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World Series of Poker champion Ryan Riess successfully called his shot

Riess took out Jay Farber in second to complete his guarantee

Ryan Riess Wins 2013 WSOP

Steve Marcus

Ryan Riess, 23, a poker professional from East Lansing, Mich., poses with stacks of cash after winning the World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournament at the Rio Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013.

Ryan Riess Wins 2013 WSOP

Ryan Riess, 23, a poker professional from East Lansing, Mich., poses with stacks of cash after winning the World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament at the Rio Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. Launch slideshow »

2013 WSOP Main Event final table results

  • Ryan Riess (1st): $8,361,570
  • Jay Farber (2nd): $5,174,357
  • Amir Lehavot (3rd): $3,727,823
  • Sylvain Loosli (4th): $2,791,983
  • J.C. Tran (5th): $2,106,526
  • Marc McLaughlin (6th): $1,600,792
  • Michiel Brummelhuis (7th): $1,225,224
  • David Benefield (8th): $944,593
  • Mark Newhouse (9th): $733,224

Ryan Riess anointed himself the favorite at the World Series of Poker Main Event final table over the summer.

By the time fall came around, Riess was declaring himself the strongest player out of the November Nine in every interview. It got to the point where some believed his unbridled confidence had crossed over into unearned conceit as he told everyone he was poker’s next world champion.

“I just had a great feeling about it,” Riess said. “I just think I’m the best poker player in the world.”

Poker got its Babe Ruth calling-his-shot moment, its Joe Namath championship guarantee Tuesday night at the Penn & Teller Theater in the Rio. Riess delivered on a vow he never should have made, a promise he couldn’t have possibly known wouldn’t come up empty.

Riess, a 23-year-old from Waterford Township, Mich., won the 2013 WSOP Main Event for $8.36 million just like he said he would. Riess defeated local VIP nightlife host Jay Farber, who gets $5.17 million for second, to cap off a journey that began a decade ago.

“I’ve been dreaming about it for a long time,” Riess said, “ever since I was 14 and saw (Chris) Moneymaker win it.”

Like so many recent Main Event winners — including 2009 champion Joe Cada, who grew up 24 miles East of Riess — seeing an amateur like Moneymaker win $2.5 million at the 2003 WSOP made an impression. The victory inspired Riess to learn cards.

Riess began hosting twice-weekly poker tournaments at his house with the same friends who rushed over him when he collapsed on the stage after the deciding hand Tuesday night. Buy-in was $10.

“I won all the time, which I thought was weird,” Riess reflected. “So I was like, ‘maybe I should do this more often.’”

This year’s victory, which comes with the $500,000 championship bracelet, looked as easy as some of those garage games. Coming into the final table fifth in chips, Riess went almost exclusively upwards during 13 hours of play Monday and Tuesday.

He never had to risk all of his chips on a single hand. Farber entered heads-up play with a 20 million-chip advantage. The lead changed within 20 hands in appropriate fashion.

Farber was set up to scoop the biggest early pot of the night with 4-7 for two-pair on an Ace-8-4-7 board. But an Ace spiked as the final community card and Riess slid out a 15-million chip bet.

Farber folded, the correct move as Riess had an Ace as one of his hole cards for three of a kind.

“Every time I made a hand, he would make a better one,” Farber said. “It’s really hard to beat someone who’s just running hotter than the sun.”

Riess twice grinded Farber down to just more than 10 million chips. The second time, Farber was so desperate that he had to shove his stack in with Queen-5 of spades.

Riess woke up with Ace-King of hearts. He had 65 percent chance to win, which ended up being plenty. The board hit neither player’s hand and Riess’ rail of supporters mobbed him in celebration.

“It’s exactly what I thought about everything — the streamers falling, everyone supporting me and everything,” Riess said. “It’s amazing.”

Riess’ pre-final table pride didn’t seem so arrogant in that moment. It seemed prescient.

Farber, for one, felt fate lined up against him.

“It gets a little bit frustrating,” Farber said. “I knew if I ever could catch a hand, I could beat him. I was outplaying him.”

Farber called the second-place payout a “consolation prize” as he shook his head over coming up short of poker immortality. He might allot more time for poker now, but won’t quit running his business where he delivers clients to all of Las Vegas’ nightclubs.

“It’s arguably the best job in the world,” Farber said. “It’s hard to walk away from something like that.”

Riess spoke in even less specifics about what was next in his career. He had no plans for the money other than meeting with someone to “figure out something where I never go broke.”

Thoughts of the Main Event had consumed him ever since last October when he scored his first official tournament cash, thoughts he wasn’t shy about sharing with others. Thoughts that Riess ultimately validated.

“My immediate goal was to try to get better and play in the Main Event,” Riess said. “It worked.”

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

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