Ryan Riess, a 23-year-old pro from East Lansing, Mich., will be at the World Series of Poker’s final table with a good chance to win the $8.36 million first prize. Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname “Riess the Beast,” thanks to his aggressive and sometimes overwhelming style of play. His biggest cash before this November Nine appearance came in October 2012 when he finished second in the WSOPC main event in Hammond, Ind., for $239K. Two months later, he graduated from Michigan State with a degree in hospitality business. He enters play on Nov. 4 as the youngest player at the table, in fifth place with nearly 25.9 million chips. He chatted with our Dave Lemmon about the biggest tournament of his career.
Every poker player dreams of becoming a November Niner. What’s it like to anticipate what could be the biggest moment of your career? It’s exciting and I can’t wait, but I try not to think about it too much and get overwhelmed. I’m playing a lot from now until then, trying to get better and prepare myself. It’s going to be fun.
Do you have any specific things you want to work on? Will you study video of the other players to prepare? I’m going to do simulations with some of my friends; we’re going to set up the chip stacks and talk about the hands, certain ICM spots, what you do in a certain position, and I’m going to watch some video.
J.C. Tran has the most chips, so I’m probably going to watch some video of him. Watching the episodes on ESPN is going to help a lot, and I’ll try to get some hand histories from that.
If you win this Main Event in Vegas, it’s going to be a life-changer. Is that something you’re prepared for? I’m not sure I’m completely prepared for it, but I welcome it with open arms. I used to be really bad at interviews; I think now I’m getting better at it. We’ll see. I hope it gets to that point.
You played in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open with its $10 million guarantee. People recognized this as a ground-breaking event, so what did you think of it? I was extremely happy with it; Matt Savage is one of the best in the business and he ran another great tournament. I wish I could have done a little better, but I busted early on Day 2.
Has it been relaxing for you to play in South Florida? I realize that there was a lot of money at stake, but you have such an important situation ahead of you – are you just killing time until November? Well, kind of, but I really wanted to win that tournament and I thought I played pretty well. I’m going 100 percent to win everything I play in.
Would it be fair to say that waiting it out until November is the toughest thing? No, I’m just really busy and I plan to travel a bunch during this period. I’ll be in Europe for almost all of October. … I’m going to London and Paris to play in EPT London, WSOP Europe and the WPT Grand Prix so I’ll be playing a lot of poker, but I’ll get to relax and have fun and clear my head.
I know that Spartan Nation will be behind you all the way. I just hope that I can make them proud.