The 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event is now on hiatus for three and a half months. In November, the final nine players from a field of 6,737 will return to Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino to battle it out for $8 million and their place in poker history. Two players returning are Griffin Benger and Fernando Pons, both of whom won their Main Event seats on 888poker.
Having won his seat via a €30 qualifier, Pons is being called the next "Moneymaker," while Benger showed the world that even accomplished pros don't shy away from satellites. With both November Niners guaranteed a $1 million payday, they've experienced two of the best "Return on Investments (ROI)" from the 2016 WSOP. However, they're not the only ones.
Hung Le, Michael Tureniec and Ola Brandborn are a few other players that struck it big this summer. We decided to take a more in-depth look at each.
He may be short stack among the November Nine, but the 37-year-old Pons, an account executive for a retail chain in Palma, Spain, is truly living the dream.
Earlier this year, Pons won a €30 888poker.es satellite into the Main Event, so he opted to travel to Las Vegas with his friend, Massa Paola. However, what was originally supposed to be a five-day trip turned into much more.
"He only had clothes for five days," Paola told WSOP officials during the Main Event. "In the morning, you think, 'I am happy I am still here,' at night when you finish you can't believe it. It's a dream. So you go buy more clothes for the next day."
Married with a four-year-old daughter, Pons found himself bagging each and every night. On Day 1c, the recreational player, who is described as "dedicated, quiet, and focused," worked his 50,000-starting stack up to 118,900, which put him 281st out of the 3,252 survivors.
On Day 2c, Pons bagged 279,600, which put him 258th out of the 2,186 returning for Day 3, which is when the money bubble burst. Of the 800 players that advanced that day, he was a lowly 684th with 137,000 in chips, less than half he had the day before!
Fortunately, Pons rebounded on Day 4 and worked his stack all the way up to 1.58 million, which put him 81st out of 251. On Day 5, his run good continued as he chipped up to 7.93 million, which put him 10th out of the final 80 players. On Day 6, the field played down to the final 27, and once it was reached Pons sat in seventh place with 17.27 million.
Pons had an up-and-down Day 7, which is when the field played to the coveted November Nine. He was among the shorter stacks at crunch time, but the elimination of Josh Weiss in 10th place made Pons the first Spaniard to make the final table since Andoni Larrabe did it in 2014.
All of that aside, perhaps the best part of Pons' story is how similar it is to Chris Moneymaker, who in 2003 won a similarly priced satellite and turned it into a $2.5 million Main Event win.
"I guess I'm the PonsMaker" Pons replied when asked about the similarities. Pons has a few months to bask in the November Nine spotlight, but then it's back to Vegas to see if he can battle back from the short stack to become the first 888poker qualifier to win the WSOP Main Event.
Hailing from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 31-year-old Griffin Benger is among the most accomplished players at the final table with nearly $2.4 million in prior live tournament cashes. Given his new role as commentator for the Global Poker League, Benger was forced to skip the majority of the WSOP this summer. In fact, he didn't play anything other than the Main Event, which he qualified for in an 888poker satellite.
"I was actually in Malta," Benger said of the qualifier. "I went over to my friend's place, and he was there rooting me on, brought me a smoothie, and we were just there playing. My friend Roland - shout out to Roland. I wasn't going to come play the Main Event unless I won a package, and I sort of decided last minute to register to play the tournament because I find those satellites to be great. Check them out on 888poker. It all just worked out. I steam-rolled through the final three tables of the satellite and got there. Locked it up pretty easily."
Benger continued: "I'm in for about $1,000, that's pretty nice. Those satellites, by the way, they're soft; I'll just be honest. They have great steps on 888poker to allow people that normally wouldn't be in a $1,000 buy-in tournament to try and qualify for the Main Event. I play the $160 steps to the $1,000 steps, but they even have $30 steps and maybe even lower. It's a really good stepping-stone for anyone with a couple hundred bucks in their account that wants to try and run it up and have this experience…It was such a gift that 888 was able to give me this opportunity."
