2018 WSOP Event 19: Craig Varnell Wins $565 Pot-Limit Omaha ($181,790)
He went from working at a car wash to a World Series of Poker bracelet.
It's been a crazy four years for Craig Varnell, but his poker journey reached its pinnacle — at least to this point — when he won Event #19: $565 Pot-Limit Omaha for $181,790. He got through a field of 2,419 entries in the four-card bonanza to get his first bracelet.
"It's a great feeling that I accomplished something in the thing I do for a living, the highest accomplishment you can get," he said.
Official Final Table Results
|1||Craig Varnell||United States||$181,790|
|2||Seth Zimmerman||United States||$112,347|
|3||Omar Mehmood||United States||$81,852|
|5||Christopher Trang||United States||$44,677|
|7||Shaome Yang||United States||$25,325|
|8||Jason Lipiner||United States||$19,344|
|9||Ilian Li||United States||$14,920|
Varnell said he nearly faded the event after experiencing a terrible run in the Colossus. The Colorado resident estimated he fired eight shells in that one without any luck. He was "over the quick structure" but wound up taking a shot anyway.
This time, Varnell had some good fortune and ran up a stack. At that point, things got easy. He could afford to gamble with the shorter stacks and, because of the nature of PLO equities, he wasn't in terrible shape more times than not.
"Four years ago, I was working at a car wash and now I'm just playing poker for a living. It's pretty amazing."
Going into the final day, Varnell had seen enough of the unofficial final table of 10 the previous night — they had played for a couple of hours with no eliminations — to know his game plan. The most dangerous opponents at the table were former WSOP Main Event champ Jonathan Duhamel and his Canadian compatriot, WPT Montreal champ and chip leader Maxime Heroux.
Varnell would just aim to run everyone else over. That's exactly what happened as he continuously raised, especially after Duhamel took an early hit when he lost half of his stack doubling someone up.
"Everybody was folding to make that final nine," Varnell said. "I opened about 90 percent of the hands and just accumulated over a million chips just raising without having a flop."
Indeed, Varnell scored four of the first five Day 3 eliminations gambling with shorter stacks, often without great cards. A pattern repeated itself: he would raise, they would jam, and he'd often do some rough math and figure if he was committed against what was often aces and get there. Duhamel was one such victim, falling in sixth, though he didn't have the bullets, just better high cards.
"I'm not afraid to go for it. It's kind of my M.O., I guess."
"They weren't playing bad, they just knew they had one hand in them and they were folding hands they probably should have been raising," Varnell said. "I just took advantage of the situation and then I just ran good in all-ins.
"I'm not afraid to go for it. It's kind of my M.O., I guess," he said. "I'm not as educated in the game as a lot of people. I just kind of have a feeling for the game. I think it kind of gives me an advantage sometimes when people are so in their heads with math and GTO."
The one big hurdle left was Heroux. He had come in with chips and chipped up a bit himself with the other two knockouts heading into four-handed play. Varnell said there seemed to be an unspoken agreement between the two not to butt heads on the way there — when one would fold, the other would raise — but with four left, a confrontation became inevitable.
They played two three-bet pots and both went to Varnell. On the first, Varnell called a three-bet in position and took it away with a big bet postflop when Heroux checked a fairly coordinated board. On the second, Varnell called for about half of Heroux's chips preflop and got top set of queens, then faded aces, a gutter, and a flush draw on the flop.
From there, victory seemed a matter of time. However, Seth Zimmerman put up quite a fight heads up. He started down over 6-1 in chips but doubled several times, even taking a small lead when he flopped top two with a raggedy hand and held against kings.
However, Varnell took it right back when he hit a straight and a bigger set against bottom set to totally crush Zimmerman. Left with crumbs again, Zimmerman scrapped awhile and managed to double twice while short but couldn't fade the river on the final hand as Varnell hit two pair against a strong double-suited Broadway hand.
"Poker saved my life. Before poker, I was in trouble and all kinds of stuff."
It's the culmination of a wild journey.
"This is all surreal to me," Varnell said. "This is crazy. Four years ago, I was working at a car wash and now I'm just playing poker for a living. It's pretty amazing.
"Poker saved my life. Before poker, I was in trouble and all kinds of stuff. Poker kind of leveled me out. I met the woman of my dreams. You make a bad decision and you can either keep making bad decisions or you can go another way."
Varnell had played a lot of poker before Black Friday but quit when he could no longer play online. He got back into it a few years ago and had a dream run in 2015. That summer, he put himself on the poker map with an official win in a five-way chop in WPT500 for $185,800 and a third-place finish in the inaugural $1,000 WSOP.com Event.
He's remained a mainstay around the American scene for the last several years. However, he's been on something of a hiatus as he dealt with family issues. Just getting back to the tables, he said, felt like a win. The feeling of a final table was fantastic.
Winning a bracelet left him positively ecstatic.
