LAS VEGAS -- John Hennigan isn't a household name ... yet.
Johnny World (a nickname earned not for being world-famous, but for being willing to bet on anything in the world) won the Poker Players' Championship early Friday morning at the 2014 World Series of Poker. In a poker world full of players who seek the limelight, the 43-year-old Hennigan has previously been content to win at cash games and rack up tournament wins without making a name for himself except in the eyes of his peers.
Hennigan wore a Superman T-shirt at the final table, but even Clark Kent couldn't be expected to keep his identity a secret if he had Hennigan's three WSOP bracelets and now arguably the most prestigious of them all.
The $50,000 buy-in event, which is played using the eight-game rotation of limit 2-7 triple draw lowball, limit hold 'em, limit Omaha eight-or-better, razz, limit seven-card stud eight-or-better, no-limit hold 'em and pot-limit Omaha, started in 2006 under the "HORSE" format at the request of poker pros who wanted a high-entry-fee event to crown the best all-around player. Chip Reese won the inaugural event and after his untimely death the following year, the trophy was named after him and goes to the winner, in addition to the WSOP bracelet. Oh, and Hennigan also collected the $1,517,767 first-place prize for his second-biggest payday to date (his WPT victory in 2007 was worth $1.6 million). He also finished third in this same event last year.
"It's a very fulfilling moment to win this tournament," said Hennigan, whose residence is listed as Las Vegas, but he's a native of Philadelphia. "It's kind of for bragging rights in the world of poker. I didn't even realize the magnitude of the situation last year when I came in third, and then to come back this year and win it is amazing."
Hennigan outlasted a very deep and talented field of 102 that put up the $50,000. The five-day event tested the stamina of the players (and journalists) by going past midnight all five days. He finished off runner-up Brandon Shack-Harris of Chicago at 1:12 a.m. Friday in a no-limit hold 'em hand in which Shack-Harris was short-stacked with just 320,000 in chips to nearly 15 million for Hennigan (blinds 50,000/100,000 with a 30,000 ante). Shack-Harris was all-in with K-7 and Hennigan's A-10 held as the board ran 9-J-J-4-4.
Shack-Harris entered the tournament with a first-, second- and third-place finish already in this year's WSOP. He held the lead entering the final day and could've jumped George Danzer in the Player of the Year race with a victory, but instead has solidified himself in second place with his second runner-up result.
Allen Kessler was eliminated in eighth shortly after Thursday's play began at 2 p.m., collecting $134,101. That left the official final table of seven, and made a history-maker of Melissa Burr of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, as she became the first female to make the final table of this prestigious event after previously becoming the first woman to cash. She then went out a few minutes later in seventh place ($165,435). The remaining six players went over three hours without an elimination before 2010 WSOP Player of the Year Frank Kassela went out in sixth place ($212,829), and Chun Lei Zhou, the only non-American at the final table, went out in fifth ($286,122). Play continued for another hour before Abe Mosseri's elimination ($402,696), leaving Hennigan, Shack-Harris and fellow bracelet winner Jesse Martin. The three competed for more than five hours (including breaks) and Hennigan went from the chip leader to being short-stacked and on the brink of elimination -- surviving an all-in in pot-limit Omaha -- and back to a 3-to-1 chip advantage over Shack-Harris by the time Martin exited in third place ($595,470).
"I kinda fell apart at the wrong time and I was going down, but we got shifted to pot-limit Omaha and I put it all on one hand," Hennigan said. "Once I won that pot, everything turned around and I started winning every hand.
"There wasn't anything anyone could do. I got run over by the cards at the end," said Shack-Harris.
This reporter was hoping to grab Hennigan for an exclusive follow-up interview, but he would only consent to two video interviews (with print journalists listening in). As a true professional, he had another priority -- playing in the $10,000 limit hold 'em event that had started at 4 p.m. He had only been able to play a few hands during breaks at the PPC final table.
"I'm hemorrhaging chips over there," he said. "I want to win that tournament and make a better story."
So much for his secret identity.
Below are the complete results of Event 38 at the 2014 World Series of Poker:
Event 46: Poker Players' Championship
Prize pool: $4,896,000
Players in the money: 14
1. John Hennigan ($1,517,767)
2. Brandon Shack-Harris ($937,975)
3. Jesse Martin ($594,570)
4. Abe Mosseri ($402,696)
5. Chun Lei Zhou ($286,122)
6. Frank Kassela ($212,829)
7. Melissa Burr ($165,435)
8. Allen Kessler ($134,101)
9. Scott Seiver ($115,447)
10. James Obst ($115,447)
11. Todd Brunson ($115,447)
12. Matt Glantz ($99,388)
13. Jonathan Duhamel ($99,388)
14. Robert Mizrachi ($99,388)