Being a big Spartans fan and a Michigan State graduate, Ryan Riess knows all about Final Fours.
Now, he’s made one of his own.
Riess grinded through a marathon session of poker Thursday in Las Vegas, where he ended the night among the four last participants in the 15th event of the 2017 World Series of Poker circuit — a $10,000-buy-in Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship.
Riess, who won the 2013 Main Event championship and $8.4 million, is searching for his coveted second WSOP bracelet. Lots of players win one bracelet; a second provides career validation.
“I’d probably start crying again, honestly,” Riess said over the phone late Thursday night from Vegas, when asked what a second bracelet would mean. “I’ve had a really good year, so far. I’ve been studying, just working my ass off, and for everything to finally come fruition ...
“Because in a poker, you can put in all the work and bust your ass and you may not get the results. When you put in all the work and the results start to show, it’s really gratifying.”
Riess, of Clarkston, already has guaranteed himself a six-figure payday. Two more heads-up wins will earn him the bracelet and first prize of $336,656.
Play resumes Friday night at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, site of the WSOP’s 74 tournaments.
Riess made the final 32 on Wednesday, and on Thursday, he meticulously fought his way through three tough opponents — first Kane Kalas (hour-and-a-half), then Dan Smith (three hours), and finally, Oliver Busquet (two hours).
“I’m exhausted,” Riess said, with a slight laugh. “I’m getting a drink, then I’m going home.”
The final match Thursday, Riess saw himself trailing early — but he made a huge call on a Busquet bluff, putting him position for the remainder of the showdown.
In the final hand, he had queen-four to Busquet’s ace-three, so he was behind.
But Riess, 26, quickly caught up, hitting trip fours on the flop, and then making a full house on the turn to send Busquet packing. Riess will face California’s John Smith in his semifinal matchup Friday. Smith is known for heads-up play, finishing second in this same event last year.
Riess’ heads-up chops aren’t as renowned.
“I’m actually not very good at it,” he said, laughing. “All these other guys are way better heads-up.”
On the other side of the bracket will be Charlie Carrel and Adrian Mateos. The Riess-Smith match will be first at 6 Eastern, following by Carrel-Mateos.
Losers of the semifinal matches each will take home $112,379, and the runner-up will get $208,154.
Money sure is important, though Riess, who wore a Detroit Tigers shirt at the tables Thursday, has plenty of that — dating back to that mega Main Event payday. He has had a nice year, too, winning more than $700,000 in a World Poker Tour tournament in Florida, and nearly another $200,000 from a runner-up showing in an online tournament.
That second WSOP bracelet, though, would be huge.
All he has to do is look to his buddy, Shelby Township’s Joe Cada, who won the Main Event in 2009 in what many poker veterans called a “fluky” win, but validated his stature in the game with his second bracelet in 2014.
Speaking of Cada, he made the Round of 32 out of the field of 129 in the Heads-Up Championship, but lost his first match Thursday to finish just out of the money. Well, technically. He actually set up a deal with Riess before the tournament, each buying 10 percent of each other’s winnings. So Cada has a rooting interest in Riess’ showing, explaining why he was still in the room late Thursday night, cheering on his good friend.