Despite winning more than $2.6 million playing poker since 2013, Hossein Ensan still describes himself as a poker amateur.
But Ensan, 55, has played like a seasoned professional in dominating the World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio Convention Center.
With the final table down to three players from the starting field of 8,569, Ensan — an Iran native who immigrated to Germany when he was 25 — is the runaway leader with more than 60 percent of the chips in play.
Henderson resident Garry Gates started the night in second place and within striking distance of Ensan. But the poker industry veteran and survivor of the Oct. 1, 2017 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival that claimed the lives of 58 concertgoers was eliminated in fourth place, which was worth $3 million.
“It was a whirlwind,” said Gates, 37. “When you come into a final table with as many chips as I had, you expect a higher result but at the same time those are some world-class poker players. I don’t do this for a living. Just to get this far and to have as much love and support as I’ve had along the way, I knew I’d already won. On one hand, I’m a little disappointed. On the other hand, I’m a lucky guy. This has changed my life.”
Gates became emotional when he talked about having the support of seemingly the entire poker industry.
“I just felt so much love from every corner of the world,” he said. “It was someting I’ll never forget. I know I’m crying right now but deep down I’m happy. I really am.”
Gates was eliminated after going all-in for 29.2 million chips with pocket 6s against Canada’s Alex Livingston’s pocket queens.
He also lost two big pots to Ensan early en route to falling to third place and plummeted to fifth place after Livingston called his bluff on another big hand.
Gates had ace-10 against Ensan’s king-9 in an early hand and led the betting from the start. Ensan flopped a pair of kings and the turn gave Gates a flush draw. The river gave Gates a pair of 10s. Ensan led for 8.9 million chips and Gates raised to 24.5 million to increase the pot to 76 million. Ensan called to almost triple Gates’ stack.
Gates was essentially even with Livingston — who splits time between his native Halifax, Nova Scotia and Las Vegas — before losing a 30.7 million chip pot to Ensan.
He had pocket 8s and Ensan had ace-queen before flopping three aces. After a 3 on the river didn’t improve either hand, Ensan bet 4.5 million chips to increase the pot to 30.7 million. Gates thought for a while before folding.
Two hands later, Gates lost a 49.6 million chip pot to Livingston. Gates had king-jack against Livingston’s ace-jack. The flop came 4-5-7 and the turn was an 8. After Livingston caught a pair of aces on the river, Gates, holding a king-high, made a 16 million chip bet. Livingston called to momentarily climb closer to Ensan, who again extended his lead when he eliminated Kevin Maahs of Chicago in fifth place.
Maahs went all-in for 30.3 million with ace-10 suited and Ensan called with pocket 9s that stood up as his chip stack soared to more yhan 300 million. Maahs, 27, took home $2.2 million for fifth place after entering with $61,213 in total live earnings.
“It’s kind of a weird feeling. I just made a lot of money but I didn’t win the tournament,” said Maahs, a recreational player who wore a Chicago Cubs hat at the final table. “But there’s 8,500 other people who didn’t even come close to this and this is awesome.”
The $10,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold’em World Championship will resume play at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and will continue until there’s a winner.
Ensan has 326.8 million chips, Livingston is in second with 120.4 million and Italy’s Dario Sammartino is in third with 67.6 million. The winner will walk away with $10 million.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.