Chris Hunichen Rides Rollercoaster to $2.8M, First WSOP Bracelet

More than 15 years after he started coming to the World Series of Poker, and a year after the sudden passing of his father, Chris Hunichen emerged from one of the wildest final tables in recent poker memory with his first career WSOP gold bracelet and over $2.8 million.

Tim Fiorvanti
Jun 21, 2024
Chris Hunichen won his first career WSOP bracelet in the $100,000 High Roller on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of WSOP)

Chris Hunichen has been coming to the World Series of Poker for more than 15 years, taking shot after shot at winning a gold bracelet. In another time, ‘Big Huni’ was the No. 1 online poker player in the world, but for whatever reason the moment had just never come on the live stage when the lights were brightest despite several very close calls.

After pulling back on his volume of play for a few years, at 38 years old, Hunichen recommitted himself in 2023 and made a concerted push to make that moment a reality. But one year ago, as Hunichen played Day 2 of a $5,000 6-Max No Limit Hold’em event, he received the devastating news that his father had died. Chris immediately walked away from the tournament, and once again set poker aside.

When the 2024 WSOP began, Hunichen was there from Day 1, making a deep run in the $5,000 Champions Reunion before bowing out in 12th and following that with two more top-40 results in big fields. But then came the $100,000 High Roller, a different type of opportunity altogether, as some of the toughest players in poker today clashed for a top prize of over $2.8 million.

In one of the wildest final tables in recent memory, which included a half-dozen made-for-TV runouts and a beer-spilling celebration, Hunichen got his long-awaited WSOP gold bracelet victory and a $2,838,389 payday.

As his boisterous collection of friends and family cheered him on, Hunichen couldn’t fight off the tears as a wave of emotions all flooded into him at once.

The first person on his mind was his dad.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Hunichen. “I put a lot of my heart and soul into this game. I guess over the last four or five years I kind of stopped playing as much. Last year was the first full summer I put in in probably four or five years, I was making a couple of sick runs and my dad passed away midway through. I didn’t cash a single tournament after my dad died for the rest of the series. So coming into this one was really emotional, and I was playing for so much more than the money, the bracelet, any of that…

“I was playing for him.”

Hunichen’s path to victory on Thursday was fraught, as he was both victimized by and the beneficiary of some true outlier turns and rivers from early on in the final day of play in the $100K. It began when Hunichen called a preflop all-in bet from Jeremy Ausmus with Diamond A Heart J and Ausmus turned a straight with Spade QSpade J, in a hand that could’ve given Hunichen 65% of the chips in play three-handed.

Then Hunichen was the one at risk with pocket fives against Ausmus’ Club ADiamond J, and Ausmus turned an Heart A to put Hunichen on the brink. But this time, the Spade 5 spiked the river and, for the first time, Hunichen’s rail exploded in celebration.

“Probably the sickest roller coaster I’ve ever been on in my life – times 1000,” said Hunichen. “The emotions, the waves, feeling like I’m about to bust, feeling like I’m gonna have all the chips. When he hit that queen-jack suited hand on me, and then turning that ace, you just feel dead. Rivering that five was magical.”

But that was only the first hill of the roller coaster. Hunichen had a chance to bust Viktor Blom in third place, with Club AClub J once again, but Blom turned a Heart 7 to double. Hunichen returned the favor in kind in short order. With Heart AHeart 6 against Blom’s Club ADiamond K, Hunichen had seven outs going into the river and someone on his rail clearly cried out for the Diamond 6 on the river – and that’s exactly what fell.

Anyone expecting a normal heads-up match between Ausmus and Hunichen at that point clearly wasn’t paying attention. Hunichen had the six-time WSOP bracelet winner on the ropes all in with Heart KHeart 9 against Ausmus’ Diamond KHeart 8, but the Club 8 on the turn kept Ausmus in the mix.

With the stacks essentially dead even, there was one more wild runout to come.

Hunichen was embraced by his rail, and had most of a beer spilled down the back of his East Carolina Pirates jersey – and he couldn’t have cared less.

“Rivering that six was magical,” said Hunichen. “Rivering the nine was the most magical moment in my life, probably.”

Despite a final runout that ostensibly cost him $1 million in the prize differences between first and second, Ausmus was gracious in defeat and acknowledging it was, “likely the wildest final table I’ve ever been a part of in terms of runouts.”

Hunichen received a barrage of congratulations in the aftermath, and all you had to do was look around at his rail or his social media mentions to realize just how dramatic an impact he’s had on so many people in the poker world.

He also went out of his way to acknowledge the dealers and staff following his victory, some of whom also began to tear up as they appreciated what this moment meant in Hunichen’s life and career.

“I’ve been coming here 15 years,” said Hunichen. “So I know everybody, you know? Sometimes I feel like this is a second home to me, and I make it a point to try to be nice to everyone I meet in my life. I have a great relationship with so many people in this building. It’s truly like summer camp. You live your life. I have my kids, but then I come here and I see my extended family.

“It’s amazing man, the amount of staff that were rooting for me. I mean, it’s crazy, like Bob [Smith, a WSOP tournament supervisor] has been on my side on these final tables for years secretly rooting for me. I’m obviously ecstatic, but I know so many people behind me are so happy too.”

There was a definite catharsis and release for Hunichen in the moments after his victory. Casting off more than 15 years of close calls. The complicated emotions surrounding his father’s death, and it happening while Chris was in his own world playing poker.

The celebration that followed on stage, which likely paled in comparison to what went down after Hunichen and his crew left the Horseshoe, was pure joy. And so, even after he was drenched in beer and wiping away tears, Hunichen couldn’t have asked for anything different in that moment.

“I could throw 10 more beers on my head now,” Hunichen said. “It was kind of like when you win the Super Bowl and they dump the Gatorade cooler on the coach – that’s kind of what it felt like in that moment. That river nine doesn’t even make sense, but it does. I was due, man. It was my time.”