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Qui Nguyen wins World Series of Poker 2016 and takes home $8 million prize

Qui Nguyen

Qui Nguyen won the World Series of Poker Main Event this month in Las Vegas, claiming the top prize of $8,005,310 and a gold bracelet after a nine-hour heads-up session that was the longest in tournament history.

You shouldn’t be surprised to know that Qui Nguyen is a former nail salon owner and failed professional baccarat player. Wearing a raccoon baseball cap throughout the final table, the 39-year-old Nguyen eliminated San Francisco poker pro Gordon Vayo on the 364th hand of the final table — almost 200 hands with just the two of them at the felt with the first place prize money splayed between them in giant bricks of $100 bills.

The native of Vietnam emerged from a field of 6,737 in the $10,000 No-Limit Hold ‘Em Main Event, the final and most prestigious in a series of 69 World Series of Poker tournaments.

Down to his last opponent  and holding a more than 5-to-1 chip advantage, Nguyen was dealt a king and 10 of clubs. Vayo got a jack and 10 of spades.

The first three community cards came out, and among them was a king to give Nguyen a pair. Two blanks followed and Nguyen was the winner, the oldest Main Event champion since 2007, ending a streak of eight straight 20-somethings to claim the title. The two players hugged, confetti fell from the sky, and Nguyen’s supporters bounced over the rail to celebrate with him.

“It’s so exciting,” Nguyen said. “I don’t know what to say.” Vayo earned $4,661,228. Earlier in the session Cliff Josephy was eliminated in third place and collected $3.45 million.

In addition to one of the biggest prizes in poker, Nguyen receives a $50,000 bracelet made from 427 grams of white and yellow gold and more than 2,000 diamonds and rubies totaling more than 44 carats. The centerpiece opens like a locket to house the hole cards from the winning hand.

The last nine players were already paid $1 million — ninth-place money — when the field was winnowed to a final table of nine over 11 days in July. After waiting three months to meet again as the “November Nine” moved up one week this year to avoid a conflict with the election.

Josephy, a 50-year-old former stock broker, was the oldest player at the final table and a two-time bracelet winner. With the money between them, Vayo and Nguyen said little to each other over almost nine hours, though with each all in from Vayo they stood together at the rail, away from the table, to watch the cards come out.

Vayo’s chip stack rose and fell, but Nguyen used his larger stake to put pressure on his opponent and frequently forced him to fold better hands. With some luck and good timing, Vayo was able to prolong play but he spent most of the time on the verge of elimination.

Still, he matched his best-ever finish at the World Series of Poker and earned three times as much as his total previous tournament earnings. Vayo, 27, was the youngest player among the final nine.

Josephy arrived at the final table as the chip leader. He started far behind, in third place, but doubled his stack to more than 101 million chips on the first hand.

Soon, he was down to about 10 million. Despite petting his dog at the rail for good luck, he was eliminated when he went all-in with a queen and a three; Vayo had a king that paired when the first three community cards were dealt.

Heads-up play went back and forth until Hand 207, when Nguyen won a 30 million chip pot and the lead. Two hands later, with 83 million already in the pot, Nguyen moved all-in with a flush; Vayo took seven minutes to think about it before folding his two pair.

Nguyen methodically used the pressure of a bigger chip count to cut away at Vayo’s stack before he was forced to go all in four times in nine hands. On Hand 298, Nguyen called the raise of 52 million chips, putting Vayo at risk, but he took the pot when back-to-back spades gave him a flush.

Two hands later, he won a 66 million chip pot with a full house to increase his stack to 143 million — only 49 million behind Nguyen.

But again his pot was eaten away by the blinds, the mandatory bets that force players to enter pots or risk watching their money slowly disappear.

The 2016 WSOP Main Event began back in July with 6,737 entrants, each of whom put up a $10,000 buy-in for a total prize pool of $63,340,268. The top 1,011 made the money, with 1,011th place earning $15,000. After playing for seven days, the field had been whittled down to nine players – the 2016 November Nine. The tournament was paused for about three months, and the final table officially began in the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, televised live on ESPN.

World Series Of Poker 2016 $10,000 Main Event Entrants: 6,737

Final Table Payouts (all in USD)

  1. Qui Nguyen (US) $8,005,310
  2. Gordon Vayo (US) $4,661,228
  3. Cliff Josephy (US) $3,453,035
  4. Michael Ruane (US) $2,576,003
  5. Vojtech Ruzicka (Czech Republic) $1,935,288
  6. Kenny Hallaert (Belgium) $1,464,258
  7. Griffin Benger (Canada) $1,250,190
  8. Jerry Wong (US) $1,100,076
  9. Fernando Pons (Spain) $1,000,000

The Winning for Qui Nguyen

When the final table began, Cliff Josephy held the chip lead. But Qui Nguyen took over the lead on the very first hand. The two of them traded the lead several times over the next few hours, setting the stage for the battles to come.

The short stack when the final table began was Fernando Pons from Palma, Spain. His stack dwindled a bit, and he ended up being the first player eliminated on the 16th hand.

As was seen last year with Joe McKeehen’s stunning WSOP victory, to win the Main Event, you need momentum. Nguyen certainly had that as he went into the last day with almost 200,000 in chips. Gordon Vayo was miles back on 89,000,000, and it would be these two who played out the heads-up after Cliff Josephy departed in third.

Several back-and-forth tussles ended on the 364th hand as Qui Nguyen raised with K-10. Gordon Vayo moved all-in for all his chips holding J-10, Nguyen made the easy call.

A king on the K-9-7 flop gave Nguyen top pair, but an 8 or queen would have given Vayo the straight. A harmless 2 and 3 fell on the turn and river to cement Nguyen’s hand and give him the title he so deserved.

Amazingly, the player had barely scratched $10,000 in a single tournament before coming to Vegas. He now takes his place alongside the likes of Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, and 2005’s Aussie winner, Joe Hachem.