Ryan Riess stands to stretch his legs a few minutes before the break and he towers over the field. The media guide has him listed at 6’4”, but that’s not the point, because it’s not his height that has people in the World Series of Poker Main Event looking up to him.
It’s the 10th anniversary of Riess’ Main Event victory, the one where the then-unknown kid from Michigan donning a Detroit Lion’s jersey topped a field of 6,352 runners to take more than $8.3 million. Today, Riess is in the Paris Ballroom. It’s not the Amazon Room at the Rio where he won his title, but it’s the Main Event nonetheless. And a historic one at that. He’s in the midst of hundreds of hopefuls battling to have what he’s already achieved, but to Riess may as well have been a lifetime ago.
“It feels like a long time ago to be honest because so much in my life has changed,” Riess said, reflecting on the passing of 10 years. “I have a family now and three kids and before I was just a 23-year old kid out of college. So a lot has changed, but I’ve played so much poker. It’s cool being able to relive it on the TVs here, I feel like they’ve been playing my year on a loop. So while I’ve been playing all of WSOP, I’ve been able to watch it so it’s really cool.”
But Riess being back in the Main Event isn’t unexpected. He’s not one of the Main Event champs that takes the money and rarely comes back. He’s spent the past ten years in the game, proving he was worthy of the bracelet in the first place. His $8.3 million dollar score was just a couple years into his poker career. And since that time he’s essentially doubled that sum, currently sitting with more than 16 million in lifetime earnings as well as adding a World Poker Tour title to his resume in 2017. As he said himself, Riess has played a lot of poker over the years.
Riess is part of a small club of Main Event winners who make it a point not to miss the Main Event. You know some of the other names too – Moneymaker, Hachem, Raymer, Cada – their banners are on the wall. Undoubtedly, for each of them, the emotions of returning to such a significant life event, in an effort to double down on it, is probably unique. But when asked how Riess feels about returning, he instantly lights up.
“It’s awesome, I get chills just you asking the question to be honest,” he said. “In [the Paris Ballroom], it doesn’t feel as much like ‘The Main Event’ as it does in Horseshoe with all the banners and production and stuff but shortly I’ll go over there and it will probably feel more like it…but the Main Event is just so special. It will always have a very special place for me.”
That said, he’s not just trying to recapture the glory days. He’s clear that, as much as he loves the Main Event, he’s not ever too precious about it. It’s a great tournament surely, but ultimately, the same things that happen in every tournament are going to happen in this one and he can only control so much. However, even though the TVs in the tournament room help remind him of the specifics of the 2013 journey, there’s the feeling he’d love to recapture. Even just to have another shot at it.
“It’s kind of a new experience…I live in Vegas and I play so much poker that at the end of the day it’s just another poker tournament but this one is just special,” Riess said. “Like, I’m kind of chasing that feeling because I want to do it again so bad because it was 10 years ago, I don’t remember it that well. So I want to do it again but at the same time, it’s just another poker tournament so I try not to overthink it and just play poker.”
Together both online and live, Riess has 124 WSOP cashes, resulting in nearly $10 million in earnings. He’s just never really slowed down. A second WSOP bracelet has been in his grasp numerous times with seven final tables where he was in striking distance, including a fourth-place finish in the 2018 WSOP Europe Main Event. Although that second bracelet has yet to come, Riess doesn’t seem like the kind of Main Event Champion looking for sympathy in a charmed career.
This year he’s been on fire, 13 cashes, including a third-place finish in the $888 NLHE Crazy 8’s (Online Event #11) for $100,740 and an 8th place finish in the $10,000 NL 2-7 Lowball Draw for another $36,181. Another prolific Series achieved, with another 30 events left.
Riess has been to the top of the mountain, the base of which attracts thousands to Sin City every summer for a shot at ascension – like he did 10 years ago. And next year, he’ll be among the crowd once again.
“I love the game. I’m a very competitive person. I think I play pretty well so I just love competing and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”