MSU's Ryan Riess out to validate Main Event poker title

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Ryan Riess won $8.3 million in the WSOP in 2013.

Shuffle up and deal!

Thousands of card sharks -- amateur and professional -- began descending on Las Vegas this week as the 68-tournament World Series of Poker officially got underway Wednesday at the Rio Hotel & Casino.

Ryan Riess, the 2013 Main Event champion, Metro Detroit native and Michigan State alumnus, played the first open tournament, a $5,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em event.

Riess had outlasted more than half the 422-player field, but was short on chips as of early Thursday afternoon. He's trying to bounce back from a rough 2014.

"Last year, I played the entire schedule, all the events," Riess said over the phone from Vegas, where he now resides year-round. "I felt myself possibly looking forward to the next event rather than focusing on the one at hand."

As a result, Riess, 24, cashed in just three tournaments -- for a haul of less than $10,000.

That's a far cry from his breakout year in 2013, when, wearing his Calvin Johnson No. 81 Lions jersey, he became famous overnight by winning the Main Event -- the final tournament on the WSOP's schedule -- and a whopping $8.3 million.

"I kind of burnt myself out last year. I wanted to play everything," Riess said. "It's really important to have a balance between poker and real life. It's really important to take a day off or lay out by the pool, or work out, or go hiking, or see a movie, instead of playing poker nonstop."

So the motto this year just might be, "Less is more."

Winning the Main Event again is likely not going to happen, now with the fields having grown well into the thousands in recent years. Nobody has repeated as Main Event champ since the "Poker Boom" started in 2003 when amateur Chris Moneymaker won the title.

Riess just really wants to win that coveted second WSOP bracelet, which are given out -- along with cash -- to winners of the 68 tournaments on the schedule.

"It definitely helps validate your career," Riess said. "There's a lot of people who win the Main Event and it's kind of like a one-hit wonder. It's important to continue to win."

Joe Cada, also of Metro Detroit, won his Main Event title (and $8.5 million) in 2009, also had a rough follow-up year. He didn't cash in any event in 2010. But he's since proved his Main Event win at age 21 -- a feat dubbed "lucky" by some jealous peers -- was no fluke. Cada, now 27, had six-figure paydays in tournaments in 2012 and 2013 before winning his second bracelet, and $670,000, in a tournament last June.

Cada became the first man in the "Poker Boom" era to win a bracelet after winning the Main Event. Riess hopes to be the second.

"My main goal is to win a bracelet," Riess said. "Any one would be great. I'm not picky. That's everybody's goal coming into the summer, the ultimate goal in our sport. Winning a title."

Cada is back out in Las Vegas and plans to play 25 to 30 events; he started with the opening event -- and it was "no good," he said after busting out early.

Another Metro Detroit man to watch is Jason Johnson, who had a whopping three six-figure paydays and four cashes in all in 2014, his first year playing the WSOP. His season ended with an impressive 51st-place finish in the Main Event. Johnson's season begins with the mega-field Colossus tournament, which kicks off Friday and will have at least a $5 million prize pool.