As for his run to the November Nine, Benger bagged 394,500 on Day 2, which put him 62nd out of the returning 2,186 players. Day 3 was just as kind to him as he more than doubled that stack to 967,000, putting him 45th out of 800. The trend continued on Day 4 too when he chipped up to 2.409 million, enough to put him 24th out of the 251 survivors.
Day 5 proved to be one of Benger's best as he worked his way up to 9.86 million, which gave him the fourth-biggest stack out of the final 80 players. On Day 6, Benger lost a little and dropped down to 6.53 million, which put him 20th out of 27. Still, he held strong on the seventh and final day to bag 26.175 million, putting him seventh among the November Nine.
In the early 2000s, Benger made a name for himself playing the video game Counter-Strike as "shaGuar", and later transitioned into an online poker player. In 2011, under the screen name "Flush_Entity," Benger became the No. 1 online poker player in the world.
Benger has already found redemption after finishing 90th in the 2014 WSOP Main Event, but the question that will remain unanswered until November is will he become just the second Canadian (Jonathan Duhamel in 2011) to win the WSOP Main Event?
Leading up to the last event of the 2016 WSOP, it was a rough summer for Sweden's Michael Tureniec, who failed to notch even a single cash. Fortunately for him, the former supermarket cashier had a "Summer Saver" when he topped a field of 4,360 entries (3,101 players from the U.S. and 1,259 from other nations) to win Event #69: $1,111 Little One for One Drop for $525,520
It marked the third-largest cash of the poker pro's career and brought his lifetime earnings up to $3,765,066, which puts him fourth on Sweden's all-time money list behind only Martin De Knijff, Chris Bjorin, and Martin Jacobson.
"It's overwhelming to win," said the 31-year-old Tureniec after capturing his first gold bracelet. "It's the biggest thing you can accomplish in poker."
What was especially impressive was that Tureniec, who also won a seat into the WSOP Main Event via an 888poker qualifier (he failed to cash that event), came back from a short stack against experienced players – like Calvin Anderson and Ryan D'Angelo -- to seal the deal.
“I started to pick up some big hands when we got short-handed,” said Tureniec. “It helped me a lot to get some chips when we were down to three or four players, and then when I was heads-up against him, I had a chance. Calvin was a tough player, so getting some chips to play with was very important by the time I got to heads up.”
Tureniec's WSOP win was the 11th in history by a Swedish player. It's also worth noting that the event raised $1,206,478 for ONE DROP, which will use the money to implement water access projects around the world. To date, players have donated more than $14.7 million to the charity via the WSOP.
"Where i come from, everybody are calling me fish. But today I'm a fish with a bracelet".
Without a doubt, one of the summer's best "feel good" stories came in Event #54: $888 Crazy Eights, a tournament that attracted a massive 6,761 players (4,873 Americans and 1,885 players from elsewhere) and created a $5,403,391 prize pool.
In the end, it wasn't a big name pro or even an experienced amateur who walked away with the title and a $888,888 first-place prize. Instead, it was a self-described "fish" in 53-year-old Hung Le
, a Vietnamese immigrant who runs a nail salon with his family in Dayton, Ohio.
"I have five kids. We are a lower middle-class family. We work hard. This is life changing money for us," said Le, who had never entered a WSOP event before. "I tried to come out to Las Vegas to get lucky."
On his first trip to Sin City, Le not only snagged the biggest cash of his poker career, but it was his first cash ever! What's more, he did it at a tough final table that included two-time bracelet winner Loni Harwood, former PCA champ Dimitar Danchev, and France's Aurelien Guiglini.
The cherry on top of it all was Le's win – a 500% ROI on his two $888 buy-ins (he re-entered once) – came on July 4, a decent kicker to his American Dream.
Swedish player Ola Brandborn has been playing poker for a long time. His first cash came back in 1998 when he won the pot-limit Omaha event at the Swedish Championships in Stockholm, and since then he's amassed $341,050 in lifetime earnings. That puts him just inside the Top 100 on Sweden's all-time money list at 96th.
This summer, Brandborn, who wrote for CardPlayer from 2007-08, notched his first-ever cash in the WSOP Main Event, which he qualified for via a $5 888poker satellite. Brandborn wound up finishing in 720th place for $17,232, giving him a healthy 3,446% ROI.