Gordon Vayo won $4.6 million last November on the biggest poker stage in the world.
It was not the result he was looking for.
Vayo finished runner-up to amateur poker player Qui Nguyen, who took down an astronomical $8 million, in the 2016 WSOP Main Event.
The November Nine has churned out numerous one-hit wonders over the years but Vayo is not one of them.
Vayo: "The Pressure Was Insane"
He’s since recorded several massive scores to boost his lifetime live tournament earnings to $6.2 million and that’s not including the enormous online tournament he won for $692k last month.
PokerListings caught up with Vayo on a break from the $1.5k Millionaire Maker to get his thoughts on the end of the November Nine, the cost of living in San Francisco and whether he harbors any regret over the Main Event final table.
PokerListings: What have you been up to since finishing runner-up in the Main Event?
Gordon Vayo: I’ve been placing a decent amount of poker. I haven’t been traveling a ton.
I moved from San Francisco to LA to play a little bit more live. I did go out of the country to play SCOOP and stuff.
PL: How are you liking LA?
I like it a lot so far. I didn’t really know what to think going in.
I moved because SF just become unnecessary. I love the city but it’s just super, super expensive and there’s not that much poker there so something had to give.
PL: How do you look back at the Main Event final table? It’s an amazing accomplishment finishing second but obviously not quite what you were looking to do.
It’s definitely surreal looking back at. It was a one-in-a-lifetime experience. Obviously for like six months after the final table I didn’t go a day without thinking about how it all played out.
It was such a huge stage that it was definitely devastating at the time but you start to come to terms with the fact it was basically one final table and one heads-up match basically.
You can’t get too hard on yourself. There were a few hands I [regretted]. People were very critical of my overall strategy and I actually think my strategy was pretty sound. I just failed to execute on a couple specific hands that really made the difference.
Coming to terms with those hands was the most difficult part for me. I kind of disappointed myself I felt like. At the end of the day I still feel that way a little bit.
PL: Do you think pressure played a part?
The pressure was absolutely fucking insane. I had my whole family and friends there. It might have affected me a little bit.
I knew if I made a huge mistake I’d never be able to live with myself and that might have hindered me heads-up a little bit.
Gordon Vayo heads-up in the Main Event.
At the same time I would have been more devastated if I looked back and there was one glaring mistake where I was like, “God, what the fuck did I just do in that spot?”
There were two or three hands where I definitely should have called. It’s just one of those things.
I can get super critical of myself but the tangible effect the money has on your life definitely helps you get over it.
Your life doesn’t change immediately but once a couple things happen you’re like, “Holy shit, I would never have been able to this without finishing second in the Main Event.”
Then you start to appreciate things a little more. I was so lucky to get there. I can’t get upset about the situation. I was only disappointed in myself. I was never feeling sorry for myself. In a way that’s the hardest part because the voice in your head is never going away.
PL: You’ve had some success in other tournaments outside the Main Event. Did that give you a sense of validation?
No one-hit wonder.
Yeah I had one that was actually in the Main Event layoff so that was really nice but the online one was the most satisfied I’ve ever been after winning a tournament, even though it was less money.
In my head I’d let myself down to a certain extent on this massive stage. So that was really vindicating for myself.
I think I’ve gotten top two in the last five tournaments I’ve played where there was $1m for first-place.
PL: William Kassouf dominated the coverage on ESPN. Did you have any thoughts about that watching it on ESPN?
Not specifically. The coverage is what it is. At the final table a producer came out and said something about how they edit things.
He literally apologized to certain people who thought the coverage might have been skewed a little bit. He said that was just the way they had to it, they only had a certain amount of time and they’re trying to appeal to a mass audience.
I get that. It’s a lot different seeing an hour or two of it here and there opposed to being there for 24 hours straight.
PL: They got rid of the November Nine. What do you think of that decision?
William Kassouf dominated the 2016 Main Event narrative.
I mean it was a one-time experience for me. It’s not like I was there year-after-year and got used to the three-month break.
I think this is more organic. The only reason they ever went to that model was because they were trying to keep up with the TV coverage.
I think this is the way it’s supposed to be. The other way created a different dynamic. There was so much hype and you had so much time to think about things.
That’s good and bad. It gives you time to prepare. Ultimately I don’t think you should really get that time.
It was the only tournament in the world that was like that. It was just a weird oddity. It wasn’t really necessary. It’s probably good that it’s gone, in my opinion. It wasn’t really an organic thing.
PL: Would it have been to your advantage if it just played out?
Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy
I don’t know. I was so exhausted. Maybe slightly but second is an amazing outcome. That worked out great. Maybe though.
I think Cliff [Josephy] and I were the experienced players at the final table.
It’s tough to say. The variables of playing the Main Event final table are just so different. You build up hours of intuition in certain environment and then you go to the final table and it’s not even remotely close.
It’s an entirely different experience. It will be interesting to see how it plays out this year. Most of what I can remember has been the November Nine.
PL: Was it special to play the last one ever?
Sure. It was cool.
I don’t take any pride in it or anything but it’s cool that people will maybe look back at that final table just because it was the last one.