British Columbia

Burnaby poker player ditches grad school and wins over $400,000 in Las Vegas

Burnaby's Michael Niwinski walked away with $427,930 US at the World Series of Poker Monday in Las Vegas, after finishing 15th out of a starting field of 6,737 players.

Niwinski ranked 15 out of a starting field of 6,737 players

Niwinski at the Rio All-Suit Hotel and Casino on Monday (Alexander Villegas)

Burnaby's Michael Niwinski walked away with $427,930 US at the World Series of Poker Monday in Las Vegas, after finishing 15th out of a starting field of 6,737 players.  

"This does not happen," he said. "I was just supposed to be playing online poker here in Vancouver and just once in awhile go to Las Vegas and play in some tournaments, but to have this deep run happen to me so soon, so fast ..."  

Going into the final round on Tuesday, Niwinski was one of 27 players vying for a spot at the final table.  

Relatively unknown to the poker world, Niwinski went into the prestigious tournament with just $13,405 in lifetime tournament winnings — most of which he earned last month.

Then the main event got going and he kept winning.

"Day five I went from below average to the chip leader in like two hours, which is like the most insane rush that I've ever been on," said Niwinski. "At that point I knew that something big was going to happen."

That's when his family quickly booked a few flights to Las Vegas.

"They were going bonkers back here in Vancouver," he said, "when they found out I made Day 7, it was literally not only the biggest day of my poker career, but of my life."  

Then Day 7 came and a chance to make it to the final table for a shot at $8 million US.

Busted on Day 7

When the turn — the second to last card dealt — came he was on the sidelines, or rails, with his friends.

"One guy is on the rails and says, 'No dude! you gotta give the dealer a back massage for good luck!' I was like, 'You are a genius!' and ran over to the dealer, my hand shaking half giving him a back massage, yelling, 'Club or Jack! Club or Jack! We can do this!'"

"And then the River didn't improve," said Niwinski, referring to the last card dealt in the hand. "I went over to the dealer and said, 'I forgive you.'"  

A rich future

When asked what he will do with his winnings, he paused.

"I got no clue. When I entered the main event, I wasn't planning on winning $400,000, you know." he said. "I have a lot of thinking to do."

But he says one thing is for sure, $10,000 is definitely going to the main event next year.

"Next year, oh my God, you will not hear the end of me," said Niwinski.

The World Series of Poker is now down to nine players. The final table will be played in Las Vegas on Oct. 31.

While each player is guaranteed $1 million, only one will walk away with the $8 million prize.  

One Canadian will be there: 31-year-old Torontonian Griffin Benger, a video game guru and former first place ranked online poker player.

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