Published Sunday, July 15, 2018 | 4:53 a.m.
Updated Sunday, July 15, 2018 | 7:23 a.m.
John Cynn experienced no disappointment and harbored no regrets when he finished two spots shy of the World Series of Poker Main Event final table in 2016.
Knowing the statistical improbability of outlasting 6,726 opponents, the Chicago native cashed his $650,000 check content that it was almost certainly the best showing he’d ever manage in poker’s $10,000 buy-in world championship.
“It’s not something that’s supposed to happen,” Cynn said. “When I got knocked out in 11th, I was really happy.”
Two years later, Cynn’s emotions at the conclusion of the Main Event were more extreme — he described them as overwhelming early Sunday morning at the Rio. That’s when the 33-year-old poker professional officially topped his previous finish and emerged as the 2018 WSOP Main Event champion, winning $8.8 million and the golden world championship bracelet.
Cynn’s pair of deep Main Event runs was a remarkable accomplishment that would have been the focus of the final table coverage in many previous years. But it was a secondary storyline at best this year behind 2009 champion Joe Cada seeking another title when the final table commenced Thursday evening.
Cada ultimately exited Friday night in fifth, and by Saturday night, Cynn had seized the spotlight. He won the Main Event in record-setting fashion, beating Tony Miles, a 32-year-old pro from Jacksonville, Fla., in a marathon 10-hour, 199-hand heads-up session.
The longest previous Main Event heads-up session lasted eight hours and 22 minutes, and 183 hands, coincidentally also in 2016. This year’s final table lasted a total of 442 hands, which broke the previous record of 399 hands set in 2012.
The Main Event also drew its second-largest field of all-time, with 7,874 players, and finished in 10 straight days without any breaks for the first time in more than a decade.
“I’m pretty beat,” Cynn said. “I’m pretty exhausted. I think every day somehow you get more exhausted but also a little bit sharper just because your adrenaline keeps you going.”
Cynn could blame himself for having to play eight extra hours on Saturday night into Sunday morning. Play wrapped up shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday, but he could have been crowned champion at around 8:30 p.m. Saturday with one different decision.
Miles shoved all-in early in heads-up play on a board of Jack-4-3-3-King. Sensing something didn’t add up, Cynn thought for several minutes about whether to call or fold.
He ultimately went with the latter, thinking his hand — two-pair with 4s and 3s — wasn’t quite strong enough. He was wrong, as Miles was bluffing with nothing — his hole cards were 7-5.
Miles got several more bluffs through Cynn – and Cynn returned the favor with a handful of his own — before trying one too many. Miles held Queen-8 on the fateful final hand when he went all-in with a pair of 8s for 114 million chips on a board of King-King-5-8.
Cynn again took his time weighing his options, but he couldn’t lay down his King-Jack hole cards, which gave him three-of-a-kind. He slid a stack of chips forward to signal a call.
Cynn was guaranteed to win the pot and the championship even before the dealer revealed the final community card.
“He put me in a lot of tough spots, not just hand-wise but with strategy,” Cynn said. “I probably had to adjust during that match three, four, five, I don’t even know how many times and it seems like whenever I would adjust, he would adjust right back.”
Miles appeared to take the defeat in stride, coming over while Cynn posed for champion’s photos, and lifting the winner’s hand. Miles said several times throughout the final table that he felt like he had won regardless of the result.
He was only two years removed from an opiate addiction that derailed his first attempt at a poker career, and overcoming it gave him a new perspective.
“It makes it all the more special,” he said. “Trials and tribulations make you appreciate the greater things in life.”
Cynn’s win made it the ninth time in the last 10 years that a professional won the event, though he said he’s cut down on his card playing significantly over the last couple years. Once a staple in many high-stakes cash games in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Cynn decreased his volume in order to travel and pursue other interests.
Although he had no concrete plans for the money and wanted to take a while before spending any of it, he said the millions would help continue his globetrotting.
“I don’t know what people’s impression of me was but I’m not doing bad,” Cynn said. “The money is very significant, but I do like to think I don’t need the money to be happy, but at the same time, it’s going to make things a lot easier.”
Cynn drew the applause of much of the poker community on social media, as he was engaging at the final table, especially during heads-up play alongside Miles. And more importantly, his play was nearly flawless.
Cynn didn’t succumb to the wild swings that characterized the rest of the action. He entered the final table in fourth, and was able to float in the middle until the last day without taking any unnecessary risks.
Despite his previous accomplishments, the final table wasn’t about Cynn at the start but he steadily made the tournament his own in the end.
“It’s unreal,” he said. “Things just kept going my way.”