It's fitting that a recreational player, who admitted that every time he enters his local poker room they call him “fish” and “lucky”, won the very first WSOP Crazy Eights event. The tournament itself was in honor of this year’s partnership between the WSOP and 888poker, with a buy-in of $888, a first place guaranteed prize of $888,888 and was played in an 8-handed format.
The No-Limit Hold'em event also allowed one rebuy per flight, which contributed to the high variance aspect and opened the door for less-experienced players to have a better shot. Adding to the quirkiness, the top 8 payout spots all ended in 888 – so first place paid $888,888 second, $401,888 and so on.
Despite all the newness and craziness of this event, it was the story of Hung Le, a nail salon owner originally from Vietnam and now settled in Dayton, Ohio that took centre-stage. Moving from his native country after a civil war, Le worked hard to save enough money to start his own business. A father of five, two of his five children and his wife actually work with him in the salon.
“Anyone Can Do This”
As unbelievable as it may sound, this was Le's first foray into a major tournament, including the World Series of Poker. He had played mostly $1/$2 No Limit Hold'em cash games, recreationally, over the past 10 years. But, after some prodding from friends, he decided to buy into the Crazy Eights event. His only preparation for the tournament was playing a few Sit & Go's where he didn't fare too terribly – winning one, splitting another and air-balling a further two.
The fact that this win is the first and only cash of his “poker career” is astounding, in of itself. Add to that his completely outside-of-the-box style of play and you seemingly have a recipe for failure. However, Hung Le had a method in mind. It may not have been the kind of plan that any professional poker player might follow, but it worked.
If there was one poker mantra that Le knew about, it was the one concerning aggression:
"It's the only way I can beat that guy, he's too good for me," Le told reporters after his win. "He's very aggressive, and he knows how to play the flop good. If I follow the flop with him, I can't beat him."
Le fought fire with fire. But his ultra-aggressive style of play almost did him in, when he was caught off-guard and all-in behind with Q3. Luck was on his side, however, and he doubled-up through his heads-up opponent, Michael Lech, to stay alive.
“This is the poker dream"
In the dawn of an era where poker is regarded as a serious mind sport, it comes as a bit of a shock that a complete novice to tournament play can win an event with over 6,700 runners. Admittedly, Hung did rebuy once in the event, but his achievement holds out hope for the average recreational player.
Le took a leap of faith by coming to Las Vegas and choosing to play the Crazy Eights:
"What happened for me today is what's good about this game. Anybody can beat anybody. Anybody can have a chance, just like me."
His story truly is a remarkable one.
What to Do with $888,888?
With five kids still living at home, Le says that he had never had more than $10,000 of disposable income before. There are plans to spend a little bit here, and there but we can guess that much of the winnings will go into making his life at home that more secure and comfortable.
Regarding Hung Le's win and the crazy eights event, Itai Pazner, Head of B2C at 888holdings said:
As the official sponsor of the 2016 WSOP for the second year running, we are very excited to see the success of the Crazy Eights event, which attracted a lot of recreational players. We have built our brand around those kinds of players who love and enjoy the game, whether they play once a month or every day. They are all living the game and hoping to hit that big poker jackpot.
We congratulate Le on his big win in the first-ever Crazy Eights tournament and look forward to more collaborations with the WSOP for future events. It's a partnership that has gone from strength to strength every year.
Here's wishing best of luck to Hung in his second-ever major tournament – the WSOP Main Event!