After one of the finest wars of attrition the World Series of Poker has ever seen, Jeremy Wien emerged victorious in Event #20: $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em, defeating a field of 518 players for a $537,710 payday and his first gold bracelet.
"It's pretty surreal. I never really actually expected that it will ever happen but I dreamed about it," Wien said.
While the field boasted a ton of great poker players, there was mainly one rival who proved to be an incredibly tough obstacle for Wien: Spanish professional player David Laka. When the two found themselves heads-up, betting on Wien would be a very long shot. Not only he was a 4-1 underdog but Laka is also a short-handed and heads-up specialist.
Everything was lined up for Laka to become the champion. The 21-year-old was steamrolling the final table - until he clashed with Wien.
"I'd actually played the heads-up tournament last week. It gave me a lot of confidence that I could compete against these guys," Wien said, noting that he won his first match and lost in the second round.
Wien played an unorthodox style heads-up. With the full big blind ante, not many players tend to fold their buttons. Wien utilized a completely opposite strategy. Through 138 hands they played heads-up, Wien gave 32 walks to his rival. Yet, he still managed to keep his chances very much live. Each time he worked his stack back up, and while Laka downed him back to where they started, Wien just kept coming back.
"I had a plan, which was to be more deliberate and folding my button. We were joking that they announced that David got a walk for a 100th time."
Remarkably, Wien's comeback wasn't a case of many double ups as one would imagine as he entered most of his hands out of position. Wien needed help only once when he got it in preflop with ace-nine against pocket tens, facing his elimination. An ace on the flop saved him in the tournament, pushing him to the lead. Since then, it was anyone's game as both players were mostly neck and neck and the lead kept switching back and forth.
It took over four hours until the heads-up culminated. With increasing blinds, the stacks were as shallow as 25 big blinds on average. Then it happened: Laka was dealt pocket queens while Wien peeled aces. They didn't stuff it in pre, but the cards were turned on their backs on a jack-high flop. Aces held and Wien had his opponent barely covered to finally tackle him.
"He did tell me at the last break that he's a heads-up specialist," Wien said, adding that he tried not to look up at the players he was facing off against. "Obviously, I know who Jake Schindler and David Peters are."
"I have a style that's very different than them," Wien said. "I'm very nitty. It's a little different heads-up but in general, throughout the tournament, I played pretty tight and tried to pick my spots. It worked this week."
Final table results:
The heads-up took almost half of the whole final table play. The eight-handed final table started with players guarding fairly shallow stacks and it was likely that the deadlock would break soon. Richard Tuhrim couldn't gain any traction and left in the first level, but the tournament would hit a stalemate for a bit. Then, in level 29, three players were eliminated in the span of just four hands. First, Peters and Shawn Buchanan fell to David Laka in seventh and sixth place, respectively.
Buchanan's exit looked to be the key moment of the final table. The Canadian pro raised and then four-bet shoved fives into jacks and Laka had just enough chips to send him to the rail, winning the tournament's largest pot at the time. After Peters and Buchanan were gone, Eric Blair knocked out John Amato on the very next hand and suddenly only four men were sitting at the table.
Laka soon took care of Jake Schindler in a huge cooler that saw Schindler's kings getting cracked by ace-king on the river, propelling Laka into a commanding chip lead. Blair and Wien put up very little resistance to the leader who at one point won 11 out of 12 consecutive hands.
Blair dropped to a short stack and lost his chips to Laka who appeared unstoppable until he found himself up against Wien. When the scheduled 60-minute dinner break arrived, despite being hungry, Wien's plan was to skip the break so he wouldn't have to give his opponent time to study previous hands.
"I was initially thinking: 'Let's get a dinner break, let's relax, let me regroup," Wien admitted. But then he realized that he'd played a very tight table image through the whole tournament and didn't want to let Laka find out about some of the gutsy plays he'd made heads-up.
He may have starved through, but the reward was truly sweet. Now that he's a bracelet winner, Wien plans to come back for the tag team event and try to win another gold together with his wife.