Michael Dyer hasn’t cashed in a live tournament since 2016, when he was eliminated on the first day of his first World Series of Poker Main Event.
“I busted really early on Day 1. I wasn’t really happy with my play,” he said early Thursday at the Rio Convention Center. “But this year’s going better.”
A lot better.
Dyer, 32, of Houston, opened up a huge lead on Day 8 of the Main Event on Thursday night, when the final table of nine players was pared to six.
After starting play at 5:30 p.m. more than 3 million in chips behind Nic Manion in second place, Dyer opened up a lead of more than 100 million chips on Manion before settling for a lead of more than 84 million chips when play was halted at 10 p.m.
“I have a dynamic separation on everybody, so it makes it kind of simple for me to play,” Dyer said after bagging up his chips while carrying a bag of animal crackers he snacked on during the event. “I’m able to play differently than they are.”
Before emerging as the leading contender for the $8.8 million first prize in the Main Event, Dyer’s previous biggest score was for $65,905 in 2009, when he placed eighth at a $2,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold ’em event at the WSOP.
“I don’t really play that much live,” he said. “I was optimistic. I think I’m decent at poker.”
Dyer, who plays mostly online and cash games, won a pot of close to 50 million chips Wednesday to open up a big lead when he hit a flush on the river.
“I got lucky three times in this tournament on hands I probably shouldn’t have won, but I did,” he said. “But you kind of have to do that to get through (7,874) people. No one’s going to get this far without getting lucky a couple times.”
Manion, a low-stakes grinder from Muskegon, Michigan, who qualified for his first Main Event through two satellites, has only $16,739 in career earnings. He’s guaranteed to earn at least $1.8 million, the sixth-place prize, and was still in second place with more than 72 million in chips despite losing more than 40 million Thursday.
Joe Cada, the 2009 Main Event champion from Shelby Township, Michigan, is the only player on the final table with a seven-figure score on his resume. He’s also the first player since Dan Harrington in 2004 to reach the final table after winning the Main Event.
Cada, who finished the night in fifth place with more than 29 million in chips, is trying to join three-time Main Event champions Stu Ungar and Johnny Moss and two-time winners Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan as the only players to win multiple Main Event titles.
John Cynn is another accomplished poker pro who made the final table after placing 11th at the Main Event in 2016. Cynn, who hails from Indianapolis but described his residence as “homeless,” nearly moved past Manion into second place before settling for third with more than 61 million in chips. He caught a straight on the river to eliminate Alex Lynskey in seventh place.
Lynskey, who won $1.5 million, was the first Australian to reach the final table of the Main Event since Joe Hachem won the 2005 title.
Aram Zobian, 23, from Cranston, Rhode Island, eliminated Artem Metalidi of Ukraine in eighth place ($1.25 million) when he hit a flush on the river to top Metalidi’s three 5s. Zobian is in sixth place with 16.7 million in chips.
Tony Miles of Jacksonville, Florida, is in fourth with more than 57 million in chips.
Metalidi eliminated Frenchman Antoine Labat in ninth place ($1 million) when he flopped three queens to beat Labat’s pocket kings.
Labat also lost the final hand on Wednesday night when his pocket kings ran into Manion’s pocket aces.
“The last 20 hands, the kings have been really painful for me,” he said.
Labat was pained by the fact that there were no days off before the final table and that his girlfriend and sister who flew to Las Vegas from France on Thursday night didn’t get the chance to watch him play.
But Dyer likes the new format, which last year replaced the November Nine.
“I like that a lot better. I just want to run it,” he said. “I don’t want to wait four months.”
World Series of Poker Main Event
Rio Convention Center
Place, player, chips
1. Michael Dyer — 156.500 million
2. Nic Manion — 72.250 million
3. John Cynn — 61.550 million
4. Tony Miles — 57.500 million
5. Joe Cada — 29.275 million
6. Aram Zobian — 16.7 million