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30 Years in the Making: CJ Sand Wins WSOP Event #1 For Late Mother

CJ Sand


  • CJ Sands was the first bracelet winner at the the 2016 World Series of Poker.

  • Caesars sportsbook employee CJ Sands dedicated his win in Event #1 his to late mother.

CJ Sand won Event #1: $565 Casino Employees No-Limit Hold'em at the World Series of Poker on Thursday, and he dedicated the $75,157 win to his mother, who he said taught him poker when he was 13 and remained an avid player until her death.

"I'm blessed and I'm lucky," he said. "It feels great. Her blood goes through my veins, and it worked out today."

Official Final Table Results

1CJ SandLa Habra, CA$75,157
2Kerryjane CraigieSevenoaks, U.K.$46,420
3Michael CoombsBremerton, WA$32,259
4Spencer BennettSacramento, CA$22,753
5Brian MikeshLittle Canada, MN$16,308
6Tom RatanakulLas Vegas, NV$11,877
7Nicholas SliwinskiLas Vegas, NV$8,792
8Tiankang XingSan Gabriel, CA$6,616
9Robert OstlerSan Diego, CA$5,063

The tournament featured a new format this year with a single reentry allowed — in years past it had been a freezeout — and an overall faster structure in the early going. The money was reached relatively early on Day 1, and some of the players among the 110 cashing included popular former WSOP dealer Shaun Harris (56th), last year's champ Brandon Barnette (55th), 2013 runner-up Allen Kwong (53rd), and RunGood patriarch Tana Karn (52nd).

Just 23 players came back for Day 2, and by the time the final table was reached, stacks were pretty shallow and Sand was the chip leader with 32 big blinds. Sands was at risk of going out sixth after Brian Mikesh doubled through him with {a-Hearts}{q-Spades} by making a straight against Sands' {a-Clubs}{k-Hearts}.

"It was brutal, but it's poker," he said of the beat that caused him to go from chip leader to the brink of early elimination with seven big blinds. "I've been doing this a long time, I'm over the roller coaster."

He said his plan was to just shake it off and get right back to it, and that's what he did, getting doubles for his tournament life with {k-}{j-} against {a-Hearts}{9-Hearts} and sixes against {a-Diamonds}{q-Diamonds} on two straight hands. Sand then had a sick cooler go in his favor on a {j-Diamonds}{10-Diamonds}{8-Diamonds} flop, as he held {9-Diamonds}{7-Diamonds} for the straight flush when Mikesh had {k-Diamonds}{q-Diamonds}. Sand had a huge stack after that and rolled over the rest of his opponents without much trouble.

It was a win 30 years in the making, dating to the days when his mom taught him to play seven-card stud, starting with with the hand rankings.

"It's one of the best memories I had of her because she passed away when I was pretty young," he said.

Sand then spent much of the 1990s playing stud at The Bicycle Casino in California. The big change for him came with the release of Rounders and then Chris Moneymaker's 2003 WSOP Main Event win, at which point the explosion of hold'em forced him to make the transition.

Still, those days of playing stud with mom and then grinding at The Bike have left a lasting impression on Sands, because he still counts it as his favorite game and he now plans to play the $1,500 Stud event at the WSOP with some of his winnings.

Tournament poker certainly isn't Sands' thing, as he said this was only his third shot at a WSOP event after he played the Colossus and the Monster Stack in 2015. He counts himself as a semi-professional cash game player while putting in a few hours a week at the sports book at Caesars Palace, where he writes tickets behind the counter.

"I'm not a baller, but I make a little bit," he said of his poker career with a laugh. "[Caesars] is kind of my fun job. I get paid to watch sports all day and I work with awesome people."

Now, he has a bit more of a bankroll, but he wouldn't take all the credit for the win.

"That bracelet's for my mom up in heaven watching over me," he said. "Phil Hellmuth calls it white magic, but I had some magic from somewhere and I know where it came from."

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