketed USD$2,576,003.
When the final three competitors returned to the Rio for the climactic third day of the November Nine, Nguyen once again held a massive lead with his 197,600,000-chip stack. Vayo brought 89,000,000 chips to bear, while Josephy needed to run his 50,000,000 up in a hurry.
On the very first hand of the session, the online legend known as ‘JohnnyBax’ did just that, doubling through Nguyen in a preflop raising war. Josephy’s A-Q suited was dominating Nguyen’s A-4 offsuit, and an A-Q-7 flop effectively sealed the deal.
Only four hands later, however, Josephy shipped almost all of his newly acquired 100,000,000 chips to Vayo, following a brutal set-over-set confrontation.
Josephy loved the look of a K-3-2 flop holding 2-2 in the hole, but Vayo also flopped a set with his 3-3. The two pros took their time getting the chips in the middle, but that they did, and Josephy couldn’t find the last deuce in the deck for a miracle win.
He was crippled after that, and despite securing two double ups through Nguyen in short order, Josephy’s comeback bid eventually fell short. He earned $3,453,035 for the third-place run, along with the renewed respect of his peers in the professional community.
Entering heads-up play, Vayo had Nguyen out-chipped by a 200,300,000 to 136,300,000 margin, but Nguyen’s gambling style quickly put Vayo on the defensive. On a pivotal hand, Nguyen held Q-5 of clubs on a board reading Ac-Ts-9c-Ks, betting out on the flop and turn with his combination flush and gutshot straight draw.
Vayo held Ad-9h for a flopped two pair and was trapping the aggressive Nguyen all the while – until the King of clubs fell on the river. With his hand now counterfeited by the paired board, and every conceivable draw getting there, Vayo was forced to fold away the massive pot when Nguyen snap-shoved the river.
From there, Nguyen applied relentless pressure through a series of creative bluffs and semi-bluffs, eroding Vayo’s chip stack over the course of a nine-hour heads-up duel.
Eventually, on the 364th hand of the final table, Nguyen called Vayo’s short-stacked shove holding K-10 of clubs, which was dominating Vayo’s J-10 of spades. The flop of K-9-7 brought a classic sweat, as Nguyen paired his King, but Vayo found eight outs with a double belly buster straight draw. The turn and river bricked out though, and Vayo was forced to accept the runner-up position in poker’s premier tournament – a bittersweet result to be sure, but one worth USD$4,661,228 all the same.
As for Nguyen, the avid baccarat player and gambling enthusiast became just the second Vietnamese-born player to win the WSOP Main Event, following in the footsteps of the legend Scotty Nguyen (no relation). He’ll take on the role of “poker ambassador” for the next year, and considering Nguyen’s relative lack of experience and penchant for the gambling lifestyle, chances are high that his World Championship reign sparks a newfound excitement in the poker world.
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