LAS VEGAS (AP) — A young poker pro and an amateur club promoter traded chips, big bluffs and dramatic hands Tuesday night during their final run at the World Series of Poker.
The men entered the 1,600-seat theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino off the Las Vegas Strip like prizefighters, with showgirls looking on and a UFC announcer introducing them as Ryan "Riess the beast" Riess and "The panda" Jay Farber.
The prize they are competing for— a sparkling bracelet and $8.4 million in cash — sat between them on the table. The loser will go home with $5.2 million, still a life-changing amount of money for either player.
Riess, Farber and seven other finalists beat out a field of 6,352 entrants in the no-limit Texas Hold 'em tournament in July. On Monday night, Riess, 23, eliminated four competitors with a sly, steady playing style, and Farber took out the other three with more straightforward, aggressive plays.
A VIP club promoter with heavily tattooed forearms and a bouncer's build, Farber has said he considers poker a hobby. Some are calling him a new-age Chris Moneymaker, after the amateur who famously won poker's richest tournament in 2004, catapulting the championship into the mainstream and convincing every computer nerd with a pair of mirrored sunglasses that he could take on the pros.
Farber has adopted the panda as his symbol, settling a mini-stuffed animal on the green felt and bringing along a plush mascot who was kicked out for disorderly behavior Monday but returned with a bit less swagger Tuesday.
The 29-year-old had left the brightly lit stage in the wee hours of Tuesday morning vowing to spend the rest of the night clubbing in triumph.
Reiss, a native of East Lansing, Mich., has kept a lower profile at the final table. The youngest of the nine finalists, with a boyish manner and a mop of strawberry blond hair, he attributed his survival Monday to lucky cards.
"Everything played pretty standard. No one had a huge blow-up and bluffed off their whole stack. Everyone was playing really solid and the cards ran my way today," he said.
The two men took the lead early on, then sat around for several hours waiting for four weaker competitors to bust out. In the end, all four were eliminated within 15 hands, over the course of about 45 minutes.
Modest explanation aside, Reiss exposed few bad hands Monday, suggesting that he knew when to fold and when to play. He spent the night making small bets and raises to take down significantly bigger pots when his opponents didn't seem interested in sparring.
Farber, by contrast, was not afraid to push all in, and he attempted to bully his opponents with raises, though he was also willing to fold when they pushed back.
"I'm really comfortable in the style that I play," he said. "I think everybody underestimated me. The odds on me were 9-to-1, even though I was fourth in chips."
Farber started with the chip lead Tuesday, holding 105 million to Riess' 86 million, but Riess caught up within a few hands.
Farber has the benefit of counting some of the world's best poker pros among his friends.
His cheering section at the Rio is studded with well-known players. After Farber made the final table in July, his friends coached him through footage of world series past and helped him game out some of the moves he'd use on Monday, according to Jesse Sylvia, who finished second at the final table in 2012.
"He doesn't have as many years maybe as some other players, but he has heaps and heaps of ingenuity," Sylvia said.
Some of those pros may have a claim on the pile of money sitting on the table underneath the blue and red glare of television lights. Farber says he sold stakes in his championship bid because the $10,000 entrance fee was too much to put up by himself. Now his investors stand to win about $840,000 for every thousand they put in.
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier . Dan Michalski contributed to this report.