Jordan Young spent less than a year studying at Michigan State.
“I was just there,” he said, laughing, “to show my face.”
Deep down, he always knew he wanted to be a poker player, even at age 19, and with the support of his family — no small thing when proposing trading a college degree for the wild-and-crazy ride that is poker — he dropped out of school and became a professional.
Eleven years and a whole lot of ups and downs later, Young had the day of his poker life Thursday in Las Vegas.
The Muskegon native finished runner-up in the 12th event of the World Series of Poker annual circuit, a $1,500-buy-in, No-Limit Hold’em tournament. His official earnings: $242,160 -- more than he had earned, total, in the WSOP since he first cashed in 2011.
Young’s previous best finish was a ninth-place showing in the same tournament in 2011, earning him nearly $55,000.
“It has been a whirlwind of a rollercoaster,” Young said, shortly after he had been eliminated by poker legend David "The Dragon" Pham, who won his third WSOP bracelet. “The first five years were a lot of good times, then I went through a three-year slump where I basically didn’t work on my game and I was a losing player for two or three years.
“These last two years, I’ve made some of the biggest strides that I could’ve ever imagined with the help of a few of my friends.”
Young, 31, who now lives in Las Vegas full-time, spent much of Thursday with the chip lead, knocking out three players at the final table. With four players left, he had more than half the chips in play. Heads-up with Pham, he started with a commanding lead.
But, as Young noted, heads-up play can be volatile. One or two timely double-ups by an opponent, and a big chip lead can turn into a big chip deficit in the blink of an eye.
A crushing hand came when Pham rivered a wheel straight, when Young had two pair, including aces.
Pham also rivered a pair of kings in the final hand, ending Young’s dream of his first WSOP bracelet.
For a while, Young thought it was his day.
“I thought that this was my time and I was gonna close this thing out,” said Young, whose dog, Doogan, watched from his rail with three players left. “I don’t think it affected the way I played, which is really important, because I’ve been very close before and I think all those times where I came up short were also valuable in learning experience and learning process.
“He played well, too. I’m gonna get the next one.”
This was Young’s first cash in the 2017 WSOP. He cashed in eight events a year ago, an impressive tally, but only won about $44,000.
In the $1,500 buy-in tournament, he bested all but one in the field of 1,739, and Pham was quite the competitor.
The first seven eliminations took 95 hands total, then Young and Pham slugged it out for a whopping 135 hands.
The payday is a substantial one for Young, no question, though he only gets half of it. Friends and investors “bought” 50 percent of his entry, which is common in the poker world for many players who simply can’t afford all the entry fees on their own. So friends and investors will get about $120,000, and he’ll pocket the other $120,000.
He said the money will help make him more comfortable, but he has no plans to live any more lavishly than he already does. Nor does he plan to take any break from poker, as a reward. Young was to be back at the poker tables Friday, at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, site of the WSOP.
“I love the game and I knew that I would never find something that I was as passionate about as poker,” Young said. “The World Series of Poker only comes around once a year.
It’s 30 days of Christmas for most poker players.”
Young became the third man from Michigan to make a final table at this year’s WSOP.
The first was Grand Rapids’ Casey Carroll, who took sixth place and $42,246 at the third event, a $3,000-buy-in No-Limit Hold’em shootout. The second was Sterling Heights’ Chris Sensoli, who placed third and won $47,629 in event No. 11, a $1,500 Dealers Choice Six-Handed tournament.
The last Michigan native to win a WSOP bracelet was Joe Cada, who followed up his 2009 Main Event championship with a second career bracelet in 2014.
The WSOP runs through mid-July, concluding with the Main Event, which typically features a first prize of more than $8 million.
... ESPN provides great coverage of the Main Event, but for all the other WSOP tournaments, WSOP.com provided free live-streaming of the final table. Not anymore. The PokerGO subscription service now has the rights to those, now, and at a price of $10 per month or $99 for the year.