Riess completes 10-year journey from basement to World Champion

6 November 2013

LAS VEGAS -- Ryan Riess was 14 years old when Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2003. He and his friends got excited about poker, and Riess, with his parents' permission, started hosting $10 tournaments in his basement in Clarkston, Mich., on Friday nights.

"He loved numbers and math, and this was kind of the perfect storm for him," said Riess's father, Frank Riess, who used to call Ryan "Champ" when he was younger.

Ten years later, Riess won the same tournament, claiming an $8.36 million first-place prize and the title World Champion.

"I've been dreaming about this for a long time, ever since I was 14," said Riess, sitting at the poker table next to bundles upon bundles of cash and the WSOP Main Event bracelet, itself worth a cool $500,000. "I never would have thought this would happen years and years ago, especially this soon and this early in my life."

But over the last 10 years, Riess has put in quite a bit of time at the poker tables, picking up how others played the game, and how he could take advantage of others' mistakes. While attending Michigan State, he got an internship to work on a marketing plan for a poker room in East Lansing, then started working as a dealer.

Ryan Riess (center) and his parents celebrate his 2013 Main Event title.

Ryan Riess (center) and his parents celebrate his 2013 Main Event title. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

"He started studying how people played," said Frank. "He's very intelligent and very analytical and he just figured out how to do it."

Then, last year, Riess jumped into a World Series of Poker Circuit event in Hammond, Indiana. He officially finished second, but according to multiple reports, Riess and the winner, Josh Williams, chopped the top two prizes to net more than $300,000 each.

Frank didn't even know that Ryan had gone to play in the Circuit event, let alone that he was in contention.

"He called me in the middle of the night and said, 'Dad, I'm in this tournament and I'm going to win it,'" recalled Frank.

Riess showed similar confidence in the run-up to the final table, saying on several occasions that he was going to win the Main Event. But that didn't stop him from being emotional when he finally did claim the title after more than three hours of heads-up play against the second-place finisher, Jay Farber.

On the final hand of the night, Riess needed to dodge just three outs to claim the title. He crouched down on the floor on the stage of the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, near dozens of friends and family members who had traveled out to Las Vegas to see this moment. When the river card came out, he fell to the ground and was mobbed by his supporters, and rose with tears in his eyes, the enormity of the moment just beginning to sink in.

It's been quite a year for Riess, who has no tracked tournament cashes in The Hendon Mob data prior to his second-place showing at the WSOP Circuit stop in Hammond. Since then, he's cashed in 21 tournaments and won the biggest event on the poker calendar.

"(After Hammond), my immediate goal was to continue to get better and play in the Main Event," said Riess.

Not only did he play, he won the whole damn thing. Mission accomplished, Ryan. Or should we say, "Champ"?

Related Links
World Series of Poker Gaming Vendor Information
Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino Details
Nevada Gambling
Ranked Online Poker Rooms

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