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October 22, 2014

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Johnny’s World: Hennigan returns to win Poker Players Championship, $1.5 million

High-stakes cash game specialist finished 12th in 2012, third in 2013 and first in 2014

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L.E. Baskow

WSOP player John Hennigan has a moment of frustration on his way to winning the Poker Players Championship final table of professional poker players at the Rio on Thursday, June 26, 2014.

2014 WSOP Players Championship at Rio

WSOP play continues down to three players during the Poker Players Championship final table of professional poker players facing off for a $50,000 buy-in at the Rio on Thursday, June 26, 2014. Launch slideshow »

WSOP Poker Players Championship results

  • John Hennigan (1st): $1,517,767
  • Brandon Shack-Harris (2nd): $937,975
  • Jesse Martin (3rd): $594,570
  • Abe Mosseri (4th): $402,696
  • Chun Lei Zhou (5th): $286,122
  • Frank Kassela (6th): $212,829
  • Melissa Burr (7th): $165,435
  • Allen Kessler (8th): $134,101
  • Scott Seiver (9th): $115,447
  • James Obst (10th): $115,447
  • Todd Brunson (11th) $115,447
  • Matt Glantz (12th): $99,388
  • Jonathan Duhamel (13th): $99,388
  • Robert Mizrachi (14th): $99,388

WSOP Poker Players Championship winners

  • 2014: John Hennigan ($1.51 million)
  • 2013: Matt Ashton ($1.77 million)
  • 2012: Michael Mizrachi ($1.45 million)
  • 2011: Brian Rast ($1.72 million)
  • 2010: Michael Mizrachi ($1.55 million)
  • 2009: David Bach ($1.28 million)
  • 2008: Scotty Nguyen ($1.99 million)
  • 2007: Freddy Deeb ($2.28 million)
  • 2006: Chip Reese ($1.78 million)

John Hennigan left the Rio satisfied, all things considered, at the end of last year’s Poker Players Championship at the World Series of Poker.

The longtime professional fell short of the victory but cashed a third-place check worth $686,568, more than 13 times the $50,000 buy-in. It wasn’t until a close friend lamented the near miss in the eight-game mix tournament that Hennigan experienced an epiphany.

“I didn’t even realize the magnitude of the situation,” Hennigan said.

Hennigan went into this year’s Poker Players Championship knowing full well how much the tournament meant. And the 44-year-old from Philadelphia didn’t make the same mistake twice.

Instead of falling when the event trimmed to three players, Hennigan soared in a fashion that did the Superman t-shirt he wore to the final table justice. He saved his best poker for the last few hours of the five-day tournament to win the $1.51 million first-place prize, his third WSOP bracelet and the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy.

“I thought everyone was playing really well three-handed,” Hennigan said. “Everyone was playing super-hard. It’s such an intense, emotional tournament.”

A prolonged three-handed session proved Hennigan’s collapse last year in the Poker Players Championship, and it looked as if history was on the verge of repeating Thursday night.

Hennigan, Brandon Shack-Harris and Jesse Martin played against each other for more than five hours before an elimination occurred. Hennigan had the fewest chips nearly half of the time.

He was forced to risk them all in a pot-limit Omaha encounter against Shack-Harris, a breakout star of this summer’s WSOP, when he flopped top two-pair. Shack-Harris had both a flush and straight draw, but failed to improve with the final two community cards.

“Once I won that pot, everything seemed to turn around,” Hennigan said. “I started winning every hand, and that’s kind of how poker goes sometimes.”

By the time Martin crashed in third for $594,570 less than an hour later, Hennigan had more than 70 percent of the chips in play. He pressured Shack-Harris heads-up until the 33-year-old from Chicago was so short-stacked that he had to commit all of his chips pre-flop in a no-limit hold’em hand.

Shack-Harris had King-7 against Hennigan’s Ace-10. Hennigan had a 64 percent chance to win the hand, and it converted. Shack-Harris’ second-place paid $937,975.

“You go on a rush, and there’s not really anything anyone can do,” Hennigan said.

Hennigan is the closest prototype of Reese, who died shortly after winning the first $50,000 buy-in WSOP tournament in 20006, of any of the players who have put their name on his trophy. Like Reese, Hennigan has found tournament success — the victory boosts his career earnings to more than $6 million — but is more known as a cash-game player.

The five-figure buy-in to the Poker Players Championship is daunting to the majority of the field, but Hennigan plays for single pots that large in some of the world’s biggest games.

“It’s a lot of bragging rights,” Hennigan said of flaunting his new bracelet in high-stakes venues like Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio.

Also like Reese, peers regard Hennigan as a true gambler. They bestowed the nickname “Johnny World” on Hennigan for his prop-betting prowess.

Characteristically then, Hennigan wanted nothing to do with the customary ceremony and interviews after clinching his victory early Friday morning. He had another tournament, the $10,000 buy-in limit hold’em event, to start playing.

“It’s very fulfilling,” Hennigan said of the Poker Players Championship win. “To come back this year, it’s amazing.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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