In the early 2000s, Dash Dudley was wrestling with a big decision — either continue his wrestling career at Michigan State, or pin it and become a poker pro.
His friends and teammates just didn't get it.
"A lot of people thought it was suspect to pursue a living which they called 'gambling,'" said Dudley, a 33-year-old who went to high school in Okemos and who now lives in East Lansing. "Poker is different. It takes skill.
"Now, a lot of them are believing and coming around."
And why wouldn't they. Dudley late last month earned his first career World Series of Poker bracelet, topping a 518-player field in the a $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha eight-handed tournament.
The payout: A cool $1,086,967, not to mention a whole lot of relief after more than a decade grinding it out at the poker tables.
Dudley is Michigan's lone bracelet winner, at least so far, during this season's 89-tournament slate at the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
"I mean, it literally meant everything," Dudley said Monday over the phone from Vegas, while on a dinner break in poker's Granddaddy of Them All, the $10,000 Main Event. "I felt so blessed after it happened. I had a ton of my friends and family there and behind us, and a lot of people supporting me back home.
"It really felt like a team win."
Dudley had some backers for his entry fee, about 10 or 12 he approximated, but he took home the lion's share of the million-dollar prize.
This was his 38th cash in a WSOP event; he's been playing the Vegas summer circuit regularly since 2010, and his previous best take-home was in his first event, in 2010, when he finished eighth in a No-Limit Hold'em tournament and won $67,221.
His career WSOP earnings now are $1,451,076, and he's earned nearly $300,000 more in other sanctioned poker tournaments, mostly in Los Angeles.
The timing of this win couldn't have been better. Dudley and his longtime fiancee, Raquel Hubbard, are scheduled to get married in August in Mason.
"This helps," Dudley said, with a laugh.
During his run to the championship, Dudley knocked out a who's who of poker stars, including four-time bracelet winner Shaun Deeb.
In the end, it was just Dudley and James Park from England left standing. The final hand, Dudley was way ahead going to the river, then hit a straight on the end to seal it. Dudley and friends and family members celebrated for a few nights, including a fancy dinner at Palazzo the night of the victory.
Dudley has been playing poker since he was in his early teens, taught the game by his mother, Kimberly. The family would gather around the table and play dealer's choice. Still, he had been wrestling since he was 5. Dudley was all-state as a senior in high school (he also played football, and was a team captain).
One passion had to give, he figured. And finally, that decision paid off in a big, big way.
"I've been out here chasing it for a while," said Dudley, who made two other final tables before this one. "It's crazy. it really is a crazy lifestyle, and you really have to give it your all if you want it. There are a ton of good players I've seen who just aren't cut out for it, or can't sustain the living. Other guys stay after it and keep on grinding.
"I have the utmost respect for all the grinders."
Oh, so close
Shelby Township's Joe Cada, a four-time WSOP bracelet winner including the 2009 Main Event, came so close to a fifth bracelet.
Cada finished runner-up a $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em six-handed event. Still, he earned $468,488, bringing his career WSOP earnings to $13,592,337.
He lost his heads-up battle to Joao Vieira, when Cada's ace-queen was dominated by ace-king going to the flop.
In 2018, Cada had a summer for the ages, winning his third and fourth career bracelets, and making the final table at the Main Event. He finished fifth in the Main, earning more than $2 million, his largest payday since he won $8,547,044 for winning it in 2009.
Cada, 31, had cashed in three consecutive Main Events until the run ended this year. He had six WSOP cashes this season.
Clarkston's Ryan Riess, 29, the 2013 Main Event champion, also busted out of the money in this year's Main. He's still looking for his second WSOP bracelet; Riess finished this WSOP season with six mini-cashes.
Over the Moon
No Michigan man had a better lead-in to to the World Series of Poker than Sterling Heights' Chris Moon.
Moon, 30, like so many of Michigan's poker stars a Michigan State grad, did the unthinkable and won back-to-back tournaments in May.
Moon won the Heartland Poker Tour's $1,650 No-Limit Hold'em tournament in Chicago, then followed that up with a title in the Mid-States Poker Tour's $1,100 NLHE event at Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek.
The first won paid $183,899, and the second $258,407, not a bad week's work. They were the first two live tournament wins of his career, more than a decade in the making.
He didn't have any huge plans for the money, other than to pay off his car. He also is considered buying a house in Ferndale.
Moon had one cash in the WSOP this year, for $5,719. Unlike many out in Vegas, he prefers to take a break from the tables. This year, it worked out nicely, as he returned home recently for his sister's wedding.
Flops, turns and rivers
They reached the money bubble late Monday night in the Main Event, and while Cada, Riess and 2019 final-table member Nic Manion of Muskegon have busted, several Michigan players remain.
The top Michigan player entering play Tuesday is Midland's Michael Vo, 187th in chips out of 1,286 remaining players. West Bloomfield's Josh Kay is 194th.
First place pays $10 million this year, because of a whopping 8,569 entrants who plunked down $10,000 apiece to play.
... Other notable finishes this WSOP season: Rochester Hills' David Baker took second in an $800 Online NLHE tournament, for $137,241, and earlier took fifth in a $2,500 NLHE tournament, for $96,632; Kentwood's Juan Lopez took fourth in the $400 Colossus for $157,106; West Bloomfield's Samir Husaynue took seventh in a seniors NLE tournament, for $98,981;Keego Harbor's Michael Sopko took third in a $1,500 seven-card stud tournament, for 60,330; and East Lansing's Adam Lamphere took seventh in a $600 mixed tournament, for $28,006.