You may have heard that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series this week. 108 years and all that. The cool thing about words, though, is that the same ones can be used for many different things, not the least of which is championship competitions. This is why I found it stupidly amusing (meaning, I realize I am stupid for finding it amusing) that I watched two different World Series – the baseball one and the poker one – on the same night. And while the final game of the baseball version will go down in history as one of the most exciting Game Sevens of all time (particularly considering the participants), the last day of the 2016 World Series of Poker final table was something else, as well. In the end, it was Qui Nguyen who emerged as the champ, defeating Gordon Vayo in a heads-up match that lasted essentially a standard business day.
Nguyen went into the third and final day of the November Nine as the overwhelming chip leader. With 197.6 million chips, he had about 60 million more than the other two players – Vayo and Cliff Josephy – combined. On the very first hand, though, Nguyen, willing to take a risk with A-4 and a huge stack, doubled-up Josephy, who had A-Q.
A bit later, Vayo crippled Josephy in a set-over-set situation. Josephy held on through a double-up, but soon hit the rail in third place.
Going into heads-up play, it was actually Vayo with the lead over Nguyen, 200.3 million chips to 136.3 million.
The aggression that Nguyen showed on the very first hand of the day was indicative of what was to come. Though heads-up match dragged on until after 3:00am Vegas time (I, being on the east coast, had to give up and go to bed, so I watched on DVR in the morning), it was quite a fascinating study of contrasting styles. On one end of the table, you had Qui Nguyen, a skilled amateur willing to mix it up with any two cards. He was ultra-aggressive, but not to the point of being wild. He was seemingly able to spot any bit of weakness in Vayo and just kept leaning on him until he broke.
Vayo didn’t break, easily, though. Really, he never broke, as he was an emotional rock, never wavering from his game. He just couldn’t make headway against Nguyen once Nguyen grabbed the lead. Whereas Nguyen was super aggressive, Vayo played a more passive game. Nguyen wanted to pound on Vayo, taking small pot after small pot, while Vayo sat back, waiting for Nguyen to slip into a monster trap.
Unfortunately for Vayo, he was never able to spring that trap. That was partially because of the way the cards fell; it seemed that Nguyen got hit by the deck more than Vayo did. It was also, though, because Nguyen controlled his aggression just enough to not allow himself to get overly spewy. Just when it looked like he might slip up, he reeled it in and prevented himself from letting Vayo back in the game.
Heads-up poker, especially at these stakes and for as long as the two men played, is insanely mentally taxing. While I’m sure it was stressful for Nguyen, it didn’t look it. He was an expert, though, at never letting Vayo relax. Twice, before Vayo got to the desperation shoves, Nguyen unexpectedly put Vayo to a decision for all of his chips on the river. One Nguyen had the goods, once it was a pure bluff. But both times he knew Vayo couldn’t call him, so why let him take it easy? It was impressive.
Vayo, for his part, still played quite well. His strategy of waiting for better hands and trying to trap Nguyen was perfectly valid; it simply didn’t work on that night. Both players acted like gentlemen and genuinely seemed to be having fun (despite the stress) and enjoying battling each other.
Congratulations to Qui Nguyen, the 2016 WSOP Mani Event champion!
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