Nic Manion had just won $2.85 million, so how did he celebrate?
"We went and played putt-putt!" the Muskegon man said, with a chuckle, Tuesday afternoon -- after waking up from a nap a few hours after finally arriving back in Michigan following an 18-day run in Las Vegas.
"There's this indoor, glow-in-the-dark putt-putt, kind of like blacklight bowling, mini-golf course. And then we went bowling after that.
"There was like 10 of us that did that.
"I don't drink at all, well once in a while, but I don't get crazy."
Manion's life has changed drastically since arriving in Vegas at the beginning of the month. He went there just hoping to win a satellite tournament that would get him into the World Series of Poker's Main Event.
He ended up winning the first, selling that seat for a profit, then winning a second — and using that seat for the run of a lifetime, all the way to a fourth-place finish in poker's most prestigious event.
Manion was eliminated late Saturday night, just short of the ultimate prize, the $8.8-million first-place payout that went to Indianapolis' John Cynn.
There was a bit of disappointment in the immediate aftermath of getting busted — his ace-ten was crushed by pocket kings — but not too much for a former mailman who never before had even made $30,000 in a single year.
"It was just like, 'All right, I guess I can stop frying my brain on poker,'" said Manion, who had played 12 marathon days of poker in Vegas, including 10 in the Main Event.
After he busted, he was escorted to the cash-out cage, where he had to fill out paperwork.
There, they asked how much he wanted in cash and how much he wanted in wire transfer. He got enough cash to pay a 3-percent backer his cut and then enough for himself and his 50-percent backer to have some fun for a few days in Vegas.
And, boy did they have some fun, playing some more cards — he hit for $1,600 on one hand at one table game — but particularly at some fancy steakhouses, three, by his count.
That was a nice change of pace from the chicken-fried rice he at at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino every night of the Main Event.
"I mean, the place was quick and it was really good food," Manion said. "But I finally got a filet the last few nights."
As for that wire transfer, Manion's still is waiting for that to plunge into his bank account. That takes several days; Big Brother tends to get a bit inquisitive when seven-figure lump sums are arriving in more-modest bank accounts, seemingly out of the blue.
Manion, though, is preparing for the life of the more-fortunate. He met with a tax accountant in Vegas, at the request of his fellow Muskegonite and fellow poker pro Jordan Young. That was a reality check, as Manion, having cashed in just three prior tournaments, has no writeoffs.
Now, he is pondering some purchases. Nothing too extravagant. Well ...
"Pretty much, all I want to buy is a Harley. I had a crotch-rocket, before a few buddies ended up getting Harleys," said Manion, 35, who grew up in Big Rapids. "So I sold my crotch-rocket but never got a chance to get the Harley.
"I had a Corvette a while ago, and I've been craving another one. So that could be another one."
There might be some traveling in his future, too, perhaps with other members of a jovial final table, including Cynn and runner-up Tony Miles, who had asked Manion if he'd be interested in traveling abroad.
And there'll be some more cards, too, at his "home" casinos, including Firekeepers in Battle Creek and Little River in Manistee, where he's been told the Main Event was on all the TVs during his run. Manion is now a known commodity in the poker world, and he'll be a celebrity when he returns to Little River.
But, for now, there's more rest to be had.
Fair enough. He's earned it.
This was the most fascinating Main Event in recent memory — from the remarkable run by Shelby Township resident and 2009 Main Event champion Joe Cada, to the plethora of endearing personalities at the final three tables, to the hand (AA-KK-KK) heard 'round the poker world, to the thrilling heads-up finale.
The heads-up showdown between Cynn and Miles took more than 10 hours and lasted a remarkable 199 hands. I fell asleep around 4 a.m. Sunday, only to wake up around 7 with it still going on. My first thought actually was that it was a replay.
Nope. Still going. Madness.
Around 8 a.m. Eastern, it finally was over, with Cynn's three kings holding up against Miles' two pair.
Cynn was understandably overcome with emotion. Miles, of Lake Mary, Fla., was spent, as well, but didn't do his image any favors in the end. Miles' story was a good one — overcoming drug addiction — and he was chatty and entertaining at the final table, but in the first post-match handshake with Cynn, it sounded like he criticized Cynn for slow-rolling him. That was a totally unfair dig.
Yes, Cynn took his time before making the final call — he tanked for more than a minute, even apologizing to Miles for taking so long — but it was a huge, life-changing decision, and he gets a pass for thinking through all the possibilities. Miles hadn't bluffed much. And it's not like Cynn had the nuts. There was a possible draw to a flush on the board, his opponent could've also had a king with a kicker better than Cynn's jack, and there was a slight chance of running into a full house.
In any event, it seems as if cooler heads prevailed, as Miles was overly complimentary of Cynn in his post-match remarks, and vice versa. We'll chalk Miles' initial reaction up to the heat of the moment, and fatigue of 10 days of poker, at 10 hours or more a day.
The heads-up match, which began after Houston's Michael Dyer was eliminated 18 hands in Saturday night, took so long that poker pro and ESPN final-table analyst Antonio Esfandiari actually left the broadcast long before it ended.
He had a pretty good reason: The final event of the 2018 WSOP Vegas circuit, the million-dollar buy-in Big One for One Drop, was set to get under way at 11 a.m. Sunday. Esfandiari is a regular in that tournament, and won it in 2012 for a world-record payday of $18,346,673. (The sleep didn't help. He was the second player busted Sunday.)
Esfandiari was hastily replaced on the broadcast by poker legend Phil Hellmuth, who, no surprise, was quite entertaining.
