Qui Nguyen may not have been the best player among the 6,737 players who played in the World Series of Poker Main Event in July.
39-year-old Las Vegan may not even be the best technical poker player at the ninth final table, starting to crown a champion on Sunday night.
Nguyen is a gamer, however, and that instinct helped him win $ 8 million and a place in poker history as the WSOP Buy-In Without Limits Texas Hold’em Champion by the wee hours of Wednesday morning 2016 won the Penn & Teller Theater in Rio.
The longest heads-up match since the WSOP has been converted to the current format of the last nine players who returned for a TV spectacle a few months after the final table was set. It finally ended at 3:21 in the morning when Nguyen’s matching K-10 went up against Gordon Vayo’s matching J-10.
“I’m so excited. I don’t know what to say,” said Nguyen, who wore his bold jacket, jewelry, and even a distinctive Guardians of the Galaxy baseball cap for an old school Las Vegas player Vegas looked like a step backwards. “I was just trying to remind myself never to give up, never to give up. It was exhausting, it was tough, but I wanted to be aggressive and never give up and luckily it worked for me.”
Aggression was never an issue for Nguyen, who used a significant chip advantage throughout heads-up play to keep the action moving consistently and not to allow Vayo to see cheap flops. Vayo survived three all-in showdowns, including one when he had to draw a long-shot runner-runner flush to stay alive.
In the 181st hand of the single game, Nguyens held cards and became the first champion since Jerry Yang in 2007 to win after his 30th birthday.
While the recent trend has been for young online players who have seen countless poker hands on both their computer monitors and live tables emerge as champions of the field, Nguyen bucked the trend. He had only won one previous WSOP event when he finished 54th in a $ 1,500 event in 2009 for a $ 9,029 prize. Nguyen had won $ 52,986 in live poker tournaments in his lifetime.
Conversely, Vayo made eight cash at the 2016 WSOP alone, thanks to the prize of his runner-up worth $ 4.6 million. He received a check for $ 314,535 at a 2014 WSOP event and just won a tournament in September that paid out $ 587,120.
However, it was Nguyen who controlled the table.
“I felt like this was the qui show to be honest,” said Vayo. “He really deserved it, man. I prepared a lot, calculated a lot and worked (Independent Chip Model).
What I couldn’t prepare for was the qui factor. He’s hard to prepare because he’s ready to do things very few people do and ready to pursue a strategy that almost no one plays anymore. It was almost like an explosion from the past. I’m so disconnected with people who play like that. It was difficult for me to reevaluate why he did what he did. I think he just has a phenomenal feel for the game. “
While these instincts were developed at a casino, it may not have been at the poker table. Nguyen says he just loves to play and his most popular game is baccarat. When he won a satellite tournament to qualify for the WSOP Main Event, he considered selling the entry.
Nguyen thought better because there was a good chance he had taken the money straight to the baccarat table anyway.
“I just decided that it doesn’t matter how far I’ve come, I wanted to play poker,” said Nguyen. “I don’t say baccarat to myself anymore. I’m going to play poker now. “
A native of Vietnam, Nguyen, who lived in Florida and Alaska prior to settling in Las Vegas, didn’t spend much time preparing for this event and thinking about what he could do with the money.
Shortly after the win, he wasn’t ready to think about the possibilities.
“I just think about going home to sleep and have breakfast,” he said.
Nguyen is married and has a 4 year old son named Kyle who wants a house with a pool. He’s also committed to donating a portion of his profits to the Wounded Warrior Project, according to a Nguyen representative.
He is also likely to become a star in the poker world, where he will continue to try to confuse players so deep in math and game theory that they can sometimes forget they are playing.
“I saw something called Puzzles and Mysteries recently,” Vayo said. “A puzzle is something that you can piece together and solve, while a puzzle is something that confuses you. Qui was a mystery for sure. He wasn’t a mystery. He wasn’t someone to put together and say, “This is his range. He will do this with hands ‘X’ and ‘Y’. He just wasn’t like that. Each hand has been a unique circumstance and is difficult to play against. “
Now he has a lot of chips to play too.
Contact Adam Hill at [email protected] or 702-277-8028. Follow @adamhilllvrj on Twitter.