In 2013, Ryan Riess etched his name in poker history after winning the World Series of Poker Main Event. He won a life-changing $8,361,570. Since then, he has been living the poker pro life, traveling to various destinations and playing in some of the biggest games. Gaelle Jaudon was able to catch up with Riess for an interview where we learned about his life and growth after the big win.
Somuchpoker: First, a question you’ve had many times. You won the WSOP Main Event in 2013 on your very first participation, can you describe the atmosphere you were in and your mindset?
Ryan Riess: I was actually very naïve back then, I didn’t totally understand how big the tournament really was until maybe a couple of years later, which in fact I think was a good thing. If I had understood the magnitude of it I may not have played the same. At the time I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was because I was very new to poker, it was my first time playing it, but after that I understood how cool it is and I haven’t been close to getting back there again.
Somuchpoker: It’s obviously life changing to be in the spotlight like that all of a sudden and win so much money. What happened for you after that?
Ryan Riess: My life didn’t change that much. I have the same group of friends that I had before but I just have a lot more freedom. The money gave me more freedom to kind of not worry about finances, I can travel the world and play poker and practice a lot to get better.
Somuchpoker: Did it also bring some bad sides?
Ryan Riess: No I don’t think so… really. I didn’t fall into anything crazy. I’ve been pretty smart with my money. I started playing really big buy-in tournaments shortly after, like 100K buy-ins and I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t good enough to play those tournaments, but I thought I was! So I guess that’s probably the only bad thing that happened financially, but otherwise nothing bad happened.
Somuchpoker: What advice can you give to the future Main Event champions?
Ryan Riess: Just be humble and realize how lucky you were to get there. You have to get so lucky it’s crazy. You have to play poker for ten days straight and you just have to get lucky until the end. So be grateful and thankful and try to help other people as well.
Somuchpoker: In 2017 you won the WPT at Seminole, it was a really big event. What did it mean for you to win another major event?
Ryan Riess: That meant a lot to me because I played a lot of WPT events from 2013 until now. I had no final tables and I played maybe 50 of them. They have really good structures and I normally do good in big structures so I finally made a final table and it was a 10K event. I was with Jason Koon and other great players at the table and to win that one was awesome. It was also a lot of money.
Somuchpoker: For example Jonathan Duhamel said he wanted to prove to the poker community he wasn’t there by accident and wanted to show he was a good player and not only a main event champion, did you feel that as well?
Ryan Riess: Yeah because anybody can win one poker tournament. There are other people in the past who won the main event that didn’t do anything after. It’s okay if you don’t want to play poker full time, you don’t have to, but I’ve always loved the game very much and I want to be playing for the next 30 years. You will see me a lot because I’m not going anywhere. So it kind of validated in a way. iIt shows people, even if I don’t really care about what people think but mainly for myself, it shows that I can actually do this and I didn’t just get lucky one time. I can continue to do this so it meant a lot to me.
Somuchpoker: We see you also attending high and super high roller events. You tweeted after busting the 100K “I made way too many mistakes. I need to get better”. That’s quite unusual to admit mistakes publicly. You had many likes and comments, it was very humble of you.
Ryan Riess: Yeah I made a big mistake and I lost a lot of chips in the super high roller. I was mad at myself and I kind of wanted to hold myself accountable. I didn’t want to just hoodwink and not tell anybody because I was very disappointed. I made a lot of mistakes, the kind of mistakes that I don’t make. I’m normally really good when it comes to that. So I kind of wanted to just let it out and maybe let the people know it’s okay when you make mistakes, just learn from it to get better.
Somuchpoker: What are the things you need to improve on?
Ryan Riess: Taking my time. Sometimes I really act too quickly, I think I always know what to do so I act fast but I’m not always right. I can make the wrong decision just because I acted fast. So I think I need to take more time, think through everything and not to bluff against some people as much as I do!
Somuchpoker: You’re different today from the moment after you won the Main when you said ‘I just think I’m the best player in the world’, and you received plenty of criticism. How did you handle that?
Ryan Riess: Yeah people made fun of me a lot and made jokes sometimes here and there and you know, looking back at it, I was definitely not the best, and not even close to the best when I won, but I thought that I was. I was just really confident in my game when I came to the table and when I said that, I really thought I was the best in the world. Looking back at it, like last year I thought I was one of the best players in the world and when I looked at some of the hands that I played, I just thought, “what am I doing?”. The best player in the world would never do what I did but I think it’s important to always be confident in yourself. Anyone who plays a 10K or a 25K buy-in should at least think they are one of the best players or you shouldn’t play because you know you’re competing with some of the best players. If you don’t think you’re one of them then you shouldn’t be playing those tournaments so I’ve always been very confident in my ability even if I make mistakes all the time. All you can do is just believe in yourself and continue to try to improve.
Somuchpoker: The poker community can be really tough on people sometimes. What did you think of the negative comments?
Ryan Riess: Well I don’t really care that much. All the people who said those things, they never actually met me and they don’t know me personally. All the people that know me, all my friends, they would never say those things so I don’t really care what the random internet trolls say. There are so many people who critique like towards athletes and it doesn’t really bother them. It’s good to have haters, it also means you have success and you’re doing good.
Somuchpoker: You said in an interview time flew really fast since you won the Main Event, what has been your evolution in those last 5 years?
Ryan Riess: It’s true, I’ve been travelling so much. I think I might take a break starting January or February but I say that every year. I’ve just been really busy and time has really been flying by since I won.
Somuchpoker: What are your priorities today?
Ryan Riess: I have a beautiful girlfriend and she’s pregnant! So that’s definitely a priority. I’m really busy with family. The baby arrives in a few months, in march, so pretty soon.
Somuchpoker: Does it mean we won’t really see a lot of you at the next WSOP?
Ryan Riess: Well I live in Vegas so it would be easier because I don’t have to travel and leave but we’ll see. It’s life changing so I don’t know yet!
Somuchpoker: What does your life looks like in Vegas?
Ryan Riess: I travel a lot but the weather is really nice. I like to go hiking and I have a lot of friends who live there. It’s a good home basis and no state income tax so I pay less taxes. I really enjoy Vegas, it’s a fun city and the cost of living is cheap.
Somuchpoker: Funny story is that you won the Main Event and the WPT with the exact same hand, AK hearts, do you get a special vibe or hold superstition whenever you see that hand today?
Ryan Riess: Yeah, whenever I get I will never fold that, there is no way, that’s my favorite hand now, with aces!
Interview by Gaelle Jaudon