"I'm just so excited," he said. "You never think when you play poker for a living you're going to get this moment. To win a tournament is so hard to do.
"This is the monumental moment, you made it."
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In this Series
- 1 2018 WSOP Event 1: Jordan Hufty Wins First WSOP Gold in $565 Casino Employees
- 2 2018 WSOP Event 2: Elio Fox Wins First Ever WSOP $10,000 Super Turbo Bounty for $393,693
- 3 2018 WSOP Event 3: Joe Cada Wins 2018 WSOP $3,000 No-Limit Hold’em SHOOTOUT for $226,218
- 4 2018 WSOP Event 4: Julien Martini Wins $1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo 8 or Better ($239,771)
- 5 2018 WSOP Event 5: Nick Petrangelo Wins WSOP $100,000 No-Limit Hold'em High Roller ($2,910,227)
- 6 2018 WSOP Event 6: Jeremy Perrin Wins The GIANT Turning $365 Into $250,966
- 7 2018 WSOP Event 7: Roberly Felicio Wins the 2018 WSOP COLOSSUS for $1,000,000
- 8 2018 WSOP Event 8: Johannes Becker Wins $2,500 Mixed Triple Draw Lowball ($180,455)
- 9 2018 WSOP Event 9: Paul Volpe Wins Third WSOP Bracelet in Omaha Hi-Lo Championship
- 10 2018 WSOP Event 10: William ‘Twooopair’ Reymond Wins $365 WSOP.com ONLINE Event ($154,996)
- 11 2018 WSOP Event 11: Tim Andrew Triumphs in the $365 PLO GIANT for $116,015, Mizrachi Fifth
- 12 2018 WSOP Event 12: Jeremy Harkin Wins $1,500 Dealer's Choice for $129,882
- 13 2018 WSOP Event 13: Benjamin Moon Wins $1,500 Big Blind Antes for $315,346
- 14 2018 WSOP Event 14: Daniel Ospina Wins First Bracelet for Colombia in 2-7 Lowball Draw
- 15 2018 WSOP Event 15: Andrey Zhigalov Wins $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. for $202,787
- 16 2018 WSOP Event 16: Justin Bonomo Wins Second WSOP Bracelet in $10K Heads-Up Championship
- 17 2018 WSOP Event 17: Ognyan Dimov Wins Third Bracelet for Bulgaria in Event #17 ($378,743)
- 18 2018 WSOP Event 18: Adam Friedman Wins Second Bracelet in $10K Dealer's Choice
- 19 2018 WSOP Event 19: Craig Varnell Wins $565 Pot-Limit Omaha ($181,790)
- 20 2018 WSOP Event 20: Jeremy Wien Conquers $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em for $537,710
- 21 2018 WSOP Event 21: Arne Kern Wins $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em MILLIONAIRE MAKER ($1,173,223)
- 22 2018 WSOP Event 22: Philip Long Wins $1,500 Eight Game Mix ($147,348)
- 23 2018 WSOP Event 23: Brian Rast Wins Fourth Bracelet in 2-7 Lowball Championship, Brunson 6th
- 24 2018 WSOP Event 24: Michael Addamo Wins Event #24: $2,620 MARATHON No-Limit Hold'em
- 25 2018 WSOP Event 25: Benjamin Dobson Wins First WSOP Gold in $1,500 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo
- 26 2018 WSOP Event 26: Filippos Stavrakis Dedicates WSOP PLO Bracelet ($169,842) to His Brother
- 27 2018 WSOP Event 27: John Hennigan Wins 2018 WSOP $10K HORSE for Fifth Bracelet and $415K
- 28 2018 WSOP Event 28: Fortunate River Gives Gal Yifrach First WSOP Bracelet & $461K Prize
- 29 2018 WSOP Event 29: Hanh Tran Wins First WSOP Bracelet in $1,500 2-7 Triple Draw ($117,282)
- 30 2018 WSOP Event 30: Ryan Bambrick Wins First Gold Bracelet in Dominating Fashion
- 31 2018 WSOP Event 31: Steven Albini Wins $1,500 Stud to Deny Jeff Lisandro 7th Bracelet
- 32 2018 WSOP Event 32: Matthew Davis Tops Biggest Seniors Event Ever to Win $662,983
- 33 2018 WSOP Event 33: Michael Mizrachi Wins His Third Poker Players Championship Title
- 34 2018 WSOP Event 34: Robert Peacock Wins First WSOP Gold in $1,000 DOUBLE STACK
- 35 2018 WSOP Event 35: Yueqi Zhu Claims First WSOP Gold in $1,500 Mixed Omaha
- 36 2018 WSOP Event 36: Farhintaj Bonyadi Wins Event $1,000 Super Seniors ($311,451)
- 37 2018 WSOP Event 37: Eric Baldwin Wins Second Bracelet, Dedicates it to His Father
- 38 2018 WSOP Event 38: Yaniv Birman Wins First WSOP Gold Bracelet in $10,000 Seven Card Stud Championship ($236,238)