In fact, throughout the Main Event, ESPN did well with its picks on the broadcast team, particularly with poker pros Maria Ho — whose personality and humor really blended nicely with the broadcast duo of Norman Chad and Lon McEachern — and Nick Schulman, whose dry wit was a welcome presence.
Particularly entertaining was the duo of Schulman and Ali Nejad during what they dubbed "The Late Shift," on the PokerGo app following ESPN's coverage. The analysis and back-and-forth on PokerGo, with far looser decency standards, was goofy and, at times, somewhat R-rated.
Speaking of the Big One, that wrapped up late Tuesday night, with Justin Bonomo beating Fedor Holz heads-up for the $10-million first prize. The biggest names, including Esfandiara, Phil Ievy and Daniel Negreanu, busted without a payout in the 27-player field that paid five places.
Speaking of Hellmuth, he won his record 15th WSOP bracelet last week, during a $5,000-buy-in No-Limit Hold'em turbo tournament. That earned him $485,082 and capped what, to that point, had been a rough WSOP season of poker for Hellmuth.
Interestingly, he had been running so poor, he wasn't even going to play the event — until his wife and a fellow poker pro, Mike Matusow, convinced him.
The victory wasn't even his best moment of the season, though.
He took a lot of heat on social media early in the Main Event for talking about one opponent's hand while another opponent still was in the hand, and hadn't yet acted on an all-in bet. That's a big-time no-no in poker. Hellmuth — legendary for his poor table behavior, particularly big blowups that have earned him the nickname "The Poker Brat" — was quick to make amends, though, buying that affected opponent into next year's Main Event. A nice $10,000 gesture.
Now, if Hellmuth could just bag his ridiculous tradition of entering the Main Event in full costume (Thor this year) — flanked by a bevy of attractive women, 14 this year, one for every bracelet he had won to that point — all would be A-OK with the poker world.
Another notable classy gesture at the WSOP: A handful of poker pros, including Ann Arbor's Jeff Gross, who sprung for thousands of gourmet donuts for the dealers.
Perhaps the greatest thing about the final stages of the Main Event was the pace of play.
Often at the final three or four tables, the pace is super slow. Some extra time to consider a call or a bet at that stage is understandable, given the massive amounts of money at stake. But in previous years, it's been over the top "Hollywooding," the act of trying to get maximum TV time.
This year, the calls and bets were made in mostly — and refreshingly — quick order, which, of course, made for much better television.
All the players deserve a lot of credit for keeping things moving, but one player in particular deserves a shotout — Clayton Fletcher, a stand-up comedian from New York. He finished in 28th, but easily the biggest mark he made on the tournament was lecturing one player back on Day 6 over excessive tanking.
"Not every hand's a decision," an irritated Fletcher said.
From that moment on, it seemed like a switch flipped, and the pace of play picked up big-time, and continued through the end of the tournament.
There's a couple changes the WSOP consider to speed up play in the future. One is making the big blind ante for everyone at the table — which saves the dealer time from having to collect an ante from every player before dealing — and the other is the installation of the shot clock, like at the Big One.
A great debate
From poker friends I've talked to, there were two questionable bets or calls that stood out during the Main.
The first was from that crazy Manion hand, when he had aces up against the pocket kings of two opponents. The first pocket kings, held by short-stack Yueqi Zhu at the unofficial, 10-man final table, shoved all-in, only to see Manion, with a much-bigger stack, shove all-in on top of him. That left the second pocket kings, held by Antoine Labat, with a decision — and he rather-quickly decided to call.
Many on the Internet have suggested Labat should've known to fold, especially when a second player, Manion, went all-in ahead of him. Manion, himself, told me he thought it was an "easy" fold. (He folded pocket kings preflop a couple days earlier, and it saved his tournament life.) But, boy, it's awfully hard to dump pocket kings, the second-best starting hand in poker. Young told me it's been at least a couple years since he's had the nerve to do it. Most players, especially amateurs, have never done it.
The other hand debated quite a bit: When Cada shoved all-in with his pocket 10s, and was called by Miles' ace-king. Cada was a slight favorite heading to the flop, but Miles landed a king, and that was it for Cada. I thought it was a pretty standard play, given Cada's chip stack wasn't very big, but I understand the detractors, who point out he only was getting called by a dominating hand or a flip.
And you don't necessarily want to risk your Main Event on a flip.
Cada got revenge with his pocket 10s, the final hand he was holding in The Closer, to earn his fourth WSOP bracelet, and second this summer.
Manion not only made a whole bunch of money for his fourth-place finish. He also cashed in on spur-of-the-moment endorsements, wearing poker-site patches on the last few days that earned him several thousand dollars. One patch didn't pay, though: He wore for free shirt and hat patches for the Solve For Why Academy, a poker-training site for which one of his good buddies, Young, is a coach.
... With his big year that included two bracelets, Cada, 30, is positioning himself to be a first-ballot Poker Hall-of-Famer when eligible at 40. Speaking of which, the Poker Hall of Fame inducted Mori Eskandani, who is the producer who brought big-time poker to TV, including the WSOP, "Poker After Dark" and "High Stakes Poker." Eskandani was instrumental in bringing the game-changer to televised poker, with the addition of the hole-card camera.
... Don't be surprised if the WSOP adds a day off ahead of final-table play. There was no break this year, drawing lots of complaints — most notably, it doesn't allow much time to get family and friends into town. It's quite the contrast from the months-long break in the "November Nine" era.
... On his WSOP bio, for city of residence, Cynn wrote down "homeless." Funny. Apparently his lease in Los Angeles ran out before the Main Event, and his stuff is in storage. Not for long, I suspect. He also finished 11th at the Main Event in 2016, for a payday of more than $650,000. Talk about Cynn City.