Michigan poker stars take their seats for Main Event

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Ryan Riess won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2013, earning more than $8 million in prize money.

This year's World Series of Poker circuit in Las Vegas consists of 78 tournaments, but for many poker players — professionals and amateurs, alike — they'd be completely fine if it consisted of just one.

The Main Event is, far and away, the highlight of the schedule, and the granddaddy of them all got under way Monday at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.

"It's everyone's dream to play in it," said Ryan Riess, the Clarkston native who, in 2013, turned a life-changing run of cards into a Main Event championship and a payday of more than $8 million.

"People will play zero tournaments throughout the year, but they'll save up the money to play in this one. It's on a lot of people's bucket list to play the event.

"It's hard to explain. It's just a really special tournament, and it's much more special for me than the others. It definitely holds a special place in my heart."

A field of more than 7,000, at $10,000 a pop, is expected at the Main Event. The winner, again, is expected to take home more than $8 million.

Among Michigan's sizable contingent in Vegas, Riess began his Main Event play Tuesday, while Shelby Township's Joe Cada, the 2009 Main Event champion, will get started Wednesday. Grand Rapids' Casey Caroll also will start his Main Event on Wednesday, while Muskegon's Jordan Young began Monday.

More:Michigan poker stars share tales of huge losses, dark days

Nobody has won a second Main Event since the field skyrocketed into the thousands of competitors during the poker boom of the early 2000s, but that doesn't stop Riess and Cada from believing they have it in them — if the cards fall correctly.

Riess, 28, a Michigan State graduate who now lives in Vegas, says he's playing good poker, and the stats dictate as such — he's had 10 cashes in this year's World Series, his best showing yet in terms of volume, although they've all been minimal cashes, none even in the five digits. He bubbled a $100,000 buy-in tournament early in the spring, his ace-queen running into pocket kings.

"I think I'm playing well," he said the other night, heading home from the strip. "There are a few hands in a few tournaments I wish I could have back.

"But I'm playing well.

"Hopefully we're saving it for the big one."

More:Get to know me: Poker pro Jordan Young

Cada, 30, has had the best season of the Michigan contingent, earning his third World Series of Poker bracelet and a $226,218 payday in the third event of the spring. That was his second final table of the season, among five cashes.

Among the other notable performances by Michigan players this WSOP season:

■ David "Bakes" Baker, a Rochester Hills native, took second place in a H.O.R.S.E. tournament, earning $256,297. That's one of his five cashes on the season.

■ Oak Park's Nicolai Morris lost in the quarterfinals of the $10,000 Heads-Up Championship, earning $31,086.

■ Traverse City's Royce Matheson has five cashes this season, including $32,198 for a seventh-place finish in a $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em shootout.

■ Flushing's Devin Looney has carded four cashes, one for $10,321 for a 10th-place showing in an eight-game mix tournament.

■ Ann Arbor's Jeff Gross has seven cashes, though nothing above four figures.

And in a $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em tag-team tournament, East Lansing's Adam Lamphere and Yijie Zhang finished sixth, each taking home just less than $10,000.

That was a rare tournament appearance this year for Lamphere, a WSOP regular who had to significantly cut down his schedule after having been involved in a bad vehicle crash last year that left him with serious injuries to his face and back.

"A few of my MSU friends came into town," Lamphere said. "I wasn't gonna play it, but they talked me into it. It was a fun experience."

Lamphere also is among those playing in the Main Event, in which he finished 41st in 2014, earning $186,388 — his best cash to date.

Players surviving any of the Day 1s will reconvene starting Thursday, with play continuing until a winner is crowned. That is expected to be Saturday, July 14.