- 39 2018 WSOP Event 39: Preston Lee Captures $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em Shootout Bracelet ($236,498)
- 40 2018 WSOP Event 40: Scott Bohlman Wins WSOP $2,500 Mixed Big Bet ($122,138)
- 41 2018 WSOP Event 41: Robert Nehorayan Wins $1,500 Limit Hold'em for $173,568
- 42 2018 WSOP Event 42: Shaun Deeb Gets Revenge on Ben Yu to Win $25K PLO for $1,402,683
- 43 2018 WSOP Event 43: Timur Margolin Takes Down $2,500 NLHE for $507,274
- 44 2018 WSOP Event 44: Nicholas Seiken Wins $10k 2-7 Triple Draw Championship for $287,987
- 45 2018 WSOP Event 45: Mario Prats Garcia Wins $1,000 Big Blind NLH For $258,255
- 46 2018 WSOP Event 46: David Brookshire Wins WSOP $2,500 Mixed Omaha/Stud Hi-Lo 8 ($214,291)
- 47 2018 WSOP Event 47: Matthew 'mendey' Mendez Wins First WSOP Online PLO Bracelet ($135,077)
- 48 2018 WSOP Event 48: Tommy Nguyen Wins Monster Stack for $1,037,451
- 49 2018 WSOP Event 49: Loren Klein Wins $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Championship for $1,018,336
- 50 2018 WSOP Event 50: Jay Kwon Wins $1,500 Razz ($125,431)
- 51 2018 WSOP Event 51: Ryan Leng Ships First WSOP Gold in $1,500 BOUNTY ($272,504)
- 52 2018 WSOP Event 52: Scott Seiver Wins $10,000 Limit Hold'em Championship ($296,222)
- 53 2018 WSOP Event 53: Couden Tops Elezra, Matusow, Negreanu, and Fitoussi to win $1,500 PLO8
- 54 2018 WSOP Event 54: Portugal's Diogo Veiga Wins $3K Big Blind Antes ($522,715)
- 55 2018 WSOP Event 55: Giuseppe Pantaleo and Nikita Luther Win the $1K Tag Team for $175,805!
- 56 2018 WSOP Event 56: Calvin Anderson Wins His Second Bracelet in the $10K Razz ($309,220)!
- 57 2018 WSOP Event 57: Jessica Dawley Wins the WSOP Ladies Championship for $130,230!
- 58 2018 WSOP Event 58: Tribe Has Spoken: Jean-Robert Bellande Wins First Bracelet for $616K
- 59 2018 WSOP Event 59: Mike Takayama Makes History as the First Filipino to Win a WSOP Bracelet
- 60 2018 WSOP Event 60: Galfond Wins 3rd Bracelet in $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Lo Championship
- 61 2018 WSOP Event 61: Ryan 'Toosick' Tosoc Wins WSOP.com $1,000 Championship ($238,778)
- 62 2018 WSOP Event 62: Galen Hall Wins $888 Crazy Eights No-Limit Hold'em for $888,888
- 63 2018 WSOP Event 63: Chance 'BingShui' Kornuth Wins Second Bracelet in WSOP.com Online High Roller for $341,598
- 64 2018 WSOP Event 64: Matsuzuki Wins First WSOP Gold Bracelet in $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo
- 65 John Cynn Wins the 2018 WSOP Main Event for $8,800,000!
- 66 2018 WSOP Event 66: Longsheng Tan Wins $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em for $323,472
- 67 2018 WSOP Event 67: Anderson Ireland Wins $1,500 PLO Bounty for First Bracelet and $141K
- 68 2018 WSOP Event 68: Guoliang Wei Wins Fourth Chinese Bracelet in The Little One for One Drop ($559,332)
- 69 2018 WSOP Event 69: Ronald Keijzer Wins $3,000 Pot-Limit Omaha 6-Handed for $475,033
- 70 2018 WSOP Event 70: Yaser Al-Keliddar Wins Event #70: $3K Limit Hold'em 6-Handed for $154K
- 71 2018 WSOP Event 71: Phil Hellmuth Wins 15th Career Bracelet in $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em!
- 72 2018 WSOP Event 72: Jordan Polk Wins $1,500 Mixed NLH/PLO for $197,461
- 73 2018 WSOP Event 73: Denis Timofeev Bests Leo Margets to Win the $1,000 Double Stack Turbo
- 74 2018 WSOP Event 74: Shaun Deeb Wins Second Bracelet of the Summer in $10,000 6-Max ($814,179)
- 75 2018 WSOP Event 75: Joe Cada Wins His Fourth Career Bracelet in The Closer ($612,886)
- 76 2018 WSOP Event 76: Brian Hastings Wins the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E and 4th Bracelet
- 77 2018 WSOP Event 77: Ben Yu Wins Third Bracelet in $50,000 High Roller $1,650,773