Leaning against the rail about 15 feet behind the final table stage, Justin Young stood in the company of his supporters as his watched his await the runout against Garrett Greer's .
The two had been battling at the final table for 11 hours, and it looked like it'd be longer after the hit the felt to keep Greer in front. The on the turn added a straight draw for Young, and then the on the river delivered him with two pair and the victory. Greer's head sunk to the table as Young's rail erupted in cheer, knowing their man had just won the World Poker Tour Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown $3,500 Main Event.
"It makes it all worth it, I promise you it really does," an elated Young told reporters after posing for the winner's photo. "It's just an unbelievable feeling, with unbelievable friends here with me, and, wow, it just makes the last seven years just completely worth it."
Young's triumph over a field of 1,222 entries netted him $669,161, which included a $15,000 seat into the season-ending WPT Tournament of Champions. For Greer, he was forced to settled on another shortfall in a WPT event, this time pocketing $458,722.
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Like his opponent Greer, Young had plenty of prior experience running deep in a WPT event, but also like Greer he had a monkey on his back that he was waiting to tame. The closest Young came was in 2008 when he placed second to Chino Rheem in the $15,400 Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic for $936,760.
"I remember it was very long and very tough against Chino," Young said about that heads-up match against Rheem. "I think heads-up [play] lasted about three-and-a-half hours. I remember I got it in good to win — I had two pair against his flush draw. I was devastated for awhile, and I was mad afterwards, but it was a good experience for all and I'm glad I can keep coming back and playing these things."
At this final table, Young did just that, he kept going. With eight players left, Young doubled with the against the for Andrey Plotnikov, and that started his upward trend after he began the day sixth in chips. Although not "short" to start, Young couldn't really gain any firm traction until the double happened that vaulted him into the lead. From there, he stayed at the top or near to it and went on to close it out.
"It's truly unbelievable," Young said again. "You always are looking for the next pay jump, the next pay grade, to get to the next spot, and to put yourself in position to win, but you never expect it because you never want to get too cocky or anything like that. So to put yourself in position and to actually come through, I can't even describe it. It's out of this world."
When the official WPT final table of six began following the elimination of Sam Soverel in seventh, Young's lead had slipped away, but his was still bunched closely in third, just a handful of chips behind the leader, Matthew Haugen, and second place, Ben Tarzia.
Hyoung Chae quickly jumped into the lead when he took a big pot off Haugen to start, and then Young scooped a nice one from Haugen to take the lead once more. Tarzia then busted in sixth, Tim Reilly went out in fifth, and Haugen busted fourth.
On Haugen's elimination, he moved all in from the big blind for 4.975 million after Young had opened to 525,000 from under the gun. The blinds were at 125,000/250,000/25,000 in Level 34, and Young called with the . Haugen had a dominated and the board was no help.
Following the elimination of Chae in third, Young trailed Greer going into heads-up play with 14.2 million in chips to 22.45 million. Despite being close on a few occasions before in WPT events, neither competitor played timid and there was plenty of punches thrown back and forth.
Greer jumped out to a bigger lead at first, but then Young doubled back to take the lead. A key hand happened after both players made a flush, but it was Young on the winning end with a king-high version that moved him to 26.75 million and left Greer with 9.9 million. Not long after that, it was all over.
"It's a little bit of both, honestly," Young said when asked if his reasoning for going over to the rail every time he was all in was because of nerves or wanting to be with his friends for celebration. "I'm not superstitious at all, but my wife is and I feel like her superstitions are going to carry me through sometimes. I feel like with the support of everybody that I was going to make it through."
With such a large field turning out for this event, play was stopped at 10-handed action, paused for a day, and then resumed on Wednesday with an 11 a.m. start time. That's an earlier start time than most final tables on the WPT, and most poker tournaments in general, and it's been a widely debated topic in recent weeks since the World Series of Poker announcement a schedule adjustment to include 11 a.m. start times. Of course, it only made sense to get Young's take seeing as he just completed a long day of poker that began at 11 a.m.
"I honestly love it," Young said of the 11 a.m. start time. "I'm getting older in years, and I feel like I might be in the minority for anyone under 40, but I absolutely love it. I'm up by 7 a.m. most days anyway. Get me there by 11, a nice, early dinner, go home watch Matlock or Murder She Wrote. It's great."
With that, we'll be seeing Young in the WPT Tournament of Champions later this week.
"It's going to be a tough field, which I'm looking forward to," Young said of the event to come. "Going back and seeing all of the past champions of the WPTs, and since mine is so fresh, it's going to be a nice moment."
*Image courtesy of Joe Giron/WPT.