Life is all about memorable moments. The times that you know will remember like they were yesterday 50 years down the road. This past weekend, I had one of those moments, sitting in the rail as my friend Ryan Riess won the 2013 WSOP Main Event for $8.3 million dollars. I will never forget the roar we all made the second the final card hit the felt. 200 some odd people, all feeling the same emotions of absolute elation, coming together to celebrate a truly remarkable achievement and moment. You can’t make this stuff up.
I drove up to the Rio Monday afternoon, ready to take in the spectacle of the November Nine for the first time since it started. I had heard stories of how incredible the atmosphere would be, and even though I knew what to expect, it the energy brought to the stage was still mind blowing. Echos of “Riess the Beast” were thunderous until Amir Lehavot’s crowd chimed in, yelling “Fear Amir.” And for me, nothing was more genius and enjoyable than Marc McLaughlin’s rail yelling “Larry Walker” when he was in the big blind. To explain this chant, McLaughlin is from Montreal, and Larry Walker is a former Expo baseball player. In poker, when everyone folds to you in the big blind, it’s considered getting a walk. McLaughlin did get a fair share of walks at the final table, and there’s little doubt the chant had at least a small part of it.
I was just one of many who were wandering around the Rio in their “Riess the Beast” shirts. Everyone was genuinely happy and excited to be there understandably. You could tell that, just like me, everyone was taking it all in and enjoying the moment, laughing with strangers and giving high fives as we walked by each other, united with one goal. I walked by Ryan as the players were lining up to come in, and I gave him a quick high five and good luck. Looking as casual and happy as he always is, even before such a huge moment, Riess laughed a bit, said “thanks buddy”, and got right back into focus for the tournament.
I will keep my thoughts on Ryan’s play short, as no one wants to hear another long, drawn out opinion on it. Ryan made some great moves and caught great cards to get up to 64 million with six players left, and while he may have played a bit too tight at times, he played a perfect game to ensure he would make the top three. That’s exactly what happened, and he set himself up to have 85 blinds heads up against a player he knew he was better than. Seems like mission accomplished to me.
I spent the entire final table in the crowd, as the main stage was reserved for family and coaches. Even on the final day, I deferred sitting up on the stage in favor of closer friends and family, and to be honest it was easier to watch in the audience. But of course, when the cards were turned up on the final hand, I immediately went to the stage. Everyone stood, arm-in-arm, yelling for cards that were going to get Ryan closer to the title. Just like when your team pulls off a big upset in football, everyone spontaneously stormed onto the stage to pile on the hero, who had crumbled to the ground in joy. It took about 20 minutes to get everything cleared off the stage for the bracelet photos. All the while, you couldn’t wipe the smile off anyone’s faces, everyone taking in the moment of shock and awe.
Ryan took about 100 photos with his bracelet, and after a few more with his family, we all swarmed around the champion again. This was the second bracelet photo I was in this summer, but this one was different. This…was the Main Event. One of the thoughts that was going through my mind throughout the experience was kind of an odd one.
“This will never happen again.”
Let me explain why this was my thought. There are nine people in the world who are in this spot every year. What are the realistic odds of knowing someone who makes it this far, and ultimately, is the last player standing on this big stage? Constantly thinking that made me appreciate this experience that much more. My big regret after the weekend was not taking enough photos, and I think it’s because in my head, I was taking photos with my eyes the whole time. I knew this was going to be a life long memory, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of it.
I will also keep my thoughts on the hate for Ryan brief. Here’s what I’ll say about it. Ryan Riess is a young, confident kid, and he has every right to be after this. He’s also one of the nicest and most down to earth people I’ve met in a long time. Even at the after party in the winner’s suite, Ryan was as happy and casual as ever, taking time out to chat with everyone who came out to support him. My advise to the haters would be give Ryan time to be the great ambassador I know he will be, then make your judgments on him.
“This is gonna be the best day of my lifeeee.” – American Authors
This year, ESPN changed their intro coverage music, overlaying the above line throughout it. While this wasn’t the best day of my life, I’m certain it was and always will be Ryan’s. It’s not too often that you get to spend the “best day of someone’s life with them”, but that’s what happened Tuesday, making the song ring out more appropriate than ever.
Memorable moments. They don’t come around too often. And ones like this? Once in a lifetime.