Friday, July 15, 2016 | 4:40 p.m.
Nolan King celebrated a milestone birthday by putting himself in pole position to win $8 million.
The Boynton Beach, Fla., native turned 30-years-old Thursday concurrent to briefly overtaking the chip lead in the World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio. He stayed near the top four hours into Friday’s fourth day with around 500 players remaining out of the 6,737 who entered poker’s world championship.
“I’ve never played here,” King said. “It was my 30th birthday, so I was like, ‘Let’s go.’”
King has already gifted himself with at least double the $10,000 buy-in by making it this far. Now it’s a question of how far he can take it with the payout jumps enlarging leading up to Monday’s final session, where nine players will claim $1 million and a seat at the final table in October.
His path may have gotten a little tougher Friday. After his first table broke, King’s new seat was directly to the left of Marc-Andre Ladouceur, who’s in the money at the Main Event for the fourth time in the last six years.
Ladouceur, an online standout who came in 13th in the 2012 Main Event following a 63rd place finish the year before, was additionally one of only nine players with as many chips as King entering Friday’s play. It was the luck of the draw, or the lack thereof, for King, though he didn’t mind.
“I don’t know who he is,” King said. “I don’t know any of these guys, but I’ve been watching how he plays. I don’t have much of an ego and I can tell he’s good, so I’m going to copy off of a couple moves he does and go from there.”
At this point of the Main Event, cameras begin swarming around recognizable and accomplished players such as Ladouceur. But for every entrant with a status as respected as Ladouceur, there are several relatively anonymous hopefuls like King.
King usually enters a few tournaments per year around his home in South Florida. He didn’t play at all in 2015, but cashed in all three tournaments he entered before the Main Event this year.
The most recent paid $16,283 for a 38th place in a $3,500 buy-in World Poker Tour event.
“I figured, ‘Why don’t I put that into the Main Event and try to turn it into some real money?” he said.
There are several precedents for King to follow. Two tables to his left on Friday sat Ryan Riess, who won the 2013 Main Event for $8.3 million after having never previously cashed in an event with a buy-in higher than $1,675.
Another table break seated 2004 Main Event champion Greg Raymer right next to Reiss, making it Day 4’s most popular early photo opportunity. The only other former champion still in the field was Johnny Chan, who won in both 1987 and 1988 before finishing second in 1989.
Those types of players will draw all the attention through the weekend, but history and probability indicate it’s more likely someone like King wins the grand prize.
“I’m here to make money,” King said. “If I can have fun while doing it, that’s great but all I can do is play the best I can.”