It was a long final table threatened by gale-force winds, rain clouds and extremely slow play, but after nine hours of poker, 22-year-old New Jersey native Ryan Daut emerged victorious at the 2007 World Poker Tour PokerStars.com Caribbean Adventure.
Daut took down the tournament and its accompanying $1.5 million first prize by staying alive long enough to challenge prohibitive chip leader Isaac Haxton in a heads-up battle. Once the field had been narrowed to two, Daut was able to land a few key pots against Haxton to claim the chip lead, and eventually the title.
For the victory, Ryan received a ton of cash as well as a WPT bracelet and framed certificate signifying that fifth place finisher Jonathan Little has won a seat in the $25,000 WPT World Championship in April (this, obviously, was a mistake). I talked to Ryan shortly after his win.
Congratulations, Ryan. How are you feeling now that you're a millionaire?
I still can't really feel anything. I'm really excited and all, but it's going to hit me later tonight. I'm just going to be overjoyed.
What were your impressions of the final table?
You know, I got lucky to double-up with pocket kings versus (Robert Jonathan Ford's) pocket deuces, and I got some other big hands to pick up the blinds and antes and keep my stack around the two-million mark, and after I doubled up, I got lucky with the jack on the river during heads-up, but it just felt great to get the chip lead back, and then I took over.
When you came into the day you started by raising the first three hands, and then you seemed to tighten up quite a bit. Was this part of your strategy?
I was planning on starting off tight, but I picked up a few decent hands, and I thought I should raise them, so I started out firing a little bit, and then I backed off with the aggression and hoped I could pick up a few hands while I still had an aggressive image, but I didn't really pick up any hands. So I just played tight and tried to react to how people were playing.
Isaac Haxton came into the day with a massive chip lead. Did you feel like his stack was within reach coming into the final day?
To be honest, I didn't really think I had a very good shot at winning. I thought I had maybe a 10 to 15% chance of taking it down, but I wanted to get as many chips as I could and hopefully get down to heads-up and see what happened.
What were your impressions of Isaac and the way he played?
He's a very good player. I hadn't seen a lot of his skill up to the point where we got heads-up, because he was the big stack and he was forced to play a lot of pots, and he wasn't showing a lot of hands down so it was hard to see how good he was, but he made a few really good plays during heads-up and I respect him as a player.
Do you play poker professionally?
Yes I do, but I'm still in college. I don't really play tournaments; I'm mainly a cash game player, but maybe I'll start playing a little more now. Probably live tournaments; I don't think I'll be playing online tournaments any more than I do currently. I play the big tournaments, but not more than two a week. But the live events will be fun to play.
Are you going to give Jonathan Little your WPT Championship entry?
(Laughs.) Oh, man, I don't know. I'm wondering where my plaque is. I don't know what's going on with that. But it's going to be a blast to play that event. I'm really happy that I get the $25,000 entry for free just because I won this event.
How are you going to spend the money from this event? Any impulse buys?
I'm probably just going to pad my bankroll a bit, cash out a lot and invest a lot, help my parents pay off the mortgage because they still have a few years left and they're both retired, and I don't want them to have any undue stress over that. But other than that, nothing.
Well I'm sure your parents will appreciate the help, Ryan. Congratulations on the win.
At this point, two female fans approached Ryan and breathlessly proposed marriage, inspired by his plan to pay off his parents' mortgage - and who wouldn't want to marry a man who showed that sort of generosity towards mom and dad? (Especially if he happened to be a newly-minted millionaire)
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I left Ryan to the girls and went off in search of runner-up Isaac Haxton. I found the 21-year-old drinking a celebratory beer off to the side of the final table, and he was kind enough to give me a few words.
Congratulations on your finish - how do you feel now having won almost $900,000?
It feels great. I just more than tripled my lifetime earnings in poker. I'm very happy with the way I played all tournament. I can only think of a couple plays I really regret for the whole tournament.
Ryan was a really tough opponent and I'm not disappointed in myself to lose to him. It was a tough match.
What was your game plan coming into the final table?
I wanted to stay out of close spots where I could double somebody up and give them a chance to really hurt me, and just wait it out until we were down to three people, where the prize jump between second and third would really put pressure on them not to call my raises. And that really worked out.
What do you think was the turning point of the match?
That set of jacks he hit on the river was really big.
From the look on your face he obviously just out-rivered you.
Yeah, I had ace-three of diamonds for a flopped top-pair, nut-flush draw.
It was a tough beat. Do you have any plans for the prize money?
I'll probably play a few more tournaments that I might not have played otherwise. Mostly I'll just be putting it away though.
Are you a poker professional?
I am, yeah. I'm taking a year off from college right now to play full time. I mostly play on the Internet.
How did you get into poker?
I've sort of been a gamer my entire life. I started playing chess when I was 4. I started playing Magic: The Gathering when I was 10. Lots of my friends who were Magic players took up poker when they got to be 18 or so, and when I turned 18 I started playing a home game with some of my high school friends and was better than all of them.
I started going to Turning Stone Casino and playing live cash games there. I grew up in Syracuse, so turning stone was really nearby. Then I started playing online and was very successful.
You mentioned you were taking a year off of college. Do you plan to make a career out of playing poker?
I definitely plan on going back and finishing school. I've got three years done, so it seems silly not to go back and get the degree. But I am thinking that I'll probably spend the next 10 years or so spending most of my time as a professional gambler.
Well you've certainly got the bankroll for it now. Congratulations, Isaac.
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In a tournament characterized by youth, it was only fitting that the two finalists of the PokerStars.com Caribbean Adventure wound up being young men in their early twenties. Both are emblematic of the new generation of poker player - college-educated professionals whose bread and butter is online play.
But both Ryan Daut and Isaac Haxton come off as more than simply avatars on a computer screen; both are intelligent, articulate and gracious young Americans - the kind of poker players who will prove invaluable when it comes to defending the New Poker in the halls of the United States Congress over the coming year. Congratulations to both players on your accomplishments, and good luck in furthering your poker-playing careers in the years to come.
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