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July 26, 2014

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WORLD SERIES OF POKER:

Millionaire Made: Benny Chen snatches bracelet on memorable night at the Rio

Matt Waxman outlasts Eric Baldwin in marathon match between pros

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COURTESY OF WSOP

Benny Chen poses with his friends after winning the 2013 World Series of Poker Millionaire Maker tournament at the Rio on June 4, 2013.

2013 World Series of Poker: Week One

Players participate in the $1,000 No Limit Hold 'Em Tournament at the World Series of Poker at the Rio on Thursday, May 30, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Millionaire Maker final table finishes and payouts

  • 1. Benny Chen — $1,199,104
  • 2. Michael Bennington— $741,902
  • 3. Jonathan Gray— $534,505
  • 4. Justin Liberto— $400,408
  • 5. Dan Kelly— $302,104
  • 6. Christopher Hunichen— $229,575
  • 7. Upeshka Desilva— $175,713
  • 8. Robert McVeigh— $135,467
  • 9. Theron Eichenberger— $105,154

Event No. 7 ($1,000 buy-in NLHE) final table finishes and payouts

  • 1. Matt Waxman — $305,952
  • 2. Eric Baldwin— $189,200
  • 3. Jess Dioquino— $130,825
  • 4. Amit Makhija— $94,353
  • 5. Brent Hanks— $68,975
  • 6. Jacob Jung— $51,086
  • 7. Robert Dreyfuss— $38,340
  • 8. Tuu Ho— $29,147
  • 9. Jason Koon— $22,435

A few nights every summer transcend the daily routine of the World Series of Poker and produce moments that come to epitomize a given year’s event.

Tuesday evening brought the first such instance for the 2013 World Series of Poker at the Rio. Benny Chen, a 31-year-old restaurant manager from Prince Edward Island, Canada, won the largest non-WSOP Main Event tournament in poker history.

Chen began the $1,500 buy-in Millionaire Maker tourney as just another faceless hopeful in a field of 6,343 players. He finished it posing with a gold bracelet and heading towards the payout room to cash a prize of nearly $1.2 million for his first-ever live tournament victory.

“I’ve played quite a few tourneys, but every time I get down deep, I lose races or get in tough spots,” Chen said. “This time, everything went well for me. I kept my composure and it came to me.”

Chen had previously finished in the money in five WSOP tournaments for a total of $26,785. Those middling credentials actually dwarfed most of the other players, as five of the nine members of the final table in the amateur-heavy event had never cashed at the WSOP.

Online phenom Dan Kelly, who won a WSOP bracelet and $1.3 million shortly after turning 21-years-old in 2010, was the only well known player at the table. Chen and Kelly started the final day practically as co-chip leaders.

But Kelly bled chips and ultimately found himself all-in with a slight advantage over Chen. Kelly held pocket 8s to Chen’s King of spades, Queen of hearts.

The first four community cards contained three hearts, leaving Chen one away from a flush. The river, the King of hearts, knocked out Kelly in fifth and put Chen near the lead.

“Once he started chipping down and lost a few pots, that was a big sigh of relief,” Chen said of Kelly “He was probably the biggest threat at the table.”

When Kelly exited, the crowd on the ESPN set diminished. The attention suddenly shifted to the South of the Amazon Room, where more than 100 people gathered to watch a heads-up match that will go down in WSOP lore.

Eric Baldwin and Matt Waxman, two respected pros with more than $6 million in combined earnings, battled one-on-one for seven hours for a bracelet in a $1,000 buy-in tournament. Both men survived all-in encounters nearly 10 times each.

With the blinds escalating, Baldwin found himself so short-stacked on the 187th heads-up hand that he was forced to risk all his chips with 7-4 off-suit. Waxman called with Ace-5 and paired his Ace on the flop to secure his first WSOP championship.

Waxman, a 26-year-old from South Florida, earned $305,952 for the victory.

“Longest, hardest I’ve ever had to work for anything,” Waxman said as he took a deep breath and addressed the crowd.

Waxman survived the toughest final table of the summer thus far, as four of his competitors — including Baldwin — had made more than $300,000 in career WSOP earnings. The respect for Waxman and Baldwin among their peers was apparent by who showed up to watch their match.

Jason Mercier, the top-ranked player in the world according to the Global Poker Index, was one of many who camped out at the table.

“You really can’t understand how mentally strenuous playing heads up (for) this long at the end of a huge field tournament is,” Mercier tweeted. “Props to both guys.”

The magic of the WSOP, it’s often stated, comes from the mixture of established professionals and wide-eyed newcomers. About 20 yards away from Waxman vs. Baldwin, sure enough, was where Chen faced off with three other players for four hours before another elimination in the Millionaire Maker.

Chen’s Ace-10 put out Justin Liberto, who had Ace-9, in fourth. Liberto, a 24-year-old from Baltimore who recently left his job as a salesman, made a tad more than $400,000 in the first WSOP tournament he ever entered.

“Some things are going to change a little bit,” Liberto said of the effect of such a large score. “I’m probably going to put a down payment on a house and there are a couple of other things I’m definitely going to do.”

It took less than 20 minutes before Chen dispatched Jonathan Gray, a 31-year old computer programmer from Massachusetts, and then Michael Bennington, a 58-year old doctor from Texas, to finish the job.

It was a life-changing night for Chen, who went into the final table still intending to keep a job helping his brother run his Chinese takeout restaurant some 3,000 miles away. Poker, to Chen, was something to pursue recreationally.

“But now, I might need to see where this takes me,” Chen said.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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