Several World Series of Poker veterans have advanced to the final three tables at this year's Main Event.
That list includes Shelby Township's Joe Cada; the 2009 Main Event champion; Sylvain Loosli, who finished fourth in 2013; and John Cynn, who placed 11th in 2016.
Then there's Muskegon's Nic Manion, whose experience in big-time tournament poker is, well, let's just say limited. In fact, Manion's resume is so sparse, he doesn't even have a page in the Hendon Mob poker database, which logs every player's cash in every tournament of significance.
But Manion is playing like anything like a rookie, unbelievably and yet correctly folding pocket kings up against pocket aces early Wednesday morning to maintain a big stack of 17.63 million in chips heading into Day 7 play later Wednesday at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
"I haven't folded KK preflop in a couple years," said an impressed Jordan Young, a poker professional who is also from Muskegon and a good friend of Manion's. "So nuts."
Manion was one of 26 players who advanced to the final three tables, along with Cada, who started Wednesday at 8.85 million in chips as he attempts to pull off the impossible — winning a second Main Event in the modern era, where the tournament draws several thousand entrants at $10,000 a pop.
Manion and Cada started Wednesday seated side by side at the feature table, airing on PokerGo and ESPN. They wore sponsor patches netting them each $4,000 for the day, a drop in the bucket for a guy like Cada whose first-place prize for the 2009 win was $8.5 million, but a nice little bonus for Manion, given his short resume.
Each is trying to give Michigan a fourth winner in the Main Event, after Clarkston's Ryan Riess in 2013, Cada in 2009 and Grand Rapids' Tom McEvoy in 1983.
Players who made it to Wednesday were guaranteed $282,630. Players who make it to the final, nine-man table will be guaranteed at least $1 million. The winner, to be crowned this weekend, will take home $8.8 million for beating out a tournament field of 7,874 players.
Both Manion, 35, and Cada, 30, were extremely short-stacked on Day 2 of the Main Event, making their deep runs all the more impressive.
"I really haven't had many chips to have to have big decisions," Manion said early Wednesday morning, talking to PokerNews. "It's either I'm going with my hand or I'm not.
"Now that I've got chips, it's a little bit more nervous, but I think I'm playing well.
"That kind of cancels that out."
Manion's background in poker is mostly in online but lately has started playing bigger stakes live games. He wasn't planning to play in the Main Event until a couple buddies convinced him a couple days before he traveled out to Las Vegas.
So not expecting much, he packed enough clothes to last three days.
Now, he's in line for life-changing money — with a seven-figure payday quite realistic, especially given his hero fold against the pocket aces at the end of Day 6. After Manion raised the pre-flop pot to a four-bet of 5 million chips, his opponent, Alex Lynskey, moved all-in.
Absolutely convinced Lynskey had aces, the only starting hand better than kings, Manion let it go, and saved himself a crushing blow. (The aces ended up getting cracked by a third player in the pot, who hit trip threes).
"To me, that's just one hand and one hand only," Manion said of the all-in by Lynskey. "I'm not going to put my tournament life on kings when I'm 99-percent sure he has aces."
Cada, who won his third WSOP bracelet earlier this year as he continues to build a Poker Hall-of-Fame resume, chipped up methodically from the start of Day 6, using a couple hands in which he started with pocket nines. Pocket nines have been a lucky draw for him, as that's the final hand he held when he won the Main Event in 2009. He also won a big hand rivering a straight.
The two other Michigan players who began Day 6 busted out, but still had good paydays. They were Southgate's Brent Ballentine, who placed 66th for $108,745, and Saginaw's Nicholas Cushman, who finished 102nd for $57,010.
Main Event play continues Wednesday until they're down to the final table with nine players. They'll play down to six Thursday, three Friday, and then to the winner, likely crowned either Saturday or Sunday.