He had a big score early in the season at an event I did not cover, the WSOP-C Horseshoe Hammond Main Event in October 2012 where he won nearly $240,000 for finishing runner-up. He then traveled to many subsequent WSOP-C stops, earning a number of small cashes leading up to the WSOP this summer.
I believe it was at the Harrah’s Cherokee stop where I first began to notice him, mainly because he’d come over to chat with Rich and myself during breaks a couple of times. He struck me as a friendly guy and from what I could tell a decent player -- i.e., at a table full of non-pros in that Cherokee ME, he was stood out as perhaps a little more comfortable and seasoned as a player.
Thus when the WSOP Main Event reached its fifth day or so during the summer and I saw Riess still among the field, I wasn’t too surprised having known a little of him before. I also wasn’t surprised when he made it to Day 7, then battled with a short stack before finally accumulating some chips to take to the final table.
I watched the coverage this week and like everyone else saw that ESPN profile in which Riess spoke of himself as being the best player among the final nine. And of course I saw the short interview with Kara Scott after his win in which Riess responded to her question about his confidence going in by proclaiming “I just think I’m the best player in the world.”
Was kind of funny to hear, especially since I’d already formulated that image of Riess that didn’t really fit with such boastfulness. Of course, my image of him was based on incredibly slight information, and thinking back I found myself tempted to reinterpret his giving us updates on his chip counts at Cherokee. Sure, he was friendly and likable, but was he also self-promoting some, too? (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)
I also followed what struck me as a kind of crazed reaction on Twitter to Riess’s bold self-assessment, something Rich wrote a little about in his “Five Thoughts” piece this week. The forums -- where every new WSOP Main Event winner is necessarily a loser until proven innocent -- have likewise predictably taken the statement and run wildly with it.
Riess appeared on Fox News yesterday morning and did well fielding some artless questions from Shepard Smith who was more nitwit than wit during the short segment. Smith asked Riess about the statement, in fact, and Riess explained a little how it hadn’t been an off-the-cuff remark, but an idea he’d been articulating for several months.
“Yeah, I said that before this tournament started,” replied Riess. “I started saying it in March and I was practicing for this tournament and it worked out. I proved myself.”
The last player to win a WSOP Main Event and then afterwards even entertain the subject of being the “best player in the world” was Jamie Gold, of course, who even before he won the Main Event back in 2006 was appearing on CardPlayer’s The Circuit podcast as the chip leader talking excitedly about how great he was. I remember Gold telling Scott Huff and Joe Sebok how he had accumulated so many chips that he -- all by himself -- was making the tournament go faster than it was supposed to, thus causing tournament staff great consternation as they tried to adjust the schedule to handle it all. (Anyone else remember that?)
Then Gold won and afterwards continued with similar statements about his greatness on an appearance on Rounders, the Poker Show (precursor to the Two Plus Two Pokercast) and elsewhere.
One of the active stories at the time of Gold’s win was the whole “ambassador of poker” mantle given to the WSOP Main Event winner, with the Moneymaker-Raymer-Hachem triumvirate having established a lot of expectation in that regard. Gold, meanwhile, was talking during the WSOP Main Event about how he wasn’t interested in serving such a role, something I wrote about here way back in 2006 the day after he won in a post called “Assessing the Gold Standard.”
Then came the legal squabbles and other ugliness regarding his deal with Crispin Leyser and other missteps, with Gold more or less removing himself from consideration as an “ambassador” in the eyes of many, deservedly or not. In truth I always thought Gold really did give at least some effort toward promoting the game in those couple of years after his win, not that he had to. See this post about Gold, “Starting Again,” I wrote during the 2008 WSOP for more on that thought.
Don’t really see Riess as following Gold’s path, though. The whole “poker ambassador” thing has changed a lot over these last several years -- the change starting, really, with Gold’s win -- and I don’t think the poker community looks to the WSOP Main Event winner as having as much of an obligation in that regard as once was the case.
So I’m not really thinking too much about Riess being a representative of the game going forward. Nor am I bothered that much at all by a poker player exuding confidence, particularly after having experienced some success at the tables. As I more less tend to do with all of those who win the WSOP Main Event, I’m pulling for Riess to handle it all as well as he can going forward, and I’m pulling for poker to do well, too, although I don’t necessarily think those two things are that closely related so much anymore.
Meanwhile, kind of funny to think about Riess doing a Muhammad Ali after his win, yea? I mean he’s given us all something to talk about, that’s for sure.